There was a point in the last few days where one of you lovely people tagged me in an Instagram story to show me that they had bought a skirt which I had worn in one Instagram story. One story. I never mentioned it again until then. For some reason, that really made me think of the 'influence' I have on my audience in terms of being able to inspire purchases of products. I do not know why it was this Instagram story that made me truly realise that people will sometimes open their wallets when an influencer says they like something. I know that this is how the business works. And I have always understood that influencers whom I watch make money this way. And I know that the commissions from my affiliate links do not come from zero sales. And I always ask myself whether I would be willing to buy this product myself before I promote anything because I am aware that some of my audience members trust me enough to buy a product because I recommend it. But seeing that something as little as one Instagram story could make someone buy something made me so much more aware of it. I am not saying this person bought this skirt only because of me - they probably just liked it when they saw it. But that story nonetheless triggered a thought process for me.
I did not start out with content creation for social media - I started out here, on this blog. I never intended to make money from this website (I still do not) and I just wrote it as an online diary. At some point, I wanted to make content that would fit a video format better than a blog post format (such as my dorm tour that I uploaded while I was in boarding school) and so I made a YouTube account and uploaded the video to link it on my blog. I honestly had no idea whether anyone even read this website at the time. Tools such as Google Analytics only entered my sphere of knowledge years after I started writing this blog. When I found out that I had over a thousand monthly visitors, I was shocked. But at that point, I did not know how having an audience could translate into money. I knew that other influencers made money with brand deals, but I always assumed you had to be super big in terms of followers to do that.
Once I started doing YouTube more seriously and as an individual project independent of this blog, I realised that it does not take a big following. I was able to monetise my videos once I had over 1,000 subscribers and I got my first brand deal with about 5,000 subscribers. But here is the thing: These thresholds (1,000 subscribers or 5,000 subscribers) are relatively easy to cross. That does not mean that you get to them within a week or that you do not work hard to get to them. But you can reach them while doing social media just as a hobby. And then suddenly, that hobby becomes a paid hobby. It starts to look more like a job. And people start treating you more like a professional and expecting that behaviour from you - that goes for brands that reach out as well as subscribers who expect you to be accountable for which sponsorships you accept and what recommendations you give.
Suddenly, you are not just seen as a hobby content creator. And that is a fair assessment because you do earn money from it. But at least to me, this often still feels just like a hobby and I also tend to treat it as one. I enjoy making videos and so I keep making them. I love this website and so I keep writing posts for it. Sponsorships are something I do on YouTube to keep the channel going and also to finance the costs for things like this website or my weekly newsletter. But overall, I do not do that many sponsorships and I do not accept sponsorships for other platforms on which I post. That is not because I do not have offers or because I would not be willing to put in the work - it is more because I still think of this as a hobby and sponsorships make it so clear to me that it has become - at least in part - also some sort of a job. Sponsorships alter the way you use your social media - you cannot just post something spontaneously about their product. You negotiate a price, get a brief, record it, send it to them for approval, make any changes if necessary, and then you post it at a mutually agreed time. For YouTube, that is not really a problem because you do not really spontaneously upload an edited video - posts on that platform are usually planned. But, at least for me, things like Instagram stories or tweets are not. And I do not want them to be. I just want these platforms to be fun - for me and my followers.
But as much as I may want that, I am also noticing that I had to become 'more professional' there too - not in the sense of altering what I post, but rather by using more disclaimers (ad, unpaid ad, gifted, etc) - suddenly, your account is no longer just a diary and any recommendation of something you like becomes an unpaid ad that needs to be marked as such. But other than that, I just post about whatever I want to. Whenever I want to. Without giving creative control to any brands.
Wanting to preserve the hobby-like feeling of content creation is definitely my big reason for avoiding sponsorships on other platforms, but another one is that I have so many questions about being an influencer in the sense of monetising your platform in any way instead of just being a content creator for fun. Unlike in other jobs, there is no handbook. When you have an audience online, brands start reaching out and many of them will try to offer you a low price or even get you to do things for free. What are the industry standards? When should you ask for more money? When is 'exposure' really worth the work? How do I research brands well? How do I even ask for more money in an email? How do I know if a request is legit?
There is so much uncertainty that you are suddenly expected to know how to navigate. And the truth is: I often still do not know. When I am unsure about whether something is a good deal or whether a brand is really that good, I tend to take the safe route and just decline. Since I do not do this for the money, I luckily do not have the pressure of needing to land a certain amount of sponsorships to keep things going. But a lot of these uncertainties remain. I think there is sometimes this idea that creators with a certain platform have these things figured out - and I know that I fall into that category for some people since I have over 70,000 subscribers. But the honest truth is that we influencers are people just like you - the only difference is that we somehow found some people who were interested in following us. And often, that is also not mainly our work but instead the work of an algorithm which decided to promote our content. And we are still learning how to deal with the professional aspects of having such an audience.
Please do not get me wrong - I am not here to defend influencers who enter brand deals with shady brands or who promote scams and the like. My advice is to always decline if you are unsure about an agreement. I just wanted to share some reflections because my platform grew a lot in the past few months and with that, I have noticed that people think of me as more professional than I think of myself. One of the big reasons for the uncertainties I mentioned is, in my opinion, the fact that money is hardly ever talked about by influencers. Sometimes, they are not allowed to (many sponsorship contracts contain non-disclosure clauses) but many also do not want to appear like they are doing this as a job. For many influencers, their brand is in part made up of them seeming more like a friend than a salesperson to their audience. It is fair to say my "brand" is also made up of that (though I like to think that this is also still a very true part of my content). Talking about how much money they make from their content is therefore often not compatible with influencers' brands. But the thing is: when we do not talk about money, then new influencers do not know what are standard prices. Many may work for unfair prices and others may not understand which contracts are fine to sign and which contain red flags. That is why I always answer questions about money and contracts and anything else that goes on behind the scenes of social media honestly when other influencers want to chat about these things. There is still so much I do not know about this influencer world, but there are some things I have learned and I am happy to share them.
Keep sharing knowledge you have - you holding onto it only makes it harder for others to find it.
Lots of Love,