We encourage you to observe The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh for a few minutes. What do you think? What do you feel? Did it move you? Dit it…have an influence on you in any way?
Influence is a term that we hear often in today’s society. This soft skill can be defined as “the capacity or power to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others”.
An influencer is a person or a group of persons, who have the power to influence the opinions, reactions, and behavior of others. For example, Van Gogh is an influencer, in the art world. Since we live in a digital world, of course, we could not leave outside the discussion the social media influencers.
A social media influencer is described as someone who has the power to influence consumers’ brand opinions, reactions, and behavior. A famous example of a social media influencer is Whindersson Nunes, a Brazilian comedian with 52.7M followers.
When van Gogh painted his most famous painting, the one you observed at the beginning, he thought it was a failure. In fact, he considered himself and many of his paintings to be failures, and it’s rumored that he only ever sold one painting in his lifetime. 150 years later, he is one of the finest artists of all time, and his paintings has been influencing many people worldwide over time. This contrast makes us wonder; what are the elements of influencing? What does influencing mean in today’s society? And last but not least, what is actually influencing us?
Did you know that 70% of active influencers have reported that their audiences have turned to them for guidance, while 90% of people are much more likely to trust a recommended product, even if the recommendation is from strangers (ex. social media influencers)?
Public figures have long been shown to be important influencers of human behavior, with psychological, social, and biological mechanisms proposed. Now that social media have been rising tremendously, social media influencers are becoming public figures as well, and role models to more sensitive age groups, such as tweens and teens.
What does it actually take to successfully influence people? Successful influencers share some common characteristics. While there is no such thing as parthenogenesis, great influencers need to have authenticity and be expert content creators. Meanwhile, one of the most important tasks of an influencer is engagement. Creating and cultivating a regular relationship with their community, and focusing on trust have also been found as key characteristics. Finally, as they operate as aspirational role models, they must be passionate individuals.
The dark side of influencing
According to Social Comparison Theory, people are motivated to determine their standing by comparison with others.
If we think for a second that 95% of US teens have smartphone accessibility and 45% of them are on social media continuously, it is easily explained why there is a tremendous effect of social media influencers on teens.
Therefore, the key is to pay close attention and have the critical thinking skills (hey, two more soft skills here!) to be influenced, but from influencers that form a healthy, motivative role model for us. Because if we lack this skill, the dark side of social media can take over. Explaining: research has shown negative socioemotional health consequences for early adolescent social media users with exposure to particular sources of social media content, such as photos of influencers. In more extreme cases, excessive and increased use of social media, particularly among those who are vulnerable, is correlated with depression and other mental health disorders.
So… next time your 12-year-old niece tells you without giving it a second thought: “I want to be an influencer when I grow up”, support her, but remind her that influencing other people is a serious choice to consider.
Like Vincent, listen to your inner voice and trust that you will inspire and touch people’s lives to make this world better, brighter, and more colorful.