A CLOSER LOOK: lifting the lid on social influencers and what they promote

Regional News

Industry expected to generate $13.8 billion in 2021, according to report

Getty Images.

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Social media influencers offer information and products on a lot of topics and have a reach from local, to national, to international, but consumers should use caution while engaging them.

The Better Business Bureau reports about influencers and content creators — and alerts consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent practices.

The idiom, “all that glitters is not gold,” has been around for centuries, and can be applied to what some social influencers offer. In other words, what appears to be one thing may be something else.

Influencers and content creators are social media users who have leveraged their personalities, travels, stories, and/or talents to acquire great numbers of online followers, many of whom are young people. And as influencers extend their reach across the digital world, brands are eager to gain access to the new consumers who follow them.

Better Business Bureau

Influencers most commonly use Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and now China-based TikTok. In the first quarter of 2021, TikTok was the most downloaded mobile app globally, followed by Facebook and Instagram.

In Arkansas, a Bentonville teen used her talents to honor healthcare workers during COVID-19. Ashely Rangel’s picture of a frontline healthcare worker wearing a mask and writing “2020” garnered 1.5 million “likes” and more than 4 million “views” on TikTok earlier this year.

Video game YouTuber Boogie2988 has more than 4 million followers. In Northwest Arkansas, he’s better known as Steven Jay Williams, 46, who was recently arrested for aggravated assault — he reportedly fired a warning shot at a man who went to his Fayetteville home. Boogie2988 is known for video rants about video games.

Arkansas photographer Jeff Rose, who is also the marketing director for Buffalo Outdoor Center on the upper Buffalo National River, was listed as one of the top 51 Instagram user to follow in the U.S. by Time magazine in 2016. His photos focus on “the scenic beauty of the Ozark Mountains,” according to his website. Rose has more than 77,000 Instagram followers, according to a marketing agency that logs influencer data.

Other Arkansas social media influencers with a high Instagram follower count include Fixer Upper Fanpage (396.8K), Arkansas Razorbacks (198.9K), UFC fighter Bryce Mitchell, from Cabot, who has nearly 200,000 followers.

Some influencers are known to use bots to increase their numbers, and some companies sell bots, these fake followers, to influencers. An example of “all that glitters is not gold,” per se. Don’t always believe the numbers because they could be bought bots!

Chat Bot Using Laptop Computer, Robot Virtual Assistance Of Website Or Mobile Applications. Voice support service bot. Online support bot. Vector illustration. Getty Images.

As of Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Instagram users can “flip a switch that hides public like counts.” The same will be available for Facebook users in a few weeks. There are two thoughts about hiding “likes.” Some influencers think it may take away from the social media experience and criticized that the Instagram platform did not give users a choice. Instagram began hiding likes to make people’s time of the app less stressful/depressing.

TOP INFLUENCERS (source: BBB)

  • PewDiePie (prono: pew-dee-pie) has created YouTube videos for a decade and has 110 million subscribers. He’s known for video game tips, comedy, and meme commentary. His real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberk and is from Sweden.
  • Dude Perfect has more than 50 million YouTube subscribers, 42 million mobile game downloads, 18 million Facebook followers, and 10 million Instagram followers, according to his website. The American sports/comedy group is based in Frisco, Texas, and has been around since 2009.
  • Instagram accounts in the millions include Karim Benzema, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, National Geographic, and NASA.
  • Snapchat influencers who rank high in popularity are hip hop producer DJ Khaled, Jelena Noura, and “Gigi” Hadid.
  • Twitter popular accounts run the gamut from Rihanna, Cristiano Ronaldo, Justin Bieber, and former President Barack Obama.

One survey reported influencer marketing was a $1.7 billion industry in 2016, $9.7 billion in 2020, and it’s expected to be $13.8 billion in 2021. The Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report 2021 surveyed more than 5,000 marketing agencies, brands, and other relevant professionals to get an idea of the industry’s direction.

The most popular way to pay influencers is through PayPal and Instagram is the most used platform for influencer marketing campaigns, but TikTok is catching up.

  • Instagram dropped in popularity in 2021 as 68% consider it important for marketing campaigns, in 2020 it was 80%.
  • TikTok did not have its own category 2020 and was listed as “other.” This year 45% of respondents now use it for influencer marketing campaigns.

