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How has the referendum changed the public's interpretation of 'The Influencer?'

“Some people think it’s easier to say nothing rather than lose followers. But why act like a wallflower in certain situations?”

MANY A LEAVING Cert Irish essay has been written on the subject of ‘tionchar’, or ‘influence’ as Bearla.

shutterstock_588912989 Shutterstock / garagestock Shutterstock / garagestock / garagestock

The dictionary definition of the word “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”. People are often categorised by their influence, good and bad alike, associating those considered to be influential with inciting tangible change.

At some point, as technology progressed and the digital world expanded, the word ‘influence’ was seemingly co-opted. The Amy Huberman/Kate Middleton Effect saw coats and other garments fly off rails. Word-of-mouth moved online as people sought to eagerly chat about stuff they liked and disliked in equal measure, smartphone in hand.

Brands began harnessing the people power they were overlooking. When was the last time you bought something on the recommendation of someone you didn’t know in real life? Overnight, Ireland seemed to enter the age of ‘The Influencer’.

In 2018, the word ‘influencer’ has a narrower definition than the verb it stems from. Those with a positive outlook on them view simply as those with a significant online following; the new generation of marketers and salespeople; for some, a genre of celebrity. However, dodgy practices from a minority have meant the word can also have negative connotations for some, with synonyms ranging from ‘free-loaders’, ‘liars’, ‘walking advertisements’ and, seemingly worst of all, ‘Instagrammers’.

These aren’t necessarily people who blog (though some do) – these are people who have garnered massive selling power through selling their everyday lives. That’s their appeal – “they’re just like us!” – in reality, they’re often painstakingly maintaining a brand.

But what happens when an audience decides they need more from their favourite spokesperson; when they want a discussion to move beyond skin care or interiors?

On May 25th, Ireland votes in a referendum which will decide whether the Eighth Amendment is repealed or retained. Throughout the campaign, both sides have eagerly looked for support from the public arena. Celebrities have been questioned on red carpets, as they are more frequently associated with activism and the concept of having a fanbase. But what about a stylish gal from Dublin who boasts 150k+ followers, a micro-celeb within her own right, and within arm’s reach of her followers? Should the same expectation be levelled at them? Is there room for social commentary on feeds as manicured as theirs?

While some chose to speak about it on their feeds, others did not – a silence which was noted (and occasionally condemned) by their followers, as well as their fellow influencers. In an open letter addressing all Irish influencers, blogger Leanne Woodfull (64.3k followers on Instagram, 10k likes on Facebook) said she was sick of the silence on the issue.

The silence from my peers over certain topics has burst my bubble. It has deflated me. It has made me feel ashamed and somewhat embarrassed to be merely associated with this industry that I have so long been involved in and loved.
The silence from my peers in the blogging and social media world confuses and upsets me daily. We have each worked hard on and attracted influential online platforms, that people venture to to hear our words, thoughts and recommendations. Somehow, human rights and tragedy don’t fit into those platforms though for the majority – despite the influence to help and educate at hand.
I have heard and read every excuse in the book coming from the silent online Irish crowd over Repeal the 8th. Whether it’s “too political” for them, too “off brand”, they “don’t know enough about it” or they’re simply afraid of “pissing off followers/ brands”. It’s all bullshit.”

Blogger Sue Jordan, (14.9k followers on Instagram, 11k likes on Facebook) felt obliged to share her story in the context of the 8th, and says this referendum could be “a game-changer” for the influencer industry.

I was pregnant with my first son when I was 17. I told nobody, because I was terrified – this was 1995. So I concealed that pregnancy for eight months. A year later, I was in a horrendously abusive relationship. But I’ve lived as a single parent in this country for over 20 years. We have to be compassionate towards our women – motherhood has to be a choice.”

She says the response from her followers was “overwhelmingly positive”, putting this down to her transparency on the issue from the off. She’s had people who are undecided on their vote approach her in her DMs – in response, she’s opted to answer their questions publicly so as to involve everyone in the conversation.

As an Irish woman, first and foremost, I did have a responsibility. I think its the right to do. Concerning these issues, I’ve been an activist for years now, but only more publicly so as we’ve ramped up for the referendum. I fully believe if we have a platform of hundreds or thousands of women looking at what we do everyday, the very last we can do is encourage them to vote, to have some kind of civic responsibility.
It’s not just about influencing decisions – I don’t want to do that. I’d rather use that platform to talk about my story and dispel some of the myths and the scaremongering and the bullsh*t that’s involved with this.”

While sharing Leanne’s frustrations, Jordan concedes that all of the influencers she follows have spoken about the referendum because they are the people she has chosen to look at online. Going forward, she wants women to “find their voice” and use their platforms for good.

We can promote real and empowering change for women. It’s not just about posting a list of lipsticks or getting €500 for an Instagram post. We’ve never before had access to so many people watching our stories and listening very intently. It’s not so much that they will be influenced – it’s that they will be enlightened, no matter what the issue is.
The 8th is not the only thing wrong with this country.”

Sarah Hanrahan, better known by her blog name ‘i come undone‘, (just under 49k followers on Instagram, 4.2k likes on Facebook) has also been vocal about her support for Repeal. However, she maintains that some people want to keep their politics and their escapist follows separate.

