Atlantic Canadians weigh in on what it means to be an influencer (whether they like being called one or not)
A day in the life of an influencer: Wake up to breathtaking view in king-size hotel bed. Take Instagram photo. Enjoy free room service compliments of the hotel’s PR team. Take Instagram photo. Spend the day on the beach. Take 20 Instagram photos. Trade testimonial blog post for free botox. Take selfie mid-treatment. Scam local business for free food by promising positive review. Take Instagram photo. Livestream yourself unboxing free products ranging from Tim Hortons gift cards to Chanel handbags. Take Instagram photo. Get paid to attend private celebrity party. Take Instagram photo. Say goodnight. Sound about right?
Being an influencer isn’t as rosy (or Clarendon) as Instagram filters make it seem. After all, influencers are the smallest of small businesses, and building personal brand awareness is a full-time job.
WHAT MAKES AN INFLUENCER?
According to influencermarketinghub.com, it’s “an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience.” Companies hire them hoping that the sponsored social media mentions will increase sales and/or brand engagement.
Most influencers tend to be tight-lipped about their fees but typically the more followers you have, the more you can charge. Mega-influencers are superstars (often celebrities) with more than a million followers who can take home $1,000 per 100,000 followers for their Instagram posts. Macro-influencers fall between 10,000 and 100,000 followers. Micro-influencers post photos for less than 10,000 people, bringing in anywhere from $250 to $750 per Instagram picture, and nano-influencers clock in at under 1,000 followers.
“I hate that word,” says 32-year-old photographer Al Douglas when asked if he considers himself an influencer. Born and raised in Charlottetown. P.E.I., Douglas has been the photographer and marketing and events manager for the Murphy Hospitality Group since 2013. It’s a broad umbrella of responsibilities that includes all the visual media for the company’s two hotels, two breweries and nine restaurants on P.E.I. plus four locations in Halifax and three in New Brunswick. He also books the entertainment. On top of all that, he operates an Instagram account with almost 8,000 followers devoted to inspiring P.E.I. landscapes, food and his dog. Let’s just say Al is a busy guy.
For Douglas, being an Instagram influencer was a natural extension of his existing career and passion for photography. “For me, it’s about making it as organic and natural as possible and not making everything I do an ad. I try to keep it selective and not spam people, realizing people didn’t decide to follow me because of that stuff and if they stick around through it, I’m even more grateful,” says Douglas.
Even though he hates the term influencer for himself, Douglas is considerate of the influencer conundrum. “I’ve seen it through both lenses because a big part of our company is reaching out to influencers, especially in markets that aren’t Charlottetown,” he explains. “In Halifax and Saint John where we don’t have the local connection, getting someone with just 2 or 3,000 followers to go in and talk about it, say how much of a good time they had, and all it costs is a meal and a few drinks? Super easy to do.”
When it comes to working with small local companies, Douglas thinks there is big opportunity but also that there’s a long way to go since many businesses in Atlantic Canada don’t even have social media accounts. “We are already starting to see the downswing of influencer marketing elsewhere in the world—that’s classic Atlantic Canada being about 10 years behind—so we are still on the upward swing of it.”
The social (media) side of community
Amy Peters (pictured above) says her degree in marketing and human resource management from Saint Mary’s prepared her for the success she’s achieved as an Instagram influencer (even though she too hates the term) and the eight-page contracts. The Instagram account of this 35-year-old from St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia has 49,500 followers who love the beautiful earth-toned images of her family and their home.
“It’s incredible how much that (educational) background has helped me from the negotiation standpoint and dealing with customer service, because it is a business: making sure my clients are happy and also representing myself as a brand,” says Peters, whose career as an influencer coincided with another big change in her life: the birth of her first son five years ago. She went heavy into the hashtags once she got pregnant with her second son three years ago and that’s when things took off. “The next thing you know I have this mommy clan of online friends and I’m watching their kids grow up online.”
Her first paid post was with aiden + anais baby swaddles and accessories in 2016 and since then she has worked with countless companies from Hello Fresh meal delivery services to Kent Building Supplies. All these partnerships have more than replaced her full-time salesperson salary. Authenticity reigns supreme for Peters: she doesn’t do any product shots, adamant that her sponsored posts show her family using and enjoying the product.
Her blog, amyepeters.com, is a new passion. When she noticed the engagement her home decor images were getting on Instagram, Peters realized she wanted to delve deeper into lifestyle content creation. “I want to go down in history for something more than just being a mom. For me, that’s why the space has been so valuable because my voice is heard. When you say influencing, it makes me think that I’m always selling something and I don’t want to be perceived that way. It’s more about the sense of community and friendship. But, there is an element for influence for sure, that’s why brands hire people like us.”
New-fashioned small business
In New Brunswick, fashion blogger and stylist Sarah Duquette has been influencing since before influencers were a thing. Her role as an influencer evolved from the Boho and Braids blog she started in 2012 after leaving her career in education. Now the almost-40-year-old has 14,000 followers on Instagram and works with brands like Tim Horton’s, Sleep Country and Montreal-based tight company From Rachel.
