A Few Thoughts On Being An Influencer in 2017

I've put off writing this post for about three weeks. Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you I'm as subtle as a ten metre sledge hammer and I tend to really upset people when I comment on something. I don't do well with delicate people as I always manage to offend them by accident but what’s come to light is that these delicate people are prepared to say really hurtful things about me and some of my peers - and I believe that if someone’s prepared to put something out there they should be prepared to take it back. There was one comment made about an influencer I spotted on Twitter that tipped me over the edge, so here's my ten pence on what’s going on in the world of influencer marketing right now. We have to have a really tough skin and although the perks are crazy-good I think it's important to show you a few home truths. Apologies if it gets a bit ranty.

coat, Hobbs here - often sells out so I found it with another retailer, here / boots, jigsaw

The influencer landscape is changing, moved as much by influencers as it their audiences. It's an enormous but necessary learning curve that only works with contributions from both sides. But here's the thing; any blogger who started before around 2014 didn't do it for the money. We did for the love of it. In fact making money wasn't an option when we started, we were doing it either as a creative pursuit alongside our careers or to strengthen our careers - e.g: I know quite a few very junior fashion editors who weren't given the opportunity to showcases their abilities in the magazines they worked on, so used a blog to demonstrate their talent. Ironically many of these people have since sacked in the editorial world and blog full time, because they're really pretty good at it.

I can't speak for every influencer in the UK but I can for myself and those I'm close to. When I started my blog it was because I wanted to learn about fashion. I worked in town in a corporate job and wore suits every day and at the weekend I just threw on jeans and jumpers. I wanted to get better at fashion for myself, nobody else and with no interest in doing it particularly publicly. So I set the blog up from my bedroom, using it as a mood board and documentation of my own evolving style. It took me 2 years to put my face on it; had I known how public it would all become I would probably never have started but the changes all happened at a steady pace across the last 7 years - and they happened mainly by a demand set by both our followers and brands rather than my own wishes.

Over time PR agencies got in touch to attend events, this developed into loaning products, then I was given products (I remember my first ever press gift - a bright pink glittery pair of ankle boots I thought were the bomb at the time and I couldnt believe my luck). When I was given products moving forward I was beyond grateful and showed my gratitude either publicly on my channels or directly to the person who has gifted it to me. It didn't even occur to me to "declare" how I'd received it - because I wasn't blogging with a commercial mindset.

Then brands realised "working" with people like me was the way forward; with the general public exhausted with the press following the phone tapping scandal, influencers seemed like a great alternative means to get their products into the public eye. After a long period of working in return for products whilst we established ourselves paid projects started coming through - and we, un-trained and un-prepared influencers sort of went "Sorry, you want to pay me how much to “eat a yogurt”? F*ck yes I'll do it." It did not even occur to us how we needed to "frame this" with our followers, as we hadn't really cottoned on to how audiences were reacting to this kind of content - and it wasn't like there was a reference point to go to. Plus someone had just paid us a fortune to “eat a yogurt” or go for a trip somewhere ridiculously amazing and quite frankly name me someone who wouldn’t have done that at the time?

coat, Hobbs here - often sells out so I found it with another retailer, here / boots, jigsaw

In the interests of full transparency I’m going to give you a specific example. Three years ago a brand offered me more money than most earn in a month to stand in Times Square and eat an apple. I knew it was tenuous and cheesy, but it meant I got to go to New York with my boyfriend for five days. And, ironically, I do actually love apples – even the particular type I had to promote. In my mind if a brand (ill advised by an agency who was equally none the wiser I am sure) was silly enough to suggest it, I was happy to be silly enough to take the money. Did I feel like a complete tw*t posing away at one of the world’s busiest locations? Yes. But did it mean that I was able to put together a deposit for a new flat so I could move out of a seriously miserable home-situation? Yes. Again, I don’t think many people in that specific situation would have done differently.

Then there were all kinds of never anticipated ways for us to be rewarded for the endless hours we put into our hobbies, one of them being affiliate links. Suddenly, if one of our followers bought something on our recommendations, we got a percentage of the sale. Since we were the ones that introduced them to the product that seemed ok, right? It wasn't loads of money, but it certainly made the more-and-more challenging hours we spent channeling into our platforms worth while - almost the same as us getting pocket money when our room was tidy; we got rewarded for doing a good job. Again, we didn't consider the moralistic side because we were just so damn happy and surprised to be making any money from our blogs.

