The targets of many aspiring artists and models have shifted since the rise of social media, and not necessarily for the better.
Ask any teacher of children, and they will tell you that kids aspire to be YouTubers, streamers, or top social media personalities. This is repugnant to so many people and completely alien, but I don’t feel that way at all. YouTubers and streamers are the new Hollywood. Where once they might have been a subset of niche celebrities, now their merge without conventional stardom is almost complete, with top YouTubers on ordinary television and media more and more. Some of the most famous modern music stars got their start on the video platform. The days of saying “you can’t make a career out of that” are demonstrably gone, too. However, I think there is a problem hidden within this refocus of rising stars, and I see it most often in photography, videography, and modeling.
Social media success ought not to be the goal, but rather the vehicle towards the goal. The distinction in goals can be uncovered in whether one wants to be an “influencer” or “influential.” An influencer is somebody who has a large following, good interaction rates, and perhaps even strong conversion numbers for sales through sponsored content. The issue is: they are themselves a vehicle for brands. Their image and direction is usually highly malleable based on rates and opportunities provided, and it leaves them a little lacking in substance. That isn’t to say that all influencers are vapid marketing tools, but rather that is where somebody who wants to be an influencer will inevitably end up.
Contrast that with somebody who wants to be truly influential. That is, they want to make a difference in whichever industry they choose, they want to have a strong identity, and they want to teach others what they know and are passionate about. Success as either an influencer or influential figure can look strikingly similar on the face of things, but scratch below the surface and where one hollows out, the other goes deeper. In my time fully embedded in this industry in numerous capacities, I’ve seen a wealth of influencers, but only a few who are truly influential. The former tend to look to score free stuff from brands in exchange for endless glowing praise on all platforms. The latter are selective in who they work with and promote by extension.
In truth, I think the paradigm shift of marketing agencies from influencer to those who are genuinely influential in their fields is already well underway. Even just five years ago I would see people unscrupulously promoting products for brands I was quite sure they didn’t use when a camera wasn’t looking at them. Now, it appears that the goal of brands is longer-term partnerships of substance between two entities with genuine commonalities and respect for one another, though perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part.
So, what I want to put to anyone setting their sights on a successful career is to aim not for that coveted influencer title, but rather emanating influence as a direct result of your worth and value being recognized and appreciated by your community, be that locally or in a global field. I see myself as neither influencer nor influential to any meaningful degree, but I know which one I’m working toward.