Influencers. It’s a normal job now. You can aim to be an influencer. You work hard to get there. When you’re there, you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Using “influencers” is a great marketing technique, and companies rely on influencers to grow their business. There’s no doubt that choosing to hire an “influencer” to promote products can be successful for a brand.
I like to compare influencing to TV adverts. You pay somebody to show your product to a certain number of people, in the hopes that you’ll get more sales in return. Being an “influencer” is like a freelance marketing business, in which you are the boss, and companies become your clients.
This sounds like an important job, right? So why do I hate the word influencer so much?
I have to disclaim first, that I myself could be categorized as an “influencer”. In specific terms, I think I would be a micro-influencer since I have between 3,000 and 50,000 followers. But anytime someone asks me what I do for work, I avoid dropping the word “influencer” with all of my might.
If I feel the need to tell them about my Instagram, I say something like, “I blog about books” or “I write book reviews” or sometimes, “I work with companies to photograph their products”. I don’t like to state the word “influencer” – even though companies that hire me use the word – because I don’t believe that I am.
More on that later, but right now, let’s talk about the problem with influencers and the word influencers at the moment.
1. A lot of the time, they aren’t even trying.
Influencing, much impacted by the word itself, has become something that it wasn’t intended to be. As mentioned, this was supposed to be a sort of self-sustained freelance marketing business. But now, it’s a toxic culture.
Being an influencer does – or might I say should – involve a lot of work. However, I think we’ve crossed the line and taken influencer culture one step too far. Now, this might stir up some controversy, but it is my observation.
When you see an advertisement between programs on the TV, you’re more likely to remember the ones that have had effort spent on them. They don’t necessarily have to be good adverts, but they have to be trying to achieve something.
McDonald’s adverts are a great example. They’re always quite funny, quirky and very inclusive. Whether you like McDonald’s or the overall aesthetic of their ad, you can’t deny that their adverts have a lot of thought behind them.
When it comes to influencing, I believe it should be the same thing. The thing about influencing is that it’s an expensive market. I don’t know who made the rules up, but you can charge a lot for your photos. It’s roughly 1% of you following. So if you have 100,000 followers, it’s normal to charge $1000.
I totally understand the idea behind charging more money the more followers you have, because the brand will have a higher return on investment. Plus, you’ve probably spent longer building your brand.
However, these are big prices to pay when sometimes, people spend 5 minutes on the campaign. For example, take this photo from Aspyn Ovard, a YouTuber, clothing store owner and “influencer”.
Aspyn Ovard has 2.2 million followers, so she could reasonably charging around $20,000 for this photograph. Yet, even if she did her hair and makeup specifically for this photo, and tidied her room and edited it with a custom setting, it’s unlikely she spent more than a couple of hours creating this image. Therefore, she’s pretty much charging $10,000 per hour. I recently watched a video where she disclaimed that she can easily spend $4,000 a week (and that’s not including bills). So we know she’s doing well financially. After all, she built her own house when she was 19.
(Note: I have nothing against the success of other influencers. Aspyn spends a lot of time working on, creating & editing videos. I’m just concerned with how some people take advantage of this expensive industry.)
Looking at this photo, I don’t even know what product she’s promoting. I know it’s with Target, but her caption does not clearly show what the product is. At first, I thought it was her hat, since that seems to be the central item in the photo. Then I thought maybe it was the painting. But when I clicked the @ username in her caption, I discovered it was bedding. So not only does this “influencer” get away with charging around $10,000 an hour, but she isn’t making much of an effort to promote the product she’s charging them for.
Now, I could be totally mistaken here and Aspyn might not charge Target nearly as much as that, but this is an example of this culture. If it’s not her, it’s someone else.
If you’re an influencer, and you’re working with a company, invest the time equivalent to the money they are investing in you. It’s only fair. They may go ahead and approve your 5-minute content anyway, but it’s not fair on the company or your followers to take advantage of the high pay behind “influencing”.
2. It’s a popularity contest.
When it comes to getting into this market, it’s important to note that this is a popularity contest. A lot of that is down to the word “influencer”.
We’re all in the same category all of a sudden. Book bloggers, fashion bloggers, models, plant parents, religious influencers, travel bloggers. How can one word categorize thousands and thousands of people? I don’t know, but it has. And now, it’s a popularity contest.
This is probably more so on YouTube than Instagram, but it’s still true across the board. Brands are looking at numbers to define your worth. This is not a natural human condition, to worry about literal numbers on a screen. Even when I think of my real-life friends, I don’t count them up. But if someone asked me how many Instagram followers I had, I could tell you off the top of my head.
Being part of the “influencer” community causes you to worry about things that aren’t actually important in life. I’m guilty of this, too. It’s scary. The more time that’s passed, the less I do this, but I remember when I started out, all I cared about were numbers.
I can admit, even now, when a photo of mine does better than usual, I get a certain buzz from it. But at the end of the day, I’ll never be as good as someone else. There will always be someone else that does it better. You’re put into a job that forces you to compare yourself to other people.
There’s probably an element of this in most jobs, but there’s more of it in this community.
When it comes to getting brand deals, it’s also a popularity contest. Let’s say, for example, you run an Instagram account for sustainable products and there is an amazing company that you’d love to work with. You draft up a polite and honest email, pitch your ideas and even give them a discounted price. They look at, and your photos, and your personality and take delight in it. But then they go to your Instagram and see you have 10,000 followers, when the next emailer has 100,000 followers. If they have the budget and success with influencers, they are going to opt for someone with more followers. This is even more likely in the case of gifted promotions (where you don’t take money, but instead you take free products). They could spend the same amount of money giving the products to someone with 100,000 followers than you, yet they will get 10x the amount of money back.
