With Instagram accounts full to the brim with fancy products, impressive wardrobes and glamorous-looking lifestyles, it’s all too easy to assume influencers have got it easy.
The rise of technology has opened up a whole new range of career options, such as website creators, app developers, advertisers, bloggers and social media editors. While they all involve some kind of content creation, I don’t think anything gets quite as much attention as the job of an influencer.
Naturally, that comes with the territory. People who work on social media are aiming to get seen by as many users as possible but there’s often a stigma around them, with many people suggesting those working on Instagram don’t have a real job; that all they really do is pose and take pictures.
If your bio has anything to do with the words influencer or public figure get up and go get a real job.
— Armando Gutierrez (@MandoMadness03) June 12, 2019
being an influencer or blogger on insta is not a real job and they need stop fucking making out it is
— haych🌻 (@hayleysusanmary) June 16, 2019
Oh, you're an "influencer"? Maybe you should go influence yourself to get a real job.
— Shin Gangster Popeye (@rain_terranova) May 17, 2019
Admittedly, there are some Insta-famous people out there who have fallen into the profession as a result of being on a reality TV show or going viral for some reason – they probably do get things handed to them on occasion without too much effort on their part.
But what about the self-made influencers who really did start from the bottom, with an average social media account like you or I, putting in the graft to increase their following and make a name for themselves? Do they really deserve to be criticised for not having a ‘real job’? It seems unfair to cast all those in the industry under the same umbrella.
UNILAD spoke to fashion and beauty influencer Sherrie Webster about her day-to-day life and what it means to have an Instagram career; shedding light on the world behind the photographs.
The 24-year-old, from London, worked to grow her Instagram following her final year of university and was successful enough to make the platform her full time job upon finishing her course.
She described the move from a following of a few hundred friends to hundreds of thousands of strangers, explaining how it took commitment and perseverance:
I posted every single day, sometimes even twice, and made sure I was present and engaging with other people’s content.
I spent a lot of money (and still do) on clothes to style and post. I always tagged the brands and used their hashtags and this eventually lead to brands getting in touch.
I made my account into a business account, meaning I could start tracking and monitoring my reach, impressions and following. I also made a media kit with the data and sent emails out to brands I loved and regularly purchased and posted.
Sherrie now has 55,000 followers but it’s still not simply a case of sharing the occasional picture and watching the likes, comments, and follows roll in.
Although the social media personality described her job as ‘exciting’ and ‘spontaneous’, she also pointed out how busy it can be. While most people have an office and an allotted amount of time in their day dedicated to work, there’s no getting away from an app on your phone, where the opportunity to have an audience, jump on evolving trends, increase your reach, and build your brand is constant and impossible to resist if you want to ensure success.
Bec Watkinson, an influencer from Manchester, reiterated Sherrie’s point as she described how the job is actually made up of numerous different responsibilities.
By being an influencer I’m running my own business. I have to put a ridiculous amount of hours into my day, it’s not as simple as ‘9-5 and that’s it I’m done’.
I’ll be working all hours of the day and night. I have to sign and adhere to contracts, shoot content and get them approved by brands, send off all insights of how the posts did, who engaged with it and what sales were made from it as well as sending out invoices and paying tax – and this is just for one brand.
Influencers can, and most likely will, work with multiple brands at one time.
Being an influencer is running a whole operation. We’re the sales person, brand manager, marketing team, content creators and the accountants. This comes with enormous pressure.
Of course, the average Instagram user will know you don’t get a paycheck every time you upload a photo – no matter how good the angle, lighting and filter may be. So, as Bec mentioned, most influencers rely on brands and advertising to pay the bills.
With hundreds of people vying for their place on the internet, those hoping to be successful have to stand out to brands and make them see they’re the one worth collaborating with.
As a result, those working as influencers often have days taken up with events in which they mix with PR companies and brand representatives.
I often have multiple events on the same day – this is where I get to meet fellow influencers and, most importantly, the people behind the brands and PR companies.
Some events can go on until the early hours and it can be the same the next day. On top of this, I’m constantly answering emails and editing pictures on the go.
In the fast-paced world of the internet, where there’s something new to look at every time you unlock your phone, there’s no denying content is quickly forgettable. I’m surely not the only one who scrolls through Facebook then draws a blank when trying to think about what I’ve just read?
Instagram actually has notifications now for people who post for ‘the first time in a while’, just to let you know there’s something new to look at. A casual Instagram user probably wouldn’t think twice about this but social media influencers can’t risk being forgotten.
The further down the feed their post is the less attention it will get, and attention is exactly what they need to stay afloat.
As a result, Sherrie explained the worst and most difficult part of her job is never being able to switch off or give herself a break.
Every new outfit, location or event is an opportunity to grab the attention of the fleeting audience, so influencers always have to be switched on; they’re working even without realising.
The 24-year-old said:
Being a social media influencer means you have to constantly be present. From the moment I wake up to when I go to bed, I’m on my phone.
Even my weekends consist of shooting, events and catching up on emails from the week. On days off I find myself taking photos of my outfit or endlessly scrolling, finding inspiration or shopping – which admittedly isn’t the worst, but also you don’t realise you’re working.
We don’t have a 9-5 day where we leave work at the office, we don’t have weekends and often spend evenings creating content. Even holidays are an opportunity to create more content and broaden your account and following.
There’s no denying there’s a lot of work that goes in to being a self-made influencer but the stigma still remains those in the industry aren’t actually working.
I think a big part of the problem is the title ‘influencer’. At the end of the day, these people are actually content creators, the same as those who create videos, television shows, films, photographs, books and articles.
People probably got scoffed at for calling themselves ‘bloggers’ in the earlier days of the internet but that’s become accepted now. Is it simply because the creator has written something rather than taken a picture of it? But then what’s the argument for photographers?
Whatever the label, it’s content creation and it shouldn’t be waved off as unimportant or dismissed from the definition of work.
Speaking of the stigma around the job title, Bec pointed out how people fail to realise ‘influencers are basically walking advertisements’.
I honestly don’t know anyone in my age bracket that really watches TV (Love Island not included). Brands realise this and know that paying huge amounts for advertisement isn’t actually going to benefit them anymore because their target market doesn’t engage with TV.
[Being an influencer] is essentially like being a sales rep, except influencers are promoting and trying to make sales from products they actually use and like.
Yes we get (some) clothes for free and yes taking a single photo isn’t hard but that’s the problem, that’s the outsiders perspective and it needs to change because it’s so, so, so much more!
The role of an influencer looks fun and glamorous, and it probably is a lot of the time, but there’s so much going on behind the scenes. It might not be what everyone classes as a ‘typical’ job but the need for constant content means their life is their job – they don’t get to differentiate.
I think it’s time for the world to accept influencers as content creators are a real part of the working world, and more people will be making it a profession in the years to come.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.