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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.
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As Seachtain na Gaeilge draws to a close for another year, Sarah Harford pays a visit to Dublin’s Pop Up Gaeltacht.
A cold March evening in Dublin. The streets are bustling. It’s the night before St Patrick’s Day, and the city is filled with revellers wearing green leprechaun hats and shamrock-adorned clothing.
Turning the corner onto Dame Lane, I hear laughter and exclamations of “conas atá” and “oh mo dhia”. The well-known stretch of pubs between the Bankers and Dame Tavern is packed full of people doing something slightly out of the ordinary – speaking in Irish.
“We wanted to prove that the language was alive and well so we decided to send up a ‘Bat Signal’ to ask Irish speakers to get together in one place,” said Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh – one of the organisers of Pop Up Gaeltacht.
“Bhíomar ag iarraidh cruthú gur teanga bheo í an Ghaeilge, agus mar sin bheartaíomar sórt ‘Bat Signal’ a chur in airde chun lucht labhartha na teanga a mhealladh le teacht le chéile.”
Ó Caomhánaigh, along with Osgur Ó Ciardha, put this event together as a reaction to the current perception of the Irish language.
“Both of us noticed a lot of negative coverage of the Irish language in the media late last year, saying it was a dead, worthless language, and that no one in the city was speaking Irish,” says Peadar.
A group playing traditional Irish music entertained crowds outside the Mercantile pub. Video by Sarah Harford
Speaking to The City, as Gaeilge of course (his answers have been translated into English), he explained that the idea behind this event was very simple.
“Pop Up Gaeltacht is a social event for Irish speakers. We get together just to be together, and to speak Irish in places the language wouldn’t normally be heard.”
“All sorts of people go along. Young and old, fluent and the ‘cúpla focal’. We’d recommend, if you have any worries about your own level of Irish, to bring along a friend and just try to use whatever Irish you have.”
“Bíonn gach chineál duine ann, idir óg agus aosta, idir lucht na líofachta agus dream an chúpla focal.”
Pop Up Gaeltacht started small, with an event in Bar Rua on Clarendon Street back in November 2016. Since then they’ve held monthly gatherings which have grown in size as the word has spread. But for Seachtain na Gaeilge, Peadar and Osgur decided to be more ambitious.
“Up until now we’ve packed out bar after bar in Dublin. As part of Seachtain na Gaeilge and the St Patrick’s Festival, we decided to choose a whole district of the city. We want to fill the whole of Dame Lane with Irish on the night of the 16th,” said Peadar.
Caint agus craic
Personally, I was a little nervous entering this guerilla-style Gaeltacht. Although I’d spent 14 years learning the language at school, like most other people on this island, my Irish is a little rusty.
I thought that everyone in attendance would be hardcore Gaeilgóirs, spouting words and phrases that sounded only vaguely familiar to me. But, just like riding a bicycle, these things return to you pretty quickly.
The atmosphere was welcoming, the Irish was flowing, and there was even spontaneous traditional music and céilí dancing.
From the crowds of people I encountered there, it is clear that Pop Up Gaeltacht has really caught on. It may be a simple concept, but it’s an effective way of bringing people together to speak the language in a casual setting. Mostly, however, it’s just a good bit of craic.
The organisers are making no money from the event, using it only as a way to spread the Irish language. They hope that this will encourage more people to get involved.
“Pop Up Gaeltacht is an open source, so anyone in the world can organise one. There have been Pop Up Gaeltachtaí in Cork, Derry, Belfast, Limerick, New York, Washington DC, Perth…The list goes on,” said Peadar.
Speaking in tongues
It seems strange that Pop Up Gaeltacht should be such a novelty when Irish is still the official language of the country.
According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million people in Ireland, approximately 40% of the population, said that they could speak Irish. However, only 82,000 people claimed to speak the language on a daily basis outside of the education system.
This makes it only the third most spoken language in the country after English and Polish, but it certainly does not imply that Irish is in decline. Long-term census data shows an increase in the number of people speaking the language in recent years.
St Patrick’s weekend saw a deluge of tourists descending on Dublin and so the city was awash with languages from all over the world, plus the ubiquitous American accents. However, it was great to hear Irish also being spoken so widely in the middle of the festivities.
With an impressive turnout and an enthusiastic response, Pop Up Gaeltacht seems to have confirmed that the Irish language is still alive and well.
Featured image by Sarah Harford
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