On Using Social Media..For Good?

Some thoughts about the power of social media influencers.

I have a lot of thoughts to share. Tonight, I attended an event called, “The Business of Influence.” The subtitle: How to Build and Monetize Your Brand. I am not someone who goes to these things. But I was graciously invited by the organizer of the event, and she was using the moment to launch her company’s new publication. Having briefly worked with her when her company was in its infancy, I was happy to be there.

There is no good solution to the tension between ethics and capitalism. What I take from the event is that those who are drawn to become social media influencers really wish to abandon the jobs they have now. That is understandable.

But the job, as a social media influencer, does not seem at all glamorous. If you do no hire a manager, you have to connect with the marketing/branding team of companies and hope that your pitch interests them. A lot of this, understandably, involves how many followers you have (tonight’s talk mostly focused on Instagram).

I learned that there are influencer tiers. “Nanno” influencers have less than 10,000 followers; “micro-” influencers have 10,000 to 50,000 followers; “mid-tier” influencers have 50,000 to 500,000 followers; “macro-” influencers have 500,000 to 1,000,000; “mega” influencers have over 1,000,000 followers. The cost of sponsored posts vary but on the low-end it is common to see prices of $100 per post.

I am not a curmudgeon. Business is business and the Internet is revolutionizing how we earn our living. I am more interested in why people are gravitating towards doing this sort of work. I do not think so many people are naive to the effort it requires.

This, of course, has been a blessing for big business. I can imagine the marketing teams at Audible, PlayStation, and Frank & Oak, for example, are excited that they are able to directly target their demographic for a fraction of the price of conventional advertising spots.

But if we are able to sell ourselves — or to “tell authentic stories” as the panel mentioned tonight — it’s important that we assert our priorities with our brand “partners.” I’d like to hear from a social media influencer who has a list of requirements for companies she works with: carbon neutral, pays employees a living wage, donates a portion of their earnings to charity, etc.

Some call this ethical capitalism. While in many ways this is a contradiction, it might be our best shot at redefining our contemporary culture and getting people hyped about socially-conscious companies.

I’ll end off with two suggestions. One, we need less seminars about how to sell yourself to bad companies and focus on convincing progressive companies to help you market their business. And two, we need to teach social media influencers how they can minimize the power imbalance between them and multi-national companies.

If people trust what you have to say, I think that’s great. The trick is to leverage that trust to spread ideas that will move society in the right direction.


Recommendations

Since the Government of Ontario announced that it’s slashing Legal Aid Ontario’s budget by 30%, I’ve felt unsettled. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a lawyer at a legal aid clinic. Of course it would unpleasant to lose my job, but I know that at some point I will pick myself up and dust myself off. The real enduring harm will be distributed to the people we serve. Those who work in dangerous positions, put up with inappropriate co-workers and managers, and lose their jobs when they assert their rights. These workers that fall through the cracks — hard-working people who earn too little too afford a private lawyer — obtain relief through our services.

But that’s just my experience. There are other legal aid clinics that specifically assist vulnerable communities (Black Legal Action Centre, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, HIV & Aids Legal Clinic of Ontario, etc.) and a bunch of hardworking local community legal clinics who help poor residents in their neighbourhood who have issues concerning their tenancy, social assistance, employment insurance, etc.

I’ve been trying to spread the word about this issue on Twitter, and I thought it would be useful to talk about it here. If you feel so inclined, there’s a petition circulating on the internet that calls to reverse the funding cuts. And if this moves you, speak up and talk about it. A fair and moral society depends on access to justice.

See you next Tuesday.