Political influencers

Chuck Roberts

According to businessinsider.com, the White House is hiring political influencers to reach out to a younger demographic who reside on the internet and do not read the classical mainstream media. An influencer is a person, usually on social media (Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), who has built a reputation of having a degree of expertise in a certain area of knowledge or has name recognition due to sports, movies, etc. They typically post opinions on topics they are familiar with and have many followers who listen to their views and may act on their recommendations. Advertisers have often used movie stars, sports personalities, politicians, etc. in TV or print media to influence those who listen to or view their ads. Michael Jordan promoting Nike sneakers is an example. What is new is the proliferation of influencers on the internet and their numbers of followers. Anyone can be an influencer as long as they have followers who trust the influencers’ opinions, believe they are authentic, follow the influencer on various social media and receive responses from the influencer.

There are three levels of influencers. Macro-influencers, like some movie stars, have millions of followers; micro-influencers have roughly 10,000 to 100,000 followers; and nano-influencers have less than 10,000 followers. Influencers can cash in on their notoriety. A macro-influencer can earn from $100,000 to $250,000 annually. Most influencers earn from $30,000-100,000 annually. Effective influencers have the power to affect buying decisions of their followers based on perceived trust. The influencer industry is expected to achieve nearly $10 billion in revenue this year. These earnings are from posts peddling a product, services or ideology (politics). In order to increase their follower count, influencers can purchase followers. This tends to cut into their credibility since the purchased followers do not necessarily endorse the influencers’ posts.

Getting back to political influencers, according to dailymail.co.uk, the White House has hired Henry Sisson, a 20-year-old political commentator and Gen Z advocate who has over 600,000 followers on TikTok, to boost support among Gen Zers for the president’s reelection. Members of Gen Z (those born from the late 1990s to the early 2000s) are very familiar with the use of the internet. They follow popular social and political influencers who tend to dominate the discussion with their view of politics, being guided by websites like video posts (YouTube), podcasts and individual influencers. Influencers provide a way to build bonds with potential voters using shared histories, shared values and other characteristics that are likeable to the audience. Influencers comment on posts which connect them with those writing the posts. In other words, political influencers make politicians seem like ordinary people. The top influencers on the internet political sphere are a commentator from CNN and others with similar views suggesting a left-leaning bend to the discussion. Gen Zers typically rely on what is discussed in the internet sphere and rarely look at news media outside the Internet or with an opposing viewpoint. This makes it difficult for them to evaluate whether the influencer’s opinion is biased. 

When confronted by an influencer, I often ask myself “What’s in it for them?” If they are getting paid to promote a political philosophy, they may not be a true supporter but are influencing for money. Look for shared values in an influencer who has been promoting the philosophy consistently for several years. Is the information put forth by the influencer consistent with your knowledge in a certain area? For instance, the energy secretary said recently that it is achievable for the military to change over all fossil-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles by 2030. An absurd statement, from my point of view, in that it would require fossil-fueled electrical generators to follow these electric vehicles into combat or make sure there are charging stations in the middle of a desert. When listening to a political influencer, I fall back to the saying: “Half the fairy tales start with ‘once upon a time,’ the other half start with ‘if you elect me, I promise…’”