Anonymous Influencers Get Real About Their Industry

White wedding dresses were pretty much unheard of until Queen Victoria wore one on February 10, 1840. After she did, it was as if no one had ever considered another color. Even today, more than a century later, popular wedding gown retailer David’s Bridal reported that non-white gowns only accounted for four to five percent of sales.

Yes, “influencers” existed long before the term was even coined, but the air of mystery surrounding them remains. What do they do all day? How do you become one? Is it as glamorous as it seems? The hypothetical answers, while juicy to contemplate, are fertile ground for misconceptions. But do they have to be? I asked four popular influencers (with a collective Instagram following of over 3.2 million people) to weigh in honestly on nine stereotypes based on their personal experiences in the industry. Read their answers below. *Names have been changed.

TRUE or FALSE: Being a successful influencer is fun and easy compared to most other jobs.

Heather: True and false. It’s not as easy as it might look. If you really want to blog full-time, then building your brand and growing your audience will take a lot of dedication. Blogging is one of those 24/7 jobs. You share so much of your life that you inevitably bring your work home with you and can’t ever really shut off. But I also love my job so much that generally it doesn’t feel like work. I think whatever career you are in, if you are passionate about it and enjoy what you do, it will not feel like work, even when you are putting in 40+ hours a week.

Monica: False!!! But really it depends on your vocational incentives — when I first started my website and was primarily seen as an influencer, I very frequently felt like a monkey because no one cared to genuinely hear what I thought or had to say so much as they cared about getting a gimmick-y sound bite about my perspective on fashion. I found it infuriating because the ethos of my site has always been rooted in empowerment and self-expression, but since it’s grown to become a larger media property with multiple writers who are far more competent and full of perspective than I am, I’m much more open to answering the sillier questions people ask me because I don’t feel like I have as much to prove. Also, for as extroverted as I am, I’m also kind of an introvert. I get my energy from spending time alone, and I wear my heart on my sleeve! So being “on” when I’m feeling “off” sucks more than Excel as far as I am concerned.

Arianna: I would say that’s mostly true. I don’t think it’s as easy as people assume; there’s definitely work behind the scenes. But compared to most other jobs, I definitely think it’s more fun and it’s not as taxing. Most of my days are filled with meetings and emails and not fun stuff, actually — administrative tasks and logistical planning for future photo shoots and future collections. I’m involved in some design collaborations, so there’s always a design element going on, or an event or something like that. I think influencers are self-made for the most part, so they got into something that they already in love with, and that’s why the work doesn’t feel as frustrating as it is in many other jobs. [That said], it still can be. I just don’t like to complain about what I do, because as annoying as it can be some days, I think I’m really lucky.

Jenny: True. It’s nice to be able to create your own schedule, especially as a mother. I work around my time with my child and when I do work, it’s from home. A lot of my job consists of documenting my everyday life, so at the end of the day, it’s just about capturing special moments, talking about them and putting together a cute look. Other times, it’s scheduling photo shoots, writing blog posts, editing photos, meetings, answering emails, working on content and paid partnerships with your team, traveling and specific projects I have in the works.

TRUE or FALSE: “A day in the life” of an influencer is basically just taking aesthetically appealing photos. You don’t need to have any other specific talent to succeed.

Heather: False. This answer depends on what type of influencer you are. I have some friends who don’t look at the business side of things at all — they just love the creative side and enjoy posting outfit pics and aren’t trying to make it a career. If you are trying to make “influencing” a full-time gig, you might be surprised at how much goes into it on the business side. You’re negotiating with brands, working on contracts, preparing editorial calendars and studying up on trends and news within the fashion industry, among other things. I love the creativity that goes into it, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.

Monica: More or less false! Although there are plenty of influencers who have genuinely become famous because of their aesthetically appealing photos, maintenance is more difficult than simply continuing to take pictures of yourself. There is a certain savvy that is required, and if you don’t have it, there is definitely the requirement of good judgment because you have to find someone to work with you who does have the savvy gene. This is why I respect the Kardashians so much. Making money is hard, point blank, and they have made so much of it. There is a formula you must develop and then adhere to rigorously.

Arianna: I would say false. I think taking photos is a small part of the job that takes up the least amount of the time. Most influencers set a weekly date with their photographer and bang out a bunch of looks, but there’s a lot of planning that goes into what looks those will be. For the people who are more creative, you’re basically a model, a creative director and a stylist all in one — not to mention a social media marketer. You can definitely be an influencer without all of those skills, but I think the more of them you have the more likely you are to be successful.

Jenny: False. I don’t know if it’s a talent, per se, but you have to bring something to the table that others can’t offer. There is an IT factor involved — something that draws people to you. I think for me, people enjoy following my style, following ways I put together my looks and my family/lifestyle as a whole. I think it’s important to have a good eye, whether it be toward fashion, art or photography, and being able to communicate and create a platform that is the perfect mix of aspirational and relatable.

TRUE or FALSE: Brands give influencers tons of free stuff (clothes, vacations, flights to fashion week, hotel rooms, meals, workout classes, etc). You don’t have to buy anything and get to go everywhere for free.