As time progressed, a few of us got into the strange and never-before-known situation that their social media channels were strong enough to quit their jobs, or to warrant more time and attention. I haven’t done it, personally it’s not for me, but I know that for those that have it’s not a decision they took lightly – at least not our generation of influencers. We are now, I have to recognise, living in a world where being a successful influencer, as a profession, is an aspiration – which leads me to the idea that we need to consider others when we create our content…

“Social media responsibility”- I think that’s a tough one. In my mind influencers don’t push or insist anyone reads our content. Followers choose to follow us, sometimes like a wasp to a flame. Just as I regularly unfollow people who I realise don’t make me feel good, I recommend anyone who gets p*ssed off scrolling through Instagram really just needs to unfollow the accounts that do anything other than instill positive vibes. We aren’t shoving adverts through your letterbox, it isn’t invasive advertising, if you leave us alone we will absolutely pay you the same respect.

coat, Hobbs here - often sells out so I found it with another retailer, here / boots, jigsaw

As for grouping us all into one personality group, often negatively, bear in mind that anyone can set up a blog and that can be as annoying for us as it is for you guys. Just as there are those individuals in every industry, there are several people in the industry who I think most people wish weren't because they’re giving us all a bad name.  The cliques and bitchiness is rife and it's really sh*t; I think it's down to this weird need to be competitive as only so many of us can work with each brand - and it's not something any of us anticipated or signed up for. 

Being an influencer doesn't (unfortunately) require a level of commercial awareness, skill or intelligence - so some of us get it wildly wrong. Unfortunately when one person screws up it damages the industry for us all which is beyond frustrating. However, just as if you had one bad experience with a dentist you wouldn't write off the whole dentistry industry, it's the same for us. Essentially what I'm asking is please don't paint us all with the same brush. 

May I add there also isn’t a clear rule book – for those who have researched ASA legislation, also understand that as “influencer marketing” isn’t it’s own industry but instead a sub-section of about 4 larger ones, laws and guidelines are for the most part unenforceable. And, yes, those few influencers who create all the drama and then stand back and claim innocence whilst tweeting a few "karma tweets" are as annoying for us as influencers as they are for you - and as they were in the school yard where they belong.

Also, as a further point please understand that dealing with the feelings and (often highly strung) emotions of our followers; for every sponsored post I’ve ever posted where you’ve (in my view unjustly) rolled your eyes I can counter that with at least 5 examples where somebody for some unknown reason thought it was ok to send me a message telling I’m “looking a little porkier” or my “skins not looking great.” Quite frankly, whoever you people are must have really awful things going on in your own lives so I’m going to spare you the tirade of abuse I really do want to sling at you (I’ve struggled with weight issues my entire life) and just say I hope things get better for you.

Recently I saw a huge uproar over influencers who attended a breakfast. People kicking off that none of it was declared as sponsored. For goodness sake people; it was a breakfast. It wasn't sponsored, it was a meal, but the reality is being picked means the brand is interested in you so if you don't post about it you may well lose your opportunity to work with them next year. Because there are loads of influencers now and keeping your stance in the market is a job in itself, and we have to be able to justify the amount of time we put into it. We are not press who are paid a monthly salary - we reap what we sow. 

I’m pretty happy with my little level of success, but it’s important to tell you that whatever “level” I feel this won’t stick around unless I work at it. Invites to breakfasts, that lead to gifts, that lead to projects don’t happen unless I’m seen to be making an effort to “organically” promote the brand. Brands can be ruthless now; there are so many of us to choose from. We have to spend a lot of time justifying our “price” (be that a tee shirt or a fee) to brands, so it’s really disheartening to have to do that again to people who have actively chosen to follow our content. Equally, the amount of sponsored versus organic/spontaneous/self-bought content totally varies for me month by month because I have limited time to spend on my blog and sometimes that quota is taken with paid-for projects and sometimes there are none at all so it's just stuff I've bought or been given by people. Either way it's all declared.

coat, Hobbs here - often sells out so I found it with another retailer, here / boots, jigsaw

I've clearly found fame because I'm referred to on a popular-for-parents forum and I now have the feeling that until you've successfully riled a breastfeeding-Boudica (not my phrase, but did make me chuckle) you haven't made it. All I would say, if anyone from said-forum is reading this is; understand that my social feed is a mere fraction of my reality and that actually sometimes I really like the idea of your reality over mine. I'm in my mid thirties, with no children, not a homeowner and fretting over my career at least once a week because if only my self-confidence was as consistent as my Instagram feed. So when the tiny part of you wishes the scented candle I got sent was for you - understand clearly that I sometimes feel the same when I overhear women in the coffee shop moaning about their night feed shifts, mastitis, cr*p plasterer or even the “DH”, even if just for a moment.

To the girl who has a real problem with the amount of time I spend at Soho Farmhouse you can easily access my email; drop me a line and I'll meet you there for coffee and tell you the real reason I'm spending a sh*tload of time in the Cotswolds at the moment. We can do it over the avocados you complain about influencers eating, yet in another forum ask for a recipe for on how to best serve them (the internet isn't anonymous, honey). It isn't to flaunt my membership or my surprisingly strong ability to photograph a hot tub, believe me.

