What does the word “influencer” mean to you?
Perhaps it conjures an image of an immensely popular Instagram handle that publishes impossibly polished content from the four concerns of the world.
Or perhaps it brings to mind a specific individual, no doubt one who owns and operates (or pays others to operate) such a handle. A Kylie Jenner or Beyonce Knowles, someone of that caliber.
Neither is far off-base. Indeed, an “influencer” is by definition an influential personality, one capable of changing the conversation not just in her immediate social circle but at the very highest levels. One whose tweets and posts are always in danger of becoming trending topics.
Not all influencers live lives of glamour and intrigue, of course. Not all have millions-strong armies of social media followers either. Many opt to work quietly, lifting up social entrepreneurs and philanthropic organizations striving to make a difference in the world without seeking attention for themselves. That’s the strategy pursued by “influencers” like Aera Foundation founder Derek Handley, who finds, funds, and draws attention to social entrepreneurs aiming to change the world for the better.
Handley is far from the only low-key influencer taking this approach. Call them the “next generation” of influencers if you must, but one thing is clear: They’re shaping how the public views and acts upon the world. And their impact is impossible to ignore.
Here’s why you need to pay attention to the change agents in our midst.
1. They’re Introducing Us to New Ways of Keeping in Touch
Those of us not plugged into Instagram 24/7 can’t help but feeling left behind these days. The next generation of influencers is doing its part to correct that.
Gently, and without judgment. They’re turning us on to social media that we’re liable to overlook, like Snapchat and Tiktok. And in so doing, they’re helping us stay relevant.
2. They’re Advocating for Positive Social Change
The most successful influencers use their platforms to advocate for positive social change, be those specific social justice causes or new, general ways of organizing around platforms and issues. They’re using their reach to realize a better world.
3. They’re Supporting a More Humane Way of Doing Business
Socially conscious influencers aren’t just advocates. They’re instigators. By putting the full weight of their endorsements behind social enterprises hewing to the Certified B Corporation model, they demonstrate to consumers and brands alike that profit needn’t be an all-encompassing end.
4. They’re Gamifying Markets
The next generation of influencers is a powerful force for democratization and equal access to information. While reasonable people can differ in opinion on the utility or morality of these trends’ second-order effects, like the gamification of markets by partially anonymous influencer networks like r/wallstreetbets, no one can deny their raw power.
5. They Have More Credibility Than Traditional Marketing Messengers
The next generation of influencers is composed quite literally of our friends, neighbors, and second-degree social contacts. They, understandably, have far greater credibility as advocates and information sources than traditional media and marketing messengers. Naturally, they have far greater power to shape our decision-making.
6. They’re Bypassing Legacy Channels
The continued rise of the next generation of influencers is already having a clear corresponding effect on the influence of legacy channels of influence. These are the same channels that advertisers nevertheless continue to reward with billions in marketing spend; something, eventually, will have to give.
7. They’re Helping Us Imagine New Possibilities for Ourselves
Influencers don’t have to show us unattainable visions of luxury travel or wanton consumption to inspire us to imagine new, heretofore unspoken possibilities for ourselves and our loved ones: location-independent work and self-funded travel, do-what-you-love entrepreneurship, a serious hobby that improves the lives of those around us. Influencers remind us that the impossible is such only because we haven’t willed it into being.
Be Influential…And Change the World
Take a moment to re-read the list above. Then think of the first influencer who comes to mind and imagine yourself in their shoes, if you can.
You can. The unspoken truth of the “influencer age” is that we all have the power to influence conversations on social media and beyond. Every one of us. No matter how underutilized our influencer-ready channels happen to me at this very moment.
Most influencers never attain the heights of a Jenner or Knowles. But many achieve a reach and, well, influence, that they could never have imagined for themselves. And while true Internet fame may not be your goal, you have to admit that the possibility is enticing. Not to mention the scale of the positive good you might achieve as an influential personality.
Enough talk. If you’re ready, it’s time to make your mark on the conversation…and the world.