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Trendsetters – the ins and outs of influencing

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Whether they have 1 000 or a million followers, influencers have become the cornerstone of global marketing strategies with the global influencer marketing market valued at $16.4 billion (R322 billion) as of 2022. But, what does it take to build and monetise your social media following?

People are far more likely to respond to endorsements of brands by people they feel a connection to than traditional paid-for advertising. “An influencer’s voice is much more powerful than the brand’s voice,” says Lori Weiner, the co-founder and director of agency Brand Influence, builders of brand-centred social narratives with explosive impact. This is especially true of influencers who are seen as credible and authentic, something that’s a core focus for Brand Influence.

An influencer need not have tens of thousands of followers to make an impact. There are various types of influencers, from nano influencers who have between 1 000 and 10 000 followers; micro influencers who have between 10 000 and 100 000 followers; macro influencers with between 100 000 and one million followers; and mega or celebrity influencers, who have more than one million followers. Brand Influence works with multiple nano and small-scale influencers, hustlers who have anything from 100 to 1 000 followers by “driving a massive conversation online in one go”. This is facilitated through mass sampling in the form of trade exchanges as opposed to monetary compensation.

“Nanos are exceptionally powerful and often have higher audience engagement than those with massive followings,” says Weiner. “They are credible and authentic because they do exactly what influencers should be doing,” she says. “They talk to their audience about what they’re about and what they believe in.” For them, relevance to and engagement with their niche audience is their focus – which can potentially boost their earning potential.

While those working as influencers after hours may be content with trade exchanges, it can also be a stepping stone to growing their followings and creating paid-for content. Gabriela Demby, who has more than 2 400 followers on her Instagram profile @momsyandmee, has recently begun monetising her page. A copywriter, content creator, and social media manager for multiple clients across different industries, Demby never planned to become a “momfluencer” – moms who build their social media followings by sharing their motherhood experiences.

Yet, up late one night a few weeks after giving birth to her second child who wouldn’t settle, she turned to her keyboard. “I was pacing the nursery with an unsettled baby at 03:45, and I thought, ‘I cannot be the only one.’ That night, I created a mommy blog where I started to share the honest journey of motherhood.”

This soon morphed into an Instagram page that’s grown organically, attracting people with whom the content resonates and who are encouraged to share their struggles. “The goal of my page isn’t to reach a certain number of strangers, but to connect with mothers and fathers who want genuine support and who can relate to the content and feel more validated by it,” says Demby.

Though up until now she’s participated in trade exchanges or been given gifts to review, Demby recently began earning money through her page. “I had never felt comfortable charging for my posts or stories, but it’s really time-consuming and takes my skills of writing and design,” she says. “Now that it has grown into a trusted page, people value the reviews or suggestions and brands are reaching the targeted, engaged, potential buyers or clients they seek. I will never push a product that I don’t truly like, so I don’t feel that my page will become big advertising noise.” At the heart of it, she says, it’s not about the money but about connecting with parents through something that has become a passion project.

Influencer Dean Horwitz, known in his individual capacity on Instagram as @fitfoodtravelguy, has 8 735 followers and is also the founder of @instaeatscapetown which has amassed a following of more than 50 000. A social media freelancer, Horwitz has been building @instaeatscapetown, which helps food brands and restaurants with their social media presence, since 2016. “The idea originally was to create an Instagram page which showcased food in Cape Town, mainly at restaurants, and it grew from there.”

It was only two years ago that Horwitz turned his attention to his personal page. “I didn’t set out to become an influencer, but to document my daily activities, especially running, which I fell in love with through the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “I found that the community around that is incredible, so I combined that with the work I do on @instaeatscapetown, and it’s taken on a life of its own.”

Though his food page is completely monetised, Horwitz’s personal page, which is personality focused and promotes a balanced lifestyle, is only minimally monetised through brand collaborations. “When you work in the space, it’s quite difficult to divorce the influencer side and things I would get paid to do from things I enjoy doing,” he admits. Although it hasn’t always been possible when building his personal page, Horwitz says he now sticks to brand campaigns that promote products that he believes in.

For micro-influencer and celebrity make-up artist Gina Myers, who has almost 60 000 Instagram followers, the work she does fits into being an influencer. “When you have a platform where you are able to educate and benefit people, to help promote certain brands, to have an impact on different generations, and to make a separate income, it’s really special,” she says.

“Anybody who has a platform has a responsibility to offer positive reinforcement,” she says. As such, Myers is now focusing on women’s empowerment through the business of make-up, and has recently launched a make-up school to educate women in feeling beautiful and confident.

Yet, she says, being an active influencer can be draining and time-consuming. “It’s not the life that everybody thinks it is, it’s hard work. Every job has its own challenges, and one of the challenges of being an influencer is it’s very hard to keep up. It’s tough to be fully present when you get to experience the most incredible things.” This is particularly true when you need to document them for your followers.

Yet, for Myers, it comes down to making connections. “You look to yourself as a brand, as something that’s invaluable, and that’s how you see your brand partnerships. You have to build them – the ones that work out become long-term relationships. When people become loyal to something or trust your word, it’s all about relationships, and that’s my goal in life, my passion is people.”

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