Published on December 5, 2017, at 8:08 a.m.
by Kirby Tifverman.
In 2017, the term “social media influencer” permeates digital culture. This new, innovative career path is so popular that you can now receive a college degree in it.
But, what does being a social media influencer really mean? What does the role entail day-to-day? And how is it changing the way people blog?
Branded social media strategy
Before representing other brands online, social media influencers must develop their own unique brands. Then, they must build a following of like-minded individuals with similar interests.
For Kathleen McManus, a freshman at The University of Alabama from Chicago, this personal brand is “Let’s Get Preppy.”
She started her blog the summer before her sophomore year of high school. But, before ever publishing a post, she created a social media presence of the same name. Now, she shares blog posts and images on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.
“Originally, it just started as a hobby and creative outlet. I didn’t really tell anyone, except for my family and my close friends,” said McManus. “And then I just grew a following based on what I was posting, and how often I was posting.”
Colleen Dolan is a blogger and social media influencer from New York City. She chose to cultivate a personal brand, “Just That Tall Girl”, based off of her own life experiences.
“I use that, because I’ve always been Just That Tall Girl. That’s always been my brand, to use industry terms,” said Dolan. “I’ve been 5 feet 11 inches tall for the past eight years. I was the tall awkward girl whose jeans didn’t fit, because they were up to her ankles. So, I thought it would be cool to bring fashion into being tall and embracing that.”
McManus emphasizes the importance of utilizing website analytics tools to track her engagement with Let’s Get Preppy readers.
“Through Google Blogger, you can see how many people saw each post, the overall page clicks on your website, and information like that,” she said. “You can also hook up Google analytics to your blog, and that gives you a much more in-depth version of the analytics, which is really helpful as well.”
Dolan believes social media is responsible for creating greater awareness of her Just That Tall Girl brand. She credits much of the traffic on her website to her Instagram and Facebook page, and she maintains a social media calendar to keep up with what she is posting.
“Everyone has an Instagram, everyone goes on the app every day, and if they’re following me, my pictures are going to show up on their feed. On Instagram, there’s also always that link in my bio that takes you to one of my newest posts,” she said. “Looking at my analytics on my blog, a lot of my views come from Facebook too. I’ll post on my personal Facebook and my Facebook page for Just That Tall Girl about my blog posts.”
Dolan summed up the relationship between her social media platforms and blog by saying, “my blog is where I put all of my content, my vision and my ideas, but I definitely think that Facebook and Instagram are so vital in that process.”
Brand partnerships are the defining factor that distinguish a social media influencer from the rest of your Instagram feed. Companies partner with influencers whose brands coincide with or support their own.
McManus has participated in multiple brand partnerships that she felt would interest Let’s Get Preppy followers and readers. In most of these collaborations, company representatives have approached her with an idea.
“In one kind of brand partnership, a company says, ‘Hi, you caught our eye on social media, and we really think you’d be a great fit for our brand. Would you be interested in collaborating?’” McManus explained. “Usually I take a look at their brand if I’m not already familiar with it, and just make sure that their products and their message, as a brand, align with the brand that I want to put out on social media.”
McManus particularly enjoyed a partnership with Marley Lilly, a company that specializes in monogrammed gifts.
“Through that collaboration, I was able to promote a necklace, a sweater and a robe — very different products, but all products I use all the time,” she said.
Dolan has participated in these types of partnerships before, but also pitches herself to brands seeking influencers through websites that act as the middleman.
“Some websites connect influencers with brands, and I use Brandbacker. I’ve gotten some sponsorships through them,” Dolan said. “I also use Glambassador, where you pitch yourself to companies that put up an advertisement saying they’re looking for brands. I also use Heartbeat, but that’s really just for Instagram.”
“They sent me a shampoo, a conditioner, a CC cream for hair, which I didn’t even know existed, a heat protection spray, a hairspray, all that stuff,” she said. “That was something that they wanted on my blog and Instagram. I was really able to give my opinion and give it honestly, because I had a lot to work with.”
McManus said that often she is paid in product, rather than compensated monetarily. However, she warned that being an influencer isn’t all about the free swag.
“I think a lot of girls see what I do, and what some other bloggers out there do, and they say, ‘Oh, I could start a blog. I could start an Instagram. I could get free stuff,’ which is not the point, which is never the point,” she said. “I think if you get into it for that reason you’re going to be disappointed, because it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Relationships are at the core of public relations strategy and also of the social media influencer practice. Relationships with followers and readers produce engagement and, in turn, more followers and readers.
“It’s not all about the number of followers, but the more followers you have, it definitely helps bring in collaborations,” said McManus.
Relationships with brands, companies and other influencers create partnerships, collaborations and professional opportunities.
Dolan has built mutually beneficial relationships with many other fashion bloggers.
“I comment on a lot of other people’s blog posts, bloggers I like to interact with,” she said. “They inspire me, and we connect with each other and comment on each other’s posts to give feedback and really create that community.”
McManus, too, feels a sense of community in the influencer and brand partnership spheres.
“It’s really fun to work with other girls who are in this community. You’re all trying to have fun; this originally started as having fun, and I wouldn’t continue to do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve been able to create this community of girls who I talk with and share tips and tricks with and built friendships with. It’s awesome.”
When asked what being a social influencer actually meant, Dolan articulated the concept perfectly, and her answer involved relationships from start to finish.
“I think being a social media influencer just means that you’re someone that people will look to when they’re looking for advice. It just means that people listen to you.”
McManus also emphasized the importance of connecting with people online through her brand presence.
“The amount of connections I’ve made through Instagram is kind of amazing,” she said. “People say how do you know this person, and I’m like it’s crazy, but it’s Instagram.”