Brand Influencer, Content Creator, Social Media Influencer, Brand Marketing, Brand Photographer, Influencer Marketing, Social Media Marketing… what does it all mean? Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about my journey to becoming an influencer on social media. I am in no way an expert on the topic (I’ll leave that to Gary Vaynerchuk)!
If you haven’t consumed the content Gary Vee puts out, you need to. He is amazing. a m a z i n g. Watch a few minutes of his vids and you will be motivated! Lauren from The Skinny Confidential sums it up best in her post about him here. I get to have a one on one with Gary at the end of this month and I can’t even tell you how excited I am. When I got the email that he wanted to meet with me at his NYC office Vayner Media, I had to re-read it 10 times just to be sure. He has written some amazing books too… like this one here. Ok, ok enough about Gary. You’ll be hearing a lot about him from me over these next two weeks (and probably my entire career) as I prepare for my meeting. But for now, let’s move on to what you came here for… to learn about my personal journey into becoming a brand influencer. Below you’ll find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions I receive:
What is this crazy job where you get paid to use social media?!
Influencer marketing has become a powerful strategy for brands who want to reach their audience in a non-pushy, non-promotional way. 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands. (source) and 74 percent of consumers use social media to make purchase decisions. (source) Influencer campaigns carry a content element in which the influencer creates content for the brand, whether this is through photo, video, a blog post, etc. and are expected to spread the word through personal social channels. Often the brand will ask to purchase the high-res photos for their own marketing use as well.
“PASSION IS SOMETHING YOU WOULD DO FOR FREE AND YOU CAN’T BELIEVE SOMEONE WOULD PAY YOU TO DO IT.” – Simon Sinek
How did your journey as an “influencer” begin?
It was an accident and all of my passions happened to collide. I am mostly a self-taught photographer (I’ve taken a few photography classes during college and a couple mentoring sessions with M2 Photography) but I’ve learned Lightroom and Photoshop on my own. I started my photography business while I was in law school. When I graduated law school, I worked at JP Morgan in compliance, while also doing photography on the weekends- mostly head shots for pageant girls and family/maternity photo shoots. I loved making people feel good about themselves and loved the feedback when they received their final edited photos.
When my daughter Olivia was born, I began to share not just photography work on Instagram, but also photos of my family. Instagram was a creative outlet for me while raising Olivia at home. It became a community where I could connect with other moms.
I continued to post some of my favorite photos consistently, like this one here from over two years ago, and started getting offers for free products in exchange for my photography work (the days of being a “brand rep”). This was fun, but I quickly realized that content creation is a lot more work than just snapping a photo and I was accepting products for the sake of them being free. I knew I needed to change something up or I would quickly burn out and ruin something I really enjoyed. So I put together a media kit and started charging for my time (which if you have more than 10k followers on Instagram and are not charging right now, you need to).
What do you recommend I do on Instagram to become an influencer?
A beautiful Instagram account will grab someone’s attention. If they love your photos, they may decide to stay around a little while and eventually push that little follow button. They are more likely to stick around if you offer them something of value. Do you discuss things they’re interested in? Share knowledge and/or experience on a certain topic? Offer motivational or inspiring quotes? There are so many different ways you can provide value to followers. Whether that value is making them feel like they aren’t alone and they can relate to things you share, or you’re an inspiration to them, or maybe you just take absolutely incredible, eye-catching photos.
Do I have to have a blog to be an influencer?
No, but influencers can be bloggers and bloggers are often influencers, if that makes sense? There are also “vlogs” where you create content for Youtube. I plan to start putting content on YouTube soon. I shot my first beauty tutorial the other day and it was an epic fail- I forgot to hit record and realized it half way through. Total rookie mistake- but hey you gotta start somewhere, right?
Brand influencing has grown tremendously in the past year and is only going to continue to grow. Everyone does things different ways too. I grew my following on Instagram first and then started a blog afterwards. Some of my friends started their blogs first and only started using Instagram in the last year or so. Some people prefer Instagram Stories and others are loyal to Snap Chat. Some use both equally. Some only have a YouTube channel and skip the writing aspect. There is no right or wrong way to do things.
Do you use one social media platform more than the others?
I really love Instagram. I also use Facebook but not as much. Sometimes I use snap chat. And I am new to Twitter. But yep, Instagram is my jam! I just love the visual context of it. I also love instagram stories and you can usually find me posting video clips of my daughters- especially my two year old who usually has something funny to say. All of the social platforms are important though and creating content and posting on all of them is the best way to offer value and increase your following, especially if a platform like Instagram were to disappear, it’s important to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I still have some work to do with this myself.
Huffington Post does a nice job summing up influencer marketing on social media:
“Marketing on Instagram offers social media enthusiasts the opportunity to land a side job where they get paid to post pretty pictures and acquire free stuff. Instagram “influencers,” as the industry calls them, team up with businesses to promote products or brand campaigns on the photo-sharing platform. These promotions take the form of photos, hashtags and captions, and compensation depends on the brand, scope of the project and influencer’s bargaining power. While some brands pay between $5 to $10 per thousand followers, others offer $100 per 100 followers. The Instagram brand promotion business is a large one. Companies across all industries combined spend between $1 billion and $1.5 billion per year on sponsoring content on the platform, Thomas Rankin, CEO of Dash Hudson, a company that sources Instagram influencers for brands, told The Huffington Post.”
