By Hilmelda Tenkeu
Thumbnail Photo Courtesy of http://hi.photoslurp.com/
Gone are the days were having a formal education and obtaining a degree was the goal. With evolution and globalization, the goal is making money and “living the life”. Therefore, it is not surprising to see a TV host dressed by popular designers, with 1 million+ followers on Instagram or social media at large.
A professional in a particular field conforms to the technical and ethical standards of a profession. They go through a defined period of training aimed at acquiring a skill that will be applied to solve a problem, in exchange for payment (although not always). On the other hand, an influencer is a person or group that can influence the behavior, actions and/or opinions of others.
Influencers are hired and paid according to their degree of impact on the population, that is, via the number of followers and likes/views that they have on social media. Therefore, they create content frequently in order to entertain and keep their followers. They trade their experiences and lifestyles for visibility. The more visibility, the more money they are paid to advertise a product, be a brand ambassador, and many other gigs. Professionals on the other side, are hired to offer a particular skill for which they have trained and obtained a certificate of learning. Thus, they have to acquire a skill, prove that they master it by practicing, and lastly, practicing it over a long period. The longer the experience, the more expensive their service becomes. This is especially true with media.
In media, especially in front of the cameras, experience is absolutely rewarding. For instance, Caroline Mutoko is a media icon in Kenya today but she has been practicing for more than 15 years. She has now mastered what to say or not, what the audience wants to hear or not, how to approach a technical topic and other critical aspects of hosting a show or talking on TV and radio. However, there is a new tendency of hiring influencers to host TV and radio shows.
It seems like the focus has changed from doing the job well and informing the audience while making money, to solely making money. The new focus involves hiring influencers that have a huge following on social media and using that already established visibility to set the trend. This completely changes the cycle. Yesteryears, media would determine the trend: what was acceptable or not, what music to consume or not, and what movie to watch or not. But these days, the followers set the pace and this is not always right or moral at all.
Also, hiring influencers as media personalities trivializes the job. When a person who has not trained and mastered the art of transmitting information in a way that is pleasant to the ears takes that job, it makes it look easy. Being fluent and eloquent is not enough to work in media. There are technicalities that one has to learn. There are regulations that have been put in place by different regulatory bodies that need to be respected. Owning a youtube channel or indulging in live videos on social media are not near similar to talking on TV or radio. In the former situation, influencers are often their own producers and editors whereas, in the latter situation, they have to adhere to principles of media and talking to a diverse audience.
Another important point that is often neglected is lifestyle. Influencers can often afford to live a lifestyle that professionals cannot. A Cameroonian influencer once said, “ in one month, I can make money that a trained journalist will never make until the dawn of his career”. As heavy as the statement is, it is true. Influencers are endorsed by brands based on the number of followers. If they have a great reach, they are paid a good deal as well. Hence, when they are hired as media personalities, their salary is not the same as that of the professional. The professional feels undermined as though they made a wrong choice to spend 4 years and more studying and training for this profession. This can be frustrating and therefore, explains why some professionals have become influencers. For instance, Jeff Koinange, “the voice” who works at Citizen TV, now calls himself an influencer. He is endorsed by huge brands for ads.
Moreover, less than a year ago, a new TV channel was launched in Cote d’Ivoire. Five of the news anchors and hosts are influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers. This is clearly a strategy from the owners of the TV channel to; have a ready-made viewership and immediately be the top channel in the country. Well, several conventional viewers and professionals of the field have condemned this, terming it “too easy”. But the question is: how much are they paid? This amount should be enormous, given that these influencers have altered their schedules and have had to reject some endorsement opportunities.
In Kenya however, hiring influencers as media personalities has not worked so well. Recently, a radio host was fired for going against company policies in speech. When asked about this happening, Berna Akang, a communication student, said “well, these are the results of hiring non-trained people to do a job that demands time, watching what we say and how we say it… I prefer going through the training, getting the job, and building my brand so as to become an influencer, instead of starting as an influencer. It just does not cut it for me”. Clearly, the world is now digital, and technology has the final say.
Media actors and decision-makers have to sit and redefine who a journalist is and is not. The structure and principles of being a media personality have to be rethought as well, taking into consideration the introduction of influencers. What started as including comedians as co-hosts for fun interviews, has taken another turn.