The Birth of the “Influencer”

Scroll. Double-tap. Scroll. Repeat.

For the average Instagram user, the monotony of checking their timeline is pretty standard. Every once in a while a rectangular orange notification bubble graces the bottom of the screen after they’ve posted a photo or maybe they compose a witty comment on their friend’s third selfie of the week.

For the most part, the scroll remains the same.

Beyond the standard social media user, a different breed exists. These people are known as “influencers.” These are the people who, for almost no reason at all, have caught the public’s eye and accumulated a mass following. These influencers could be anything from fitness gurus to style aficionados or even food fanatics – but the commonality between them is that they’ve effectively turned social media into their business.

For an influencer, the rhythm of their scroll may flow to a different beat. The social media habits of an influencer take into account much more than just the aesthetic value of a post. Many influencers have gotten social media posting down to a refined science – knowing exactly what time and day to post to get the most views, likes, and comments, knowing what captions to write, what hashtags to use, and sticking to a refined, stylized aesthetic.

Rachel Lanbert is a 22-year-old style blogger, owner of Edge of Style, and an influencer in the making. Lanbert views Instagram as a career outlet rather than just a sharing platform. For her, the production of a post and curating of a page takes much more planning and thought.

“Often times I’ll take a photo and run it through multiple editing apps. It’s important for me and my brand to stick to a visually appealing and cohesive aesthetic,” Lanbert said. “I’ll also never post more than once a day and I’m super conscious about varying the subject matter of my photos. The planning it takes is an underestimated aspect of the process.”

A typical social media user likely spends less than ten minutes deciding what to post and how to post it. For an influencer, the process is often more thought out and meticulously planned. Posts may be planned up to weeks in advance and often stick to a strict schedule.

For Lanbert, her Instagram feed consists of square-shaped images with high saturation and she almost never posts in black and white. As far as subject matter goes – she sticks to a strict policy of keeping photos of herself to a minimum.

“I tend to shy away from having too many photos of myself in a row. I never like to post more than two consecutive photos of myself as a general rule,” Lanbert said.

The presence of such influencers is most heavily seen on Instagram, the micro-blogging platform that appeals to the basic visual desires of digital natives. Nowadays an average Instagram user probably couldn’t scroll more than three times without seeing a sponsored or promotional post from an influencer.

Amongst friends’ photos of their post-cycling class salad and innumerable shots of multicolored sunsets, lay promotional posts. Weight loss tea, teeth whitening products, and medieval-looking waist trainers are the most common products that influencers are seen sponsoring.

Blogger Allie Barke of alliesfashionalley.com, boasts nearly 16,000 followers on Instagram and has worked with so many brands it feels like second nature. “Many brands want me to post on social media only while others want me to post on socials as well as my blog. In return I get paid for posting, otherwise the payment can be free products or clothing,” Barke said.

Despite the sponsored ads, at their core, these influencers are different from celebrities in a major way. Unlike actors, musicians, and Hollywood socialites, influencers use social media to worm their way up the ranks.

Teenagers like Cameron Dallas who gained notoriety after making six-second videos on Vine, the micro-vlogging app, now have major movie deals in their pockets. They’ve earned seats at the front rows of fashion shows and a seat at the table for a lot of brands.

“For brands, what is appealing about influencers is that they have a more expansive reach. If you’re a movie star, your reach only goes as far as your audience, which consists mostly of your fan base,” Megan Stitt, a junior at North Carolina State University studying fashion and textile management, said. “If you’re constantly updating and building an organic following on Instagram, you can reach a lot of wider and more varying audiences.”

Actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, who aren’t present on social media, have a harder time retaining their audiences. When an influencer is consistently posting on social media, it creates a relationship with their followers and audiences that keeps them coming back for more. An influencer is ever-present, more like a friend than a far away entity.

Social media influencers feel like a best friend and even through sponsored posts, their word seems genuine and trustworthy.

“I would never work with brands I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending to my readers. I try to work with brands that are geared toward my audience and I will actually showcase the item or piece in my own wardrobe or lifestyle,” Barke said.

For the fashion industry, “influencer” has transitioned from catchphrase to job title. Influencing is a rapidly growing career field amid the social media sphere, but it often takes a different form from typical blogging, in fact, a lot of influencers don’t start with blogs at all.

“Influencers start from the bottom and work their way up,” Kelsey Cadenas, a sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design and a social media intern for CollegeFashionista, said.

Most influencers don’t come from a place of influence and it all comes down to the influencer’s likability. “A lot of times it just happens that the content you’re posting appeals to a wide audience, but sustaining and building on that attention isn’t easy, Cadenas said. “A lot of time, money, and effort goes into curating a social media account, but for a lot of people, it pays off.”

And the payoff is probably the most appealing part of being an influencer. In May of last year Harper’s Bazaar spoke with Danielle Bernstein, the mastermind behind We Wore What, about raking in major profit from sponsored Instagram posts.

At the time, Bernstein had just shy of a million followers on her Instagram account and reported that a single piece of sponsored content, which equates to one Instagram shot, can range from $5,000 to $15,000. Once a user breaches the one million follower mark, their fees can increase to upwards of $20,000 per post.

For influencers, the opportunity to turn social media into a job can be financially promising but it also presents an interesting dynamic within the changing landscape of the fashion industry.

“A lot of entities within the industry are using social media and influencers for behind the scenes looks at the industry. Bystanders are used to getting their fashion fix through a magazine after it happens, but now we are getting the real-time play by play,” Lanbert said.

Instead of seeing a collection on Vogue.com after the show, consumers can watch the live runway on Snapchat accounts of bloggers sitting front row next to celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé.

The birth of the influencer has unequivocally changed the fashion industry by giving social media users an instantaneous peek through the window of a previously exclusive club of designers, buyers, and fashion editors.

“Influencers are paving a new avenue in the industry and making fashion more readily accessible, and influencers will only become more appealing to brands as the industry becomes more digitized in the future,” Cadenas noted.

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