DR ASHA PEMBERTON
With the rapid and continued use of the internet and social media platforms, young people around the world are more connected than ever. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s young people engage in online activity, and in some territories the penetration rate is approaching 100%. Of these, about two billion would come from low- and middle-income countries, including least developed countries. In addition, a large percentage of the world’s internet users are teenagers and young adults, most of whom have constant access through portable mobile devices. Social networks and networking sites and applications remain the most popular among young people around the world and their use has led to the emergence of a new phenomenon in marketing, promotion and entrepreneurship; the social media influencer.
By general definition, a social media influencer is a user who has established credibility in a specific industry, has created and maintained a large following, and has the persuasive skills to get others to act on their recommendations. This credibility does not necessarily stem from any particular qualification or expertise, but apparently has the power to affect the interests, actions and decisions of young people today. Included are hair and beauty bloggers, game vloggers, product reviewers and most recently health, recipe and fitness gurus. The majority today are older adolescents and young adults. Influencers, whether through the frequent generation of videos, posts, or articles, have the motivational skills and authenticity to consistently engage viewers and thus encourage others to continually expand their social reach. . In general, influencers are individuals who develop their popularity through their social media activity, compared to well-known celebrities, who are already famous through the more traditional channels of sports, music or popular entertainment culture. Potentially, it’s the very fact that influencers present themselves as everyday citizens that makes them a more authentic voice to their followers. The power of the following has spawned the influencer marketing industry through which product developers and big brands increasingly enter into paid partnership deals with influencers, whose sole marketing ability is their influencers.
Although there is not yet a great deal of literature on the subject, it is worth examining the role of influencers in a health promotion context, and their potential impact on the health behavior of young people around the world. . Youth internet connectivity is important and to date it seems that the level of involvement in influencer content is high. Young people follow influencers for entertainment value, but also for information and advice. Their reviews and recommendations impact everything from skincare routines and gaming tech sales to nutrition plans. Is this a new opportunity to reach out to young people around the world and provide information that can have a positive impact on their choices, behavior and health? Is it possible that such messages are more easily accepted and implemented depending on the source?
With the almost ubiquitous accessibility of the world’s youth to the internet and social media platforms, the reach and potential impact of influencers is unprecedented. The current persuasive power of social media influencers has yet to shift meaningfully to preventative content related to adolescent health. It certainly has the potential to become a mechanism having a positive impact on the understanding and behavior of young people regarding their personal care and health. We are in a time when anyone can be a healthcare influencer, which itself is complicated by the challenge of accurate content and advice. As we see this phenomenon rapidly evolving, there is an opportunity for further exploration and research into why, or how, influencers continue to gain and maintain the attention of young people, and means by which appropriate and accurate content can be disseminated to further positive impacts on their health and development.