Heather: False. Sure, there are perks that come with the job and we get a lot of amazing things and opportunities, but a lot of times you are still asked to post about those perks, so there’s work that comes along with them. A lot of brands that I love don’t gift to influencers, so I still buy a large percentage of my clothes. Other times, the requests that brands make in exchange for gifting pieces may require some effort or work on your part, so it can be more efficient to just pay for things yourself.

Monica: Semi-true. You probably could get away with not paying for a single trip or outfit or workout class for the sum of a year. Not sure if this is true for meals, but if it is, I would like to sign up for that perk.

Arianna: I think true to the first part: it definitely comes with a lot of perks and free things, but it’s not everything. It definitely depends on what level you’re at as an influencer. But I would say that my personal wardrobe is probably 50/50: half free stuff, half stuff I bought myself. I’m always going to love the things I love and paid for. Most of my flights I pay for myself unless they’re work-related. It’s not like every single thing you do with your life is paid, but you do obviously get a lot of perks along the way.

Jenny: Not always true, but true a lot of the time. I’m not a fashion week girl, so I wouldn’t be able to comment on that, and when I travel with my family we always pay for our hotels and flights. I don’t reach out and ask for those things to be comped because I don’t like sharing where I’m staying with my family. If I’m going somewhere with a brand, that’s a different story, and brands often pay for that. A lot of beauty products are sent for free, workout classes and some clothing, but I pay for most of my designer clothing. I guess overall, bloggers can get things for free if they are trying out the product or service and willing to talk about their experience on their platform.

TRUE or FALSE: Influencers usually have another source of income (i.e. you can’t make enough money to support yourself just by being an influencer).

Heather: False. If you are a successful influencer, you won’t need another source of income. I also run a clothing line, but I don’t have to rely on that income to provide for myself or my family. Blogging is a full-time thing.

Monica: False! This occupation can be very, very lucrative, although plenty of influencers do use their status as internet celebrities as springboards to dive into their passions and dreams. You see many splinter off to become designers, stylists, brands, consultants, founders.

Arianna: It depends on the influencer’s level. I would say in general, that’s false. There are a lot of influencers who are full time, whether they’re top influencers, or not. You can be an influencer making $50,000 a year doing it full-time and you can be an influencer making a million a year doing it full-time. I would definitely say it’s not required to have extra income.

Jenny: False. I mean, I can only speak for myself. I started out having to work a full-time job while blogging on the side because blogging wasn’t an industry at the time — no brands put money behind influencers. However, from the time Instagram launched, I have been able to support myself from blogging alone. It depends on your situation. I personally don’t have to rely on blogging money to live because my spouse is successful enough to take care of my family, but I genuinely enjoy my job and working and wouldn’t give it up for the world. At the end of the day, at this point in my life, it’s not driven by money. I’m sure a lot of bloggers who are just starting out like I was nine years ago still need another job to support themselves, but it’s also definitely possible to support yourself from blogging alone once you reach a certain level.

TRUE or FALSE: Influencers are under enormous pressure to be and look perfect at all times.

Heather: False. The beauty of Instagram stories is they let you show a lot more of the raw side of your life. I am always posting on my no-makeup days, when I’m still in bed after a late night, or showing my messy house when I can’t keep up with everything. And I still go out in sweats without makeup. I run into people who follow the blog all the time, sometimes when I’m in full makeup and other times when I just rolled out of bed to run an errand. I don’t think anyone is perfect, so I never try to portray myself that way (which you can confirm if you ever see me out and about, trying to keep up with all the kids).

Monica: True and false, this depends on the person. If I’m being really honest, sometimes I feel pressure not to wear something that I have been photographed wearing ad nauseam if I know I’m going to be photographed again — I’m not proud of it and usually succeed at turning off the thought when it comes up, but it’s certainly something that crosses my mind. I don’t know if this is a function of being an influencer or just me being me, though. As far as looking perfect all the time — Instagram is a really cool utility because it doesn’t favor perfection, so as far as I’m concerned, the less put together, the better.

Arianna: I would say false. Obviously there are people who feel the pressure, but I would say it’s more self-imposed. It depends on the person. Whatever image you project on the internet is where that pressure comes from. I think a lot of influencers maintain a good balance of putting super curated, polished images up, but also showing themselves when they’re not that polished — especially on YouTube. YouTubers are really good about showing different sides of themselves. I personally don’t feel the pressure to look perfect all the time. I’m pretty good in general about putting super casual looks on my Instagram feed, just because I don’t want to be stuck on the idea that you have to always look perfect and really put together. I generally try to look stylish, because that’s part of who I am, but I don’t want to constantly be in heels and fully done-up from head-to-toe.

Jenny: True — I guess for most influencers, but I also don’t care as much. I’ve never really cared about whether or not I looked good before I left the house because I’m a blogger, and that’s not something that has changed over time. I would put myself together regardless of whether I was a blogger or not. I never leave the house uncomfortable with how I look. If it’s pajamas, I make it look cute before I leave but not because of what I do, just because of who I am and my personality.

TRUE or FALSE: You need a manager to succeed as an influencer.

