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Can Your Social Media Take The Place Of Money?

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        It has been centuries since the currencies we know today took over from the bartering system societies across the globe used to use. Bartering became ubiquitous for a brief period during the Great Depression due to widespread poverty, but fell back out of popular use when society eventually recovered. You will still see people working for room and board, or buying a case of beer to thank a friend for helping them move, but sweet, sweet cash has always been the currency of choice.

            History is beginning to circle back on itself, now that social media is becoming such a cornerstone in society. It’s rare to find someone who is absent from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and most notably, YouTube. As social media grows, so does its allure to the money-driven world of marketing. Though money is exchanged in the more A-list examples, bartering for goods and services is becoming pretty popular again.

            It did not take long for businesses across the world to notice the marketing potential of rising social media stars. Rather than paying a musician or actor to endorse their product, brands began giving free products to these rising social media stars, now called ‘Influencers’, in exchange for a mention on the various social media outlets said Influencer uses. Though the sheer star power was gone, companies would still get a noticeable bump in revenue from the tens of thousands of consumers this single Influencer could reach. A dozen Influencers at a fraction of the cost could bring in the same notoriety as a single, highly expensive celebrity.

            One of the earliest examples of this was the website, Klout. By allowing Klout to examine your social media (how many friends/followers you have versus how many people you follow, how many likes you have versus how many things you like, how often you post an update, etc.) you would be awarded a ‘score’ out of 100. The higher your score, the more eligible you were for campaigns that businesses would post to the Klout website. Sometimes it would be a free sample pack from a makeup brand, or maybe it would be a free room upgrade in a hotel you were staying in. Your Klout score was visible to everyone, and it could have a major influence on your life.

            Though Klout began to lose the spotlight as time went on, and it eventually shut down in May of 2018, this idea of your social influence is now one of the most sought-after avenues of advertising. Everyone from travel enthusiasts to beauty gurus are fighting to get free stuff in exchange for mentioning a brand or company in a media post. For example, in February of 2016 professional rapper Lil’ Dicky was featured in a video produced by XXL Magazine, a popular rap-culture magazine. In the video, Lil’ Dicky went around New York and tried to get free stuff by offering a mention, or ‘shout-out’, on his Instagram – and it actually worked. Though he only had around 200k followers at the time, Lil’ Dicky received a free muffin, a pair of headphones, a burrito, and a free hair straightening from a salon on the condition that he mentioned them in an Instagram post. For those who aren’t professional rappers, companies like ShopandShout have picked up where Klout left off by offering marketplaces for brands to advertise, and for Influencers to browse.

            One of the most recent implementations of this is a sushi restaurant from Milan, Italy, ironically titled “This is Not a Sushi Bar” (TINASB).  Rather than having to sign up for a website, or having to wait for a company to approach you (both of which are intimidating for up-incoming Influencers), you can visit this restaurant and use you social media to get some of your meal for free. TINASB offers anywhere from a single plate to your entire meal paid for depending on the number of Instagram followers you have (ranging in groups from 1000 to over 100,000), so long as you upload a picture that tags the TINASB Instagram before you pay. The owner, Matteo Pittarello, stated that he believed this offer was a great way to attract customers, especially the younger generations that frequently use Instagram, and that “2.0 word-of-mouth” could strengthen and spread his brand’s name.

            Of course, there are contrasting views on the potential of social media marketing and using Influencers for exposure. While many see this as the modern appearance of marketing, others consider social media marketing to be a poorly aging bubble that will pop within the next decade. Due to issues of content quality, over-saturation, and lack of work ethic from Influencers, the marketing platform is frequently experiencing resistance. On top of all of this is the horrible trend of entitlement coming from all many of the Influencers.

            A semi-famous fitness blogger, Elle Darby, who only had about 97,000 subscribers on YouTube and 90,000 Instagram followers at the time, was outed for her almost outrageous attempt to leverage her fame for a free five night stay at a prestigious hotel in Ireland. The Charleville Lodge of Dublin received an email from Darby offering a marketing partnership – in exchange for a series of Instagram posts to document her vacation, Darby would receive a free, all inclusive, five night stay at the hotel and the accompanying Michelin-star winning White Moose Café. Paul Stenson, owner of both establishments, would have had to take the loss of nearly $2000 CAD in return for the marketing ‘bump’ that Elle Darby believed that she could bring him. Stenson made headlines by rejecting and banning Elle Darby, in addition to every other Influencer in the world, from contacting him about his establishments. Prestigious Influencers (such as celebrities) would be an exception for this, as they offer a more promising bump in patronage, but Stenson saw no benefit for anyone less notable. He also highlighted the idea that Influencers could have a degree of bias to their content, as is it almost inherent that something free would be praised by those who receive it. A low quality hotel could claim rave reviews from Instagram stars so long as their stay was free, leading to disappointed future guests.

            When it really comes down to it, nothing will ever beat cold, hard cash. Though it seems as if social media potential can translate into currency, the role of Influencers is to act like a money magnet. Similar to investments, companies trade goods and services for social media mentions with the hope that an Influencer can cause a surge of profit that outweighs the initial loss. Rather than a fragile bubble, social media marketing is like a balloon; though sturdier than a bubble, it can still over-inflate and pop without proper attention,

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