It’s tough out there for an influencer. Oh, sure, people think it’s all about taking selfies, posting photos of clothes on Instagram, amassing millions of fans, and collecting sponsorship revenue day in and day out. But it’s really hard sometimes! At least I imagine it is; I’m not an influencer, just someone who occasionally writes about them. However, my status as an unremarkable denizen of the Internet has allowed me to observe the rise and fall of several prominent personalities and quietly speculate on what they did right – and wrong.
Here’s my advice to influencers (or those who hope to become one)... told through the lens of a generational icon we should all aspire to embody: Spongebob Squarepants.
1. Ridiculous behavior may gain you attention temporarily, but not respect.
In “Ripped Pants,” Spongebob takes a trip to the beach, where, at one point, he bends over and inadvertently tears a huge slit in the back of his pants. To his surprise, everyone around finds it absolutely hilarious, making Spongebob the center of attention. Delighted by this, he continues ripping his pants over and over again, but the others soon tire of his antics, and no one wants to hang out with him. At the end of the episode, Spongebob teams up with some fish to sing a song expressing his regret.
Doing outrageous things has proven to be an effective method of garnering clicks, but little genuine admiration – and what attention does result is often short-lived. A willingness to act like the world’s biggest brat, get intimate with a Hot Pocket, or suck your own menstrual fluid out of a tampon may very well boost your follower count for a while… at the cost of your personal dignity.
2. Beware of younger, hipper influencers who will try to supplant you – possibly even with a dumbed-down version of your content.
Mr. Krabs wants to revitalize his restaurant with a fresh, young look, so in “Bossy Boots,” he recruits his daughter, Pearl, for advice. Eager to take up the mantle of control, she eviscerates the majority of the menu, institutes a truly hideous work uniform, and essentially transforms the burger place into a hip cafe, alienating the staff and former customer base. Eventually, Mr. Krabs realizes there’s been a serious decline in his revenue and scrambles to undo the changes Pearl has enacted.
Imitation is just about everywhere when it comes to influencer territory, and competition is hot. People are simply all too willing to steal one another’s ideas if they see they’re working, and even if they can’t execute them quite as well, they may end up being successful based solely on their personal attributes. YouTube’s beauty guru community has been especially prone to this, with its originators long departed from the spotlight.
3. Trying too hard to cultivate a specific image can backfire.
In “Just One Bite,” Spongebob is shocked to learn that his coworker, Squidward Tentacles, has never eaten a Krabby Patty and doesn’t care to, as he finds them repellant. Aghast, Spongebob convinces Squidward to try one, after which he still maintains that Krabby Patties are disgusting. Secretly, though, Squidward realizes he loves Krabby Patties and does anything he can to get one without revealing the truth to Spongebob. In the end, he breaks into the Krusty Krab’s secret vault and gorges himself on Patties – only to learn of the disastrous effects of overconsuming them.
There’s certainly a lot of pressure to conform to certain standards when you’re attempting to get famous online, but it’s important not to change who you really are. Adopting a different character intended to appeal to the masses may appear to be a winning strategy, but over time, a persona that’s fake will come across as nothing more than that: fake.
4. Hawking shoddy merchandise will annoy people and damage your reputation.
The episode “Patty Hype” sees the Krusty Krab suffering from a bit of a drought in customers. Spongebob suggests the restaurant sell colorfully-dyed Patties, an idea Mr. Krabs rejects. Spongebob decides to go ahead with his idea anyway, setting up a small booth in front of his home and selling his burgers, which he dubs “Pretty Patties,” directly to customers. They become a massive success while the Krusty Krab continues to stagnate, so Mr. Krabs offers to swap the restaurant for Spongebob’s booth. He agrees, but the very next day, Pretty Patties is beset by customers exhibiting strange physical changes from the food and demanding refunds, which Mr. Krabs cannot provide.
Once an influencer starts to build a loyal following, a frequent next step is the production of merchandise, or “merch.” The quality of this can vary greatly, depending on how they’ve decided to go about manufacturing. However, constantly trying to sell stuff – whether your own goods or otherwise – will make you seem like little more than a shill, no matter how innovative your ideas are or how useful the product is (or you convince people that it is, anyway).
5. Be suspicious of people who want to be your “friend” for the wrong reasons.
Spongebob’s close friendship with his neighbor Patrick Star falls apart in “Naughty Nautical Neighbors” after they are tricked. At first, Squidward is delighted to see this bond dissolve, but his joy ends when Spongebob and Patrick both resolve to make him their replacement best buddy. They each begin doing ridiculous things to grab Squidward’s attention and respect, most of which instead culminate in causing him serious irritation or physical pain. Squidward realizes that the only way out is to reunite the former pals and concocts a plan to do so.
Unfortunately, some people have a tendency to try to form friendships based not on a genuine kinship, but on what they believe they can gain from the relationship. This is something you’re likely to experience as an influencer. There are those who will see you for your follower count and nothing else and try to get close to you so that they can nab a portion of your audience for themselves. That’s not to say you should avoid friendship altogether, of course, but do take the time to determine if the person is looking for a genuine connection or if they’re merely trying to use you.
Clearly, there’s a lot that we can all learn from Spongebob. Whether you’re an influencer or not, the fascinating tales of Bikini Bottom offer a little something for all of us to incorporate into our lives and use to make smarter decisions. Who knew? I’m going to move into a giant pineapple now.