My Advice to Influencers: Start Taking Your Career Seriously
Late in June 2019, a food truck owner went viral when he shared that he’s not only fed up with influencers asking for free food, but from now on, he’d be charging them double.
Tired of being asked to hand out free product in exchange for vague promises of “exposure” (read: a two-second shout-out in an IG Story), CVT Soft Serve owner, Joe Nicchi, posted this image to Instagram in late June:
And Nicchi’s not the only one getting fed up with self-titled “influencers” acting like spoiled brats.
In July, “Melissa,” a PR rep for an influencer and soon-to-be bride, reached out to the wedding photography business Betrothed and Co. The “PR rep” (who many have speculated is actually the bride-to-be herself) asked for £3-4,000 worth of photography and videography in exchange for the influencer “extensively promoting your business to followers on Instagram and Facebook (combined amount of 55,000).” (And no, that isn’t a typo. I didn’t leave out a zero at the end of that follower count.)
Predictably, the business owners replied with a healthy level of snark, telling Melissa that they’d be happy to make some kind of arrangement, provided that the influencer gain another 100,000 followers by the date of the wedding. If not, they write, the bride would be forced to pay full price.
In her response, Melissa called the email “unprofessional” and “appalling” and threatened to “name and shame” the business.
These are just two of the countless instances I’ve read in the last few months of influencers acting disrespectfully or outright aggressively toward small business owners. Not only is this behavior inappropriate (and frankly pathetic), it shows that most influencers don’t even understand the way their own business (and yes, it is a business) actually works.
This is Your Job; Act Like It
I know that this is a somewhat unpopular statement, but being an influencer is a job. I know that might make some of you reading this angry, but that’s how social media has transformed the entertainment industry. Influencers are the new models, talk show hosts, and content writers of today. Deal with it.
Just like any public figure they make money by promoting their content, their aesthetic, and/or their point-of-view, so they need to be aware of their public reputation and how their actions could be perceived. Unlike most other celebrities, most influencers don’t have a talent management team to back them up. They need to be their own PR person, their own agent, and their own editor. This, unfortunately, is where they run into problems. While an experienced talent agent can broker sponsorship deals between their clients and various brands, most influencers have to do that work themselves. And those influencers, for the most part, suck at it.
They’re bad at networking. They’re bad at explaining the actual benefits of what they do. They’re bad at putting together and marketing tangible packages of services.
Saying, “Hey, give me a free product, and I’ll give you a shout-out,” is not a business proposition.
You should know the exact value of what you can offer. If you’re in the position of negotiating partnerships with brands, you should have a pitch that outlines how you’ll promote the sponsored product, what value that can bring to your business partner, and the appeal of your services vs. your competitors. Of course, many wannabe influencers never get this far because they don’t treat their work like what it is: a job.
If this is your business, you need to stop asking for handouts. Stop being disrespectful to other businesses, and stop treating your social media account like your personal “Burn Book.” Think of it this way: Is it appropriate for a business owner to go around “naming and shaming” other businesses? If you came into work and started berating your vendors and customers, should you expect to keep your business? Of course not!
If you’re making money from social media, then, congrats! You run a business. Now, you need to start figuring out everything that goes along with being a business owner.
“Exposure” is Not a Product
In the wake of all the recent bad press, many social media stars are rejecting the term “influencer” and opting to call themselves “content creators” instead.
I’m a fan of this term because it implies that these people understand that their job is not to sit in front of a camera and look pretty (although, yeah, that may be part of it). A large part of creating content is providing value and making genuine connections, and whatever the public may think of influencers in general, many creators do base their content around improving the lives of their followers—whether that’s through workout guides, styling tips, makeup tutorials, or daily inspiration.
That’s your product. That’s what your providing to your audience, not sponsored posts and brand partnerships. While you may end up making the bulk of your income through that sponsored content, it’s not what provides value to your audience. That’s not what you’re actually “selling” to people.
Without the content that connects with your audience, nothing else matters.
Every business owner needs to invest some of their own time, resources, or money into their product before it’s actually profitable, and the same goes for wannabe content creators. You need to make something that’s worthwhile before you expect anyone else to invest in you. If your product is valuable, there will be brands that want to work with you. You just need to be patient.
Remember, your job is not to provide businesses with exposure. It’s to provide your audience with value.
Your Brand is Your Business
I hope by now you realize this isn’t another “call-out post.” When some people talk about social media and influencer culture, it’s hard not to think of an old man shaking his fist and yelling about lazy, entitled millennials. That’s not me. I don’t even think that the existence of influencers is a bad thing. In fact, I think that with the right mindset, you can build a solid career from social media stardom.
The problem is, however, with the few rotten apples that are ruining it for everyone else.
The public is so used to hearing the word “influencer” tied to people begging for handouts and throwing tantrums when things don’t go their way that if you’re someone who’s genuinely interested in providing value and creating quality content, you’ll need to work hard to overcome that initial stigma.
But really, it all starts with a simple shift in mindset. Stop thinking of yourself as a celebrity, and start thinking of yourself as a business owner. Your brand is your business, and everything you do as a representative of that brand affects your business’s reputation.
That means no begging for freebees, no publicly complaining when things don’t go your way, no neglecting your followers just to fatten your own wallet. Your career is built on your ability to create content that connects with people. Foster those connections above all else, and your business will thrive.