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Fri 13 Sep 2019 10:00 AM

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Opinion: will the real influencers please stand up?

It's time we invest in and recognise individuals who think beyond making a few extra bucks through a #ad on social media

Opinion: will the real influencers please stand up?
#MeToo went viral thanks to social platform Twitter

Think about the last time you were influenced to do something meaningful. Now think about whether or not it was through a social media “influencer”.

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed (more intellectual content, less influencer marketing than Instagram), I spotted a quote by author and founder of Asia’s largest podcast media house, Graham Brown: “Stop chasing influencers. Your best influencers are your own people.”

Just like the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘entrepreneur’ have been tainted by those who are neither celebrated nor successful in business, the term ‘influencer’ has been tarnished by many social media users whose main talent seems to stem from their ability to document their entire lives (dull, unimpressive moments included) to a major audience.

If you’re an influencer, you will have already labelled me a “hater”, but I’m counting on my assumption that between liking posts and taking selfies, few “influencers” will have picked up on this article.

The influential ones

This is not to say that all social media “influencers” are neither influential nor have nothing valuable to offer – Dubai-based Huda Kattan built a $1bn beauty empire, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg began a worldwide environmental campaign and Chris Godfrey, through an unassuming egg photo, encouraged a global conversation on mental health. Tarana Burke, with the help of actress Alyssa Milano, proved the power of social media through the #metoo movement, leading to the arrest of a number of Hollywood’s most well-known directors and actors for sexual harassment.

What do all these people have in common? They have a purpose beyond making a few bucks through a #ad on social media.


In this week’s cover story [page 22], Princess Lamia bint Majid AlSaud, Secretary General at Alwaleed Philanthropies, calls for less “Snapchat fashionistas” and more “businesswomen, start-up owners, doctors”.

She says, “I don’t mind anyone who is succeeding, but [social media] isn’t the only segment where you can be a star and [make] money… Fashionistas are good, but young women who have great ideas and want to [start] a project, want to build themselves as businesswomen, but don’t know what to do, who will they go to?

Just like the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘entrepreneur’ have been tainted by those who are neither celebrated nor successful in business, the term ‘influencer’ has been tarnished

“We need a role model for each and every sector.”

This takes me back to Brown’s quote.

If companies invested in their own employees as much as they did in social media influencer marketing, perhaps there would be enough genuine role models to go around for each and every sector.

If I could name the most influential person in my career, it wouldn’t be some motivational speaker on social media. It would be my editor-in-chief who taught me to write better stories, my editorial director who taught me to chase better leads and my online editor who taught me to choose facts over a sensational headline.

The power of social media is undoubtedly incredible (some of our highest profile interviews were made possible via Twitter and Instagram – it’s amazing what a simple DM can do) but, having said that, what is power without purpose? What is influence without purpose?

Investing in role models

It’s time that we invested in real influencers, not just to sell a few ads, but to ultimately make a difference.

For companies, who better to make a difference than your own employees?

For influencers who may think themselves influential for convincing some girl to spend an extra few dollars on face cream, maybe consider a higher purpose beyond a few extra dollars.

And for regular users on social media, the next time you’re scrolling through your feed, consider putting down your phone and creating some influence in your sector in the real world. There are more than enough global issues to go around.

After all, if so-called “talentless” Kim Kardashian found a purpose beyond reality TV and social media, (she is currently pursuing a law degree to improve the United States’ justice system), so can you.