Heather: True. If you want to build a full-time career as an influencer, a manager is for sure necessary. Working with my management company has created a lot of amazing opportunities for partnerships because they reached out to brands I couldn’t connect with by myself. It’s also a huge help in terms of my own productivity. They focus on the nitty gritty details so I don’t have to, which means I can focus on the creative direction of my brand instead.

Monica: False. I’ve worked solo for the majority of my “career” but it is helpful for negotiating and frankly, having a second brain to bounce ideas off of.

Arianna: False, for sure. I have a lot of friends who don’t have representation who are killing it. They figured out how to pitch themselves and do their own PR and make it work without a manager. Personally, though, I do have one. I’m lucky in that I got a manager pretty early in my career. Well, I was like three years in, but it was early in the grand scheme of blogging. It was the first managing company for bloggers that existed and I signed with them sometime within their first year of launching. I think it definitely changed how much I valued the work that I did, just in terms of seeing what rates they were able to get me. I think it’s really common for talent without a manager to undervalue themselves and pitch themselves for a lower rate. A manager negotiates for you, they know what your worth is, they know how much companies budget (like what is actually realistic for that company versus what they say they can offer). It’s also really nice to have someone else be the bad guy for you, so then you can just show up and do your job.

Jenny: False. I personally have a team/agency and I love them and they get me fantastic jobs and opportunities, give me great advice, help me make big decisions and guide me through difficult situations, but it’s not necessary to succeed. It helps and is great to have a team to back you up and pitch you constantly, but if you’re willing to take on that huge extra job yourself, it’s possible.

TRUE or FALSE: As an influencer you’re not taken seriously as a business person, and people respect you less.

Monica: I’m compelled to say true, even though this is not my experience. As I vaguely touched upon in the first response, having built my website into something that is bigger than I am has provided me with a lot of leeway and the ability to feel much more comfortable assuming titles — both condescending and not because I know how hard I work, how far I have come, how much I’ve done, etc., but certainly when I was starting out, I felt an urgency to prove my wits and smarts and business acumen in a way that probably wasn’t healthy and registered to most as desperate.

Arianna: That’s a true, for sure. I think when you go into a business meeting you have more to prove. I think people come in with the assumption that you don’t know what you’re talking about, that you’re just a pretty face or something. They don’t realize the expertise that we’re also bringing, especially those of us who have been doing it for a really long time and know our audience and love fashion, or whatever it is that we’re talking about. A lot of us do have business acumen and really valuable information based on the fact that we’ve been corresponding with our community of followers for years. It takes a while for people to realize that they should value and listen to my voice and what I have to offer.

Jenny: False, now. A couple of years ago, true. When I first started nine years ago, what I did was a joke. No one understood what blogging was, my parents were not happy about it right away, people talked about me and made fun of me nonstop. Things changed once brands realized that we are more relatable than celebrities; the majority of us are real people with real opinions and loyal followers who trust what we have to say and promote.

TRUE or FALSE: Influencers don’t like being called influencers.

Heather: Blogger or influencer, it’s all the same.

Monica: From what I understand, this is pretty true. I am okay with the term because I feel proud of the work that I do, both as an influencer and not. I feel strongly that if people like me don’t own the term, it will be co-opted by the stereotype instead of the genuine influencer profile. I’ve tried other terms, too, like “person with large social media following,” but it just has too many syllables.

Arianna: True. I’ve gotten used to it since it’s been an industry term for a while, but when people first started using the term, I hated it. When I’m in a room with people who are in the industry and ask me, I’ll use it. But I usually just say I’m a blogger because “influencer” sounds very pretentious to me.

Jenny: False, I prefer it over blogger. My blog isn’t my main focus anymore. Sure, it’s still there, and I use it a lot of the time to post my looks, but I use a bunch of different platforms now and I think overall “influencer” makes more sense than blogger at this point. Blogger made sense two years ago.

TRUE or FALSE: You can’t “try” to be an influencer. It either happens organically, or not at all.

Heather: False. I think there are people who aren’t organically influencers but are just business-savvy. Even if they don’t love blogging, they know how to build a brand, create good content and turn those skills into a successful business with hard work and persistence.

Monica: False. You can try to be whatever you want, and if you want it badly enough, you will probably get it. Resilience and grit, people!

Arianna: I would say false, for sure. For me, it did happen organically, because I started early on. But I think there are a lot of influencers who came out of the gate with the intention to work hard at becoming popular and it has worked for a lot of them.

Jenny: False. It’s a completely oversaturated industry at this point. I definitely think people can try — you should always try to do what you feel passionate about — but I think it’s important to consider the bigger picture. Blogging is amazing and it’s such a fantastic industry, but it’s also extremely accessible in that anyone can start a blog, so you have to figure out what you have to offer and what you can bring to the table that hasn’t already been brought. I started my blog because I wanted a place to post my outfits and a platform to share my style. It had nothing to do with followers or making money or jobs or being an influencer. I think that mentality was beneficial for me, but regardless, blogging is also just a great way to express yourself, so start it for you, and if it becomes something bigger, great!

Photos by Simon Chetrit; Collaged by Edith Young. 

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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