You only have to follow Minnie Dlamini, Bonang Matheba, or Tshepang Mollison to see how influencer culture has taken over social media. With millions of followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, influencers are an example of how marketing yourself on social media can make you into a virtual star.

So how did influencer culture begin? Well, since companies began to realise that social media has the potential to reach millions of people across borders and countries, they’ve been using it as a useful tool to influence us to consume products and connect with brands. Influencers are everyday people with massive followings online who don’t seem intimidating or unreal like celebrities we see in magazine spreads, but they have the effect of being relatable and approachable, like friends.

They seem like someone you might be friends with because social media allows us to see a small window into people’s lives, whether they’re eating at a trendy restaurant or wearing a t-shirt from a particular brand. What influencers do catches on like wild fire and next thing you know, everyone is trying to get their hands on a pair of the sneakers Maps Maponyane wore – whether they actually like them, or not.

The reason they have so much social pull is because influencers inspire us – they shape culture by telling short stories of their lives and letting us see places we’ve never been. They show us bits and pieces of what makes them just like socialites. In turn, they’re paid to introduce certain characters into their story, like the latest fashion piece or a promotion for an exclusive event, and we feel like those brands could be part of our own story, too. If Casper Nyovest could influence us to fill the dome, he can show us how we should aspire to do the same – or buy a Mercedes-Benz.

Here’s the plot twist, though – we may see influencers as the heart of popular culture, letting their lives let us know what’s hot and what’s not, but some followers have their price. There’s a growing trend of people pretending to be influencers, purchasing images from the internet and buying followers from agencies who hire people to like, comment and ‘talk’ to you on social media. If you have the cash, you can be an overnight influencer.

How do we separate the real deal from the frauds? What makes influencers interesting is what they let us see seems real – they use emoji’s and tag their friends, we seem them at the festivals within our reach and they do #OOTD (outfit of the day) in their bedrooms. Of course you can copy those characteristics of a typical influencer account, but the biggest influencers are not just people taking photos of breakfast (although you’re bound to find even they can’t resist); they are creatives, designers, writers, activists and entrepreneurs who showcase their work, collaborations and how they’re adding value by being seen.

We can admit that their lives are a bit more glamourous than ours because of the privileges they receive from being paid to be cool. In my humble opinion, the experience you get from an influencer account is not that authentic (the same way we select what we post and what we don’t) and with the increase of fake influencers, it leaves room for a lot of questions about what really makes an influencer and how effective it will really be as a marketing tool in the long run. But for now, it looks like it’s here to stay.

Do you think influencers have as much power as brands think they do?

Would you want to be an influencer? Why/why not?

Tell us what you think about influencer culture.