How Being An Influencer Has Influenced Me
Updated: Feb 5
I never set out to be an influencer. In fact, I didn’t even know that that was a ‘thing’ when I started using social media in 2009 then later, blogging and vlogging to promote KA Equestrian, my equestrian business. My goal was simply to promote my business, gain more clients and create opportunities for me as a dressage rider and coach. It worked and before long I was rushed off my feet with a yard full of horses, collaborating with brands and writing for equestrian magazines but in the winter of 2017 I had a bit of a change of heart.
My priorities changed, I considered what life would be like without striving for this dream I’d had since I was a teenager of being a Grand Prix dressage rider and ultimately, I decided that what it would take for me to achieve that goal wasn’t something I was prepared to do. Long story short, KA Equestrian changed, I scaled it back and I found myself with much less to write and vlog about on that channel. I still loved to create content and as my life was changing I had lots more I wanted to write about so Karen & Clan was born and became that little corner of the internet for me to explore and share what I was learning, doing and loving.
Being an influencer looks like great fun doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. Attending fabulous events with VIP hospitality and getting sent boxes of lovely products never gets old (although those things are not why I continue to do it - more about that later) but there’s no denying that it comes with an awful lot of work and a down-side that’s not always apparent looking in on it from the outside.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey with the whole influencer-thing this last year and have considered giving it up a number of times. It’s come with great opportunity and reward, but also some challenges which have led to important lessons being learned. Here are a few of those lessons and observations that I hope will help you too, whether you’re reading this as an influencer yourself or just an interested reader.
I NOW ASSUME ALL THAT I SEE IS JUST A VERSION OF REALITY NOT REALITY ITSELF
We all know that we can’t take what we read and see on the internet at face value but knowing that in our heads isn’t always enough to stop us feeling the affects of the glossy and ‘perfect’ lives we see every day on Instagram. A fair number of my instagram posts are planned, staged, and edited - particularly those that are posted to promote a particular product a brand has given me - so I know other people’s posts are too. I’m not going to share a picture of me looking awful or my house in a mess or include Chris and I bickering in a vlog. We all present ourselves online with a bit of a veneer and leave out the not-so-instagramable bits - for ourselves as well as others - and we all do it, influencer or not. The narrative of our lives we want to promote and look back on isn’t always a true reflection of what’s real and as much as we all know this, I’m worried about the impact these extensions of the truth have on us, as well as those who consume what we create and share.
I find it hard at times to live up to the picture I’ve painted of my own life (simply by leaving out the bad bits and enhancing the good bits) and I would hate to make others feel less-than in any way by comparing their real life to the edited version of mine - honestly, my reality doesn’t compare either! Being an ‘influencer’ has taught me not to consider what I see on instagram to be real at all, just a bit off theatre for my entertainment. It’s also taught me to consider what I’m posting and how that can affect other people - I try to be as ‘real’ as I can be but there are things I will always want to keep private and others I’m not going to want to be reminded of in years to come when I look back. There’s a balance to be had of course, but know that it’s something I’ve become very conscious of and I’m working to limit the impact of ‘perfect’ imagery.
I’M LEARNING TO COPE WITH AND LIMIT MY CONTACT WITH INFLUENCERS WHO ENGAGE IN FRAUDULENT ACTIVITY
A follow-on from the generalised fakery on Instagram that we all contribute to, is what I find most upsetting and damaging. Again, it’s not only damaging to those consuming the content of fraudulent influencers but also the ‘creators’ themselves. ‘Fraudulent’ sounds grandiose and far more serious than you might think anything on instagram could or should ever be, but in a space and a position in that space that is based entirely on the assumption of authenticity and one that has incredible power to affect the purchases, beliefs and decision-making of those that consume the content, my feeling is that it’s an entirely appropriate word to describe the under-handed practices of some influencers I’ve worked along side.
