What. A. Year. Over the past few weeks I’ve watched a torrent of 2019 round ups. The highs the lows, the places visited, and the achievements. The brand collaborations, the DIY projects and everything in-between. I was half tempted to write one myself but when I put pen to paper, (who am I kidding, the most I’ve physically written in the past 15 years is a shopping list), it just didn’t feel right. For me, it just seemed like I was bragging. Instagram is a funny old place, a place where so much can be envied, lusted after and judged. But it is a place where reality is easily suspended and somewhere that over the past few years has been incredibly kind to me. But you know me, rose tinted specs well and truly off, I’m all for the reality.
So, my 2019 round up is going to be a sneak peek into how my life has changed over the past few years and the truth behind being one of those pesky “influencers”. Spoiler alert, it’s not all “fancy holidays and freebies”, it can be a little more “boomerangs and bullshit”. Read on to hear the truth about being an influencer…
The truth about being an influencer
The accidental Instagrammer
I consider myself an accidental instagrammer. I seem to have meandered off the path that I always thought was pretty straight and planned out. A path that involved extractions, crowns and a heck of a lot of gum gardening.
I’m a Dentist, that is who I am and what I have been for almost 20 years. I was entirely convinced that my life would be 75% elbow deep in saliva yet here I am, only 3 years since opening my Instagram account making the majority of my living on Social Media. Who even am I? I started my account with no intentions of making a job from this. We bought a house that required extensive renovation and turning up on insta was my inspiration board, a magazine which I could ask questions AND get answers. It was aspirational, it was colourful and it was a heck of a lot of fun.
From there I started my blog documenting the progress of my renovations, and the account took off like a rocket. Instagram allowed me the creative outlet that I’d been craving for. I wanted a life filled with colour and dentistry, well, it’s varying shades of white and yellow, right?
Along the way, I seem to have defined myself a new job title. It started with being sent the odd candle and has ended up with me creating and styling the concepts on some huge brand campaigns. It’s all a bit bonkers if I’m honest. The last few years have been damned hard work but the opportunities that have organically come my way have been off the scale. I’ve been on some sensational press trips and worked with some cracking brands so I guess I can now add ‘influencer’ to my CV. But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not all freebies and fun
What is an Influencer?
In a nut shell, the term applies to someone who has built up a significant digital audience on social media. Someone who has established credibility in a specific industry. They may choose to work with brands in a paid or gifted capacity. They are trusted and relatable and share parts of their life online with their followers.
It’s a controversial title, one that I’ve never heard any positivity about. It implies feelings from followers of being coerced or persuaded. From the other side it feels a little manipulative and suggests power which in my opinion is where much of the negativity comes from. Yet still, no-one seems to have come up with a better title.
Where do I start? I’ve always known that it’s not on the most likeable members of the community list, but didn’t realise quite how much of a negative view the public had. Why break the habit of a lifetime though hey, I had already chose one hated profession, surely the general public couldn’t despise influencers more than dentists? Well, maybe they can. I posed the question on my stories earlier in the week. “words that spring to mind when you think of the term INFLUENCER?” Would you just check that out……
The amount of messages replying with negative terminology far outweighed the positive ones. I’m guessing that this comes from the perception of major celebrities or reality TV stars being handed veritable banquet of freebies. The truth is that the majority of influencers are people like me. Those who have fallen into it quite by accident and are just managing a side hustle. I defy any of those haters to turn down the same opportunities if they came their way.
So, there are obviously highs and lows but what’s the reality?
Your friends and family will have no idea what you actually do
That’s right, when you tell your nearest and dearest that you are an influencer they will look at you with the exact same expression that my 9 year olds do when I ask them to tidy their bedroom. Perplexed, confused and desperate to just move on and ignore what you’ve said because they will seemingly not understand your words. It’s one of the main reasons that I’ve kept my job as a dentist, a profession which is eleventy hundred times easier to explain. Ironically, despite being unable to describe your job to your Auntie Brenda your mum will still fully expect for you to be announced in the next line up for Strictly Come Dancing, fact. Mum, manage your expectations.
It’s also entirely possible that it will cause friction between you and your friends.
