Influencer. It seems to be the term of the moment.
This single word is usually always followed by the same question; what the hell is an influencer?
To put it simply, an influencer is a social media user who has an influence over a large number of followers.
There are fashion influencers, beauty influencers, fitness influencers, and so on. You name it, someone is trying to influence it.
These influencers are often sponsored by large companies to promote their products to followers. Some of Ireland’s most successful influencers include Suzanne Jackson (So Sue Me), Pippa O’Connor Ormond, and Rob Lipsett.
Emma Doyle is a 21 year old fashion design student from Dublin who is trying to make her mark as a social media influencer in a saturated market.
“I started my blog the summer after I finished school in 2014,” says Emma. “I was looking at doing fashion design in college so I started it as a fashion blog and I wanted to put up different outfit pictures.
“I didn’t expect it to become anything,” she explains. “I just wanted to do it for myself to see if I liked it.
“I found out that I really liked makeup and beauty, which I didn’t realise. I started incorporating that in as well and doing reviews when I bought new makeup and products.”
It has been a challenge for Emma to establish a following. She started her blog from nothing and it has taken a lot of time and effort to build her profile. She now has 12,000 Instagram followers and 1,500 people who log on to Snapchat to watch her everyday routine.
“It’s weird because [my following] kind of goes up and down,” she says. “You get out what you put into it. If I have a busy few months when I’m in college and I’m scraping by trying to put up a post a day, I won’t get many new followers.”
Often, followers come when you least expect them. Emma explains: “Say when I’m away on holidays and I’m putting up a load of pictures when I’m away, I’ll end up getting way more followers that week.
“It might not even be blog related. It could be my outfit on holidays and that would be it. It’s weird.”
When Emma started blogging in 2014, it was the fashionable thing to do. Snapchat was in its infancy and Instagram videos or stories had not yet been introduced on the picture sharing app.
However, as technology has changed, so have Emma’s tactics.
“I feel like people don’t really read that much anymore so I rarely write on my blog,” Emma explains. “I think it’s moved to watching things. You need to Snapchat and make videos to get your point across.”
Emma believes that coming on camera and speaking to her followers creates a level of intimacy and this is why people continue to follow her.
“I have a small audience but they’re all interactive,” she smiles. “They all do really care.”
Despite her growing success, there are times the fashion design student wonders why she continues to blog.
“Sometimes I do question ‘should I keep going with this?’ and think about the things I shouldn’t do anymore,” Emma says.
Are there ever days where she’s just not bothered?
“Definitely,” Emma says with a firm nod of her head. “There are days that I feel like I’m in a rut and like you feel that you’re not improving. You’re wondering what’s the point in me doing this if it’s not going to be really successful?
“I think it’s hard because no matter how far you go, you think this. When I first started, I never thought I’d get to where I am now. Now I’m here, I feel like it’s the same and I haven’t gotten anywhere.”
It’s the small things, however, that motivate Emma to keep going.
“I get press stuff sent to me now,” she smiles. “I get sent new products and I didn’t get that at the start. So I have to think about that too and think of that as success.
“Sometimes a bigger company will reach out to you and it’s like wow. In your head you’re thinking ‘I can’t believe that this is happening’ and you’re shocked by it. You can’t even imagine it happening a month before.
“Things happen that you don’t expect and it gives you a bit of motivation.”
Talking to Emma across a small table in a Dublin coffee shop, she radiates confidence. There is an air of self-assurance that streams from her voice as she speaks passionately about what she does.
She explains, however, this was not always the case.
“Anyone who knows me knows I have never been overly confident,” Emma says. “Speaking on Snapchat and Youtube has made me a different person. I feel like I can talk to people.
“Even in college I can talk to my lecturers much easier. Before, I wouldn’t even ask a question.”
“I just don’t care,” Emma smirks. “You grow a thick skin and now I actually just don’t care. Sometimes I’m thinking ‘should I post this? It’s a bit risky or a bit weird’. I wonder ‘should I say this?’
“Then I realise that I just don’t care and I post it.
“If I cared, I wouldn’t be where I am. At the start if I had cared when I got my first nasty message, that would have been it and I would have finished.”
Social media influencers have come under fire in recent months about the authenticity of their posts and whether they are talking about a product because they actually like it or because they are being paid to talk about it.
The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) launched a new code of conduct for bloggers and influencers in January 2016. This states that influencers must say when they have been paid by a company to promote a product by writing either #ad or #sp (sponsored) on their photos and videos.
Despite these rules, influencers have gotten into hot water recently for not posting the relevant hashtags. In recent months, at least two influencers have been issued warnings by the ASAI for not disclosing ads.
Should we be questioning the authenticity of influencers?
“I question it myself,” Emma says. “Sometimes you see a post and you just know it’s sponsored. You know when you look at it. You can tell by the picture and the way it’s posed.
“I can almost predict it and then I scroll down to the caption and I see #ad I know I’m right.
“I do think that’s it fair that they’re paid,” Emma says. “I don’t think it’s bad being paid. Why wouldn’t they get paid for doing it? It is a full time job.”
She is forced to stop when I start laughing. I question whether it is a full time job.
“I think it is,” she says. “I understand how much time and work goes into it.
“For every sponsored Instagram post, they have to do their makeup and get a photographer. Say for example #IWorkWithPrimark, they have to go and shoot those looks. They get a voucher, go into Penneys, buy the stuff. Obviously you wouldn’t complain about that. That’s not a chore.
“Then you have to go hire a photographer and get them to take the photos. They have to do their makeup and style their outfits. They have to edit the photos, put them up and write a caption as well. It does take time. That’s a couple of hours out of your day. If they’re paying that photographer, that’s money out of their own pocket. It is fair they get paid.”
Is it a sustainable full time job that Emma would consider when she leaves college?
“I don’t think it’s going to be going anywhere,” she says. “I think it’s only going to get bigger. More people want to work with influencers. It’s hard to know what it will be in the future.
“I don’t know what I want to do when I finish college,” she reveals. “Last year, I was thinking about not going back to college and just seeing where it would take me. I wasn’t sure if I definitely wanted to do my course. So I was going to try and see what I could do by blogging full time.
“I decided to go back to college and finish it off because it’s only one more year. I’m happy I did go back. My course is beneficial and I need something to back me up. It’s not safe for me to do it full time yet and I need a steady income and routine.”
So what does the future hold for Emma Doyle?
“I’m not thinking about what I’m going to do when I leave college just yet,” Emma says.
“I’d love to try fashion buying or styling. I’d love to design or have my own online fashion shop.”
It’s clear Emma will have a lot of options and opportunity when she leaves college next May. Whether she will continue to blog and “influence” remains to be seen.
What’s also clear however, is that influencers are here to stay. In fact, the influencer industry is only going to grow as we become more and more dependent on that rectangular piece of glass we carry around in our pockets.
By Louise Burne