Beautiful Stripes: The need for real thought leadership


  • Living
  • Monday, 05 Mar 2018

With a tweet, Kylie Jenner caused a massive drop in price in Snapchat stock. Photo: AP

After decades of writing about beauty and keeping my pulse on all there is to know about the industry, I feel a distinct disconnect between brands and how news is disseminated these days.

It used to be that even if it’s not something I’ve written about, I learn about it through press releases from the brands, or reports by other local publications, and of course, international sites.

However, social media appears to have the upper hand these days, so brands favour bloggers and “influencers” or “KOLs” (I use the term loosely as I seriously question how they “lead” opinions) over conventional print media, and quite often you end up with tons of ... Instagram pictures. There are a handful of reputable bloggers who do proper reviews and reports, but otherwise, real beauty news mainly comes from foreign sources.

Press events are a whole new ball game – for both the brands and the media – as no one really knows for sure what to expect. But everyone wants to get on board anyway because of Fomo (fear of missing out) as digital news is touted as the way to go. Instagrammers and bloggers flood guest lists, traditional journalists are shunned, and a successful launch is measured by the number of likes and viral posts. What gives?

Marketing expert Elinor Cohen voices on medium.com what everybody is thinking, but no one really dares to say out loud: Influencers don’t really influence anything or anyone.

(Unless you’re Kylie Jenner, then a single stupid tweet can cause Snapchat’s stock to lose US$1.6bil in market value. Which makes me wonder about the pointlessness of my existence if life is to be determined by Snapchat and IG figures.)

Cohen questions who exactly these “influencers” are and who they “influence”, if at all, and shares the importance of understanding the fundamental difference between “influence” and “thought leadership”.

Oxford dictionary defines an “influencer” as someone with the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something. In social media-speak, it’s how an individual can influence others to buy, or conversely, not buy something. However, it is not always clear what the brands really get in return. Sure, you can get Google analytics for customer insights ... and then what?

“Since Instagram and Snap, more and more ‘web influencers’ have popped out, especially in the lifestyle (beauty, fashion, travel) niche and in Technology (consumer electronics) and they have been enjoying the gullibility of brands that think they can actually generate real business by working with them,” she opines.

True enough, just the other day, I was introduced to “super fans” of a brand. And apparently, rather than signing on brand ambassadors, having “friends of the brand” is a thing now (as it’s cheaper).

Depending on the product, there’s no denying social media can be an effective brand awareness tool and it can drive revenue. But by engaging someone with 50,000 followers (or even millions) who may probably be following simply because of herd mentality, it doesn’t necessarily translate into new customers – we all know that one can pay for followers, “likes” – and even comments.

Although social media monetises content which brands or companies pay for, Cohen maintains that it’s hard to prove or justify whether new business was generated by a particular collaboration with a specific influencer, or if the figures are accurate.

According to Cohen, when you look at the beauty segment, the biggest YouTube channels with millions of followers are usually ones built with hard work over the years and these YouTubers actually refuse collabs and sponsored content, and would rather pay for products.

Genuine Thought Leadership, on the other hand, is about expertise and knowledge, and people who care about their niche and industry enough to invest time and money in becoming experts.

“They generate quality and authentic content, not for their own profit or someone else’s, but to educate others.”

Brands would be better off, she concludes, by developing brand authority and genuine added value for long term sustainability.

Locally, our digital market may not be quite as sophisticated as our Western counterparts, but surely the same principles apply. At present, it would appear most brands are just following directives from New York, Paris or wherever the brand hails from. But it has come to a point where we need to separate the wheat from the chaff, acknowledge that certain mechanisms in our market are different from that in the West, as is the quality of our so-called “opinion makers”, and from there, progress digitally based on that premise, instead of just mimicking their actions and marketing efforts.

Ultimately, good quality content should take precedence over short fall click baits and expensive promo gimmicks if a brand wants to establish continuity and long-term business. Regardless of whether it’s print or electronic media, news should still bear substance.

The media industry’s landscape is changing and social media is still evolving, but given the paradigm shift in how news is dispensed, it’s more crucial now than ever that readers get more than just a video, listicles or quick facts.

But then again, what do I know? I’m just a lowly journalist with more than 20 years of media experience ...


If verifying facts and crafting a story is old school, then Patsy Kam is happy to be a dinosaur. Share your thoughts with star2@thestar.com.my


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