Following for a change
Recently, I saw an advertisement by a clothing store that caught my attention and kind of answered a hanging question I have had in the back of my mind for some time. The advertisement said “Be a follower” and right next to it there is one that says “Influencers spend a lot of time doing laundry”. Now that is quite different than all of the talk of leadership, finding the leader in you, emerging as a leader where somehow, we are all leaders and we never talk about whom we are leading.
The advertisement was focused on selling clothing. A major trend that has developed with social media and the fashion industry is what is called “influencers”. Influencers in the fashion industry are people with a large number of followers on social media who are paid by clothing, make-up or any fashion related brands to promote their items. This has become a pretty lucrative business and many are striving to become influencers by amassing a large number of followers. So the more followers an influencer has, the larger the pool she can influence to buy the product.
The second part of the advertisement, i.e. “Influencers spend a lot of time at the laundry” refers to the fact that influencers have to consistently promote clothing brands, which means they have to always wear new things so they have to make sure all of their clothes are clean so they can look good enough to sell. By alluding to how “hard” the influencer life is, the brand is looking to discourage people from wanting to be an influencer and encouraging them to be a follower because it will be easier to do so. The second advertisement is therefore focusing on getting people to follow the influencers they are paying online because that means they will increase their own sales.
To be honest this is a pretty genius strategy because they have figured out that the less the number of influencers, the higher the number of “influencees”, if I can put it like that. But let me expand this issue outside of the fashion world. Leadership is a word we hear often and from all directions. Slogans about how everyone is a leader are all around us and there is a certain social pressure to claim that you are one. The one thing we do not discuss is, who are the followers? And another important question is what does it mean to be a leader?
The way leadership is sold is with all of the glamour and none of the consequences. We seldom discuss accountability, difficult decisions and responsibility that leaders have to take. These, in my view, are the real challenge of leaders. I have gone to trainings where the discussion focused on how we are a leader, even if we do not have followers. I honestly struggle to understand that.
When it comes to social media influencers in Ethiopia, I am glad to see that there is now a discussion on the responsibility they have in regards to the information that they disseminate and ideas they support. This is crucial. When people who have a large influence speak, they have to think twice about what they say and what the impact will be and understand that someone will have to take responsibility for the impact just as much as they will take credit if things go well!
The other aspect of this matter is that we have to promote awareness to followers. Following is great, but it requires a certain level of understanding. Blind following leads nowhere, informed following should be strongly promoted.
In this age where we are separating world into leaders and followers, I have to say that following is not as easy as it looks. Lately, for a change, I am teaching myself to follow.