Your partners will get used to a different view of you
If I’d have told my husband three years ago that he would be seeing a lot more of the top of my head, he would have thought that all of his birthdays and Christmases had come at once. In. His. Dreams. What I would have actually meant is my head would be buried in my phone. Managing a hefty instagram account is a full time job. Last week my insights showed that my average daily time on Instagram alone was around 4 hours 32minutes a day. That’s 1642.5 hours a year. That’s the equivalent of around 44 weeks of a full time job. That’s without the emails, or meetings and the negotiating. Without any of the content creation and photography. Oh yes, and the day job and the kids and the social life etc. For me, I wake up crazy early and bank at least an hour of work in bed with a cuppa before the kids have woken up. I’ll then commit to a few hours during the working day and some multi-tasking scrolling in the evening when I’m watching TV. It soon adds up.
Nothing is free
Most people including all of your friends and family will presume that you are dripping with freebies. They will be convinced that every day the postman pops down the chimney with a sack full of goodies. In most peoples eyes, everything from your knickers to your knockers will have been hashtag gifted. Cue the Churchill nodding dog…….
Yes, if you have proved your worth on your platforms, it’s likely that brands big and small might offer you product but it is by no means a gift. Nobody is thinking of how they can treat little old you, it’s a business transaction. Even if a brand hasn’t specifically asked for coverage, they are relying on you doing so. Many small brands risk a lot to send their very valuable stock and do so with crossed fingers and squeaky bums. It’s vital that if you accept you know what the expectations are. ‘Gifts’ can come loaded with more pressure than a jet wash and more expectation than a teenager at the prom. I can’t say it any louder, they aren’t gifts.
There are also tax implications to consider. If there is a request to share on your platform, then you are absolutely being paid in kind and you are responsible for declaring it as payment. And there is no getting round it, if you have accepted product in return for exposure on your channels, you have become an advertiser. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just important to know that you aren’t special, the brand just wants something back from you. The End.
Expect to graft for nowt
Despite what some people might think, you don’t just fall into a bucket of followers and come out with a blue tick. Getting people’s attention and more importantly getting them to stick around is hard work. Most influencers will have started their accounts be it insta, facebook or youtube well before influencing was even a job. Most people who are now charging for their content will have spent thousands of hours creating content for nothing beforehand. You will need to prove your worth and that will mean building up relations with brands without any expectations from them.
You may feel like you’re back at school
And by that I mean in the school playground. Shock horror, some people just aren’t kind. I left school in 1994 and haven’t missed people being mean for one day of those 26 years. Fast forward into a different century and dipping my toes in the influencer world has taken me right back to the playground. Remember that feeling when Sonia (insert any school bully/no offence meant to Sonias/I don’t even know any Sonias) was slagging you off at break time. Feeling that in your 40s just doesn’t seem right does it? I’ve had to defend myself against lies spread about me and mean girl talk, all from other people within the industry. I’m not going lie, it left me feeling sad and a little vulnerable and I know that I’m not the only person to have experienced it. I very nearly left this part out of the blog as there is no part of it that is fun and light hearted but it’s part of my story and honesty is key. My advice; ignore, never enter into it or retaliate and always kill it with kindness. You can absolutely never go wrong with being kind. I could write a whole new post on the reasons why I believe that this type of behaviour happens but for now, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
It isn’t all bad, for every negative comment and dig that I’ve received, there have been a hundred messages of encouragement and positivity. On the whole, people are ruddy lovely.
Who’s that trip trapping over MY bridge?
Yep, the trolls. No-one should have to experience being trolled but they are there, ready to pounce and take you down and sometimes in places where you don’t expect them. Ever heard that phrase ‘well if somebody is going to put their lives on social media, they should expect to be trolled’. Bollocks to that is all I can say. Nobody deserves it, whatever choices they make, the internet should be a safe place. Personally, I’ve had some horrible and some just laughably stupid things messaged to me (along with the odd picture of an appendage) but those blows have been few and far between and I’ve come out relatively unscathed. I fully believe that this is because I don’t show up regularly on my feed, it’s mostly sofas and cushions. Instagrammers whose grids are mostly them may as well post themselves with a target on their forehead. And don’t get me started on the awful sites that are there for trolling only. What the heck peck is that all about? I’m sure there are a thousand things written about me in those places but I’ve made the choice to absolutely never look.
People will presume you are earning a squillion dollars
And yes, maybe some of the big guns may, but the majority of us really aren’t. The reality is that brands are getting incredibly good value for money when using influencers. Historically, in order to generate a campaign they would need to hire………..
