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How Essena O'Neill exposed the ugly underbelly of Social Media and Influencer Marketing

EndorsementEssena O'NeillInfluencer MarkeitngInstagramProduct PlacementSelfie-PublicitySelf-PublicitySocial Media InfluenceSocial Media LifestyleSoical Mediayoutube+-

Everyone is now familiar with Essena’s route to fame - via posting ’posed’ pictures on Instagram and the occasional YouTube featurette. Social Media celebrities are a dime-a-dozen these days and many are far too young and lack the strength of character to handle the nastier side such exposure brings.


Individuals put themselves under huge amounts of pressure (particularly psychological) to create and catch perfect moments to properly represent their supposedly fabulous lifestyles and to fully live up to the expectations of their sponsors. It ends up as fakery on top of artifice - with sometimes a whole day spent in pursuit of one perfect picture - on the back of a fake tan, copious make-up and borrowed clothes and props. With so much competition, there is not nearly as much money to be had as most think - as with most areas of industry, there are a few fortunate souls that get the riches while most just struggle to get by - cf actors and musicians!


Influencer Marketing can be seen everywhere - in the form of mainstream product placement and endorsement - it can be as sophisticated as David Beckham’s Haig Club Whisky where he is simply a figurehead for a Simon Fuller business venture, or in the form of a shoe or clothing collection - by such luminaries as Michael Jordan or Kanye West representing the likes of Nike and Adidas, or simply a Twitter tweet endorsement of the most basic product use - such as employed by Scary Spice - Melanie Brown. There is a world of difference though for existing celebrities vs newly minted self-starters - the latter category which includes Essena O’Neill does not have the support network to handle the daily stresses that come with the job - there is no proper backup team, and no safety net. This means that life for many Social Media Celebrities is a very lonely and isolated one, and one which is rooted in total fantasy. Those 1 million fans / friends you think you have are as fickle as they come - with you one minute and gone the next. Mostly they just want something from you - often just that inexplicably intangible facet of celebrity. Many such celebrities find out that their so-called partners are really only in it for the fame and the cachet, and if they are into the person in any way, they are into the fake celebrity facsimile rather than the real person underneath - as fortunately discovered early on by Essena.


Purebred Social Media celebrities fall into two key categories as far as I am concerned - hobbyists or lifestyle promoters. The former category typically has some sort of skill or talent - as exemplified by one of the first of her kind - makeup vlogger - Lauren Luke who ended up with her own makeup range courtesy of Sephora. The second category I will dub ’Kardashianeque’ - i.e. persons of no particular skill or talent, yet publicity machine dynamos.


Essena essentially fitted into the latter category where the currency is mere self-publicity. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton started down their paths via dubious ’Sex Tape’, yet in today’s currency that route has a much lower impact. It helps to be attractive of course, but it helps more to be perceived to inhabit an attractive lifestyle.


I personally am still mystified by the Kardashian phenomena and how their empire manages to keep growing on the back of so little. Their lifestyle is wholly hyper-unreal and quite unfathomable in normal terms - one would hope it would bleed out eventually, even though it shows no sign of doing so yet.


For many Instagram celebrities though their roads ahead are filled with perils - unscrupulous marketeers and unsavoury Internet trolls which do their damnedest to undermine and unhinge those plucky adventurers. If you are clever enough (like Essena) you soon realise that your pound of flesh simply cannot underwrite all the demands placed on it, and that most of the relationships you have through your new lifestyle are as artifical as the lifestyle itself. For those that don’t see the warning signs, a similar path to a once famous boy-band awaits - i.e. personal insolvency / bankruptcy. As 50 Cent’s recent bankruptcy shows - even the super rich and super famous (for legitimate reasons) still easily succumb to being bankrupted by their artificial lifestyles.


We must all realise that much of what we see on the web and on social media is not real, it’s an edited version of fantasy - often underwritten by serious debt. We kind of need to reset the baseline on what should be considered an attractive lifestyle - and it should surely be one not requiring such a high degree of artifice and bling. I have always found ostentatious displays of wealth to be singularly unclassy. Too many of us are fooled into over-paying for essentially worthless trinkets. There are too many profiteers praying on the impressionable and weak-minded. We now need a better breed of celebrity - one which espouses community values, craft and graft - working towards elevating the community as a whole rather than stepping on each other to get to the top of the trinket pile.


I have a number of nephews and nieces spanning that impressionable age range - they are all extremely tech-, mobile- and web -savvy, and I sincerely hope none of them fall under the spell of Social Media lifestyles. It’s important for everyone to be more grounded in reality and in their own local community - i.e. real friends and family. I see way too many people too active in trying to catch the perfect moment on their phone camera rather than living through and actually experiencing that perfect moment for real ...

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