Influencer culture is about numbers, not about talent.
3. Influencers think they’re all that
My main issue with influencer culture isn’t the work they do, or the money they charge, but the egotistic attitude that comes with their success.
(Note: Not everyone, but let’s be honest. The ones that go about flaunting the word influencer are usually the people with an egotistic attitude. A huge reason I cringe at the word itself.)
Society puts celebrities on a pedestal. “Influencers” put themselves on one.
I recently saw a blog post about somebody who thought the industry they were in (which was quite niche) needed to work better with influencers. I asked myself, why? Why can’t that industry do what works for them? Why can’t they do what they want? Why do influencers suddenly have the right, and the status, to demand things from companies because of their title?
Influencers think they can get free stuff, get high payments, do minimal work, get special treatment – just because they are called influencers.
(Note: Again, nothing wrong with someone knowing their monetary worth and charging that to a brand, but doing it just because you can know numerically call yourself an influencer, and throwing that onto a brand? Not cool.)
Their emails are often demanding and entitled and all about them. They list off their numbers, their previous collaborations, their insights – yet they don’t tell you anything about your company and why together, you’d make a great match.
There’s nothing wrong with pitching yourself to a brand, but as soon as you name yourself “influencer”, it comes with a lot of baggage in which you sound like (and no offense here) an idiot. Why? Because you’re naming yourself as somebody above everybody else, which leads me to my next point.
4. What makes you so influential?
There are natural leaders in the world. In fact, my personality type (ENFJ-A) is called the protagonist because I have the skills to lead groups of people due to being rather passionate. However, if I went around and told people that, I would look like a douchebag. So what’s the difference in going around saying that you’re an influencer? Is there no other word that could categorise what you do?
You’ve built up a YouTube channel with thousands of followers, where you share travel tips with the world, and promote eco-friendly materials. Why choose the word “influencer” when you could describe yourself as a sustainable travel blogger? It’s more specific (therefore, easier for brands), more humble and shows that there’s more to you than snapping photos and taking a lot of money for it.
You are more than an influencer. There is more talent behind you than this word contains. Stop using the word influencer to describe what you do.
If you are a successful social media “influencer”, it’s probably because you’re passionate about the products/things you talk about. Or you’re really good at manipulating your audience. Either way, you probably have success in connecting with your audience. But in my opinion, there is a huge difference in connecting and influencing.
I follow a lot of people because I like what they stand for, the content they create, the inspiring talent they deliver onto my feed every week. I never ever follow somebody so they can recommend me countless things to buy. I’m not a naturally materialistic person, so maybe this contributes to it, but when I look at my favourite YouTubers and Instagrammers, I am seeing so much more than the title of an influencer. And if I don’t see that, I don’t want to follow them.
When I do see someone who gives off that materialistic influencer vibe, or brags about their status as an influencer, I have to ask – what makes them so influential anyway?
I ask it to myself, too, every time a brand wants to work with me. Why are they putting me into this box that I’m going to actually influence people to buy this product? What makes me so influential anyway?
For me, when I work with a brand, I think of myself as very lucky to work with a company I love and can recommend the product genuinely to people that follow my page. In fact, I reject about 70% of proposed collaborations, because I don’t believe in the products. If I don’t believe in the products, how can I recommend them to my audience?
But even when I do love a product, and post about it every day, and offer discount codes, and take quality photos – why does that automatically mean I’m going to create sales for that brand? What makes me so influential? What makes my word so much more significant than the next? Because I have a lot of followers?
Well, why does having a high number of followers suddenly take away the fact that every single one of my followers is their own person, with their own decisions, with their own ethos, with their own ideas? Why do brands think, that just because I say a product is good, that my words will transfer into sales? What makes me so influential? The answer: nothing. I am not an influencer. I am a normal person, recommending products I love. If I sat around the dinner table with my friends and told them about a new moisturiser I love, I wouldn’t want to depend my livelihood on whether or not they bought it, too. So why do we do it online?
Nobody has ever shown me stats that I actually influence anything. I am a photographer, a freelance advertiser, of sorts. Yes, I make money from this. But I will always want to make sure that I make money from other avenues, too. Because one day this will all fizzle out, and we’ll watch this weird influencer culture drain away. I need to be prepared for that.
Because – just like a good teacher won’t necessarily produce a classful of successful politicians, scientists and doctors – I can’t be sure that my photo for a brand will transform into sales.
People can decide things for themselves and do not need “influencers” to do it for them.
5. You aren’t in control anyway
Even if you do an amazing job when it comes to working with brands, and you produce flawless content, and you make them thousands and thousands of dollars, you can’t guarantee that will happen every time.
Because influencers aren’t in control. Instagram is. YouTube is. Facebook is. Tik Tok is. These algorithm controls who sees your posts. I have 33,000 followers, yet only about 3,000-5,000 people see my posts at the moment. This time last year, it was about 20,000 people per post. I didn’t change anything drastically on my account. If anything, my photography has gotten better. I’ve invested in a quality camera. I make my own filters. Yet suddenly – Instagram is hiding my photographs from my followers, from hashtags, from the explore feed.
So as an influencer, a word that defines you as somebody influential, you aren’t. Instagram is the real influencer here. They influence who you influence. So once you put all your eggs in their basket, they can drop you, break you apart, and take away all that you were.
That’s why you shouldn’t ever define yourself as an influencer. You should define yourself as a creator, an artist, a little atom in a movement you’re passionate about. But you should never ever define yourself on the basis that you, for whatever reason, are more powerful than your audience, that your word is superior, that your content is going to change the minds of everyone that double taps your photo on Instagram.