Being a social influencer may seem like a glamorous way to make a living. Behind the scenes, however, it's a lot of hard work and comes with some serious sacrifices.
Have you ever considered to be social influencer?
What kind of job would be suitable for someone who's studied Online Culture? Perhaps a governmental job in the cultural sector or becoming the social media manager of a company. But have you considered being a ‘social influencer’ yet? If this is a new term for you, let me explain it.
The term ‘social influencer’ is a shorter version of ‘social media influencer’. Although the term 'media' is quite important in my eyes, society somehow thought social influencer was better, even though this can lead to misunderstandings. Searching for the full term online gives us the following definition: “An influencer is an individual whose actions and opinions carry more weight with their colleagues, social network and the general public than is the case with most other individuals (…) In a social media marketing context, the more influence a person has, the more appeal that individual has to companies or other individuals who want to promote an idea or sell a product” (Rouse, 2016).
At first sight, being popular on social media such as Instagram maybe doesn’t seem like a serious job to earn money with.
This definition immediately gives us information about using social influencing as a job, since an influencer could be used in a marketing context. At first sight, being popular on social media such as Instagram doesn’t seem like a serious job to earn money with. However, many influencers prove otherwise. I want to know why this could be a career and how it works. Moreover, I will try to become an influencer myself and I use my own experiences for this article. In this article, I will introduce you to the world of influencers by answering the following question: Can social (media) influencing be (seen as) a full-time job?
What does it take to become a social influencer?
To start off my journey of trying to become a social media influencer myself, for the purposes of this article, I need to know more about where to start. Even without looking for “How to …” videos on YouTube, my Facebook account gets many potential articles about this topic.
For instance, the Dutch ING bank has had a guideline for earning money with being a social influencer. This is a handy systematic plan; yet the steps are far from easy. Unfortunately, as I was writing this, the blogpost disappeared from their website. After contacting the bank, they responded to me with the answer I was afraid of: the post didn’t exist anymore.
As I mentioned, the internet offers a lot of articles about social influencing, so it was not quite hard to find the following title, as translated from Dutch: “Matthew is 17 years old and paid 2690 dollar to become a social influencer” (NOS, 2017) or “How to become an influencer in 12 weeks?” (3FM, 2017). Fun fact: both articles are written by rather big and well-known companies. In their deleted blog post, ING also said something about this (sorry for the lack of proof) along the lines of: “To earn money, you have to spend it first”. This seems like a fair point; making an investment in yourself. Now as the title tells us, how much is this investment? Around 2000 euros.
That moment when you lose faith in your dreams.
After sweeping myself up from the ground, I figured that I, as a future social influencer, can never lose hope and need to have my downs sometimes. See this as an investment in yourself and your future career, which always costs money, especially when you are your own boss. Luckily, almost every article provides you with five or more steps that contain tips such as the use of hashtags and earning money instead of spending it.
She changed her clothes multiple times a day and made pictures of every piece.
In the weeks that followed, my Facebook timeline somehow sensed what my plan was and I saw a handful of articles passing by without having to search for them. Not considering the algorithms on my timeline, it perhaps is a sign that these things pop up online more increasingly. A very interesting one appeared recently. It is not that much of a guide, but tells the story of a group of students that made a fake Instagram account for an assignment and tried to get 10.000 followers in almost no time; just 12 weeks (3FM, 2017). The article that was written about it reveals multiple secrets of the everyday life of a social influencer. Noteworthy is for example, that the girl of the fake account changed her outfit a few times each day and made a picture with her wearing every single outfit. This is all quite thought through and time-consuming.
Overloaded with the topic
Besides online articles, the television also got infected with the inFLUence (yes, pun intended). On RTL Boulevard, a famous Dutch gossip programme, a teacher of the B Academy located in both Eindhoven and Amsterdam was talking about their new course: ‘Influencing’. Of course, some further research was needed. As it happens, the B Academy really gives young people the chance to get to know the fine arts of this ‘job’ by learning more than just using the right hashtags. If a school already teaches students stuff like this for their future, this is indeed the job of the future.
Moreover, considering the time and money it takes to become an influencer and maintain that career is almost more than a full-time job. With this opinion in the back of my head, I went to a Q&A session with Miss Victory Violet. Miss VV is a famous Instagram pin-up model in the rockabilly scene (figure 1). She has around 180.000 followers on Instagram and posts around 3 or more pictures a day, which led to her acount featuring roughly 8000 pictures in total.