These days, most of the jobs Duquette lands are through her brightly-coloured Instagram, a veritable fashion show of Sarah’s outfits backdropped with breathtaking East Coast scenery. She explains her day-to-day work succinctly: companies pay her money to create advertisements for them, whether that’s through Instagram posts on her feed or blog content for companies’ websites.
Like any small business, client management and pricing is a huge part of the equation. Every contract that comes in looks different, and at first, Duquette struggled to figure out her rates. “It’s a fine line of wanting to get paid for the work you do and not wanting to lose it. They could pick anybody else, it’s a big world,” she explains. In the end, she decided on an hourly rate and how long it took to do the job to price each project.
While Duquette doesn’t quite earn the same salary she did when she was a teacher (she estimates she took in between $15,000 to $20,000 last year), she’s happy to turn down companies or products that don’t align with her personal brand and is careful not to overwhelm herself by accepting every offer of work that comes her way. Every post has a purpose: Duquette plans her Instagram feed two weeks ahead of time. “I don’t like one outfit to be too close to the same outfit so I space them out. I also do the stand-up, and then a close-up and then a full length shot so it looks different.”
Duquette’s days are busy, filled with planning outfits, photoshoots and editing images. “There’s always something to do. People don’t realize all the little things we have to do, especially with all the different social media. Like finding new hashtags every day because Instagram is a tricky little jerk with a constantly changing algorithm.”
The online/offline collab
Dane Woodland’s community both online and offline is what propelled him into influencer status. The 28-year-old personal trainer, sports and exercise nutritionist and transgender activist grew up in Corner Brook, N.L. Now he has a following of 6,500 on Instagram, which grew exponentially when he entered into his gender transition in 2014 and started posting about his experience.
“Since doing that I’ve had a lot of opportunities to combine my interest in public speaking and social justice with my own lived experience. Through that, I have developed a platform that seems to be interdisciplinary that involves my work in fitness as well as an activist,” explains Woodland. His following of those who are trans and gender non-conforming started to grow during his transition and increased his activism, using hashtags like #ftm (female to male), #ftmfitness, #trans and #LGBTQ.
By documenting his daily life (Woodland’s feed is filled with images of him leading fitness classes, personal training sessions and attending LGBTQ events) it’s easy to understand why a lot of his following has grown from offline interactions in St. John’s as much as it has from the hashtags. In the fall of 2018 Woodland was asked to become a Lululemon ambassador after the company took notice of his community roots and upbeat attitude. His two-year contract with the athletic-clothing company began in May 2019 with a trip to Whistler for an international Lululemon ambassador conference, as well as a Toronto orientation trip. He regularly leads fitness classes at his local Lululemon store and various events throughout St. John’s.
When asked if he considers himself an influencer, he answers thoughtfully: “It’s an interesting term. I think we associate it with people selling teeth-whitening trays and bamboo toothbrushes. But it’s funny, I would typically use the word activist. I almost don’t grab onto influencer mostly because it’s like an acknowledgement that you have influence, but I think I do.”
For Woodland, being an influencer comes with a sense of social media responsibility. “I feel a necessity to be deliberate with how I deliver my material. I want to make sure my message is clear and accessible. I want to make sure it is true to who I am as well.”
The Nakd Kitchen’s Emma Hyslop also focused on community to build her following. In the early days of her Instagram, the St. John’s, N.L. influencer reached out to more popular influencers within the realm of her interests (health and wellness, plant-based, slow living) and interviewed them. These interviews were then shared by influencers with a ton of followers, which in turn lead to an increased following for Hyslop. Now the 20-year-old’s Instagram account, filled with bright vegetables and vegan dishes, has more than 42,000 followers.
Hyslop tries not to put too much pressure on herself to post every day (she also works at Bespoke Cycle spin studio “doing at least six different jobs”) but is very aware of the intricacies of Instagram. “You could have amazing content and not be seen by this app. What it came down to was the algorithm and doing these interviews so that people would share them. It’s a lot of networking,” says Hyslop.
The engagement has become key for her, especially when it comes to working with plant-based companies who align with her brand. Describing herself as a recipe developer, content creator and freelancer, Hyslop (who deliberately does not call herself an influencer) says her role isn’t to advertise, but to inspire. She’s worked with Cove Kombucha in Nova Scotia and developed the smoothie menu at The Healthy Vibe, a health food store in St. John’s and hopes to work with local restaurants on collaboration dinners in the future. For Hyslop, it’s about creating recipes she loves and talking about health and wellness in a way that connects with people.
So, let’s recap a day in the life of an Atlantic Canadian influencer: Wake up, hopefully to a breathtaking view in a king-size hotel bed. Answer emails from clients and PR companies. Take Instagram photo. Edit image and include correct hashtags. Travel on own dime to spend the day researching ideal beach locations for a new client. Take 20 Instagram photos. Evaluate brand partnerships and new contracts that align with personal brand. Take Instagram photo. Write five 5,000-word blog posts. Attend local restaurant opening, making sure to network and get at least three business cards. Take Instagram photo. Say goodnight to your followers. Answer a dozen emails. Edit more photos. Read more contracts. Sleep (maybe).