In 2015, Anastasia Hronis, a Sydney-based psychologist and accomplished pianist, started posting videos on Instagram of herself playing the piano. As she posted video after video, she amassed followers. Today, her page boasts an impressive 38,000 of them – all of whom, she says, are genuinely interested in her work and her craft.
As compared with the Kardashians, each of whom have more than 75 million followers on the platform, Hronis’ following may seem paltry. But any Instagram user would attest that gathering such a large following, particularly on a page dedicated to one’s art form, is no small achievement. Most of them would also agree that Hronis is part of a new breed of digital capitalists who can make or break brands with one video or post.
Called social media influencers, these new-age capitalists have not only disrupted the advertising industry, they have also forced the largest corporations on earth to sit up and take notice. According to Forbes, the global Instagram influencer marketing industry will be worth a whopping USD 2.38 billion in 2019 – at least.
So, is social media capital the capital of the future? And is it being used for purpose?
Social media capital could be defined as the influence you wield on the Internet. It’s measured using the currencies of subscriptions, likes, comments, and followers. Its leading capitalists have millions of followers on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and so on. These social media entrepreneurs post both visual and written content that clicks with users. In turn, they leverage their following to get corporations to pay them thousands of dollars for one post advertising their brand or product.
Being a social media influencer can be a full-time job. Each post has to be perfect, and can take hours and even days to produce. On top of that, there are deals to negotiate, comments to answer, fans to engage, and events to attend. Considering it can also pay more than a full-time job, it can be a viable career option. Many influencers, in fact, have gone on quit their 9-to-5 jobs to focus exclusively on cultivating their social media handles.
But, to update an old saying, with a great following comes great responsibility. How are influencers, most of whom tend to be below 30, stacking up on this front? A glance at the headlines is enough to show that influencers have been repeatedly called out by scholars, journalists, and experts for spreading misleading information and fake news, promoting unhealthy body ideals, advertising brands they do not care about, being inauthentic, flouting advertising regulations, and so on. While a lot of people follow them religiously, many others think that they are famous for no real reason other than being, well, famous.
Yet, there are others who are using their social media capital more responsibly. A case in point is Rafaela Requesens, a social activist and Leader of Tomorrow from Venezuela, who could not travel to Switzerland for the symposium because of unrest in her home country. With more than 130,000 followers on Instagram, Requesens regularly posts content spreading awareness about various social and political issues in Venezuela. Another Leader of Tomorrow, Ireland’s Herman Lange, has co-founded a portal called ‘The Continent’ that seeks to combat disinformation as well as encourage debate on European issues by giving real experts a larger, more diverse audience on social media.
Bobby Jones, the Chief Marketing Officer of PeaceFirst, has worked with young people most of his life. Jones points out that even people like Kim Kardashian are using their influence now to drive positive social change. Last year, Kardashian was on the cover of Vogue to not talk about her latest vacation but to talk about prison reform. Jones also points out that Lady Gaga has always used her influence to draw attention to LGBT issues. He believes that social media platforms are still in their infancy, and we have yet to completely understand their full potential. “It’s like the infant is the most powerful person in the room,” he says.
Jones has complete faith that young people will drive social and political change, just as they have in the past. And, he says, there will be space for social media influencers to play a part in that journey.
Until then, we are left to our own devices – quite literally
Social media capital has created new-age capitalists. Many of them are using their influence for social and political change. These influencers wield enormous power and could play a crucial role in changing the future.