Miss VV tells me that it is not just about the posting of the pictures every day for her. She also does paid photoshoots (which she also posts online though), keeping up a blog and Facebook account, traveling and she gives workshops all over the world. Moreover, she has finally started a YouTube channel. It becomes clear that it is also important to have online content besides Instagram, since her blog was online before her Instagram account got famous. Again, this was more evidence for me to consider social influencing a job. But, she says, it comes with downsides. For instance, when there aren’t enough modelling jobs in a month it is a bit scary when it comes to money. Sometimes she also thinks of the future and if she could keep up with it her entire life. Before becoming an influencer, she started out as a hairdresser and I wondered if that is the only option she has after being an influencer for a while.
The fine print (dum dum dummm)
Being able to make a living doing what you're good at, being yourself, promoting brands that you absolutely adore and having a supporting group of admirers seems absolutely swell. However, there is something at risk. A big part of your private life is revealed online, even when it might not be the truth you show in the picture.
Since the late 90s we live in what Hille Koskela called “the cam era”: an era in which cameras are almost everywhere and in this day and age almost everyone even carries one with them on their phones (Koskela, 2003). Thus, it is easy to shoot footage in everyday life or to being filmed even when you don’t know about it. One of the points Koskela makes in Webcams, TV Shows and Mobile Phones: Empowering Exhibitionism (2003) is that people have changed the way they think about privacy and what they expose publicly.
Instead of being afraid of too much openness towards the world, they feel more powerful when showing something most people might find too private. That’s the empowering exhibitionism she mentions in the title of the piece. Something like this is also going on in the world of social influencing since most of the influencers show quite some details of their private lives to strangers. One reason for this could perhaps be that they use this as a strategy to bond with their followers.
I look at the last 30 pictures of her and her biography on Instagram and try to find as many things about her as I can.
Koskela also highlights that it is very easy nowadays to track someone’s location. This information is sometimes provided by the influencers themselves. To prove my point, I want to use Miss Victory Violet as an example. By looking at the last 30 pictures she posted on Instagram and her bio on the medium, I will try to find out as many things about her as possible.
Doing this, I found the following information: she has a husband named Matt, he has a moustache and beard. Miss VV’s real name is Ella and she talks English with an accent, she promotes the Dutch webstore TopVintage, models for the lingerie brand What Katie Did, she is going to Ireland very soon but at the moment she is road tripping through the UK. She lives in London. I can see her in at least 10 different outfits and I now know how she does her nails and what her favourite products are. I can see pictures of her when she was in Bath (figure 2).
Next year, she will go to Viva Las Vegas because she enjoyed it last time. And finally, she has a blog with probably even more personal details of her on it. In the added figure, also note the comments of the followers to have an idea of the effect.
Even though Koskela focusses more on webcam videos, it is quite the same for Instagram posts, especially when it comes to exhibitionism. Influencers like Miss VV for example, often post lingerie shoes, even when some might find this inappropriate (Koskela, 2003).
It is quite shocking how much one can find out with only 30 pictures. The risk of losing your privacy and maybe even being stalked is quite high, as this example will have made clear. Anyone can become famous like this, as social media tend to favour 'normal people' that everyone can look up to. This is similar to what gossip magazines do when they discuss celebrities' private lives. The difference is that these stars reveal interesting things about their lives themselves.
This is not the end, only the conclusion
Being a social influencer comes with a good salary, or so the internet tells me. Each Instagram post ears influencers 2000 euros. This makes it something worth trying during a gap year, perhaps. If four students can do it in 12 weeks, who knows what I can achieve in a year? I must admit that it is quite hard to keep up with posting content every day. But for now, I’m happy with my Instagram account and its small group of followers. Don’t be afraid to follow or like @missbibabelula. As you can tell, marketing is already happening here. That’s a good start!
As it turns out, social influencing is a good job opportunity in this day and age, especially nowadays when it's even possible to study Online Culture. Just like any other job, it comes to hard work and constantly trying to improve yourself to be out there. Not to forget that it comes with some great risks, such as the loss of privacy and people potentially stalking you. However, the question whether social influencing is something you can keep on doing for the rest of your life is a different one. But, for the sake of dreams of being young and successful, it is most certainly not bad to think of a career in social influencing.
3FM. (2017, March 22nd). Zo word je binnen 12 weken social influencer.
NOS. (2017, April 6th). Matthew is 17 en betaalt 2690 dollar om social influencer te worden. Article.
Rouse, M. (2016, June). Social influencer. Definition.