How to be an ‘Influencer’ | Podcast S3E2

In today’s episode, so you want to be an influencer? Really? This episode of Permission to Leap holds nothing back on what it means to be a social media influencer, how to be one, how brands select them and the reality of what you’re saying when you say “I want to be an influencer”.

Specifically, in this show, we will talk about: 

  • The trends in influencer marketing and how it’s becoming more like media buying
  • The difference between wanting to be an influencer and wanting to have influence
  • Why I decided to get out of the influencer marketing rat race and shift to doing more meaningful storytelling and content strategy work

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Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript is auto generated and is nowhere near perfect. There will be typos and weird words in the transcription. It will however, serve as a guide to the contents of the episode.

You’re back.

But maybe you’re new here.

I’m Erin Trafford

You’re listening to permission to leap

Welcome. Sink in. Get cozy.

you’re in for a treat. You’re also into season three of the show where we have all new branding, all new sounds. All new energy. At the time of recording this, it is January of 2022. And this mama. This business owner, she is ready to give zero apps. She’s ready. To reach you. In new ways and to help you reach new levels. And that is really what we do here on permission to leave, especially when it comes to content strategy.

But on today’s show. There’s this big elephant in the room. And I want to name her. And I want to tame her. And I want to tell you. I think. About why she is still here and. This elephant. She’s a question. She’s a question I get still to this day. Erin How do I become.

And influencer.

I shudder at the thought.

And I know, I know you might be like Erin you came from the world of influencer marketing. Why are you shuddering at the thought of. The question of how do I become an influencer? Well girl. Sit back. Relax. Let me tell you why that’s, what we’re going to do on this show today, because. Being an influencer is actually, I think that there was a. Coming together of the influencer marketing world. And entrepreneurs understanding the impact and potential within a content strategy. A

nd so here is where I am going to give you. The full view of, you know, how this part of me came to pass. I have no idea what influencer marketing was, let’s say 10 years ago. So 2012. It was not a thing. Content marketing was just on the forefront of digital marketing at that point.

That was back when people thought that digital marketing was just buying the top of the Google search results. Or putting display ads on really big websites like newspapers and television, right. That, and I was working in that world. So I knew I understood. Even people who are buying sophisticated media buys didn’t understand digital and content marketing 10 years ago. I certainly didn’t understand influencer marketing, but lo and behold, that was the year that I started blogging and bloggers were the first influencer marketers.

They are the old G influencer marketers. Why? Because bloggers naturally. Uh, because they were consistent because they were authentic because all of this noise of the digital space didn’t exist back then they were able to just tell it like it was, and they developed no, like trust factors very, very easily. And that is exactly what I did with my first digital venture. You may know it.

It’s called DIY passion. It is not a huge part of what I do anymore, but it is a huge part of why I do what I do now. And it’s how I learned through the school of hard knocks, a lot about the development of content strategy and influencer marketing.

Okay. So very, very quickly. I grew that website. I’ve told this story multiple times before, but I grew that website to over a hundred thousand page views a month. I was working with gigantic brands to do reviews, to do promotional posts, to work on SEO.

Pinterest marketing was like a huge part of what I was doing back then. And all of a sudden, one day, this term appeared poof influencer marketing. And in the very beginning, what it was was brands quite literally paying influencers to showcase their products. In a quote unquote, authentic light. So here, I’m going to send you this product. And my hope is that you’re going to share it with your audience. What’s smart. Marketers were realizing. Was that what the brands were actually doing was buying that influencers audience.

And this is the key I want you to hear is that. Influencers sell their audience. They do not sell their authenticity. They do not sell their thought leadership. They sell their audience. They are only as good as their audience believes them to be. And really smart brands at a very early stage started to glob onto that. Now, what did we see? All of a sudden this became this humongous industry. And I think the last time I checked the stats is that like in 2019,

The influencer marketing industry was set to crest over $10 billion in north America alone. Right. All of a sudden it became this huge industry where, where normal quote, unquote, normal people were able to amass an audience and then give brands access to activate that audience and a few things that started to happen in terms of the way that relationship developed between the sponsor, the brand.

Some people like to call them partners. And the influencer and then the audience is that the partners and the brands and the sponsors started treating the influencers like a means to an end. Okay. Like a means to an ad. So what do I mean by that?

They literally started treating them like billboards. And I’m going to give you a very clear example because I was in this world.