WATCH FOR FRAUD (source: BBB)

  •  Be skeptical about exaggerated claims for a particular product, trip, or service.
  •  Be aware of high spikes in follower count for an influencer or content creator.
  •  Look in the comments section for a high number of generic or irrelevant comments – comments that only contain emojis or one or two words, or don’t appear to comment on the content of the posting, for example.
  • Keep an eye out for followers from distant places; if an influencer based in Virginia has a large number of commentators from Asia or Africa it is possible they may be artificial.
  • Look for verification marks from platforms – some social media companies will verify influencers with a special marker if they appear to have a large number of followers. For example, Instagram has a blue checkmark for accounts it has verified for a public figure, celebrity, or brand. 

NATIONAL INFLUENCERS WHOSE ACTIONS GO VIRAL — FOR THE WRONG REASONS

Sometimes being an influencer can backfire as it has recently for two popular personalities, Chrissy Teigen, wife of EGOT recipient John Legend, and Hillary “Hilaria” Thomas-Baldwin, wife of actor Alec Baldwin.

For Teigen, hateful social media comments made as far back as a decade on Twitter were recently brought back to attention by media personality Courtney Stodden. In 2011, at age 16, Stodden was in the spotlight when she married a 51-year-old actor (they divorced in March 2020). Many people made fun of Stodden because of the marriage, including Teigen.

Earlier this month, Stodden, now 26, kept the private messages Teigen directly sent her telling Stodden to commit suicide. The now-released messages from Teigen to Stodden include, “My friday fantasy: you. dirt nap. mmmmmm baby” and “go. to sleep. forever.”

As for Teigen, she has been social media quiet by the allegations and did offer a public Tweet message to Stodden, but blocked her at the same time.

Stodden wrote: “I accept her apology and forgive her. But the truth remains the same, I have never heard from her or her camp in private. In fact, she blocked me on Twitter. All of me wants to believe this is a sincere apology, but it feels like a public attempt to save her partnerships with Target and other brands who are realizing her “wokeness” is a broken record. Twitter post used with permission from Courtney Stodden.

Recently, Teigen’s line of cookware is no longer being offered by retailers Target and Macy’s and Bloomingdales canceled a contract prior to being signed. The retailers or Teigen have not stated the cancellations are connected to bullying on social media. Teigen has not made a Twitter post to her 13.6 million followers since May 12, 2021. According to Forbes, her net worth was $11.5 million in 2018.

“I’m a white girl,” said Hilaria Baldwin.

Alec Baldwin, from left, and Hilaria Baldwin attend a news conference at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Baldwin was participating in the announcement of the winners of the 2015 Equator Prize, which recognizes local and sustainable development solutions. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Hilaria Baldwin, a former yoga instructor, has shut down the comment section of her Instagram account, although she posts on it multiple times daily and tags companies about the posts.

Hilaria, 37, maiden name Hillary Hayward-Thomas, about a decade ago created a Spanish-speaking persona who was from Spain. Sometimes spoke she with a Spanish accent; accepted awards from Latina-based magazines based on her ethnicity; introduced as being from Spain when she, and her husband Alec, spoke at the United Nations; talent organization Creative Artists Agency, that represented her, said she was born in Mallorca, Spain; the couple’s NY Times wedding announcement stated she was an NYU graduate.

None of the six above examples are true.

She was exposed on December 21, 2020, on Twitter and national media have published about the discrepancies. Shortly after, she addressed her 908,000 Instagram followers about her background, and said, “Yes, I’m a white girl, my family is white.”

I’ve seen chatter online questioning my identity and culture.

This is something I take very seriously, and for those who are asking— I’ll reiterate my story, as I’ve done many times before. 

I was born in Boston and grew up spending time with my family between Massachusetts and Spain.

My parents and sibling live in Spain and I chose to live here, in the USA.

We celebrate both cultures in our home—Alec and I are raising our children bilingual, just as I was raised. This is very important to me. I understand that my story is a little different, but it is mine, and I’m very proud of it.

Hilaria Baldwin Instagram post, December 29, 2020.

Her parents were born in Massachusetts and lived in Boston. They retired in 2011 and have since spent time in Spain and the U.S. Her mom is a doctor and her father is a lawyer.

Alec has addressed the situation about his wife’s actions, often stating his wife is from both countries. In April 2013, during a television interview segment on Late Show with David Letterman, Alec said to Letterman, “my wife is from Spain.”

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