Social Media Influence, Impact, and Vanity Metrics


Late last year the Daily Mail identified Ralphie Waplington as Britain’s youngest social media influencer. Ralphie, who is two, has twenty thousand Instagram followers. For most of his life he has been an unknowing model of baby clothes and other infant paraphernalia. His parents photograph him according to briefs they receive from commercial partners; members of his extended family must seek approval before posting their own photos of Ralphie, as an off-message or picture might harm his brand.

Ralphie Waplington has a brand? Or should I say, Ralphie Wapligton is a brand? Seriously?! Ralphie Waplington sounds more like an accountant or distant relative to Paddington Bear than he does a social media icon. But as famous as he is, he’s nothing next to the social media behemoth that is the Kardashians.

They are the queens of the social media influencers and are known world wide despite my having no desire to keep up with them whatsoever.

Maybe it’s just me, but the term “influencer” also sounds slightly sinister, and could be and should be a cast member in the new Avenger’s End Game movie. Seriously… 1.2 billion dollars in revenue in three days?! That’s what I call influencing people to spend money. 

According to Webster’s Dictionary an influencer is a person or thing that influences another. In a more modern era, an influencer is someone who utilizes their status to get others to behave in a way they want or purchase things they endorse. And in this respect, the Kardashian’s and their sister Kylie Jenner have hit the ball out of the park. In fact, they have so much money, they built a newer even bigger park to hit it out of.

Social media influencers have a massive world wide audience that includes tens of millions of people. And yes, people will buy things because the Kardashian name is on it, but for me, that is not influence, that is marketing and there’s a difference.

Marketing is selling something. Influence is changing a behavior. And one is far easier than the other.

Take Kim Kardashian for instance. She has 60 million Twitter followers and 130 Instagram followers. Impressive numbers to be sure until you realize that it's just a vanity metric (something that makes you feel better but has no real value) and does nothing to actually measure influence. For instance, her latest string of tweets talk about her visit to Bali and encourages others to visit soon. The tweet which was sent out to 60 million viewers got 56,417 likes and 3,453 re-tweets. But how many people will actually be moved to visit Bali because of her tweet? Let’s just put it this way, I don’t think Bali will be seeing a sudden and unexpected influx of tourists in the coming months? Her reach was wide, but her influence was small because we did not act upon it.

Is she an entertainer? Yes
Is she a distractor? Yes. 
Is she popular? Yes. 
Is she smart? I suspect so.
Is she an influencer? No.

At least not to my way of thinking.

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True influence requires you to be a real part of someone’s life. It requires that you show up each and every day in good times and in bad. It means that there is mutual respect between the influencer and the influencee and that you are acting in good faith and looking out for them more than yourself.

Does Kim Kardashian really want me to visit Bali because she thinks it is best for me? Or, is she wanting me to visit Bali because there’s money in it for her? Intent, is what she is suggesting benefiting me or her? That’s the difference between influence and marketing.

Yes, Ralphie, Kim, and every other social media star may have a massive reach with their audience, but they are not influencers. They are marketers and entertainers.

You know who the real influencer is? YOU ARE! 

Yes, you are the daily voice that reminds, specifically your students, that;

The group is more important than the individual.
Hard work is required for success.
Commitment means doing what you say and saying what you will do.
Tolerance for others is part of being a part of a group.
Selflessness and self-sacrifice are a part of being.

You “follow” their lives. You truly “like” and “heart” them and when they REALLY need it you skip the emojis and give them a real smile and a hug. 

As a music educator, your influence is as real as it is profound. And that’s no vanity metric.