So companies send you products AND pay you to post about them?
Yes, pretty cool right!? I feel incredibly blessed to be able to stay home and do this type of work. Although content creation is very time consuming and there are numerous steps involved from start to finish, it is fun and something I enjoy doing and I am incredibly grateful for it. Essentially, brand influencers are creating an advertisement for the company but organically through their own social media channels, and with their own creative style.
When you host a giveaway, do you have to giveaway the product they sent you?
Nope! I get to keep it and then after a winner is chosen at random, the company sends that person the same product. Giveaways are a great way for a brand to gain extra exposure because my followers tag their friends as part of the giveaway rule, expanding the brand’s reach. You can see an example of a giveaway I hosted here. There are also “loop giveaways” that a group of people do together. Sometimes I get asked to join these and I think they’re great for a wide variety of exposure.
Why do you put “sponsored” on certain posts and what does it mean?
The FTC requires full disclosure when working with brands. This could be the words sponsored, ad, or simply a sentence that discloses the partnership such as “I’m so excited to partner with ___.” A brand and/or influencer can get fined for not disclosing the partnership. It is my responsibility to make my followers aware that a partnership is present between myself and the brand. I am getting compensated for my creative content and work. Most influencers only promote products we truly love and would buy ourselves. Some followers don’t really enjoy sponsored posts, but you can read more about this on my friend Lynzy’s post Why I Won’t Apologize for Writing Sponsored Content. One thing I know is that being able to contribute to my daughters’ savings accounts feels wonderful and I am incredibly grateful for this job.
Do you accept any and all products?
This is a big giant NO. If I did, I would lose my mind. In the beginning, I accepted so many free products and quickly became overwhelmed with having to take photos and post. So I started charging a fee. I also do not accept anything that does not fit seamlessly into our lifestyle and I’ve turned down quite a few potential partnerships with big companies because they don’t align with our beliefs, or the product is something I wouldn’t actually buy myself.
Does your house always look spotless?
Does anyone’s house with a toddler look spotless? Haha, I’d like to hope not. I do tend to clean up often but that’s because when the house is a mess, I feel like my brain is a mess too. Ridiculous, I know. I think I’ve just gotten really good at hiding clutter in different areas of the house. See how I do that in my blog post here.
Curated vs. Reality
Although Instagram is for connecting with others and sharing things with value, it’s also for sharing pretty photos. It’s fun to get creative and share whatever artistic flare our hearts’ desire- this could be curated and/or a flat lay style. That’s the fun part about content creation!
What kind of camera do you use?
I usually use my iPhone 7 plus. It’s the fastest and most convenient, especially when photographing my little ones throughout the day. If it’s not an iPhone, it’s my Nikon D7000 with a 35mm lens.
Who takes your photos?
Most of the time, I am the one taking the photos. However, photos that I am in, usually my husband snaps or my friend Carly takes them. She is also a blogger and knows what I am looking for. A lot of influencers use tripods to take their own photos but I haven’t mastered this one yet.
How do you edit your photos?
Creating a feed that is aesthetically pleasing and has a “look” is very important. I prefer a crisp white feed with bold touches to it. I plan to do a more in depth detailed post with my tips and tricks to editing photos, but for now, I will tell you the apps I use to edit my photos (all found on my phone)- Lightroom, Snapseed, VSCO (A5 or A6), and Facetune (because this tired face needs a whole lot of tuning up most days- Ha!). Another app that is important is “Snug” or “Planoly.” These apps allow you to plan out your next posts before actually posting them to see what they will look like with the rest of your photos.
Does your toddler hate the camera?
No, not yet at least. The photos I capture of her are mostly candids or when she’s asleep. I do not like forcing her to smile for a photo. (I may do a little bribing if it’s for a family photo, which we rarely ever capture). Being a lifestyle influencer means I can collaborate with brands, not just involving my daughters, but for a variety of things that don’t necessarily include them. Motherhood is a HUGE part of my life and I spend 99.8% of my day with them, so of course a lot of shared moments are with my children.
Could I become a brand influencer?
Absolutely! You’ll get out of it what you put into it. It takes a lot of time and dedication and is not something that happens over night. I started my photography business 5 years ago during law school (not that you need to be a professional photographer whatsoever), and I started posting consistently on Instagram two years ago in 2015. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start now. It just means you have to be patient and decide if it’s what you really want to spend most of your free time doing and go all in.
Once you’re ready to start working with brands and you have a large enough following, find companies that match your lifestyle and reach out to to them. Create a media kit to present to them (this is not necessary and I haven’t sent out my media kit in over a year but it can be nice to have just in case a brand asks for it. You can find templates on Etsy like this one. Sign up with influencer platforms like Popular Pays, Whalar, or Musefind that connect brands and influencers on campaigns. Eventually, you will get to a point as your following grows where PR agencies and brands start reaching out to you daily to work together.
