Influencing the Need to Belong

Theater Mask Graphic

GRAPHIC | Tara Espinoza

Walking into my Public Relations Writing class, I enter the doorway and reach my seat. I say hello to my two friends that share a table with me, waving and sitting to catch up on what happened over the weekend.

Giggles and smiles ensue, blushes appearing on their cheeks as they share what happened on Saturday night’s social. The conversation continued like normal until I heard the huge metal clunk of my classmate’s Stanley Cup.

The cup is so large she has to use two hands to help it make the journey from her backpack to the table, and every time she picks it up, she must use two hands to take a single sip from the overly large straw.

“Where did you get that?” I ask her in a bit of shock. I want to know what prompted her to purchase this kind of contraption. “I bought it at Target,” she says proudly. “It was $50.”

Respectfully, what?

I went on to ask her why she bought it, thinking maybe she was going to take it hiking or maybe on a road trip. Why else would you spend that much on a cup that industrial?

“All the girls on TikTok have one. It’s the new cup everyone has. I only take it to class, though. I don’t want it getting messed up,” my classmate continues.

It was then that I realized the full circle of influencer culture.

Influencer culture refers to the vast group of social media influencers on many different platforms. These influencers create content for three leading platforms: TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

These influencers rise to fame very quickly, making videos that cater to certain audiences, which causes more likes and views. This causes more followers and more likes and so on; that person has 300,000 followers and is now considered an influencer.

When influencers rise to fame, many brands reach out to them and offer to send that person products to make videos about. Since the influencer has many followers, the product will be seen as great since the influencer has it, no matter how useless or overpriced it may be.

Most of the products are not things that everyday people must spend so much money on, much like the Stanley Cup. Other products like this can include makeup, clothing and other household items.

As a result, brands pay these influencers thousands of dollars to promote their products. The products themselves are usually close to $100, or around that price. These influencers can afford to buy and promote these products but the regular working class unfortunately cannot. And yet, we still buy these products simply because our favorite influencer has them.

But the question is, why? Why do we let these influencers dictate how we spend our money?

Grace Rhodes, a digital marketing major here at Tech, simply says it comes from our basic need to fit in.

“We all want to fit in, and this is especially important for college students, mostly girls. We just want to have the nicest makeup, clothes and other things that make us look ‘cool’,” Rhodes said.

Young women in college are faced with a variety of challenges. Making friends, staying safe, it can all be overwhelming at times. We just want to fit in and we will take whatever steps are necessary to fit in with the right crowd.

One of the many ways to fit in and stay in with the crowd is to keep up with trends. If you do not have the latest clothes or a Stanley cup, sometimes people can look at you oddly or think differently of you.

A very shallow way of thinking, but I digress.

Most influencers are young women close to college age or a bit older, so their main audience is college age women. This is an easy audience to reach and an even easier one to influence.

When college age women see these influencers with specific products, that deep need to fit in kicks in and they tend to buy whatever product they have, no matter the cost. This especially is true if their peers already have the product, which causes that need to deepen.

“If I see my friends laughing and smiling together, and they all have the same product, I am naturally going to want it. That need to fit in only gets stronger if I am the only one who doesn’t have it. Naturally, I feel left out in a way,” Rhodes said.

Our basic instincts to belong are to blame for how easily we are influenced by certain people. We have put these influencers on a pedestal in a way which opens the door for them to be able to dictate the way we live. They not only influence our lives but our way of thinking and how we spend our money.

In all, our deep need to belong comes into play even when we decide which cup to buy to hold our drinks as we go to work or school. Young women in college have this need amplified, as they are in a new place and away from home and need to fit in.

This audience is easy to target and influencer culture is only growing larger. More influencers emerge every day and target new audiences.

When it comes to social media, the question always is, “How will I let this affect my life and my way of thinking?” Our minds have become so consumed with the idea that we have to be like these influencers that we have to live as these people do.

In reality, these influencers are just normal people like us. There is no need to put them on a pedestal and let them influence us to make purchases we do not need to.

True belonging does not mean having a certain cup or buying a specific type of expensive makeup. Belonging is deeper than that. Belonging is finding those who truly accept you for who you are. If you must have a specific cup or wear certain clothes to fit in, you will never truly belong. Material things do not last forever; true friendships do.

But you never know; your best friend could also be found in a Stanley Cup fan club.