As influencer marketing continues to reach and attract mass markets, journalists are eying the idea of creating a social media wave of their own. Though the debate is still out on the respectability of influencers in the age of media, their impact is proven by the numbers. In this series, we investigate the emergence of the influencer, the ethical challenges of writers who tap into this field and the misconceptions of the role.
In part two of our series, influencers reveal the benefits — and pitfalls — of their working lifestyle.
Magazine in hand, SPF 30 applied generously, imagine you’re lounging by a pool on a sticky summer day. The breeze is flirting with your hair. The tequila is kicking in, making your head fuzzy and happy. You look up from the page to spot another vacationer, modeling in front of an iPhone as their counterpart flashes a series of photos. They take different poses. They have special equipment to block out the intense sun rays. And within thirty minutes, you note three outfit changes.
You might feel like you’re spying on a celebrity photoshoot, but really, you’re seeing an influencer in action. Over the past five years, the influencer career and lifestyle has grown exponentially, creating dynamic, engaging content across social media throughout various sectors, from beauty and travel to fitness and beyond.
But while their Instagram posts and colorful blog posts might make their day-to-day job responsibilities appear naturally glam and unfiltered, the gig of an influencer comes with its difficulties. For journalists who assume or expect an influencer role less-demanding than the research, rewrites and content development they execute, they might want to reconsider. Here, influencers get candid about what they adore about their job — and what is often misunderstood.
Pros and of becoming an influencer:
1. The flexibility of being an influencer is appealing to many.
Though Mandy Cox started her blog, Momma Mandy, and Instagram just over a year ago, she’s seen tremendous growth as a micro influencer, currently boasting 56K followers. After being a fan of other bloggers for a while, she considered, “Why not?” And bought the domain and secured the handle. Today, she writes two to three posts a week online and posts to social media daily, including Facebook, Instagram and Instagram stories.
In addition to being able to explore topics and brands she’s interested in — from fashion to travel and more — the ability to decide her own working hours is essential to a healthy work/life balance. “I am very fortunate that I am able to set my own schedule — most of the time — so I can still be a momma. I am able to attend field trips, be “room mom.” travel, take the kiddos lunch and have lunch with my husband… all while I am still working,” she explains.
2. The ability to be authentic is a perk.
If you ask any successful freelance writer on how they arrived at their six-figure income, they’ll likely tell some horror stories from the early days of assignments. Though they don’t adore each and every piece they’ve written, to pen the stories they’re passionate about, they had to put in the grunt work to build a name.
The woman behind KimiasKravings online and on Instagram, Kimia Kalbasi shares one of the benefits of being an influencer is not having to post about content she isn’t thrilled about. “Getting paid to do what genuinely excites me… I feel truly grateful to intertwine my love for creativity, content development, and storytelling along with brands that resonate with my lifestyle — and getting compensated for it. It’s a hustle like no other, but it’s worth every penny,” she explains.
Not only is her calendar up to her, based on what she learns along the way, but she’s able to share her enthusiasm with big players in this new age of advertising. Because it’s new for everyone, the opinion of influencers is often respected by those who hire them, as they continuously seek feedback. “It’s thrilling to be a part of the ever-changing environment where strategies are constantly being tested and we have the creative liberty to provide our input along the way,” she adds.
3. Building — and connecting — with a community is inspiring.
With more than 100K followers online and via Instagram, Jeff Perla is the blogger behind The Travelin Bum. His original intent was to foster an inclusive LGBT community, allowing individuals to discuss their stories about coming out and any hurdles they’ve experienced along the way.
As the name suggests, much of his content features a variety of people around the world, meeting them as he county-hops. In addition to connecting in person, building a dynamic, supportive micro-society is soul-fulfilling for Perla. “One thing I love most about being an influencer is being able to connect with people from all over the world. It’s amazing how easily you can connect with someone who isn’t in the same continent as you,” he explains. “The love you get from the people you follow. It’s so nice to wake up and read through messages of people sharing how much they appreciate you as a person and everything I am doing. The validation is amazing.”
Though he says for every kind comment there’s a hateful one, at the end of each day, he feels fortunate to do what he loves and to help others feel more accepted because of his accounts and ability to share.
Or as Poon puts it, one of the biggest pros of being an influencer is that you have the platform to do good — and get paid for it. “To educate and share with other people the things that I love, the knowledge I have, and the things that inspire me… With that comes a lot of proposals from people and brands who want to collaborate, which is amazing because I’ve discovered some great products, met some really incredible people, and feel like I have a home within the communities of these other brands,” she explains.
