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The power of real: Balancing authenticity with social media pressures

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Most of us are guilty of (and feel guilty about) comparing ourselves and lives to what we see on social media. The stream of beautiful people, places and things can sometimes feel relentless, with everyday consumers and influencers alike feeling the pressure to measure up.

Facebook has become like a family photo album; a hand-picked documentation of the best moments of our lives - often created with the paranoia of knowing that others are watching. Likewise, Instagram (started as a place to share creativity and beautiful imagery) has become like the pages of a magazine: the most popular profiles featuring athletes and models with perfectly fit bodies, with professional quality photos of smiling faces in far flung destinations, and acrobatic #fitspiration.

According to research published in the Journal of Psychology, frequent Instagram use and exposure to beauty or fitness related images has a negative impact on self-esteem and body-satisfaction and is closely related to an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms, such as low mood and poor sleep.

So what does this mean for social media creators? How do influencers balance the 'always on' demands — to create great content, post constantly, lead a public or semi-public life and grow their following — while still living their best lives in the real world? Despite the pressure to appear to be living the perfect life, the power of real cannot be underestimated. Authenticity is the not-so-secret driving force behind influencer marketing; it’s the juice that results in real business outcomes.

The Power of Real

For years the common conception of influencer marketing was that it was a top of funnel tactic, with raising awareness and engagement as the primary KPIs. Those days are over and smart brands are demanding proof that influencer programmes have an impact on strategic business objectives. What we’ve discovered is that popularity doesn’t always cut it; many brands and marketers now prefer to work with macro- or micro-influencers. Those creators who have built their community of highly engaged followers with high-quality, authentic content.

As brands and followers alike demand an ever-constant stream of content from online creators, many influencers are looking for ways to grow their online businesses and maintain authenticity, without experiencing a heavy impact of the dark side of spending too much time on social media. It takes discipline, integrity and self-awareness... but it is possible. Here are some things for influencers to think about in their search for balance.

Be real, transparent and honest

It’s important for creators to understand their legal and personal responsibilities related to sponsored content. Even if there is no legal requirement in your country to disclose such relationships, ask yourself how your followers would feel about it. Also beware of the temptation to buy followers or engagement in order to attract brand attention. As the industry moves beyond followers as an important KPI, brands are looking for authentic influential creatives with an authentic and engaged following. There will always be some level of bot traffic, but some brands might even refuse to work with influencers with a history of engagement fraud.

Build authentic brand relationships

It might seem like a good idea to promote as many brands as possible, but more brands are seeing this as a red flag. Instead, brands want to work with creative influencers who are genuinely interested in their offerings and can create authentic content that piques the interest of others as well. Rather than spreading your influence around (aka ‘influencer promiscuity’), look for brand relationships that align your personal brand and the audience you’ve built over the years. When you build long-term relationships, you and the brand get to know each other, which breeds a healthy, respectful relationship. This also applies to choosing platform partners that can reduce stress by getting to know you and connecting you with the right brands.

Take the hiatus

Real pressure exists on influencers to maintain a certain level of presence with posts, tags and the perception of how algorithms affect audience growth and engagement. Here’s the deal: Regardless of how algorithms do or don’t punish creators for any perceived inconsistency, it’s important to take time off. Don’t just say you’re going to take time off; plan your time off. Even if it’s just something as simple as no screen time for an hour a day, put it on the calendar, set a reminder and stick to it.

Remember: Instagram is not reality

Yes, there are real people behind the content, but Instagram is not real. The influencer marketing industry — creators, platforms and other industry leaders — have a responsibility to educate audiences, particularly younger ones. about the dangers of spending too much time on social media, about comparing themselves to the often unreal created worlds of what they are seeing, about transparency of what is an #ad and what isn’t and more importantly - about what is real and what isn’t and how you deal with both.

Sarah Whitfield is head of global marketing at influencer marketing agency Buzzoole.

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