Influencers and the Peter Parker principle

Is the pen mightier than the sword? If so, then anyone who publishes content online must recognise that their words have the capacity to influence others. Even if that’s not their intention.

Donna at What the Redhead Said recently wrote a post about the influence of influencers. She made several pertinent points about the weight that a blogger’s words carry. Like it or not, bloggers are influencers. And that means we need to take care about what we write about and how we write about it.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Although thematically this dates back at least 200 years, the above quote is most commonly associated with the Spider-Man comics, to the extent that it is often referred to as the ‘Peter Parker principle’. Essentially, if you have power or influence over others, own the responsibility that comes with it.

At this juncture, I could make a comment about the recklessness and irresponsibility of certain political figures. But I don’t need to spell it out, do I? Sometimes you don’t have to say it at all; it’s implicit and easy to join the dots.

But I’m not an ‘influencer’

Donna makes the point that she considers herself to be a blogger first rather than an influencer. But she also recognises that doesn’t change the fact that she has significant influence. She has thousands of readers – some occasional, many loyal – and they relate to her and her opinions.

I’ve written previously about how I often don’t even consider myself to be a blogger – but rather a writer who just happens to have a blog. I’m even less of an influencer. But I do recognise that, like it or not, I am influential in my own small way.

If a blogger recommends a product in a review, it will have a positive impact on readers. Not all of them, necessarily. And it may not be as explicit as motivating someone to buy the product themselves. But at the very least it raises awareness of the product in someone’s mind. And it may prompt them to find out more or consider that product over another when it comes to making a purchase.

Influencers and marketers

When marketers talk about the impact of campaigns, it’s not just about immediate sales. They talk about the ‘customer journey’ or the ‘path to purchase’. And the first two steps in that process are ‘awareness’ and ‘consideration’. Awareness can be measured in terms of page views; consideration via metrics such as click-throughs. Each is a positive action that moves a potential customer a step along that buying journey.

So, yes, the simple act of publishing a blog post that people read is an act of influencing. People often place more value in the opinions of ‘people like us’ than they do a regular advert or even a celebrity endorsement. And this is why brands increasingly invest time and effort in working with bloggers, YouTube content creators and Instagrammers. Apply whatever label you like: fundamentally we are all influencers, by virtue of having our own platforms.

Influence may not be our intention, but it is often the effect we have. What a blogger writes about – whether it’s product reviews, parenting styles or politics – carries a certain weight, just as a journalist or a politician does.

Some readers are more easily influenced than others – that’s how fake news gains traction – and sometimes that influence can be subliminal or slow-burning. But no matter how much we may deny it, the simple act of reading about something and learning something new means we are being influenced in some subtle way.

Joining the dots

When what you write has an impact on others, you don’t even have to say something explicitly to have an influence on others. People will join the dots for themselves.

Donna talks about the example of why she won’t publish content relating to gambling. To do so could easily be seen as an endoresement of gambling. Would you want to be responsible – however indirectly – for encouraging a vulnerable person to start gambling, with all the financial and personal risk that entails?

Like Donna, I don’t advertise or promote gambling. Or alcohol, tobacco or payday loans. Or extreme or faddish diets. (There are strict regulations that govern advertising of all of these, and with good reason.)

It’s not just about the impact on others, though. What influencers publish – whether it’s paid-for content or our own – says something about us as individuals. I wouldn’t work with a brand that clashed with my personal values or that is obviously outside my wheelhouse. It wouldn’t be authentic. It would jar with what my regular readers know about me. And it’s hard for someone to relate to an influencer who they don’t perceive as genuine. Step over that line too often and people will recognise that the influencer is nothing more than an advertising billboard with a fake smile.

At a time when there seems to be a story in the mainstream media slamming influencers or highlighting the questionable practices of ‘blaggers’ and ‘Instashammers’ on a weekly basis, authenticity is more valuable than ever. And while I wouldn’t ever want to deny an influencer the opportunity to earn a living from their job – and, yes, influencer marketing can be a genuine job – we owe it to our readers to consider what we publish and maintain their trust.

With great power comes great responsibility. Even if not all of us have the power to climb walls and swing from the rooftops, one man (or woman) – with a platform and the ability to influence others – can make a difference.

No, hang on, that’s Knight Rider, isn’t it?


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