THE RISE OF THE INFLUENCER

Hayley Warnes Lifestyle Blogger

It feels like there’s a whole lot of change going on in the world right now and the influencer / blogging / social media world is moving just as fast. There have been a few hot topics recently that I have decided to keep quiet about and in general I’ve erred on the side of caution when speaking publicly and in a personal and forthright manner, especially on potentially sensitive subjects. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, I definitely do but saying that I can be a bit blunt would be the understatement of the year, so I really have to think about the words that I share. In the past it has frustrated me when I feel that people are talking about certain experiences simply for an SEO boost. Maybe I’m cynical, maybe I’m right, it’s probably a bit of both, who knows. Regardless, I’m kind of coming around to the fact that the whole point of having this platform, is to use it to say something. I mean let’s be honest, as much as I love them, there are only so many ‘5 things’ and ’10 ways to’ posts we can read (and write) without wanting something with a little more meat on it.

I read an article recently written by Muireann Carey-Campbell aka Bangs, someone who I admire a lot for her candid nature and skills with the written word. She asked, what is our message? It’s something that I have talked about often over the past year or so with friends but she expressed it perfectly for a larger more public audience. Although I would class myself as a lifestyle blogger, my love for sport is evident and my Instagram is decidedly fitness heavy so I definitely feel ‘qualified’ to chime in on the matter. Despite going into something slightly resembling defence mode after reading her post, I think she’s totally right in questioning our motives, I know that I question the integrity of certain influencers on a regular basis!

The rise of the ‘influencer’ has been stratospheric and I love that I’ve managed to be a small (minuscule, actually) part of it. I’m slowly carving a career out of it all by getting the chance to work with people and brands that I look up to and admire. I have also been able to meet a tribe of strong, inspirational women whom I now consider close friends. I didn’t start using social media with the aim of inspiring anyone but myself, however I accept that with the growth of my own audience I do have the potential to inspire and reach people and that’s a responsibility that shouldn’t be abused or taken lightly.

For me the really frustrating thing about this moment in time is the overall concern with appearance, not just within the fitness industry but across the board! Think modern day rappers with nothing real to say but attitude to the hilt, all show and no go.

‘If it’s not on instagram then it didn’t happen…’

Sadly it would seem that this shiny, edited digital world that we are living in, struggles with a distinct lack of depth. There are people out there who’s sole drive in life is to become an ‘influencer’, but what does that really mean? Don’t get me wrong, I really do love the aesthetics of a great image, I’m a designer at heart and I joined Instagram purely to look at and create beautiful and interesting posts, whether or not I always succeed is a whole different ballgame! I’m all about angles, balance and negative space, I love decent lighting and feel that I have pretty much mastered the dark art of filtering. However, I need something real to be the subject of all that modern day witchcraft! After all, sport and fitness and the desire to change yourself for the better is rooted in grit and perseverance and ugly days and truth, most of all, truth. I absolutely loved working with Speedo as both a model and an influencer, partially because I believe in the brand and also because I know how I survived the very real struggle to become a swimmer, the endless hours, the fear, the embarrassments, the incremental wins. My opinion is that someone should show perseverance and a true passion for something before they can even think about attempting to influence anyone else within that sphere. Yet a chunk of the people that we as the public are holding up on a pedestal as the peak of the ‘fitness industry’ are perhaps skipping a fair few of those steps and going straight for the glossy, photoshopped ‘after’ image. The most disheartening thing? People are lapping it up! I understand that sometimes we just want to look at pretty pictures, I also understand that aesthetics make it easier to believe in an aspirational lifestyle but how do we know what’s behind that perfectly curated image? How can we be sure that the person has overcome some kind of personal battle to achieve it? Or is it just good angles and filters and therefore not really worthy of our awe?

The past year or so and the rise of all this fakery has certainly made me question what I put on social media and also publish here on the blog. I know my story, I know how I started this journey way back when – dressed in my boyfriends old kit and cheap trainers that were more than 2 years old. I know that still to this day my favourite places to train are spit and sawdust boxing gyms with guys that have been working there since the day the doors opened. Or running around Grovelands park with my favourite coach in the centre, stopwatch and whistle in hand. All of us red faced, covered in snot and not giving a crap about how we look or what we’re wearing, all of us just wanting to do well, to be better (mostly ‘cause we all love our Mr Trew!). Even jumping (falling / flailing) into the flotsam and jetsam filled pool at 5:45am with a bunch of awesome, dedicated athletes but with not an instagram ‘worthy’ picture in sight.

I feel that the tide is definitely turning and people are becoming wise to it all, we all know deep down that ‘content creation’ means way more than just taking a selfie in some gifted gym gear – not that I haven’t been guilty of that myself in the past. I believe (and hope) that brands will start to look more at influencers with skill, talent or even just a genuine interest in the specific service or product that they’re trying to promote, rather than just throwing money at the people with the highest numbers. A little more care and consideration will result in campaigns being far more effective, they will result in real online social communities being built and relationships with brands that last more than a season. We have to be a part of this change though, we have to stop championing the wrong people because in the end it will only be us that are left feeling shortchanged. They will be laughing their asses off – fully clad in the latest gear – all the way to the bank.

Instagram is a visual medium, it’s always going to be about creating powerful imagery to share your message. If you can’t get on board with that then I’m sorry to say but instagram probably isn’t for you. However, there is absolutely a balance to be had between aesthetic and real. Let’s look up to those that put the time and effort into finding that balance because I can attest to the fact that it’s not easy and it’s ridiculously time consuming. I am so inspired by those that are up before the sun (when it’s dark – and therefore when they couldn’t possibly get a good selfie for the life of them) to get their own training done and then spend the day hustling and earning a living, yet still manage to create thoughtful, beautiful, visually appealing content – both written and photographic. These are the people who will take the time and effort to really do justice to your campaigns and actually care about the return on your investment and about representing your brand (aka blood, sweat and tears) in the best possible way.

I feel confident that I know what’s important and where the real magic happens, I just hope that I’m conveying the right message whilst still endeavouring to curate and create a beautiful feed. I hope that I’m not contributing to the farce of it all and if I am… I’m sorry and I’ll try to be better.

On that note, one final thought to ponder… I asked above, what it means to be a career influencer. Is that perfect image really influencing anyone’s psyche or just their drive to purchase and which of those is more worthwhile in the long run? I understand that for brands their ultimate aim is to get people to buy products but aren’t they also hoping to build a longer lasting, more trustworthy relationship between themselves and the consumer? Surely this can only happen when the influencer is selling the whole lifestyle and not just the latest sports bra or their own personal statistics?

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