In which I scoff at influencers

#bottlecapchallenge on TikTok

In the New York Times, Kevin Roose writes “Don’t Scoff at Influencers. They’re Taking Over the World.”

Sorry, dude. I’m scoffing. Bigtime.

Here’s some of what Roose wrote:

[T]he teenagers and 20-somethings who have mastered these platforms [like TikTok] — and who are often dismissed as shallow, preening narcissists by adults who don’t know any better — are going to dominate not just internet culture or the entertainment industry but society as a whole.

On the surface, this can be a terrifying proposition. . . .

They are shallow, preening narcissists. I am an adult and I do know better. And their influence, such as it is, is certainly a terrifying proposition.


Many social media influencers are essentially one-person start-ups, and the best ones can spot trends, experiment relentlessly with new formats and platforms, build an authentic connection with an audience, pay close attention to their channel analytics, and figure out how to distinguish themselves in a crowded media environment — all while churning out a constant stream of new content.

But as social media expands its cultural dominance, the people who can steer the online conversation will have an upper hand in whatever niche they occupy — whether that’s media, politics, business or some other field.

“The way to think of influencers or creators is as entrepreneurs,” said Chris Stokel-Walker, the author of “YouTubers.” “These people are setting up businesses, hiring staff, managing budgets. These are massively transferable skills.” . . .

In other words, influencers are the future. Dismiss them at your peril.

He then goes on to cite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an example.

This is, to put it mildly, confusing the medium with the message. AOC is not some empty-headed dope — she’s a thoughtful politician who has mastered social media. Whether you agree with her or not, don’t confuse her with somebody babbling about eyebrow threading on YouTube.

I have been analyzing social media for a decade and cowrote a bestselling book on the topic. That doesn’t mean I understand it better than anyone else, but it at least gives me the right to an opinion. So here is that opinion.

On the consumer side, attractive people who master a mass medium have always had influence. We wanted to dress like movie star Elizabeth Taylor and talk like Cary Grant. Everything has now changed, and nothing has.

Attractive, creative people who can master these new forms of media are certainly influential . . . up to a point. They might change how we want to wear our hair, the way we express ourselves (LOL), and the way we perceive the style of others. From a style point of view, these “influencers” have influence.

But that’s only from a style point of view.

Imagine for a moment that someone wants to create influence in how we educate ourselves, how we raise our children, how we conduct ourselves at work, or how we vote.

Such an individual needs to be intelligent, be able to communicate well, and effectively use the latest communications platforms.

That was true before — when the latest platforms were newspapers and trade magazines. Now such folks generate influence on their own with platforms like blogs, LinkedIn, Medium, YouTube, and Instagram.

It’s a different skill . . . but it’s the same skill.

So no, these “shallow, preening narcissists” won’t turn the tide in the election or make us buy Teslas or change zoning laws. Thoughtful people who can successfully tap social channels will do that.

It’s a pretty shallow analysis that can’t tell the difference between a YouTuber and a thought leader.

Don’t fall for it. Even if it’s in the New York Times.

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  1. How do you explain the influence of someone as vapid as Jenny McCarthy on the anti-vax front? She’s clearly not the kind of intelligent influencer you describe, but she has influenced some very serious decisions.