Harley Hay

Harley Hay: Under the influence (of social media)

Wow, did I ever show my inherent fossilization when I wondered to somebody out loud the other day, “So, just what the heck is an ‘influencer’?” It’s a good thing that somebody was my Rotten Kid, the daughter one, who is not only much smarter than me, she is also quite a bit younger, and as such has a knowledge of the world of social media that is much more relevant than my own, which is mostly limited to attempting to make phone calls on my smartphone.

I mean, the only thing I really have to do with “social” (as hip people refer to social media) is that I text with my chubby thumbs; I check out Facebook once a month just to see if I’ve missed anything important (I haven’t); I fire up YouTube often, to find out how to change the flush valve in a toilet or how to play “Walkin’ Blues” on a lap steel guitar and when my curiosity piques, which it inevitably does several times a day, I turn to Wikipedia and look up things like “what is an influencer?”

So, after relentless minutes and minutes of intense conversation and research I found that an “influencer” is – get this – someone who influences. Sure, but these days it’s all about where and how influencers influence. Instagram, Tik Tok, SnapChat, Twitch and Twitter are big ones, which explains why I’ve personally never run into an influencer since as mentioned, my smartphone isn’t that smart.

Turns out, there are many different kinds of influencers. There are the celebrity kind, like the Kardashians (Kim), Biebers (Justin), Jenners (Kylie), Rihannas (Rihanna) and Swifts (Taylor) of the world who seem to post an event every time they bat a heavily mascara-ed eyelash. If any one of them opens a tube of lipstick, or – heaven forbid – buys the wrong pair of shoes, the world instantly knows about it and thousands, if not millions of following fans fall into a frenzied freak-out.

Other insanely popular posting prophets aren’t celebrities outside of influencing, but they are all about triple B: Big Business Bucks. It’s called “influencer marketing,” and some of them can put a used car salesman to shame. These relentlessly loquacious dudes and dudettes post photos, videos and descriptions of stuff they are buying, recommending (and mostly getting for free) to a rapt and adoring audience of social media addicts who look up from their phone long enough to run out and buy the same things. Like sheep to the shopping slaughter.

These influencers, when they reach 5000 followers or so, can make mega money from companies who pay them to flaunt every product under the sun. But does it work? Um, that would be a resounding “you betcha” – to the tune of $10 billion a year.

And lately, there’s a new kid – well, make that, a new fossil – on the influencing block. That’s right, they’re called “grandfluencers” – folks over 70 on social media who are gaining traction (as opposed to being in traction). Grandfluencers are successfully attracting younger followers, probably because everyone is younger than they are. Just kidding – the seniors say they have something to say and they are certainly saying it. One popular New York grandma, 75-year-old Joan MacDonald has 1.4 million loyal followers on Instagram. She promotes health and fitness and just happens to recommend a line of sportswear and stress supplements.

So there’s an influencer for everyone! If you ever need the assistance of an oh-so trendy face on your screen to help you make all your important decisions, all you need is a phone. And a kid to show you what an “app” is.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.