Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Untenable Lightness of Being a Singapore Food Influencer

Federal Bureau of Investigation is most famously associated with the FBI acronym. But for most millennials, FBI usually means the trophied trinity of social media platforms.

Facebook, Blogs and Instagram. Everyday we gravitate towards our mobile devices, indulging in FBI activities when it comes to a spare moment during train and bus rides.

What started out as a pure passion play a decade ago has evolved into something far more complex, far more convoluted today with the daily influx of more Singapore food influencers.

The scene used to be smaller, consisting of only a handful of food influencers (we used to be known as bloggers way back) and it was merely a hobby. For some, it still is.

But take a look at some of the feeds today, and you will notice something different. Nevermind the mindless and robotic regurgitations of press releases from a number of bloggers/instagrammers/Facebook posts, but the actual personalities behind these social media feeds.

Exactly.

There is none. There are far too many wannabes trying to make a name in this once food passionate community. And there is no stopping them. They leech upon established names in the hope of climbing the social media ladder. An easy shortcut to being noticed by the community and doors will be opened to a multitude of events and opportunities.

Sadly, some of them will rise for one reason or another. Mostly, due to the ignorance of those who engage them for media events, thinking that these leeches have, indeed, powers of influence with their so-called followers. Somehow, the leeches believe that fame and fortune is easily attainable here.

Beyond the rarified air that only a few "professional" bloggers and influencers breathe in, the rest of us only make some pocket money from a few advertorials here and there. Most do not even make a cent at all.

Certainly, it is not exactly enough to sustain a living in this most costly of cities. In fact, a number of us are here purely for the camaraderie and making new acquaintances. After all, food can be the bonding agent for many people from all walks of life.

Yet, there are those who are seemingly disillusioned to think that they can turn this into a profit center of sorts. Reading their posts is akin to reading a classifieds section more than an actual blog or review.

Only recently, a dear friend has groused to me that she has been doing this for over a decade and despite making a name for herself, there is little light at the end of the blogging tunnel. And she feels it is better to have a real writing job with an actual publication. She may be right.

While that is one way to convert your blogging experience into a more constructive manner, one that is able to generate a proper income via an actual profession. It also means that there is very little recourse for the true set of SG food bloggers and influencers to expect or expand beyond what we have today.

Our main reward has always been the content we have on our social media platforms. Something that we can look back with pride and satisfaction. The stories, the photos and the captions we put out there for everyone to read and enjoy.

We should be serving our audience for the right reasons. And this includes coming up with meaningful content. Not just fads and trends that will come and go. Reviews and personal commentaries go beyond reporting for reporting sake.

The recent tax guidelines for social media influencers are not helping either and may seem harsh to us. It seems we have to now account for our tastings and free gifts. But face it, this will happen sooner or later too.

Thinking in the long term, this may actually turn a corner for the authorities to actually recognise social media influencers as legitimate media outlets, and not just a personal recreation. And the reason is simple.

We have an immense ability to influence others and whether you like the term influencer or not, it is fairly accurate in depicting the impact what we can do with our simple "hobby" of ours.

That is why we are sought out for engagements and events. And that is also why the leeches want in on this piece of the action. They are oblivious to the fact that the rest of us are doing it because we love to talk about food and share our carefully taken shots. It seems the leeches are in it for self glorification, and their own selfish reasons.

Yet, for these leeches, they can barely string two sentences together and has the grammar dexterity of a three year old. Quality and meaningful content is not their main focus. Rather, flooding their social media feeds with endless streams of the latest food fads and cheesy/gimmicky viral contests is more their priority.

Will the tax guidelines eliminate this problem with proper accountability? Perhaps. But the truth is, there will always be desperate fame seekers who will prostitute themselves for a free meal or a free stay.

Yes, the shameless ones do write in to ask for freebies and the utterly shameless leeches will insist to be paid a fee for their less than adequate "reviews". And no, I do not and likewise, most of my like-minded influencer comrades will never resort to such tactics to go and review a joint.

What will be infinitely more helpful is those that engage social media influencers, do more due diligence in syphoning out who are the genuine and worthy ones. And those who are not. It is not always easy I know, you need to show significant numbers to your clients and bosses alike.

But if Jerry Maguire or Apple has taught us one thing is that short term numbers gain will not result in long term success, especially when it comes to authentic substance and value. Take a look at the actual content being produced, and not just the number of followers or likes they generate.

Read the blogs and captions and align them with the clients' or your own establishment's products and services. Using blanket approaches may show instant gratification, but longevity in terms of good and valuable publicity goes beyond a successful launch.

As for the influencers, take some time to reflect on what do you want out of this "hobby". Do this for the legitimate reasons, and reasons that make sense. Fame, money and glamour are the least of it. These days, I am not even sure an appreciation of food is the main reason why people are coming onboard.

When I look at the likes of Leslie and some of the older, more established folks, I take heart that they are still in it for the interest of uncovering more food places that means something to them. And their own affinity for cooking reassures me that the love of food is still their top priority.

But when I see the shameless tags of agencies, camera sponsors, and even apparel associations on a post, I shake my head in utter disgust. If popularity and sponsorships are your ultimate goals, go into lifestyle or beauty. I am sure your needs are better served there.

Leave the food scene to those who can appreciate a perfectly cooked risotto or pasta, to those who can swoon to a glass of fine Bordeaux, and to those who enjoy finding the rare recipes to replicate in their own kitchens.

This is what the social media food scene here should be about.

Remember.

As an influencer, you have a responsibility to your own personality and your own brand. In other words, you have a responsibility to your audience too.

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