On social media, we tend to show the happy moments of our lives. And that’s normal. Our real-life photo albums don’t tend to document the hard times. They’re full of weddings and vacations and babies and smiling friends.
The public nature of social media means we are inviting other people to look at the memories we are making. Because we naturally omit the negatives, it’s easy for people to think the negatives just don’t exist. Lives look perfect.
Many times, that’s not intentional. But, as an influencer, there can be a fair amount of pressure to “keep up appearances.” Why would anyone be influenced by someone whose life did not look great? Why would a brand want to work with someone who posted about difficulties with finances or personal relationship problems?
Yet, it’s probably the carefully-curated galleries that feed the vitriol against influencers. There’s a prevalent perception that influencers are making hundreds--even thousands--of dollars per post, getting loads of free things, and are haughtily enjoying insta-fame. Maybe some of them are. But I know a lot of influencers, and I’d like to paint you a different picture.
Influencers are mainly just artists who are being compensated for their work by patrons, who are most often brands. Most influencers don’t make enough to live on that income alone. They love the art and the social nature of the community enough that they persist.
I’m not posting names, but let me give you a few snapshots into the lives of some influencers who have several hundreds of thousands of followers.
-A well-known urban photographer recently became a new dad. A brand offered him $4,000 for several pictures. It wasn’t a “cool” brand and he took a lot of heat from his online community for “selling out.” But, that money helped him pay rent and buy diapers for about six weeks. I personally don’t consider anyone taking work to keep a roof over their kid’s head a sell out.
-A talented female street photographer was offered an all-expenses paid international trip in exchange for pictures and video. It was an amazing experience, sure, but she can’t afford health insurance and her electric has been turned off before. She doesn’t complain; she chose this life and cheerfully does not expect to be able to “have it all.” The shade thrown her way makes me wonder if those people would trade in the security of their steady paychecks like she did.
-An amazing landscape photographer is an ambassador for high-end camera bags and a tripod brand. They “pay” him in free product, and he has a full time job as a custodian to, you know, be able to buy food and stuff. Yes, people you pass in hallways in uniforms without a second thought are the same people you’re wishing you could be like as you scroll through your newsfeed.
I don’t know what the right answer is here. Should we all try to be more transparent online? Would brands still pay people for content and posts if those influencers were up front about the fact that they are trying to cobble together a living by nannying, working in retail, and being an online influencer? Would people be as influenced if the influencers did not appear so successful? Maybe brands would actually pay more if influencers were open about how very little most brands are willing to pony up. What do you think?
At any rate, I hope we can push for a few less eye-rolls when the term “influencer” is mentioned.
Blogging my path as a professional photojournalist / social media addict / influencer