The Art of Fashion, a colour supplement with the weekend edition of the Financial Times refers to “the myriad influencers.” Myriad? I thought influencers were significant voices, people who shaped the thinking of others. Isn’t that what influence means? Isn’t it the capacity to prompt people to take decisions they might not otherwise have taken? How can there be a myriad of them? Unless we live in an Andy Warhol world where everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes, then being an influencer must surely mean being one of a smaller group who has the ability to affect a far larger group. If the group of influencers is smaller, then how can there be a myriad of them?
An Internet search revealed that influencers are not as I imagined, they are not people who can use their social media accounts in such a way that they influence the thinking of those who “follow” them, they are instead a marketing device, a way of advertising products that is presumably cheaper than the traditional channels of advertising. If that is what it means to be an influencer, then there is a long tradition of such people, and they were myriad around fairgrounds.
I remember standing watching an “influencer” who had an extensive stall of kitchenware on the edge of a big annual fair. He had begun his patter when I wandered up to the edge of the crowd that had gathered. Standing with a large white box in his hand, he called, “who will give me £1? I want fifteen people to hold up a pound note. Are there fifteen people who want to be part of this? Are there fifteen £1 notes out there?” Hands holding green £1 notes went up into the air,” The influencer dispatched an assistant to collect the proffered money. “Now,” he said, “we can start. What I have here today is . . .”
The influencer went on to describe the various kitchen products for sale, all of which were, of course, “unbeatable bargains”. Some of the products were bought by who had handed over £1 notes, some were bought by people who had not. There was no linkage between having handed over £1 and being able to buy, nor had there been any implication that there would be, although no-one seemed to realise what had happened. Perhaps fifteen was such a number of people that no-one was sure who had given £1, for what they had done, freely and voluntarily, was to respond to the man’s request to give him the money.
Online influencers cannot be myriad, for they apparently have to have a following in six figures. Their task is little changed from that of the fairground huckster: it is to chat in such a way that people who follow them are prepared to part with their money, it is to persuade people to buy things that they do not need, things that may not have even thought that they wanted.
Watching the man at the fair, there was a certain grudging admiration for the man’s skill in making money. Similarly, to secure a hundred thousand followers is a substantial achievement. In neither case, though, are the people concerned influencers about anything serious.