Birth of digital influencers = death of true journalism! Who’s to blame?

Have social media influencers negatively impacted our profession?

I’ll be hosting more guest bloggers on the site. This piece is from Rijosh Joseph, and focuses on the contentious issue of social media influencers and their impact on the media and the concept of public relations in general. Enjoy the read, and thank you Rijosh!

Call me old-fashioned, but I am quite annoyed with the evolution of modern day PR! I often wonder, if not all but at least, some of us PR folks, have lost the plot or whether we are passing the buck to the modern-day advertisers?

The topic had been “vocal” both in my mind and among a few of my peers within this industry. A recent YouGov report published by BPG stirred further debate and hence I find the need to put forth a lay opinion.

When this study was posted as a pitch for editorial opportunities in “UAE Journalists”, a private Facebook group that has members within the media and communications industry, it laid the platform for members to “engage” with their views. And honestly, it was a very interesting thread to follow.

Coming back to the point, it frustrates me to sit with PR teams (clients + agency) only to educate them on the incorrect notion of treating journalists inferior to digital “influencers”.

For instance, a certified journalist, are in most cases, served with a press release, which PR folks expect them to carry in their publication. Yet a blogger or digital influencer, plugged to the cage of technology, and who does not possess any insights on journalism, gets pampered at an all-inclusive media event. I agree, product reviews, giveaways and meals never pay their bills. However, we hardly realize that it is a lifestyle choice that they made.

In my honest opinion, digital influencers could strive for a path wherein the real essence of journalism and the need for materialism, can co-exist. Instead of just showing up at events for the freebies, one can get creative in myriad ways of generating revenue while preserving the quality of good writing.

For starters, one can turn a blog into a revenue generating business-model with meaningful campaigns, rather than a platform for paid editorials or tainted and biased op-eds. For example, if you love travelling, then creating a memorable travel experience alongside partnering with brands that are willing to collaborate and for the same cause will let you fill your pocket and keep the sanctity of good blogging.

If one is in to fashion and beauty, then developing a fashion line or partnering with make-up brands they believe in for workshops etc., will lead consumers to their webpage, at the same time maintain the dignity of unbiased content with a penchant for money.

The core essence of blogging is channeling one’s opinion based on their passion points. It does not become a blog if it turns out to be a tool to endorse commercial products.

In the last couple of years I have come across several bloggers and digital influencers who “review” products, but end up in situations wherein they stoop-down to cringe-worthy negotiations, like refusing to publish the review without payments or price-tags being involved. It had also got to the point where they create a drama when we politely decline the opportunity and request to collect the product to return to the client as they are all part of a rotating media review sample quota.

Similarly for media events, if influencers expect them to be invited, it is only fair for PR folks to expect them to cover it. Be it, positive, negative or neutral – give us the coverage if you have shown up to the event and taken a press kit. It is highly frustrating when they send an email with their rate card following the event to publish or cover it. Instead, stop asking to be paid to be part of a media experience and honestly write your thoughts about it. That isn’t the role of true bloggers.

The point here is, I’m not trying to fully kill or disapprove influencer marketing. As communications professionals, we must tie up with influencers only if they can provide clients with tangible analytics to back up exactly what ROI they can bring to a campaign. But with the current state-of-affairs, too many lines have been crossed and it is appalling that we are forced to please every new kid on the block who claims to be an influencer and, worse, bend and break to their whims and fancies.

From the debate on this topic in the “UAE Journalists” Facebook post, there was one comment, which caught my attention to also reflect from the other side of the spectrum. The post stated:

“What is the difference between a paid influencer and a journalist who has absolutely no freedom or inclination to write a story unless there’s significant advertising spend? What’s the difference when a journalist calls you up, asking if you can get them tickets for a concert or movie, etc. Not saying all journalists do this, but let’s be honest, most do. Whether we like it or not, celebrity influencers have always been a part of the marketing and comms-mix, now with social media, the rise of the “digital influencer” is inevitable. You and I, may not have let an influencer sway our opinion on a product or service, but I think most of us, have tried out that new restaurant just because we heard everyone talk about it.”

And it is sad that I have to fully agree to the above post. All UAE journalists are not saints. We all have had our countless experiences that make us wonder as to why chose to be in PR. It is also a fact that in this region, the ethics in journalism among journalists have gone down. This might also be a reason for incessant rise in influencer marketing.

So, what can be done to clean up the mess?

To begin with, from a digital perspective, I feel it is time the scene becomes regulated by relevant authorities of the media council to make it mandatory that all paid editorial content on digital platforms get declared as “sponsored content” as opposed to how it is being offered to readers now. This should bring about a sense of equilibrium among all stakeholders playing within this sphere of media and communications.

And on that note, it is high-time, members within digital fraternity consider ways to stop asking for money merely to be part of a media experience. And as responsible PR professionals, we must not dig our own grave by fostering current practices with influencer marketing.

3 thoughts on “Birth of digital influencers = death of true journalism! Who’s to blame?

  1. Super interesting read Rijosh, I followed the facebook thread also and great to see such a good debate. I agree with some of your points and I like the idea of ‘sponsored post’ but I also think as PR’s we need to move with the times and realise that in order to get results for our clients / products etc…working with influencers has to be one part of the strategy, this is also apparent with the rise of digital agencies in the country. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of those following the beauty blogger, the fitness guru etc…and even though the behind the scenes work may not be the way it used to be, these people are still being ‘influenced’ by their posts and their views and more so through social media than by reading a review in the latest tech magazine for example! I don’t think this is something that should be fought as it will be a loosing battle but perhaps educating clients,stakeholders etc…and letting them make up their mind where they want to spend their budgets might be the way forward.

  2. Pingback: Two-Thirds of UAE Residents Will Take Advice from Social Media Influencers on a Purchase, Apparently… | Alex of Arabia's Blog

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