“What it came down to for me was, I couldn’t possibly make a decision for an individual better than they could themselves,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going in their lives, I don’t understand the complexities of their financial situation or their mental health situation. That’s why it’s important for me to vote yes.

On the 25th of April, I shared a post and I tried to be as articulate as possible. I shared my views and got into why I’m choosing to vote yes. I think I had one negative comment, but overall it was overwhelmingly positive. I got a lot of kudos from people for not sitting on the fence.
It’s seen as somewhat of a risky move when you have a platform because you don’t want to isolate a certain percentage of a population. Some people think it’s easier to say nothing rather than lose followers. But why act like a wallflower in certain situations? I’m happy to speak my mind. We are young Irish women and I have a following predominately made up of young Irish women.”

Hanrahan said she was always going to discuss the issue, but did feel a pressure from her followers and fellow influencers, and almost that she wasn’t speaking about it enough to be making a worthwhile impact.

There’s an indirect pressure within the industry from people who are more outspoken about these things. I had a small percentage of readers ask me was I going to be attending marches before I openly said I was a Yes voter.

Most recently, a minority of influencers were criticised for sporting the Repeal Project’s signature block-colour jumpers, the proceedings of which go to funding the campaign.

Together For Yes confirmed that the influencers were not paid to wear the jumper or post about them, and were encouraged to donate the cost of the jumper. Some online commenters criticised the move, with others defending the decision on the basis that it provides more exposure for the Yes side.

“We’d be mad not to use a signal boost,” Jordan said. However, she admitted it was a vocalisation that came late to the game for her. She also admitted that bloggers posting about the jumpers could have looked like sponsored content, saying that the lines were being blurred by “not having money change hands”, i.e. a donation.

“I didn’t get the big deal surrounding that at all,” Hanrahan reiterated.

Trying to make a big deal out of them getting free jumpers is just distracting from the main issue. People are nitpicking. If people are voting Yes, let’s focus on that, and stop focusing on silly, irrelevant things like that
At the end of the day, there’s a certain amount of canvassing and advertising that both sides have, and getting an opportunity to get someone who’s seen as influential wearing a jumper isn’t the worst kind of promotion.”

What does the word influencer mean then, in 2018, as the public look set to cast their vote on the reproductive rights of Irish women*? Will May 26th mark the end of social commentary by influencers?

“I don’t really consider myself to be an influencer, because I have a blog. To me, fundamentally, an influencer is someone who has an online following who doesn’t necessarily have a blog,” Hanrahan said.

I think the marriage referendum and this referendum on the 8th Amendment were hot topics on social media, which is a younger person’s platform, generally. It’s harder to ignore how directly both issues affect younger people as well. I don’t think, moving forward, we’re going to get people actively talking about general elections. I don’t see that from the general population of bloggers and influencers.
I do think people should use their platform to address political issues and things like the housing crisis. But I see the two sides of the coin. I think people use social media as an escape and they like the fluffiness that blogs provide. I think, just because you have a following, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to speak out on everything. I think you should stay away from stuff unless you’re genuinely interested in it, as opposed to talking about something for the sake of talking about it. I also don’t think you should use it as leverage for shoutouts.”

Expanding on this, Jordan said:

I have a blog, I do influencer campaigns, I also teach brands how to interact with influencers., so I get a look at it from all angles. I do think this referendum has changed and will change the way people use their platforms.
It’s not about influencing people to buy products and part with their money. It should be truly about empowering women, helping them to keep money in their pockets and making them feel good about themselves. It’s about how women feel about themselves. They are the kind of influencers I want to follow, nevermind the kind I want to be.”

Here’s a list of influencers who have publicly come out in support of a Yes vote.

  • James Kavanagh
  • Louise Cooney
  • Paddy Smyth
  • Niamh Cullen
  • Clare Balding
  • Matte To Metallic
  • Laura Dempsey
  • Ali Dee
  • Leanne Woodfull
  • Marissa Carter
  • Joanne Larby (The Makeup Fairy)
  • Tara Marzuki (Tar Mar)
  • Catherine Carton (Dainty Dress Diaries)
  • Karen Constantine (Lovely Girlie Bits)
  • Jen Hatton
  • Gemma (Beauty Nook)
  • Sharon Leavy (Behind Green Eyes)
  • Keilidh Cashell (KeilidhMUA)
  • Rob Kenny
  • James Patrice
  • Holly Carpenter
  • Corrina Stone (Stone Travel)
  • Aoife Dooley
  • Siobhan O’Hagan (OH Fitness)
  • Karla K
  • Gracey Mongey (FacesByGrace)
  • The It Galz
  • Emer Rutherford (Penneys To Prada)
  • Indy Power (The Little Green Spoon)
  • Helen Quealy Murphy (Daily Diva Diary)
  • Pippa O’Connor
  • Suzanne Jackson (SoSueMe)
  • Rosemary McCabe
  • Erika Fox (RetroFlame)
  • Rozanna Purcell
  • Rachel Purcell
  • Andrea Horan
  • Katrina Kelly
  • Aisling Kelly
  • Ali Dee
  • Serena Elliot

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