by Faith Linyonyi
The internet is undoubtedly one of my favorite places to hang out. It’s like going to that one joint that always plays the music you like, the cocktails are never gentrified and you feel connected to everyone there even though you never intend to speak to some of them. Sure, there might always be a long line of people waiting to use the toilet or once in a while your favorite booth might be occupied but as soon as you learn how to carve out your own tiny world in a not so bad one, it becomes really difficult to leave. If I’m having a bad day, a playlist on a music app will help to lift my moods and if I’m having a good one, I’ll post pictures and texts to let everyone who cares to see that indeed I’m having the time of my life. But more than just sharing about myself, I find it entertaining and therapeutic at times to just sit and watch someone talk about what’s in their bag or how they spent their day.
I can’t tell exactly when it happened, but there has been an increasing invasion of brands into our virtual personal hideouts to market their products and services. One moment you’re consuming your guilty pleasure tings on the internet then boom, there’s an ad luring you to spend something. By using influencers and content creators, the ads feel more innocent and less intrusive but the cyberspace as a whole has been turned into a market where sponsored content gets more visibility and you almost never get to see anything that has no money spent on it.
In this world of social media where brands are investing to have their products endorsed and marketed by influencers, I would like to think of myself as part of the influenced majority. It’s not like I spend my days on the internet waiting for other people to convince me what I should wear or where I should go for lunch, I do not have that kind of money or time. But when it comes to making decisions where I feel like I’m spoilt for choice or I’m not sure whether said product or service would work for me, a post I saw on the nets would definitely affect whether or not I spend on it. I don’t always do the due diligence on everything I buy and this is where influencers cash in, promising that they’ve done the homework for us.
Do I always trust the content that is being hawked on the internet? Not really. Mostly because there are levels to being influenced into buying something. First, I like to feel that I’m the one who came up with the idea to buy said product/service. I would tell myself that I need it, I’ve seen a lot of noise about it or the retail therapist in my brain has decided it would be good for my soul if I got it. Then, I’m more inclined to products that have been referred to me by my friends and family who have taken one for the team and spent their money or when deep down in comment section, there are no negative comments about them. These two groups of people are what I would consider honest and trustworthy. So finally when an influencer I like happens to have been paid to promote it, a combination of those three pressures makes it way easy for me to spend money. Sometimes a product may have two of these factors, other times it’s just one and I would still buy it for whatever reason.
It gets easy to detect influencers that are just putting up a face just so they can get a check. Their reactions always seem too animated and unoriginal, looking like they discovered the product the day the brand approached her/ them. However, some of them feel like they care enough about the followers enough to do some bit of research and know what they are talking about before they get on camera. Others are just good actors but I never really like thinking of being influenced as being duped, maybe a lesson learnt. Besides, hii pesa tumia tu ikuzoee. I would have probably wasted it on something else anyway so there’s no need to be too cautious about marketed products that don’t live up, unless of course there is a risk to health or safety.
One of the most interesting events that took place this year which shed a light on the influencer-influencee relationship for me was when youtuber and entrepreneur Joanna Kinuthia asked her IG followers what makes them drop off a Youtube video that they were watching. Today, that post has over 3000 comments, some giving constructive feedback and others unnecessary trolls. They were all not just about Joanna’s content, but about Kenyan YouTubers in general, some of them finding themselves in a line of fire they had not asked for. It’s like the gates had been opened to everyone to fungua roho about their thoughts on Kenyan YouTube. There was a lot of feedback given about the sound and picture quality, length of videos and complaints about shallow and dishonest reviews. But the part where some vloggers felt attacked to the point of considering to quit altogether was a bit uncalled for. A lot of trolls went for Youtubers’ personal lives, their accents (fake or not) and generally delivering their comments with an intention to hurt. It made me think of influencers as people who were under pressure to perform and look their best in spite of challenges of coming up with new ideas or even the fright of addressing mean people you have never met.
As time goes by and as brands pour more money into this business, professionalism will definitely play a big role in the quality of content that we see from those who will get the checks. What I feel would be a perfect influencer would be someone who knows that I generally enjoy their content and I would not buy everything they promote so they work to entertain me and give me information they think I need to have. This way, I don’t feel like I’m skipping an ad after five seconds to watch an even longer one.
Faith Linyonyi is a writer who lives in Kajiado County. Find her on twitter @FLinyonyi