I just came back from a week-long California press trip with a group of digital influencers who in total reach an audience of 5.5 million (and growing). Judging from their highly posed fashion photos, I prepared for the worst; I was expecting a group of vapid, superficial, painfully vain and high maintenance individuals. However, these powerful girls and their work ethic made a huge impact on me. These young women are feisty entrepreneurs and they are well aware of the ephemeral nature of their chosen careers and therefore milk it for all its worth. And good for them. Here’s what I learnt:
- They are sick of looking at their own faces. Of course there were vain moments, but no more than you would expect from a group of twenty-something millennials. In fact they were sick to death of flicking through thousands of same-smile selfies (often spread between two phones) and became tired with the task of picking the right one. They would ask for each other’s advice, would look to one another’s strengths, and ultimately would seek reassurance.
- They have ugly days. Often jetlagged, tired, hungover, bloated, but these girls do not stop. I felt liberated that I didn’t have to whip off my clothes at a moment’s notice all in the name of work. They too have off days and where I could wear a baggy jumper and hide behind a computer screen, they had to slap on a smile and shake hand after hand.
- Their brand is their business. Cookbooks, jewellery lines, charity work, photography and social media consulting; these girls are hungry business women whose careers do not stop at their Instagram pages. They are control freaks who lead teams of staff to make sure their personal brand remains on top.
- Their Instagram is their art. “Storytelling” is a buzzword that is often thrown around in PR/marketing but I learnt that their Instagram profiles are their diaries; their online scrapbooks displaying pages of creative expression.
- They make a lot of money – and they deserve it. My friends react with shock and disbelief at the amount of money charged for one Instagram post. But these girls make sacrifices; their lifestyles mean they never switch off and their entire life is online. It turns out friends often use them and their influence by asking for a quick post linking to a new project or business, knowing this favour will help reach treasured millions. I overheard stories of fans trolling them over ex-boyfriends and discussions about how they try to keep their personal lives safe offline. One influencer even has two Instagram profiles; her personal account is locked purely for her closest friends and family, boasting only a handful of followers.
During a bus ride chat, one of the girls told me she plans to eventually work for the UN and fight women’s rights issues in her home country. Right now she’s appealing to the masses, playing the pretty girl, but it’s all a political strategy. Unlike an established celebrity with money behind them, the internet gave her the power to grow a loyal fanbase who will ultimately support her on subjects that matter. Whilst I was with her Unicef emailed to ask if she’d be their brand ambassador; surely that’s the true meaning of ‘influence’?