‘Meet the influencers who learned to swipe before they could walk.’

By Elizabeth Jane Bishop
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme

A letter from… London. - © System Magazine

Curious, hyper-aware, and tethered to tech. Those are some of the traits I share with my generation, Gen Z. Compared to Gen X, or even millennials, we’re very different. But why?

Technology and the speed at which information is shared is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors influencing our changing values, ethics and attributes. The birth of Gen Z has seen a generation learn to swipe before we can walk, and connect to the Internet faster than we connect with our own parents. We’re often referred to as ‘Generation Zombie’, which although offensive, is probably accurate.

Growing up in a connected world, where we can see, buy, watch and read almost anything makes us almost unmarketable to. We can find out about you, your mum or your product in a few clicks. We’ve grown up watching the world – which, as someone who started blogging aged 15, I can say has its downsides – so we know if you’re authentic, sticking to your guns. I was so young when I started out that my followers have grown with me. Suddenly whitewashing my life is not an option – and that’s a good thing. We’re less sceptical of each other, having watched each other grow up.

Living in the most marketed-to generation ever – we can’t even escape commercial penetration in the safety of our own rooms – has also made us tech savvy. How else could someone like me, a small-town girl, create a name for myself online? When you start blogging as a creative outlet, you don’t expect to find yourself with 693,000 followers. Being able to have that reach, though, has bred new methods of marketing: the twisted beautiful world of social media has created ‘influencers’.

I, myself, am considered an ‘influencer’: an individual who, according to Google, has above-average impact on a specific group, often connected to media outlets or consumer groups. A marketer would have said ‘tribes’, but I don’t work in branding or PR. Influencers are normal people like me, and like me, they didn’t plan for this to happen. My story started in a small countryside town in Staffordshire (not the creative hub you’d expect of any major city in fashion or tech). I was bullied for who I am, and Tumblr and Instagram became channels to connect to like-minded people. They allowed me to express my interests in the arts without someone laughing or teasing me for it (there’s no block button IRL, unfortunately).

I couldn’t tell you when I hit the ‘of influence’ mark on whatever scale they’re using to keep track. The amount of people following me still doesn’t register unless I’m reminded of it. I know that after six months I had almost 20,000 followers. People became interested not only in what I liked, but in me as a person (which I’m still not used to). After being asked to share pictures of myself I started posting them on Tumblr. I joined Instagram in 2012. In a year, I had 80,000 followers and companies approaching me to promote product. Come on, as a then-16 year-old girl in her bedroom, how could I hate that?

Cue an agent stepping in and telling me I could model. (WTF?) She explained how people like me – ‘influencers’ – were getting paid hefty amounts of money for posts of them solo selfie-ing in their bedrooms. At the time I was moving to London to study communications and we know money doesn’t grow on trees. It was relatively easy income for basically being myself.

All in all, we influencers, bloggers – whatever – are just people trying to earn a living doing what we love, just like the people behind the brands. So there needs to be mutual respect between brands and influencers regarding payment for placement. Influencers connect with Gen Z because they’re real people sharing real things. We’re more collaborators than mouthpieces. It’s obvious to us when something’s Photoshopped or forced. Gen Z, although young, is not stupid.
For me, social media was a wonderful accident with life-changing outcomes. In my opinion, as an influencer, for brands to truly create something influential, something with resonance, they’ve got to use real people in their campaigns. It’s common sense. We want to relate to what we see. So choose wisely, do your research, and you’ll see results.

Taken from System No. 8.