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New course for kids in school: How to be an “influencer”

Credit to Julianne Corr at the Times for this entertaining scoop:

The third level college that ran Ireland’s first influencer course hopes to offer the programme to secondary school students as part of their transition year studies, its organiser has said….

…Irene McCormick, the programme director, said that about 240 people had applied for the course and about 80 attended live each day. She said 85 per cent of those who enrolled were girls aged 17 and 18…..

Emma O’Hagan, a student who participated in the course last month, told The Times: “I loved the course, I thought it was great because I am running a TikTok account for the Beauty Buddy [an Irish female-led beauty tech start-up]. I learnt lots of great tips and tricks to help our account grow, and loved meeting the Irish influencers.”

This is the kind of thing, of course, that we middle aged fogeys are supposed to roll our eyes and sneer at, and wonder where all the proper jobs went. And to some extent, we have a point. In another way, we are absolutely missing the point.

“Influencing” is, of course, a fancy way of saying “becoming an online celebrity who people aspire to be like”. The whole appeal of influencers – the way they make money – is that they are considered people who younger people want to be like. As such, they have power and influence when it comes to setting trends in fashion, and makeup, and diet, and all the rest of it.

The problem, of course, is that “influencing” has the same appeal as becoming a premier league footballer does: It has the appearance of a glamourous, well-paid lifestyle, and the immense work that goes into making a success of it is rarely put front and centre. We see the shots of the perfect body on a yacht – we are less likely to see the puny plates of food, hours in the gym, and stress of day-long photoshoots. And of course, there is very little point becoming an influencer if you were not near the front of the queue when the almighty was handing out the good looks. Yours truly, for example, would be a poor influencer, unless beer bellies become very desirable in the near future.

To some extent then, “influencing” is a skill that cannot be taught. People either wish to be like you, or they do not. Teaching kids about how to become an “influencer” is about as effective as teaching kids how to play for Manchester United. Unless the raw material is there, then there is no point. You can be absolutely certain that courses in how to influence will be filled – as the story above notes – with teenage girls, most of whom are wasting their time.

Or are they?

There is a glass half full approach to this story too, and it is this: The skills that “influencers” use – marketing, image management, messaging, writing, photography, and all the rest – are genuinely useful skills for anybody to learn, and most of them require many fewer natural gifts than being a desirable influencer does. In some ways, this is just a marketing course dressed up to appeal to people who would never otherwise think of taking a marketing course.

In fact, a course in how influencers operate might have significant upside – if it opens more previously naïve eyes to exactly how influencers work. Perhaps it might make people understand the powers of photoshop, or carefully chosen light, or artfully chosen words, and make them realise exactly how much of what they see and read online is, in fact, carefully crafted to provoke a reaction.

Anyway, your reaction to a story like this will always be a Rorschach test. My own eye-roll, for example, was entirely to be expected, as a middle aged bloke who thinks fashion and make-up and that whole world is unutterably silly. But that does not mean it would not have value to others, so perhaps we should give the influencing course people a chance.



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