About 2 and half years ago I sat at my coffee stained kitchen table, and I pressed “publish” on my very first blog post. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I was so excited. A few weeks later, I quickly realized how difficult it was just to get SEEN. I was bathing my kids in our tiny apartment bathroom, and I decided to text my cousin for advice. I still remember being crouched over on a tiny elephant shaped stool in the corner of that humid bathroom texting her. She had a successful business and had grown a significant following on social media. She suggested I join Instagram to promote my blog and I rolled my eyes. I was NOT “a social media person.” Keep in mind, my brother had been trying to get me on Instagram for almost a year prior. I mean, I REALLY resisted. Well, spoiler alert, I joined Instagram and here we are.
It took me a few months just to post my first story, I didn’t understand the point. I’m pretty sure my first story had me describing some random brown paper holder I bought from Target. And for a long time my co-workers joked I was an “influencer,” and I would legitimately get offended. I was NOT an influencer. In my mind, Influencers were spoiled brats who only cared about themselves, fame, and money. And look, while many are, I couldn’t have been more wrong. And if you ask me today? The ones I’ve formed relationships with are some of the most hardworking, talented, and UNDERPAID people I know. I will say, my knowledge is limited to the DIY/Design community that I fall under, but the amount of talent and creativity that some of these accounts have is unbelievably inspiring. And before you think this is a post to convince you that all influencers are saints, it’s not. There are some terrible humans, with big followings, fostering toxic communities.
And if you’re wondering what sparked this post, I recently watched a documentary called Fake Famous on HBO. Just a few minutes in, I found myself screaming at the TV. It was cringeworthy at best, and the most inaccurate depiction of influencers I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, Stephanie McNeal, from Buzzfeed News did a great recap. I thought surely not everyone thinks this, right? So this week on my Instagram stories, I did a series of polls and question boxes. And let me tell you, it was eye-opening.
When I asked my community what assumptions they made about influencers, I got responses like: “Lazy, barely work,” and “lack emotion,” and “hungry for fame and money,” and “attention seeking,” “untrustworthy,” and “lacking talent and not experts in their field.” Another recurring theme was the assumption that most sell things they do not love or believe in, and that they’re basically all “used car salesmen.” Others went on to describe them as the “mean girls who were popular in high school,” or that they “enjoy filling free time with social media.” The one that blew my mind the most was, “they get paid to simply live their life.” Oh man, that would be so nice. As a reminder, influencers aren’t reality tv stars that have the convenience of a cameraman/woman following them around. In fact they aren’t reality TV stars at all. They are incredibly gifted people who have so much to contribute, and ones I’ve learned so much from.
I went on to ask what the most annoying things influencers do, and the amount of judgement was sadly not shocking to me at all. Internet trolls are savage. And it does make me wonder, and sorry to pull the gender card here, but if people would really say these things if this was a male dominated industry. My favorite was how annoyed people got when influencers say, “a lot of you have been asking.” They continued to say, “seriously no one is asking.” Look Brenda, people really are asking. And sometimes it IS easier to post the paint color from my kids bathroom than it is to respond to 53 people separately. People went on to say they craved “realness” and “transparency,” but when influencers do, it opens it up to a flood of keyboard warriors. I hear this a lot from influencers, “we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.” And to be honest you guys, for many that’s sadly a reality.
When I asked my community what content they hate the most? A hot topic was “sponsored posts.” And if you’re not familiar, it’s when an influencer works with a brand and gets paid (or sometimes gifted the product) to create content. And I don’t say create content lightly, because the common misconception is often that influencers simply get paid to “talk about something” and this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
There was a LOT of discussion around the authenticity of these sponsored posts. Most people didn’t seem to have an issue with the ads, but instead, questioned influencer’s motives. A frequent comment was, “I don’t trust them when they don’t even use the product regularly,” or “it doesn’t even fit in their niche.” Another common complaint was the overuse of ads that have “unattainable and expensive” products. And on this note, many complained of influencers that had a huge shift in the type of ads they did as they grew and felt like this was inauthentic. Others dropped some brands in my inbox that they felt were so “overused it felt insincere.” A whopping 82% of people in my stories said they are less likely to believe in a product if multiple influencers are sharing it–I find this mind blowing. They said it makes them skeptical. First of all, the timing of these partnerships are out of the influencers control–and believe it or not, most of them actually love the product. You guys, this is called a campaign. Second, and brace yourself for this, sometimes influencers are influenced by other influencers. Meaning if I see my friends discover a new artist, a lint roller, or a certain nail company that I like, I’m going to buy it too. In fact, a lot of my purchases are because of influencers I trust sharing them.
Look, there are a lot of influencers out there that take on every partnership request they get, and they truly are “used car salesmen.” However, most of the people I follow turn down WAY more requests than you could wrap your brain around. They have high standards, and they are incredibly selective in what they share. Despite the ridiculous picture that the movie Fake Famous presented, the goal of most influencers is not to be rich and famous. Many do this not only to put food on the damn table and keep a roof over their head, but because it helps them pursue their passion. It helps them show up everyday and do what they love and get paid to do it. Influencers create content every day and they share it for free. Partnering with brands is one way for them to sustain that.
