Wendy Long: Sphere of Influence

by Wendy Long
23 Jan 2018

The Internet has changed the way we obtain information, but it is social media that has revolutionized the way we communicate and process.

As I made my way down the British Fashion Awards' Red Carpet towards Royal Albert Hall, and settled down at my seat for the pre-awards dinner (yes, the fashion crowd does eat… or so it seems), my fellow guest at the table asked which celebrities did I meet at the red carpet.

The first person that came to mind was Giovanna Battaglia, or @bat_gio, as she’s more famously known on Instagram. My seatmate’s blank stare said it all, she did not know her.

So I went on to dish out more information like she's a fashion stylist, famous on Instagram, moves in the international fashion crowd with the likes of Lauren Santo Domingo, Anna Della Russo, and Natalie Massanet – to name just a few of the many in her fabulous fashion circle, recently launched a book, gio_graphy: fun in the wild world of fashion, had a window dressing gig at Bergdorf Goodman, got married to a Swedish property developer last summer in Capri where fashion’s Who's Who were all in attendance, and she wore a gorgeous white tiered Alaia gown for the welcome party. More blank stare.

By then, I was more startled by the fact that I knew all these information about bat_gio, someone who's famous but not in a traditional way like a movie or pop star. So how did I gather all these information and why did I remember the details?

I blame it all on Instagram! Sure, the Internet changed the way we search for and share information but social media revolutionized the way we communicate and process information. It's an excellent platform for curating data and shaping the desired image for both individuals and brands.

Where before, the information we received was a representation of a third party's view, like the news coverage by a TV station, the interview given by a celebrity or politician but edited by the journalist, the news reports (real or fake) about a pop star, which all have a propensity to be taken out of context when presented through someone else's words. Now, with social media, notably Instagram, anyone, famous or not, has an outlet to express their opinion, showcase their lifestyle, shape their own image and curate their ‘Instagram life’ the way they deemed fit. It gives editorial power to anyone who cares enough to develop a social media presence. It has made celebrities out of ordinary people because their content resonates with an audience.

The rise of the social influencers, as they are known in the digital age – ordinary folks who became famous through social media rather than celebrities who are already fairly famous pre-Instagram days and have  mastered social media to expand their fan base and build a sizable following on social media channels like Instagram and Twitter.

Perhaps it is their roots as ‘ordinary’ folks that give social influencers a sense of authenticity over celebrities, who may be perceived as merely manufactured personalities. Most social influencers started out by documenting their chosen area of interest, ranging from fashion to photography to travel, food, architecture – the list goes on. In the open communicative community which social media facilitates, anyone who's plugged into the platform will have access to these content and can choose to follow personalities who pique their interest. This is the kind of marketing gold that advertisers dream of ! It's free, global, instant and more importantly, highly curated with a direct access to the target audience.

For instance, back to my story on bat_gio: I picked up all that information from her Instagram account. Her keen sense of fashion attracted me and I followed her on Instagram to gain access into her world. In fact, she has the same zebra print velvet Alessandra Rich dress which I wore to the British Fashion Awards. I saw an Instagram photo of her in that dress at a dinner party hosted by Lauren Santo Domingo at Isabel, London. Though I didn't base my purchase decision on the fact that she has that dress , as I had already purchased it before she posted the photo on Instagram, seeing her in it validated my fashion choice. It almost seemed (to me) that since she picked that dress too , it means I made the right fashionable choice. Fashionable by association. Even the dinner venue resonated with me. At that time, Isabel was a hot new opening which I read about on, in a review written by Hayley Bloomingdale (yes, Bloomingdale as in that famous department store in NYC ).

I was trying to convince people that it's the hottest opening, and that they should check it out when they are in London. Once that post by bat_gio was released, with the restaurant tagged as the location, I was armed with the most persuasive statement, “lsd hosted a dinner party there and bat_gio was a guest".

If it's stylish enough for the fashion crowd, it's good enough for us. Such is the power of a social influencer; their opinion and choices carry weight and followers look to them as trend setters and an authority on how to live the ‘good life’. Their sphere of influence extends beyond their main area of specialty. They are looked upon as tastemakers, so even if an influencer gained fame as say, a fashionista, their choices in other segments like restaurants, hotels, music are just as closely watched and emulated because followers see them as a total package. This makes them extremely valuable as a marketing tool because they can plug anything , being the beacon of all things ‘good’ and ‘trendy’.

In a way, social influencers live their lives on social media, documenting personal milestones like engagements, baby announcements and birthdays, just like a reality TV star does on a reality TV show. Everything is supposed to come across as ‘real’ and followers stay updated on their postings, just like how a reality TV show fan keeps up with the twists and turns on the main characters in the show.

Similarly, most Instagram stars have a story arc that includes frequent ‘appearances’ by friends, relatives and business associates. Followers feel like they actually know these people and their stories.

I remember following a few young Hong Kong socialites and their social influencer friends on Instagram and it didn't take long to join the dots and see the link between all the ‘characters’. They all know each other! So when one of the girls held her wedding in Greece some years ago, all her closest friends flew to Greece to attend her wedding and I kept up with the festivities through the Instagram postings of all the main ‘characters’. It felt just like watching a reality TV show. I even knew that they traveled across Europe – notably, Positano, where the whole bunch of them stayed at Villa Treville – before descending upon Greece for the wedding. 

Coincidentally, I was planning a trip to Positano a few months later and immediately did some research on Villa Treville and made a reservation for my stay in Positano. I was certainly influenced by these social influencers and trusted their taste, hence I chose to make the same choices. It turned out to be an excellent choice and the property has some serious pedigree and heritage, as it used to be the private residence of celebrated Italian opera and film director Franco Zeffirelli. (For years, he had entertained his illustrious celebrity friends at Villa Treville. As they say, reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. While I was at Villa Treville, lounging on one of the day beds by the sea, reading Crazy Rich Asians, a guy came up to me and said, “How funny you’re reading this book as we are producing the movie”. Turns out the new owners of Villa Treville (not sure whether it has since changed) also own the movie production house that's part of the team behind the upcoming movie.

On hindsight, it's interesting to see how through the connectivity of social media and the influencers, the episodes link up, with one thing leading to another. It has shaped the way we make choices and in the process, we are more connected than ever before. It's shared information by the people for the people.