I was in this world as a blogger for a long time. I had a lot of clout locally in my local market. So I was getting approached by brands because they wanted to tap my local market, my geographic area. Um, but they also wanted access to my, you know, Enormous amount of page views and so on and so forth. Um, and then from 2016 to about 2018, I also dabbled in running an influencer marketing agency.

But the truth of the matter is that the industry was too nascent at the time for us to really make a go of it without huge venture capital investment. And it just wasn’t the right time for me to have that agency.

We, we, we made some money. We had some great connections to do some really cool projects, but I just really, at the end of the day, what I learned is that it’s not the business I wanted to be in. Nevertheless, here’s what happened. So when I talk about the brands, using people as a means to an end, this is how this looks in life.

And if you are in the Instagram space and you have been selling your audience, this might feel very on the nose for you, but it’s a brand coming to you and saying, Hi, so-and-so I would, you know, we love your work. We think you’d be perfect. We’ve got this new campaign and I’m going to say something generic, like selling turkeys. We’re going to sell turkeys for Thanksgiving, and we would love for you to be part of this campaign. Um, in exchange for three Instagram posts, two stories, one reel, a blog post, and Pinterest images.

We are going to give you $1,000. And along with that $1,000, um, and all of the content, we would like to be able to review everything that you write prior to you posting it. And then two weeks, hence we would like to see all of the metrics that. Um, you generate from the content that you share for us to our marketing department so that we can track how well you do. That is fairly standard in the influencer marketing world. At least it was a two, two and a half years ago. What happens when that is the way that relationship unfolds is that that influencer, all of a sudden just becomes a walking, talking billboard, and I’ve seen it happen with campaigns like this hypothetical Turkey campaign, where the brand. Um, beats the influencer’s voice right out of the content where they fill it with jargon, where they are afraid of. Uh, being overly authentic and not sticking to the brief, the brand brief.

And all of a sudden. Your content becomes quite literally an advertisement. And that is where you jump the shark on influencer marketing, because you, the essence of what it is, which is access to the know like, and trust factor. Is completely eroded. But. You know, logic doesn’t always prevail and influencer marketing just became synonymous with that. It was how big of an audience can we buy? How much do we have to pay them in order for them to say whatever the frag we want them to say. And that’s what brands started to do.

And this is why we started to see people on Instagram, in particular gaming for that 10,000 follower mark, because brands wanted the swipe up because it was a cache. This is why you started to see the proliferation of things like mass loop giveaways that caused people’s follower counts to. Skyrocket because it made them look more enticing to the brands. And what else was happening along with this? Treating the Trent it as a transactional thing, rather than a relationship thing. Is that. Software developers. We’re creating systems that are very, very expensive. Um, I can think of one off the top of my head called Meltwater, but I have. Had beta tests or whatever, with a bunch of them.

Software platforms that actually conjugate the data and tell the marketers which influencers to work with based on their audience reach. So all of a sudden the humanity is completely stripped out of the concept of being an influencer. A computer is picking you a marketer is deciding if you’re worthy or not. And whether they work with you again is 100% based on how many likes follows comments you can get. There’s no soft data here. Okay. So. You know me by now, you know, me, as soon as I realized that this is where that industry was headed. I got the freak out a Dodge. This is where I want to be. Is. In building true relationships in actually talking energetically authentically about things. Telling real stories, taking the time to introduce my audience, to new concepts, new brands, new things I love. This is why I do continue to do work with media clients.

And, you know, I post about them on Instagram and so on and so forth because the brands that I work with. Work with me for a really long time. And in fact, become part of the fabric of everything that I do. So I work with brands like home hardware. I’m currently working on a really awesome campaign with Manulife bank up here in Canada, because I actually use the fricking banking product. Right. And I’m not selling myself as an influencer. I didn’t offer them my audience. I offered them my expertise. Okay, this is where the difference is.

So when people come to me and they still do. If you’re about to send me this DM that says here, and can you help you become an influencer? How do I work with brands on Instagram? Just stop sister. I’ve got a contact for you. I can put you in touch with someone who can actually help you with brand sponsorships, if that’s really what you want to do.

But I don’t think it is. I don’t think it is. I think that what, when you’re saying to me, I want to be an influencer. What you’re really saying is I want to have influence. And they are two completely different things. Having influence is all about developing that trust factor. Having influence is all about being respected for who you are having influence is. Being considered.