- A photographer
- A stylist
- A location venue
- A copywriter
- A model/models
This is before they have even paid for the image to be circulated in the press. By using an influencer they are getting all of these services for one price. Not just that but they will come up with the artistic concept in a way that they know their followers will engage with AND release it to an audience who on the whole trust them AND then engage with the post. A magazine, newspaper or TV AD simply can’t talk back. Lastly, a brand isn’t just paying for the time that the influencer spends on this campaign, they are paying for the hours of work and experience that will have gone into building up the account in the first place along with the hours spent maintaining it. And if you find yourself thinking ‘bloody hell, that looks simple’. The influencers that make it look easy are generally the ones that have worked really hard on that post.
Campaigns done well and authentically can have an unbelievable reach. For example, I worked with Plenty hand towels last year. Take a look at the stats on this campaign. That image and caption obtained a reach of over 1/4 million. It was saved by 4797 people and was sent or shared by 627. And look, I’m still talking about them now……
Or this gifted campaign from Sofa.com. For the cost price of product for the brand they were shown over a quarter of a million times and will continue to be tagged in every image I show of the product. For brands, it’s a no-brainer.
Granted, not every paid campaign will get that reach but they will often be equivalent and higher than the circulation of a magazine.
You’ll have no idea what to charge
If you are lucky enough to be asked for your fees, it’s incredibly difficult to know where to pitch yourself. Talking about money earned on social media is a bit like Fight Club. The first, second and third rule about it seems to be don’t bloody talk about it. This leads to some people being overpaid, others being taken advantage of and lots of people undercutting experienced creators. There is no place to go to for guidance for this. I would recommend finding some people that you trust and that you’ve connected with on the platform and start a conversation. I will talk openly with others that I trust and that work within this industry as it’s important that we get industry standards.
Get used to waiting
Oh the life of a freelancer. Now, picture this, you’re at the checkout in Tesco #notanad and the cashier asks you for the £30 for the sauvignon blanc and Pringles you’ve just swiped through. You reply…………….’If you can just send me the invoice with the appropriate PO number which I may or may not have already given you, I will make sure you get paid in 30 or maybe even 60 days. Now ta-ra-a-bit, I’ll just go and enjoy my wine.‘ Getting the actual Earth nuggets in the bank is notoriously long winded. I know this isn’t the only profession where payment works like this but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage your finances.
Right now, I am chasing an invoice from July and last year which is yet to be paid. Even worse after months of chasing a significant invoice from 2 Instagram posts and some freelance blog work, the PR company I was dealing with went into administration. Interestingly and annoyingly, at the end of last year, the aforementioned company announced they would start trading again under the same name.
You will be judged
Rinder, Judy, they’ve got nothing on the judging capacity of Instagrammers. You will be judged for all sorts but nothing more so than the campaigns that you decide to take on. The mere sniff of them being less than authentic and the trolls are out faster than Quick Draw McGraw. Let me tell you why this makes me sad. If I decided to work a few extra clinical days to make a bit more money (for whatever reason I needed or wanted it) nobody would have a problem with that, in fact, most people would respect and encourage it. Yet, taking on a few shifts extra here seems frowned upon. If you find yourself questioning others’ decisions on the campaigns they are taking on, then it’s worthwhile talking a few minutes to be grateful that you are in the wonderful and privileged position to be able to turn them (and the money) down. Just let others get on and do what is right for them.
Mistakes will be made
You will cock it up at some point and that’s O.K. I had a huge wobble in the Autumn after making a few myself. I’d also just been to the Ed Sheeran concert and was ‘punch me in the face’ shocked at what 70,000 people looked like (less than half my following at the time). It made me question every word I wrote, every joke I cracked and every image I uploaded. But then I realised that it isn’t the mistakes that matter, it’s how you deal with them. It’s owning your clangers and learning from them. There isn’t much that can’t be fixed with a genuine sorry, after all, you can’t succeed unless you’re willing to fail.
The fancy events aren’t what they seem
As lovely as it is to be invited to the dinners and brand parties they are absolutely part of the working day. They are mostly in London so involve a boob jiggling few hours on the LNER line and a shin sweat inducing tube ride. There is the inevitable terror as you walk into a room and realise you know no-one and the ever present imposter syndrome lurking on your probably already sweaty shoulder. I’ve even heard one event described as “Like the Sharks and the Jets” it was that cliquey.