I’ve heard a few people compare influencers talking about products to commercials during a TV show. And I get the sentiment, but it’s actually much more than that. I can’t think of any other industry where the talent has to work on BOTH the content AND the advertisements. Read that again. This would be the equivalent of let’s say Joanna Gaines designing homes during her show, and then creating and filming content for a Pepsi commercial. Except let’s take that a step further, she’d also have to come up with the creative concept for the commercial, do all the editing herself, and be responsible for the delivery. And don’t get me started on the fact that no other industry is questioned for the ads that take place during their show or podcast.
Working with brands isn’t a walk in the park–and while many enjoy it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t require a lot of work and creativity. Putting together pitches and the negotiation process aside (because this can also be a time consuming and exhausting process), influencers put a lot of thought and creativity into the content that they create for brands. This includes hours, sometimes days, of styling spaces, filming content, and then taking and editing multiple pictures and videos. They then have to go through a lot of back and forth for the approval process. Once it’s approved and ready to post, influencers typically carve out time just to engage with the sponsored post–meaning staying actively online for at least an hour (usually more) to reply to all the comments and the DMs. You’re basically a marketing person, a photographer/videographer, an editor, a stylist/designer, a creative, a customer service rep, a social media manager, blogger, and business manager all in one.
So what goes on in between ads? The hustle to create, grow, and engage with your community is something that never ends. And the larger your following, the more time and work you need to put in. Some of these ladies (and gentlemen) are truly brilliant when it comes to not just the content, but the creativity of the delivery. And it’s not just the content, but the work it takes to grow–whether it’s coming up with creative ways to get exposure, the use of hashtags or whatever new feature just came out, or collaborating with other influencers, it’s a constant hustle. And lastly, and sometimes the most time consuming but the most rewarding for me, is interacting with my following. And the larger I grow, the longer it takes for me to reply to DMs and comments–but this is important. Not just for understanding your community, but in developing relationships and earning their trust. I truly believe the type of community you foster is a reflection on what you put out there.
And on that note, there was a lot of talk in my DMs about the “two sides” of instagram. The authentic accounts that grew organically, stayed true to themselves, and did a great job of fostering community and supporting others. And then you have the other side, obsessed with growth. There were a lot of complaints about the latter. And the recurring theme seemed to be that people would follow an account they loved, they would get “big” and then they would change. There would be a shift in their content, and a shift in their demeanor. I can say I have definitely seen this, but I can also say, I follow so many large accounts that have truly stayed true to themselves.
Look, Instagram is a lot of work. I don’t know if most people realize the psychological effects it can have on so many accounts trying to grow. I have met some of the most amazing humans on that app, and some I talk to everyday and consider my friends. And some of my true friends have grown much faster than me and are truly one of the most authentic and talented people I know. They stay true to themselves, and they always lift others up. I also have other “friends” who have let growth get to their head. They are secretive with brand deals, incredibly self absorbed, and never use their platform to lift up others. And let me tell you, people notice.
And this is far from a comprehensive look into the life of an influencer, but I do hope that as a consumer or a follower (I hate that word so much), this has offered another perspective. I hope that when you see an Ad from an influencer, you understand the work that went behind it, and know that most influencers are honest people that only share things they truly recommend. And just like any industry, there are always terrible human beings that make the “good” ones look bad. And if you follow someone that doesn’t make you feel good after you visit their page, then unfollow them (myself included). It’s really ok.
And for the influencers I know that are reading this, we can always be better. Even those of us that try so hard to stay true to ourselves, this app can sometimes take the best of us. Be yourself, don’t try to conform to whatever you think people want to see. People do appreciate originality, and it is possible to grow and stay authentic. Be open to criticism, and foster a community that feels comfortable sharing it. No one wants to be surrounded by a bunch of yesmen. Some of the messages I’ve received and appreciated the most are from those that have pushed me to think about something I may not have otherwise–of course as long as they are constructive and respectful. I talk more about it here. And don’t stop lifting up others when you grow, don’t forget how hard it was when you started. This is a community not a competition, be a better person.
Lastly, I saw a video from Prince Ea that really resonated with me. He asks, “so you’re an influencer, but you’re influencing people to do what?” He goes on to ask, ” After coming to your page, do people walk away better or worse?….you’re an influencer, but so are some of the worst people in history. The question is, what type of influencer do you want to be?” I share this because I think as influencers we have the privilege of an active and engaged audience. What we do matters. What we say and don’t say matters. And though we may come on here to share our passions with that community everyday, what else are we sharing? I don’t know if people feel “better or worse,” when they leave my page, but this is certainly something I need to reflect on.
Alright guys, until the next post. Thank you for being here.