Buying followers (500 at a time so not to be ‘caught’) and engagement is a thing, as is lying to and manipulating brands to get them to work with you. One “influencer” told me she’d borrowed products from a brand for a photo shoot but then decided she wasn’t going to return them as she felt she deserved to keep them because they’d shared the pictures. She got away with it too and is now gifted items regularly.
Most of the people I’ve met through doing this are absolutely lovely and are doing it for all of the right reasons but there seems to be an air of entitlement brewing in others that worries me. Someone relayed to me recently about a new blogger who didn’t see why she should be the only one to buy a certain product when “everyone else has been gifted one”. People will lie and use others in order to get what they want, this has always been true but in the world of influencing it seems to be increasingly prevalent. I think it boils down to your motivations for doing it. I was told “being admired” was one person’s motivation which I found really scary. To me, that’s something that will never bring you fulfilment, will only ever be fleeting and will only lead you down a dark path of constantly feeding your ego.
So for me, this has been one of the hardest parts of doing this ‘job’ which is of course, not a job at the level I operate but a hobby, and a major reason why I’ve considered giving it all up. I find it hard to be grouped together with others who don’t share my standards and ethics around this stuff - it de-values what I spend time and effort creating when others who are cheating are rewarded in the same way as I am. I don’t want people to look at me and assume I’m one of them, and people are talking about and noticing this stuff. The actions of the few affect people’s perceptions of the collective and I continue struggle with that.
I can’t pretend to have totally nailed not letting this stuff bother me. Brands have their part to play in this and need to use the technology available to weed these practices out but what it means for me personally is that I’ve muted, unfollowed or blocked anyone I know to be using these tactics and I’ll avoid events where I know I’ll have to spend time with these people - not to let them win as has been suggested to me, but because this is my hobby, it’s meant to be fun, and spending time with fraudulent influencers isn’t fun for me.
STUFF REALLY DOESN’T MAKE YOU HAPPY
No brainer right? It’s one of these things we know to be true yet we still covet things to make our lives better, make ourselves better. I consider myself an intelligent human being, intelligent enough to know better but there’s definitely been times when I’ve believed if I could just have ‘X’ I’d be happy. One of the perks of being a blogger is the ‘stuff’ you get and working with the brands that I do, I’ve been gifted so many gorgeous products and experiences over the last few years. It’s always a treat to receive them and I still pinch myself every time I’m sent a box of goodies or invited on an amazing trip but as wonderful as all these things are, along with the perceived status that goes along with having been gifted them, they can never make you innately happy or fill voids in your life.
Stuff is just stuff, so as much as I’ll continue to share with you the new products I love that I’ve bought or been given by brands, know that no matter how wonderful they are, the product alone won’t make you happy. Please don’t be influenced heavily enough by me or anybody else to overspend or mount up debt in order to have the latest item - you really don’t need the coat or boots or beauty product, they’re simply a ‘nice-to-have’ and it’s not normal to have as much new stuff each month as the average influencer receives.
So this I know but having been through a particularly tough year, I know it more than ever. It’s important to me that when I’m sharing products, they truly are only ones that I’d spend my own money on and I’m going to be much better at saying no to brands going forward.