And being top of mind for somebody because of how you show up in the world. Having influence is developed by creating content and sharing from parts of you that cannot be bought. Being an influencer. Quote, unquote is transactional. And, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Like, there’s nothing wrong. If you want to do that. And it’s a brand new excited about, and it works for you fill your boots, but I want you to hear and feel the difference, right. I also wanted to come very, very clean about why I no longer do that kind of work. It just didn’t align with my soul’s purpose. My soul’s purpose is to help you leverage who you are. To really connect with your audience. To lead audience.

First, some thing else that I have seen developed throughout influencer marketing, and this takes a rather discerning eye to see, but because I’ve been in this world for so long, I see it plain as the nose on anyone’s face. Is that influencers. Their content panders to the brand. They are always trying to get the eye of the marketer or the brand first. And you can kind of smell it, you know, like you, you could just see it. Whereas people who just want to be of influence share freely.

And are always thinking about their audience. First, something I say in my mentorship all the time is, do not ever for a moment in time. Believe that your audience. Are not as smart or smarter than you are. Your audience is smarter than you are. Always, you’re always in a conversation with somebody. Who has something to teach you? And when you forget about that and you ponder or you pander rather to a brand or to a marketer trying to get there. I, you know, like, oh, I worked with this brand. Maybe this brand will notice and they’ll work with me next. If that is the intention behind the content that you are creating.

Oh, it just it’s in shivers down my spine because you’re missing so much of the joy of what content. And showing up can be. Right. So all of this is a picture that I want you to really put into your body and your brain. When you think about the concept of being an influencer. And I know a lot of the people who work with me want to do things like speak on stage and be on podcasts and write guest blog posts and be guest teachers inside of other people’s programs or.

Beyond radio shows or be on the TV programs, they have big aspirations and they say that makes me an influencer. Right? And this is where I say no. To do those things, to be invited on other people’s podcasts, to be on TV, to be on stage, to share your expertise in other people’s programs means you need to act as a person of influence. You need to be more, you. Not a transactional go-between between a brand and their people. You need to just be with your people in the best possible way. And personally, I think this is where 2022 is going to go, because I think there is so little barrier to entry to being of influence. Now you can launch your own podcast. You can start your own blog.

You can start a paid newsletter, like on a platform like sub stack, or you can do such cool shit. Now. That you just couldn’t do before. That really means that you’re not going to be working for that $400, $500, a thousand dollars Instagram post. I think bigger. Think bigger than that. That is your homework for this episode, I give you homework in every episode. That is your homework right now. Where are you being of influence? Where are you being. Of influence. Oh, I love it. I love it. So very much. I love it so much.

The energy. Of being of influence. And I want to talk about what we’re going to talk about next week. I want to talk about what we’re going to talk about next week.

Is next week is an episode about something that is so near and dear to me. And it’s certainly a place where I am pushing my boundaries. I am reaching in. To share more of my influence with you this year. Podcasting.

And a talk to you and give you insights into what you should be thinking about. If you want to. Beyond podcasts. Or start a podcast. Not all about the tech. If you’re hung up on the tech, I’m going to give you 18 reasons till Sunday. Why? That is not actually what’s hanging you up.

So episode three of season three is going to be called. So you want to start a podcast? And I hope you can join me for that. Because I think it’s going to be. Super super, super fun. And Hey, if you are enjoying the show, I would encourage you. Too. Subscribe. Subscribe. On whatever podcast platform you listen to us on. We’re on all the biggies. Apple, Google, Spotify, iHeart.

And while you’re there, leave us a review. Leave me a review five star. There was such a long way. And I appreciate it. Like human to human. I truly, truly do. And if that’s not your jam. Take a screenshot while you’re listening to permission to leap, share it with your network, with your biggest takeaways. Make sure to tag me at it’s dot Erin Trafford.

And Hey, if you’d like to know more. Check those show notes because they’re full of gold. That’s where you’re going to find the latest free downloads and resources from Erin Trafford | Story & Strategy. Plus links to applications to work with me. In my story and strategy mentorship or. As a private consulting or media client.

Show notes also where we put information on upcoming masterclasses events programs you might want to participate in. And finally, if you have feedback for the show, something you want me to talk about, or if you want to be a guest on the show, Because as of season three, we are adding guests into the mix. Please reach out to And someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

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