Five Minute Friday – Influence

Joining up with Five Minute Friday on a Monday this week. It was a long weekend, so we went to my in-laws on Friday and I focused on getting my Winter Session grades done (which I did, other than late work, which I will be entering today and will be done with that before starting Spring semester tomorrow). But, I didn’t want to miss a Five Minute Friday so early in the year, so I figured, better late than never! This week’s prompt is “influence”.

Influence has taken on a whole new meaning in this age of electronic communication. I wrote a bit about this before in my post, “Do We Need A Following?” I have been reading blogs for a long time and I have noticed how many more people are describing themselves as “influencers”. There are lifestyle influencers, fitness influencers, parenting influencers, and the list goes on and on. But, what does this really mean? In a lot of cases, it simply means “salespeople”. But, I guess we feel better about being influenced than we do being sold things.

I think of “influence” as so much more than selling something though. Influence is the ability to change someone’s behavior or choices and like any other form of power, it comes with a lot of responsibility. That responsibility is often forgotten in the exchange though. We think of the person being influenced and we put a lot of responsibility on them. “Resist”. “Be aware and think before acting.” But, what about the influencers themselves? Do they have any responsibility to be ethical? I mean, I know we have laws that make people post when they are using affiliate links (so we know they are financially gaining from the clicks) and we have some expectations for the bloggers we read to be honest in their opinions online. We have always been sold things in our daily lives, after all.

But, the internet takes it to a whole new level. I worked in retail during high school and my first few years of college. I remember the uncomfortable feeling of having to ask someone if they were interested in pairing that sweater with some socks or getting a discount for applying for a credit card. That discomfort was from hearing my mom’s voice in my head every time, saying that if she was interested in those things she would have ASKED for them. My mom was not a retail fan. But, it made me consider whether I was actually asking them about the socks and credit cards to help THEM or to help ME (or our company, although we often got points for upselling items) and the answer was often ME (or our company). Every once in a while someone actually needed a pair of socks and didn’t realize we had them on sale, but that was really rare. That discomfort stemmed from not only my upbringing, but also the fact that I was looking someone in the face when I was asking. I could often tell when someone was pushing it to get the sweater alone. But, still, we were supposed to ask them about the socks. And maybe if they got a credit card they could go into debt to get them! The internet takes away the face-to-face. The posts are written with millions in mind and no one in mind. There is no indication of whether someone reading can afford the items listed or are struggling to just get through a day of meals. But, they chose to click, so aren’t they responsible? I’m just not so sure.

Some influencers are really responsible and honest and ethical. But, there are many out there who may not have considered what it means to be an influencer, but instead are focused on being a seller. Whether young or unaware or naive or purposefully uncaring, they just don’t think/care about the impact they can/will have on a large number of people. I am going to try to support those influencers (life Five Minute Friday) who have their readers at heart when they write their posts. They may sell things, but they do so in a way that recognizes their readers as humans and try to add value to their readers’ lives, not just value to their own wallets. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference, but if you read for long, it will usually become apparent.