How Do I Feel About The Word “Influencer”?
I was recently interviewed by Fabulous magazine as part of a feature about “influencers”. The word, the concept, and how people feel about that label in general. They only printed a small portion of the Q&A in the magazine because of space so I thought I’d publish the full answers here on my blog. It seems to be quite a heated topic at the moment, so here are my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours.
1) How do you feel about the ‘influencer’ tag. Would you classify yourself as one?
I’ve overheard other people/brands call me an influencer which is fine but I would never call myself one. To me the term “influencer” sounds like corporate marketing jargon – which is the opposite of what I’m doing.
I do what I do and sometimes that influences people because of the story or content or passion behind it, but that doesn’t make me wander around introducing myself as an “influencer”, it doesn’t feel right.
2) How do you feel when people are dismissive of it? Is it fairly annoying to have to defend what you do?
I used to have to explain it in the early days, when monetising a blog was new shiny thing, but I think most people understand that it is a full-time job now made up of lots of different moving parts. People always look a bit surprised when I tell them I record, edit, upload and market my podcast all by myself, so I think people are now respecting just how much time creating your own content takes. Channels like podcasts and blogs are much more credible now – my podcast has sponsors like Natwest, Lyst and Hello Fresh and it reaches a lot of people. Nowadays people aren’t dismissive at all, if anything they are more intrigued.
3) A few people like Leandra at Man Repeller have come out recently and said they’re just a bit annoyed at being called an ‘influencer’ – that it devalues what they do to an extent… what do you feel about that?
I agree with her, I think it does devalue what we do. We’re a bunch of content creators: writers, authors, storytellers, editors, photographers. If you’re on a database labelled as just being “An Influencer” then you may get approached with projects that don’t suit you. There are lots of different reasons to work with influencers, from micro-influencers with a few thousand followers, to huge YouTube stars, every project should be really well thought through with objectives that suit that particular project. Influencers want to work on a piece of content they’re proud of instead of being used just to convert sales or get the brand a boost in likes. I don’t think anyone can truly “influence” anyone without some kind of real truthful message behind it.
4) How do you pick the brands that you work with?
I’ve spent 8 years building my brand and my channels so I’m very clear on what I like and don’t like – so I instantly know if I want to work with a brand or not. They should instantly know by looking at my content, too. I’d be keen to work together if it’s either a brand I already love and talk about, or a brand doing something that makes me feel really excited to be a part of it.
5) When did you first start being approached by brands? Which was the first one?
I think one of the first brands was ASOS around five years ago, I was asked to write a blog post talking about a competition they were running. I love ASOS so I was happy to work with them. It’s exciting when a brand reaches out to you.
6) Why do you think brands want to work with you specifically? What do you think you offer an audience?
I haven’t worked with that many brands yet, because I say no a lot too. I still have quite a clean slate. Whenever I do say “yes” to something, I really put my all behind it. I have a few different platforms which intrigues brands. Podcast sponsorship, the blog, social, my newsletter. Most brands are very open to hearing my ideas first, because I know what works and what doesn’t. I believe in building long-term relationships with brands – I’m not interested in quick wins or doing a one-off Instagram post, I want to create something meaningful. For example with my most recent Microsoft partnership, not only do I adore the technology and vibe of their campaign but I get to celebrate and communicate my real way of working. They have championed my multi-hyphenate career. I’m spreading a message I believe in. I’m very proud of that partnership.
7) When did your career start to take off? Was there one moment when you thought ‘yup, I could make a living from this’?
I’ve worked in agencies and on behalf of brands for years, my first proper job was doing the social media strategy for Dove and getting to work on some amazing campaigns with them. This has helped my career, because I can see the project from the brands perspective too. I want to make it worthwhile for them to work with me. So I’ve been fortunate enough to have some awesome experiences from very early on in my career, all around branding, PR and marketing. When I started to make quite good money on the side of my full-time job from my blog it made me think “maybe I could do this full-time”. I’m lucky though because I always knew what I wanted to do. I’m obsessed with technology, social media, trends, generational divides, what the Internet has done to our lifestyles, and that feeds into everything I do, from my book/podcast/blog/TV. I’ll often get approached by a brand and we’ll work out together which of my platforms would suit their mission better. It has to feel right.
