Are we at the tipping point of the Vlogger/Blogger wave?
Jonathan Heath — Digital Planner/Embittered Coot
Good news for budding future vloggers — for £150 you can now take a course on how to be a YouTuber/Vlogger at the City of Glasgow College. The curriculum includes practical study segments taught by a mystery YouTuber in a webcam-equipped room where “Each week you will focus on the practical development of your own channel.”
Ok, that’s the factual element of the article out of the way now. That actually happened, that course actually exists and presumably similar types will shortly follow as institutions scramble to take advantage of the last vestiges of a cultural happening that is vastly becoming more and more bloated with every sponsored post and PR trip to Ibiza.
You’ve probably seen an influencer on your social feed of choice, you might follow one, you might even be one! (You’re probably not one). Advertisers and advocates of the influencer world appear to be operating like movie studios and record labels in the Eighties with international brands hurling gigantic wads of cash at teenagers with millions of followers, subscribers and viewers in the hope of getting as many eyeballs on their products as possible. Improbable careers and celebrities are created and sustained through a miasma of funded content.
What is the return on investment in the influencer economy though? We know that neither the brands nor the influencers have a true understanding of what their content is actually worth and so we end up with slightly insane looking pricing platforms like this:
Now any prospective students eyeing up that course probably look at these numbers with aubergine emojis in their eyes. This is their future! Except of course it isn’t. Nobody destined for greatness on the above platforms will need the course to achieve it. That this course even exists is evidence of the next stage in an evolutionary cycle for the concept of vloggers as influencers. If influencer marketing represents an opportunity for brands to try and score quick and easy wins with viral-esque content then this course is a perfect encapsulation of the machinations of an entire generation attempting to chase fame and paycheques. It’s the scholastic equivalent of a pop-up spam advert advertising a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme.
Vloggers have been utterly transparent from the start about their processes. They have always shown how they make their content and given that their chosen platforms allow the viewer to revisit their early work its very easy to chart their progression, individual learning curves and stylistic evolutions. This course reveals and teaches nothing new. It only serves to highlight the notion that being an influencer is now a profession that people can strive for. This is a vocational course.
The problem is, it’s really, really, really easy to become a vlogger/blogger. So now we have a lot. The market is saturated with the same sort of content repeated ad-nauseum with only minor differences. You have an upper tier of superstars aka the ones with their own waxworks. Then you have the professionals — the people who get a year’s salary for Instagramming about dental floss six times. Then a massive homogenous mass of individuals who get sent free products by PR companies and might get a trip to a big city once or twice a year.
The best thing about influencer marketing was how ‘real’ the influencers were. That approachability becomes more and more non-existent though once it becomes apparent how much they are earning and how many times you see them on advertising hoardings. Their transparency ends up working against them as the inevitable “I’m blogging full time” videos start appearing and they actually become too expensive for most brands.
Being a true influencer is much harder. The old definition of this term used to refer to uber-creative people who were respected and idolized for their work and opinions — even if their work was just being really good at wearing clothes and posing. If you fit a brand’s demographic and your follower count has big numbers you’re now an influencer. I’ll give you a tip, put that £150 away. Here’s how you gain success and influence in basically any creative field:
1. Have talent, an amazing idea or both!
2. Learn more and work really hard consistently for a long time
3. Eventually you will achieve something
That’s it. Read any interview with an influencer old or new. Revisit old vlogger videos or blog posts. Read and watch them when they were just starting out. The successful ones stuck it out and played the long game. That’s it. Nepotism and wealth don’t even really help if you think about it. Talent and work ethic always rises to the top.
We are reaching advertising saturation and even the networks have started kicking back. YouTube have begun to clamp down on vloggers who don’t make their sponsored posts obvious enough. Snapchat continually assert that they are focused entirely on user needs and given that users tend to not need to see blatant advertising when they’re here to look at Kylie’s shiny new ring we can expect the audience to start calling bullshit on content faster and faster. Remember, millennials LOVE to call bullshit on stuff.
The idea of authenticity was the major reason that brands began focusing on influencers in the first place, and it remains the most potent way to capture basically anyone born from 1980 onwards attentions. As stated earlier on, the approachability of some of these bloggers is rapidly evaporating which leaves some brands with a bargain bin assortment of low-price low-creativity content providers to choose from. Choosing the right influencer is a skill in itself but as a brand you really need to be asking what actual benefit you’ll gain from using one in the first place.
Influencer marketing is here to stay but as the brands start to come down from the insanity of the social media starlet bender they’ve been on since 2014 we’re certain to see more shifts and changes in the way the business side of things operates. Especially when the ROI finally gets calculated properly: