The marketing world is talking a lot about influencers. Let’s compare them with journalism and their different business models.
Influencers offer important routes to audiences in some sectors like travel, food and fashion. I recently did a search and found there are more than 1,300 travel bloggers in the UK. These are great people with great stories and each has their own individual focus in travel. But when I searched more deeply I found some surprises. Some influencers publish travel “editorial” that is, in fact, paid for by the brands. Compare this with the regulations that govern traditional journalism. Media owners must declare if a story is paid for so readers will know why a travel brand is being recommended. These regulations don’t apply to influencers.
I worry that influencers’ reach and follower numbers are not independently audited. Compare this with journalism. Audit agencies check and verify the number of readers. No wonder Catalyst magazine (October 2018) reports research by Zine that shows influencers with fewer followers have better engagement. It also found that by the time an influencer has 1 million followers, engagement had fallen to less than 2%.
I hope journalism retains its core values. In his seminal book “Move Fast and Break Things” (2017) Jonathan Taplin worries that journalism is going in the direction of click-bait. He imagines a dystopian future where editors rate original journalism by how many “likes” or retweets it receives. If we measure only by these instant behaviours, he says, there is no distinction between a one-second page view or reading something meaty in full. Surely we want journalism to inform us, challenge us and teach us something?