How do I grow my following?
A decent size following is key to becoming an influencer. Once you start putting out quality content, you can start growing your Instagram following by using relevant hashtags so people with similar interests can find you. Hashtags are important. I repeat, hashtags are important. Change them up each time you post and don’t overdo it – 30 hashtags can sometimes get flagged as spam and then your account gets shadow banned.
Post quality photos 1-3 times a day that fit with the aesthetics and style of your feed (this can be whatever you choose- but remain consistent), tagging brands and other relevant Instagram accounts, and engage with your followers often by responding to their comments, even if it’s just to say thank you. I try to respond to all of my messages and engage with my followers on a daily business. Building those relationships is so important.
Another very effective method to gain followers is to search photos under certain hashtags. For example, if you have a fitness related Instagram account that you want to grow, you could search #fitness and start liking and commenting photos under this hashtag.
Giveaways are a great way to gain followers- whether you partner with a brand to give something away or with a few other bloggers- it helps to gain new eyes on your account, while offering your followers a chance to win something!
So to sum it up… You grow your follower count by posting quality photos consistently, create a cohesive aesthetic (look/style) to your feed, use relevant hashtags on each photo, tag related Instagram accounts that feature favorite photos/repost yours, and engage with people under these hashtags by commenting and liking their photos, and thanking/engaging with the people that comment on your photos.
Another effective method is through repost. Two years ago, I posted this photo and tagged one of my favorite shops. They asked to repost it and had a huge following. If they repost your photo to their Instagram that has a much larger following, in return, it will send followers your way.
Participate in the Instagram weekend hashtag in hopes to get your photo on the explore page and featured.
Lastly, you could also hire a social media manager and they can help you grow your personal brand or your companies social media presence. Many companies turn to social media managers to manage their accounts and push out content on these channels because they are too busy running their day to day business to handle the marketing/advertising side. And there is a huge shift right now where brands are using social media marketing, rather than traditional methods like TV commercials or billboards, because when’s the last time you actually paid attention to a TV commercial?
Have you had any negative experiences?
The most frustrating thing is when a brand simply does not value a content creators time or worth, and tries to control everything, including the creative process. As creators, we greatly appreciate the companies that want to pay us for the time it takes to create content and advertise for them. It’s frustrating when a brand says they do not have a marketing budget. You can read more about this subject in the two following posts 5 Reasons Influencers Don’t Want to Collaborate With Your Brand and 17 Things Bloggers are Tired of Hearing.
What goes into a collaboration?
A brand will reach out with an interest in working together, whether from the brand directly or a PR rep/agency. It could be to promote the company in general or for a specific product launch. After deciding whether or not the product AND brand fits into our lifestyle, I will send my rates if I think it’s a good match for me and my family. If they agree to my rates and what it includes, then we move forward with a contract (not all companies use contracts- some use Paypal or mail a check). We agree on a time frame for posting, and then product is mailed. Sometimes I post on a specific date discussed with the brand and sometimes on a more flexible time constraint, such as “I’ll have content to you within the next two weeks.” Blog posts take a lot longer than creating Instagram posts.
Most brands allow you to get creative and come up with your own ideas, which is why it makes my job so fun. There are certain requirements for each brand. For example, Dove Chocolate did not want children, pets, coffee, or other food in the photo. They wanted a white background. They wanted the post to focus on New Year resolutions. I had to get creative and come up with something while keeping these requirements in mind. Annie’s Homegrown wanted me to focus on the idea of adding cheddar bunny crackers to their soups to make them more appealing to kids. I took this shot of my daughter enjoying the soup with the bunnies sprinkled on top.
What’s the one piece of advice you can give?
Being a content creator is time consuming. I wish I could say that I snap a quick pic and voila, it’s done, but that is far from truth and so much more is involved from getting the shot, to editing the photos, creating the captions, organizing and timing you photos to fit your feed, etc. This isn’t even discussing the whole side of blogging, which is a topic for another day because that involves things like SEO terms, Word Press, and Reward Style/Affiliate linking (another great way to make money) that are a bit more complicated and I’ll save for another time.
People need to see the enjoyment in your photos. It needs to be authentic and genuine. Don’t sweat the small stuff – sometimes engagement can be more than what you expect or less… but you have to remember you’re not doing it just for the following or money. The only thing that matters is that you’re happy with the content you put out!
How do you balance it all?
Honestly, it’s hard. But nothing worth having comes easy. Being a mother is a full time job itself. I do most of my work after I put the girls to sleep. When I was running my photography business, I would do the same thing. But instead of editing photos of other people, now I get to edit photos of my own family now and do it on my own time, which I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do.
Since brand influencing is fairly new to many influencers, we rely on each other for questions, support, and encouragement. I am no expert on the subject and can only share what I know from my own personal experience and I will continue to share what I learn along the way (a lot of content being from Gary Vee). I am firm believer in community over competition and there is plenty to go around for all of us.
“The joy comes not from comparison, but from enhancement.” – Simon Sinek
“Love the journey. If you don’t love the journey, you’ll never get through the first quarter.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Thank you so much for reading along! Your support truly means the world to me!!
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