For the record I really want to stress I'm not asking for everyone to give influencers a free pass, don't forget my day job is running influencer projects for brands and it's immensely frustrating when someone who is prepared to make money out of their social media following hasn’t bothered to find out the official rules. We should never mislead our followers and I do think a few have, sadly. Too many chefs do indeed spoil the broth and unfortunately that’s come to the surface a lot this year with the problems around buying followers, advertising declaration and producing decent content. Believe me there is an enormous elephant in the room at the moment as there are some major players in the market who think we don't know what's gone on, but we all do. I try to see the funny side... Now is the time if we haven't already, that we all need to recognise the effect we have on our followers when we post and build our own unexpected brands.

 coat, Hobbs here - often sells out so I found it with another retailer, here / boots, jigsaw

If you do see something posted by someone you follow that doesn’t quite suit your tastes, perhaps take ten seconds to calm down before you send that harsh, public, comment. At the most, if it continues to happen send them a message – politely – explaining whats putting you off. We don’t get feedback In this industry so as much as it might be hard for us to swallow, constructive feedback is really important to the development of both the industry and our individual channels.

For 2018, like everyone I'm hoping both followers' and influencers' feedback is taken into account and clearer legislation comes into place - that brands make an effort to stay on top of things and stop asking us to post about a product that doesn't fit our feed for $30 or the "chance to be entered into a prize draw to win a voucher" - those are two examples from my inbox this morning. Equally I hope big companies with massive budgets try and create campaigns with influencers that are of actual value and stop luring us with enormous budgets we can't afford to turn down because we have partners, kids or (in my case) dogs that need feeding. However most importantly, I hope this industry manages to maintain the fun and vibrancy that has caused this pastime to become a profession in the first place. Because if we're not enjoying it, whats the point?

But for now, it's Christmas, so I'm going fill my feed with things I love, including some gifts from lovely brands I feel incredibly lucky to still be on the radar with.

Merry Christmas all!

Photography by Claire Menary


Pip Milne said...

Hey Anna, I don’t normally comment on stuff but I just read this and wanted to say you rock. I am a 32 year old Mum of a 2 year old working full time on my own business and I follow you not only because I love fashion but because you inspire all things ‘Girl boss’ in me. Ignore that cr@ppy forum, they don’t represent us and by us I don’t mean Mums vs not yet Mums but your following who love your frank insights and reviews. Keep doing what you are doing because it’s awesome. Pip x

ClaraCovets said...

I love this post. We really know nothing about the lives of those on the internet. You’re doing a great job. I find your posts entertaining and I feel a bit like you in the beginning. I have no idea about fashion. I dress kind of classic as it’s easy. Your page has made me think more about being a bit more daring. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's a minefield and I fear one where you will never please everyone but as long as you can be decent, true to yourself and don't hurt anyone else, you can hold your head up. The critics have to follow those rules too - and they are utterly unregulated! But if I can be picky, not quite as ranty as the start led me to hope!
Ps I am only anonymous because my son has fiddled with the settings and I can't work out how to change them ...

Hayley | Break The Loop said...

Just found you and your blog via Twitter but had to comment and say that this post is spot on! I also started blogging way back (in 2011) and after scrapping my old blog and starting afresh a couple of years ago, can't quite believe my luck that I've turned it into a career of sorts! Anyway, it's a total minefield of a subject right now but people are way too quick to criticise and forget that the majority of us are doing our best!

Anonymous said...

I already commented on your Instagram post that this was a great read. One thing is, you say to ask the blogger if you have a question about something. Well there is one blogger whom I would now put in the 'travel blogger' category and I have enjoyed her blogs for 5 years or so. However, she frequently goes to places and stays in amazing hotels that are almost certainly paid for by someone other than herself. I did message her (very politely) through Instagram saying that I found it unclear whether a brand, tourist board, hotel etc was paying for a particular trip. Obviously this must have been hugely offensive to her as she blocked me from her Instagram. I'm asking a question about her work that she obviously wants people to read. It's not a personal question and I asked it privately. I don't read her blog now. Maybe it's just me but I like transparency from bloggers. Curious if anyone feels it was rude to ask?

lizbojade said...

This makes me sad, you shouldn't have to justify what you do. If people don't like it they can simply press one button rather than bashing away at loads giving unwanted abuse. Why don't people just unfollow?! It's clearly jealousy. I have had so called friends that just gave negative comments all the time on things I was genuinely proud of doing. This year I decided I'd had enough and I've cut them loose. Best thing I ever did. My advise would to be ignore and block without giving them a moments thought. Only just discovered your IG account and I love it. Well done you x

Jo Vinson said...

This was a really interesting and considered piece. I follow you because (in my opinion) you clearly have your head screwed on and you seem like the sort of person I’d have a laugh with over a few beverages. Hats off to all those who make a success being “influencers”, they deserve it. And to those desperate enough to pay for followers, the truth will always prevail.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully 2018 will be the end of the term "influencer".

Janet Hanrahan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
© South Molton St Style. All rights reserved.
Blogger Template by pipdig | Illustrations by Faiiint