The Buying Power of Authenticity in an Age of Personal Metrics

With Internet culture comes the constant battle between remaining authentic and being sustainable. Brands are starting to understand what it means to be authentic online, but individuals have long understood this concept. With the prevalence of personal metrics and understanding the raw data behind one’s own life, authenticity gets complicated by not only clout, but also by Klout score. The trend of rewarding influencers through professionalization or free stuff is increasing as Brands begin to take advantage of tools that put them in touch with some of their biggest online influencers. It is now possible that food pornographers on Instagram can reap benefits of having a following by showing restaurant owners their stats.

Whitney Pastorek in her article “Your Instagram Followers Are Good For More Than Just Likes, Now They Get You Deals” writes about a Chicago company called Popular Pays that helps Instagrammers with large followings to get free goods from companies. The rise of the multi-channel network on YouTube is also indicative of this shift towards companies and brands bypassing the step of building authenticity online and going straight to people that already have influence for brand integration deals.

Because the concept of data driven success is not unfamiliar to many young people, it gets easier to leverage our own native behavior in exchange for material compensation. This trend is one to watch because it is indicative of shifting attitudes about authenticity. This could be a pivot point about how important authenticity, and the amateurism that is usually associated with it, is perceived.

In the United States the Federal Trade Commission has rules about disclosing relationships between brands and influencers in the instances of getting free things or getting paid to promote products. The FTC requires that, “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement […] such connection must be fully disclosed.” If someone gives you free stuff and you talk about it, you must say that the item was given to you. This especially pertains to when viewers might not suspect a connection to exist.

If individuals can gain materially from any and all of their online or mobile habits, then do we as a society get more cynical and assume that in all cases there is a connection between a brand or company and an individual? If everyone with a certain number of followers on Twitter or Instagram can cash in on their personal brands just by understanding their online reach and the value of that, then this will re-define what it means to be authentic online.

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