Thoughts on Having Influence

Influence’ is a funny word.

The dictionary defines influence as ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behaviour of someone or something’. Every little decision that every single person makes on a daily basis has the possibility to influence somebody. Choosing the salad over the burger for lunch could influence your co-worker to make the same choice, talking to your friends about how you prefer shopping from independent brands might influence them to also step away from fast fashion, or posting an article about climate change on your facebook wall could influence your acquaintances to make small changes in their daily lives.

What I’m trying to say is, we use this word ‘influencer’ when we’re talking about Instagrammers, bloggers or celebrities but really anyone can be an influencer. We all influence people in our own ways, all through our lives. Some people are more susceptible to the influence of others (I know I’m much less impressionable in my thirties than I was as a teenager) but to remove ourselves from all outside influence wouldn’t just mean switching off from social media. It would mean cutting out all marketing, and all contact from your lives.

Instagram influencers get a bad rep. Generally, they’re all lumped together to be mocked and shamed in uneducated articles in traditional media publications that simply don’t understand influencer marketing. You know the type - all influencers are promoting diet drinks, they’re all selling lies, all they care about is getting us to buy stuff that we don’t need. There’s definitely a category of influencers out there who this applies to. The likes of the Kardashians obviously don’t give a crap about promoting meal-replacement drinks to young girls, and there’s a whole host of people on Instagram who just want to make money by sharing whatever products they can get their hand on.

A lot of people seem to be of the view that an ‘influencer’ is someone with a high number of followers on social media, who is paid to tell you a product is amazing. A freeloader who doesn’t pay for anything themselves and posts insincere content because brands wouldn’t pay them to be honest. Honestly, it greatly upsets me that this seems to be a growing consensus.

There are many Instagrammers and bloggers who are truly passionate & knowledgeable about what they post about, be that fashion, interiors, skincare, travel or anything else. In order to actually have influence and to be capable of inspiring others to make decisions, these two factors are essential. You can have hundreds of thousands of followers, but if you have no passion and knowledge for what you are talking about, your influence amounts to null.

You also need to consider why someone blogs or shares content on Instagram. Is it because they just want to make money and get free shit? Or is that something that has happened naturally over time, as a result of the quality content they have been sharing for years for free? Personally, I started blogging as a creative outlet when I had a job that I hated. It has evolved over the years to become a space where I can write about topics that I’m passionate about, and as a portfolio where I attract many of my freelance clients for my writing and photography work. Many bloggers, like me, only partner with brands and share content that fits naturally with their organic content. We become ‘influencers’ accidentally as we gather an audience that is genuinely interested in what we have to say.

There’s more to being an influencer, however. If you want to use this title wisely, you have to be aware of absolutely everything that you are putting out to the public. You have to be aware of using your influence for good and not shy away from issues that are important to you. To truly be influential, use your influence for something that matters. Talk out about things such as politics, racism, feminism and sustainability. Don’t be quiet; if you have a voice, allow it to be heard.

This is easier said that done, as it’s all too easy to fade into the background when important but tricky subjects arise. I see women in my online community speaking out passionately, using their influence to be heard, and I’m the first to admit that I could do and say more. Women like Rida and Rabya and Huma continue to amaze me with how they use their voices to talk about important issues. These women are actively influencing me in a positive way, as they’re making me open up my eyes and look at things in a different way.

To be a better influencer, you need to start thinking about the impact of the things that you post. If you’re promoting constantly jetting off around the world on carbon-guzzling planes or partner with a brand that is notorious for making their garments in sweatshops, perhaps you need to start challenging the content that you post. Perhaps you could take a trip by train and write about how much better this is for the environment, or you could cease working with unethical brands and choose to partner with those that focus on sustainability. If you have a large influence, you could make a big difference to the way that people think, shop and travel.

Every little helps. Every time we choose to promote an ethical brand over a high street chain, or talk about organic skincare products, or share our experience of staying in a carbon-neutral hotel, we’re helping to promote the right thing. We’re letting our readers and our followers know that they can make another choice. We’re influencing people to make more ethical decisions.

It’s not just decisions about the content that you promote, however. As an influencer, it’s important to be more inclusive with who you follow, who you recommend to your followers and who you look to for inspiration. It’s easy to get sucked into a little bubble when you’re only looking at content created by people who look just like you, but if you broaden your horizons and look elsewhere, you’ll find much more diverse content. Don’t just look for bloggers & Instagrammers from other countries, also consider content created by people of a different race or religion, members of a different sex, people with different body shapes and people with disabilities.

If you see yourself as an influencer, you’re probably not doing it right. The people with true influence, who inspire others with good intentions, are those who are writing and creating with passion, knowledge and a wider understanding of what their influence actually entails.

All photographs used in this blog post have been used for previous sponsored campaigns with brands and events