As the industry continues to shift, so do the opportunities and the support of big and small players, which are beginning to grasp the impact of the communities influencers create, manage and grow. “Interactive, experiential marketing is very popular now. So at the very least, you have some fantastic experiences,” Poon adds. “But beyond that, brands are now investing a much higher budget into influencer marketing. So that means that you can really develop your platforms and create content for brands that will earn you income that allows for freedom of choice and schedule.”
Challenges and cons of becoming an influencer:
1.. Maintaining integrity is difficult, but vital.
Celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, added “influencer” to her impressive list of qualifications and titles, after sharing her knowledge online. It wasn’t that she stumbled into the career, but rather, her career as a female entrepreneur cemented her expert place in the food industry, building a reputation and in return, fans.
Today, she’s not only the founder of Just Add Water, but also the voice behind Serena Loves, both of which have thousands of followers across social media platforms and their dot-coms. She shares posts on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, and she’s in the process of launching a podcasts. “From sharing posts about meals, recipes, nutrition and wellness tips, to travel and culinary adventures abroad, I very organically began to grow my community. As my following began to grow, and the comments and questions came in response to the information I shared, I realized there was so much more to the power of our social platforms. It was at this point that I began to really focus on my messaging with my posts,” she explains.
That was five years ago, and since then, she’s been mastering the learning curve of understanding what type of content attracts and converts her audience, as well as staying true to what helped her arrive at this destination: her integrity and authenticity.
“I am very passionate about staying authentic to my health and wellness philosophy, educating people, and empowering each other. The content I create for my audience, even if in collaboration with another brand, is also aligned on these points,” she continues.
“As an influencer, I attend a lot of events, network in the different circles that make up my interest groups, and share those experiences with my following. I receive a lot of requests for advertised and sponsored posts for products, but I only choose brands that are aligned with my messaging because the content that is created for sponsored posts needs to fit seamlessly in with the posts I do for my own brand. They can’t come across like ads. At the end of the day, you are always creating content in some form, whether it’s informative or simply sharing tidbits of your own day-to-day life, because your audience has an interest.”
2. Convincing others you “work” is constant.
Kimi Kalbasi isn’t new to the influencer market. She’s been building her blog and social presence for a decade, all thanks to a friend who suggested,”Why don’t you start a blog?”
She had always loved documenting and sharing her experiences. So once her freelance writing career began to spark, it made sense to create original content of her own. Though when she began she only covered food, she now features stories within the lifestyle and travel space, too. For Kalbasi, illustrating the “blood, sweat, tears and hustle” that goes into a brand is an ongoing argument she has, as she attempts to mythbust the misconception about the work ethic of influencers.
“It looks all fun and glitzy and glamorous on the outside, but in reality it’s far from it from a 24/7 standpoint. This is a business. and it’s still a job. And as influencers, we wear so many hats and must abide at all times. Whether that be acting as a CEO making high-level decisions and administrative work of answering emails left and right to attending events and constantly being “on” whether that’s in real life or virtually, we must always be present,” she explains.
Much like freelance writers, she continues, influencers also juggle contracts and deadlines, abiding by certain assignments and brand requirements, too. “There is endless time and dedication involved, from getting off the ground running to dealing with the day-to-day tasks of pitching and building pipelines for yourself to develop partnerships,” she explains. “This is more than our business. This is our empire, and we work hard for it. It’s not about taking cute coffee shop pics.”
3. Building a following is an ongoing headache.
In part one, we discussed the job description of an influencer: not only posting and sharing content, but measuring its success and pivoting, depending on the performance. Editors, strategists and sometimes freelancers are tasked with this responsibility too, but geared toward SEO, e-commerce goals and other metrics. Cox explains, since influencers are one-woman or one-man shows most of the time, business development is fully in their wheelhouse. This means she’s consistently examining her numbers, not only in terms of followers but engagement and viewers. In addition to negotiating with clients, shooting, or wordsmithing the material, this daily pivoting can be stressful.
“It is a constant lesson on what to post, how to post, and when to post. Sometimes it gives me a headache trying to figure out the logistics of it all… And once you feel like you’ve got something figured out, Instagram will change the algorithm or introduce an entirely new feature that you have to learn,” she explains. “Running my brand and business alongside my family can be tough, especially when social media is really a 24/7 job.”