As the media landscape becomes more diverse, governments are looking at ways to use influencers to spread public information. There have been many government agencies from national tourism and public services to local resources and utilities that have used influencers to inform the public of their offerings. From the term influence which has a negative connotation in regards to politics to coronavirus safety influencers to the more recent Minneapolis information plan surrounding the Derek Chauvin / George Floyd case, the past year has put a strain on influencer marketing.
The past election cycle has put the term influence into the public zeitgeist as mass media continually emphasized foreign countries influencing the election. This context showers the term in a negative light and by association the actual influencer. The term influencer makes one think of someone that is out there that is purposely deceiving and misleading to make you change your mind.
Covid has made influencers business challenging given that many couldn’t travel, however, it also boosted audiences to record highs. Around the globe influencers were used to spread messages of safety: social distancing, masking, and staying home. In places like New Jersey, influencers were used to spread the #MaskUpNJ hashtag. While most campaigns were received positively, some were not. For example, Charlotte’s plan was ridiculed for using influencers. Overall, Covid related posts, paid or organic, were received positively.
On the other hand, the city of Minneapolis scrapped their plan of using influencers (each influencer was to be paid $2,000) to spread information and to avoid any misinformation about the high-profile Chauvin / Floyd case after receiving much public blowback.
Why was one instance of public dissemination of information embraced for the most part while the other was shunned? We can find the answer in the connotation of the term influencer as explained via politics. The role of the influencer is to show new ideas and products, how they better one’s life and experience, and eventually influence the audience to their viewpoint. They won’t necessarily change your mind, but rather by being true to themselves they are being true to you.
With Covid, unless you’ve been self quarantining in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere, you have some idea of what is going on. Covid is a public health risk and the general information campaign was run to remind the public of staying safe. If the Covid message is aligned with an influencers persona and audience, then there might not be anything wrong with telling their fans to wear a mask or to social distance. Influencers demonstrated ways that they utilized their talents to practice Covid safety.
However, in the case of Chauvin, the city is missing the point of what an influencer adds. The influencer is not a basic megaphone. An influencer takes something (in the example above, Covid safety) and figures out their own special spin on it (interesting mask found, social distancing as an essential worker, or how to workout without going to the gym).
The influencer would be adding their own opinions and flavor to the facts of the Chauvin case which would defeat the entire purpose of the campaign, which was to spread the correct information. In other words, influencers were asked to report the facts rather than to put their unique spin on a story. This isn’t what influencers do though, it is what reporters do.
Should influencers be paid to spread information? In our opinion, yes, if they are allowed to put their own viewpoint in it and disclose that they were paid for it. Want facts reported? That’s for mainstream media. Agree or disagree? Talk to us in the comments below!