You are invited there to work, to represent the brand and to show people what that brand has to offer. They are fantastic networking opportunities and despite making them look like a boomerang fest, they can be as much of a graft as they are an enjoyment.
Everybody is winging it
There is no training, no school of influence and very few places where you can access guidance. Most people on this platform have learnt on the job and for most this role wasn’t in the great life plan. Most people will have charged for their first job and then continued to up their prices based on brand feedback. Don’t think for one minute that the big guns have it all sussed because trust me, things are changing all of the time. Instagram isn’t what it was with respect to engagement, the algorithm is about as reliable as my pelvic floor these days and we are all adapting. For me, it’s important that I have my own section of the internet that I have complete control of hence why my blog will be a priority for me in 2020.
You will feel like you’re wearing a bad bra
Unsupported. This industry has grown faster than we could have ever imagined but there still remains no protection for the influencers working within it. Brands are protected by their fancy pants lawyers and contracts, and consumers are protected by the rigorous guidelines from the ASA. Despite these rules, on a daily basis I still see influencers posting sponsored and gifted content and not labelling it correctly. Having agonised over every single job I’ve ever done on here, I can’t help feeling a weeny bit peed off. It’s kind of like seeing someone fly by you at 90 mph in an area clearly signed with speed cameras. Do they know something I don’t or do they just not care? Either way, I fully believe that it’s those who aren’t transparent that give us all a bad name.
Ultimately, there aren’t many people fighting our corner or able to give advice or guidance. Ironically, in this landscape of “social” media, it can also feel like a pretty lonely place.
You can always do better
Not wanting to go all Yoda on yer ass but with great numbers come great responsibility. Having the platform to be able to have such a loud voice is a huge privilege. As much as some people would like to think, it’s not all sell sell sell, there are a number of incredible players doing amazing things, accounts and people who are striving to tell a tough story or tirelessly raising awareness. Here are my heroes…….
Kelly Terranova. @kellyterranova_
Opening the door to her beautiful family and raising awareness of Hungtingtons Disease, a condition that her lovely mum Jenny lives with. Kelly and her family are a sensational example of how to live the highs amidst unbelievable lows and do nothing but good in-between. Please take a few minutes to watch this.
Candice Braithwaite @candicebraithwaite
Candice shines through Instagram like a guiding light. A writer, presenter and founder of @makemotherhooddiverse, her voice is powerful and her tone, spot on. I have learnt so much from her and continue to do so.
Deborah James @bowelbabe
Deborah is living with stage 4 cancer. She lives her fullest life and is incredibly inspiring along the way. Her podcast You Me and The Big C is award winning and excellent. I also reckon that Deborah would be a right laugh on a night out.
Sarah Akwisombe @sarahakwisombe
I have a phenomenal amount of respect for Sarah. She is the definition of hustle. Her business advice and mentoring is another level and she has taught me to be unapologetic about my presence on social media.
Sally Hurman @gettingstuffdoneinheels
A brilliant example of how you can do it all. Make a career from influencing but also do good. Sally works tirelessly to raise awareness of blood cancer and is an ambassador for DKMS. She was the reason that I am now on the register to be a blood stem cell donor. Find out more here.
Molly Forbes @mollyjforbes
If you want to feel amazing in your own glorious skin then head over to Molly’s page for a delicious scoop of self love. I met Molly at an event last year and knew instantly I was in it for the long haul #love.
Yazzie Min @standforhumanity\
I’m so glad I found Yazzie. She has opened my eyes and ears and taught me such a lot about white privilege and implicit bias. She does it in a such a beautiful way. definitely worth a follow.
Nina Tame @nina_tame
Nina has taught me a lot about discrimination and ableism. Her account is fun, colourful and unapologetically Nina.
The truth about being an influencer…the end…(well done!)
If you made it to the end, a huge congratulations. It was a long one, your Blue Peter badge is in the post. This is a subject that I could write for hours on and I’ve literally had to sit on my hands to stop. If you’d like to know more, or if there are similar subjects that you’d like me to cover then please let me know, this subject fascinates me, yes, I’m a full geek. And remember, if this very average middle aged woman can carve their niche her then so can you!
If a big fat dose of reality is your thing then please check this post out. It’s all a #instasham folks.