JUST BECAUSE IT’S ‘FREE’ DOESN’T MEAN IT’S WORTH HAVING
There have been a few times this year where a brand has sent me something I just don’t like, or that I do like but not in the colour that’s been sent, or I’ve been gifted a stay somewhere that on getting there I’ve realised is somewhere I’d never recommend others go, all situations I’ve found tricky to navigate. I never want to offend anyone but however nicely you put it, essentially saying “I don’t like that thing you’ve kindly given me for free” is really difficult. However, accepting product from a brand comes with an expectation you’ll share it and I never want to feel contractually obliged to lie to you guys and say I love something that I just don’t so I still need to get better at saying no when I’m being offered something I wouldn’t buy myself. Saying no when someone is offering you something for free that they have often created themselves and love, is incredibly hard to do. I’m getting better at it but it’s taken me some practice to get it right but the pay off is that all you’ll ever see on my blog or instagram going forward are things I genuinely love.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS OVER-EXPOSURE
It’s easy to get caught what appears to be “everywhere” all at the one time which I find a little bit cringe. Some of that is due to brands just coincidentally sharing your content at the same time and when you work with lots of brands that’s going to happen from time to time. Believe me, audiences get pretty sick of seeing the same face plastered on every account ALL the time, particularly when it’s on conflicting brand accounts. Part of the solution is not working with every brand that asks you, the other part is to negotiate how content is shared - I don’t mean photos, you can’t really control for that, but you can schedule collaborations, guest blog posts, videos and giveaways so that your audience isn’t rolling their eyes every time they see your face.
I VALUE BRAND-LOYALTY
I think brand-loyalty is important, not just because it screams inauthenticity when the same person is promoting two competitors but because as an influencer I only want to work with brands I truly love and who in return, value what I do for them. I turn down offers all the time due to conflicts of interest with other brands I work with, not because I’m contractually obliged to, but because I feel that’s the right thing to do. Building meaningful relationships with the brands I work with with where each of us feels valued is a pre-requisite for me these days and I feel that without a two-way loyalty and respect, like any relationship, it will inevitably break down. I’d much rather work closely with a few brands that I love and get involved in special projects than just be someone lots of different brands gift to - there’s not a lot in that for me, and much less in it for the brands than if I was someone they truly valued.
MAKE PEACE WITH THE FACT SOME PEOPLE WILL HAVE AN INACCURATE OPINION OF YOU
This one has been hard for me but it’s just a fact that if you put yourself out there, people will form an opinion. On the whole, my experience on social media has been thoroughly friendly and supportive but friends, family, acquaintances, people you’ve never met - they will all make a decision about who you are and what they think of you. We’re all human and it’s part of the human condition to assess those around us to inform how we respond to them. I definitely want people to like me, still don’t like it when they don’t, but have gotten better at acknowledging that there’s little I can do about it if they don’t and spending my time trying to convince them otherwise is not a good use of my time. Putting myself out there as an influencer, even though that’s not what I set out to do, has meant that I’ve had to accept not everyone’s going to like me or understand why I share what I do.
Believe it or not, I’m not actually someone who enjoys being the centre of attention so it might seem odd that I’ve spent time building an online space for the world to come in and judge. I’ve actually learned to be ok with people taking one look at my account and deciding they don’t like what they see, what I suspect I’ll always find troubling however is when I find out that people I thought were my friends or allies have proven that they’re not either of those things. Ultimately, I have to be thankful for the people I have around me who support me and also be thankful when I discover others who don’t who I can then distance myself from.
I’m not in it for the stuff or the praise or admiration, I continue to do it because it has given me space to be creative, to connect with people I would never have connected with otherwise and it allows me the opportunity to share the things I love, have learned and have built with an audience who has chosen to join me on this crazy journey.
When you’re choosing people to follow, please look for those who prove to be genuine, who expose their flaws and insecurities as well as their cleavage, who accentuate and enhance their talents and passions as well as their lips and who have more to say than “here’s me in another outfit”. Look for individuals who use their influence to help others, not just use whatever opportunities they get to further promote themselves, and look to see who shows loyalty to the brands who have kindly gifted to them.
So, being an influencer has certainly influenced me - as a content-consumer as well as a content-creator. I’ve learned that ultimately, the only thing that’s truly real in the realm of influencing are the relationships you create and develop with people who get to know and love you for who you actually are, not the person you pretend to be. That’s why there’s absolutely no point in having an online persona that bares little resemblance to who you really are as you’ll eventually realise that despite the followers and post likes (that you may or may not have bought) no-one knows who you truly are and that will leave you with a hole of loneliness no amount of stuff can fill.