8) What’s the best part of your job?
The flexibility. How every week is totally different. I love how I could be on a full day’s video shoot with a brand one day and then spend the next two days working from home. It’s intense, but I get to schedule in my own breaks.
9) Any pinch yourself moments?
Getting a book deal with Penguin Random House is still a pinch-me moment, because it was a huge dream of mine. Literally ALL I wanted was to write on my blog, share my stories and get noticed by a publisher – and it happened.
10) What’s the worst part of your job?
Feeling all the stress yourself. When I worked in teams at my old agencies if something went wrong you’d all go to the kitchen and bitch about it and share the stress between you. When it’s just me, I feel like all the weight is all on my shoulders and I sometimes struggle to easily shake it off.
11) What’s your opinion on the big, celeb influencers? For example Gigi, Kendal et. al? They have huge social followings but have also faced criticism for backing unethical brands / events (like what happened with the Fyre festival).
I have no problem with celebrities making money through sponsorships, their brand is very powerful and they should do what they like with it. However I do feel it’s important to know what it is your supporting, understand its background and have a vested interest in its future. Otherwise it’s not a true partnership and can be risky. There is a responsibility to your audience with being an ‘influencer’ so involving yourself in something you don’t full understand is pretty risky.
12) Where do you stand on the #ad and #spon thing? Do you feel strongly about keeping it ethical?
I’ve always felt it’s totally necessary to say if something is sponsored, same as if I’ve been on a travel trip, I’ll say on my blog if the hotel room was paid for or discounted. Back in the day you’d be transparent because you’d want to, but now it’s no longer a choice, the rules and regulations say you have to say when something is an #ad. You can get in trouble with the ASA if you try and break those rules which I think is a good thing because the lines would become so blurry without some rules in place.
13) What about the mental health aspect? How does living a semi-public life impact you? How do you deal with it?
We all live semi-public lives now. Anyone with a Twitter or Instagram feed is living a sort of public life, so I don’t see it as being abnormal. I’ve been writing online about my life and sharing stories since 2009, so it’s sort of the norm for me. I’m way better at switching off now though, there’s less of the “never-ending hustle” that I had in my early twenties, so sometimes I’ll put my phone on aeroplane mode and go for a walk or to the gym. My boyfriend, family and best friends aren’t in this crazy media world so they are my escape. But sharing myself online is something I enjoy and why I chose this career, I love to put my content and work out into the world, and to try lots of different platforms, from podcasting to blogging to TV. I love being always “on”. I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t.
14) How did you grow your following? How will you ensure you continue to grow in the future?
My following has actually grown quite slowly. There are heaps of other bloggers who started around the same time as me who have heaps more followers because they chose to focus on fashion or beauty etc. I didn’t ever fit into one box. It’s not really about the number of followers for me, it’s about the community of people who follow me and the quality of those engagements. The people that come to my events and listen to my podcast are the coolest women you’ll ever meet. I don’t really look too far into the future in terms of what I’ll talk about, and platforms change. I just know I’ll always have something I’m interested in.
15) What’s been the biggest positive impact that your job has had on your life?
The ability to run my own schedule and my own life. I’ve never felt more in control of what I say yes and no to.
16) Where did you grow up and what did you wanted to be when you were little?
I grew up in Exeter, Devon – I didn’t know any writers growing up but I knew I wanted to be one. My book is all about growing up with technology, how this fed into my career and how Internet culture will affect different generations differently.. Learning how to code on Myspace, I would make my own websites when I was a teenager, I have hilarious diaries that I sometimes read at Cringe, (a pub night where you read your teen diaries). It’s all sort of made sense that I would end up working in digital and writing. I was preparing for a career that hadn’t been invented yet. Much like teens now, perhaps.
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic