At best, we can spot their canny ability to convince more or less big-name brands to part with their money for no other purpose then their self-promotion. But scepticism is a dangerous temptation. While it may be true that many of these so-called influencers are merely a flash in the pan, those who are able to shape online consensus have the capacity not just to be part of the prevailing culture but to fashion that culture too – and establish a different business model to the successive models of recent years.
And so I ask myself, what distinguishes the genuine influencer – one who can produce content that will sway the opinion of millions – from the so-called influencer whose claims to possess merits, charisma and the aptitude to penetrate markets are just wishful thinking. I ask myself, are marketing agencies equipped to draw a line between the two? Lastly, I ask myself whether this distinction is obvious to users who are, at the end of the day, customers: because the real influencers are entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs are successful because they know how to win over customers, but also how to keep their business and, possibly, make them happy, too.
Beware of ridiculous choices
Certain observers, and I’m one of them, already see cracks appearing in this system. But only among the good-for-nothings as mentioned above, not the powerful content creators whose voice is heard the world over, thanks to platforms and technology. Cracks appear where authenticity, professionalism, competence, insight and the capacity to spot future trends give way to self-serving exhibitionism. They are the elements that have always distinguished the good “editor-in-chief”: one who is able to cut through today’s glut of information to single out tomorrow’s trend.
If we are to consider influencers – the real ones – as “editors-in-chief”, then we must also expect them to meet these criteria. Their ability to convince us of what they have to say cannot come down to the fact they are good-looking or sexy or engaging. These may be important characteristics, they are not the foundations of success. No, success is rooted in corporate culture, the operative word being “culture” because it is driven by insight and research, and based on the courage to make unexpected choices.
My conclusion is inspired by the words of Valentino, a great influencer before “influencer” was even a thing, although this isn’t a title he enjoys. In an interview to Il Messaggero, he declares that “style must prevail over vulgarity. Increasingly, this incredible market for bad taste is becoming part of young people’s world because of influencers who propose ridiculous and wrong choices.” Influencers who propose ridiculous and wrong choices are good-for-nothings.