The pressure of being an influencer

For my job I work regularly with freelancers for one-off jobs like video editing, voiceovers, content writing, interviews and translation. Yesterday I had arranged an interview with a social media “influencer” who has 150k subscribers on YouTuber and 60k followers on Instagram. A minute before the interview was due to being she messaged me saying she had a dentist appointment she forgot about and that we won’t be able to talk.

No apology, no contrition, no respect of the agreed contract. My initial reaction was that it’s so inconsiderate. I put a lot of work into interview preparation, researching her history, the content on her channel and questions to ask. I also thought in all my years of working with freelancers, influencers have been the most inconsiderate, narcissistic, self-absorbed group of people I’ve ever worked with. 

But then I also thought, is it them or is it the pressure and nature of the job they are in? I remember one time I hired an influencer to fill out a document of questions. It was a simple task but he couldn’t even do that. Each time I would message him asking on progress, I’d get an apologetic reply promising that he’d get on it. The document never came. Are all influencers this bad or is there pressure we’re not familiar about? I’ve seen some small time YouTube content creators with only 5k subscribers talking about needing a PA to handle all the brand requests they get; to filter out the scams from the legit. If it’s that bad for a 5k influencer, what’s it like for a 50k one? 

Is there a side of influencer work we don’t see? Maybe the constant interaction with haters and trolls desensitizes them to regular human interaction. What I thought was a rude and inconsiderate message from my freelancer probably means nothing to an influencer who deals with a slew of abusive comments every day. Should we have more sympathy for the pressures of being an influencer?

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Tyler Mendoza
September 17, 2022 3:01 pm

You have a lot more sympathy than I do. I have almost no sympathy for the conceited, self-important personalities influencers have. You have a lot of followers. Congratulations. That doesn’t give you a free pass to be a douche. A lot of influencers lose themselves in their follower count. It’s a problem when you identify too closely with your numbers. 1, because your ego swells up. 2, what goes up can also come down. Honestly, I wouldn’t have given your influencer another chance. They can’t turn up to a meeting they agreed to and they don’t seem to care about wasting your time. One strike and you’re out.

On par with how entitled influencers are in general, it’s what they do to get more clout that regular people have too much dignity for. Hmmm, I’m sad about something. I’m gonna cry my eyes out. I know, I’ll record this whole thing to show everyone how “authentic” I am. I don’t know what’s more annoying, the influencers who do this stuff or the people who watch and laud them for being courageous. A while back Trevor Jacob jumped out of a plane to boost his views. Thank goodness that silly stunt backfired. Still gives me some hope for humanity. But then that hope comes crashing down when I learn about what influencers do enhance their status.

The prize? Instagram’s blue verification checkmark.

In 2017 Mashable reported it was money and who you know that opened the doors to Instagram’s verification. It reported there were insiders working in Instagram that people could hit up to get the verification process going. All you need is money (around $6k) and patience (around 4-6 weeks).

Then in 2021 Buzzfeed reported how influencers were taking drastic measures to recover their deleted accounts. These accounts were deleted because they violated IG’s community guidelines, and similar to what’s mentioned in Mashable’s report, the key to account recovery involved working with an insider… and money, up to $65,000 for a large account.

Propublica has published details of a much more sophisticated scheme influencers are using to get verification. Here’s the rundown.

  • Post photos of you living it up in luxury establishments, next to a sports car, the usual fake guru/scammer playbook.
  • Next, create profiles on Apple Music and Spotify, upload songs. It doesn’t matter what songs they are. They could be boring beats or even empty sound, it doesn’t matter. Then pay people to listen to them to make the music appear popular.
  • Write articles about the fake music artist and pay websites to publish these articles. A tactic from the dropshippers this time.
  • Google’s algorithm automatically does its work and generates a knowledge panel for the artist, which is shown in search results when you search for the artist.
  • Submit account for verification and await that shiny blue badge that gives you the bragging rights you want so badly.

A bit too much work for a little blue tick, but hey, I’m not an influencer (thank goodness!).

Jason Ng
September 19, 2022 4:28 pm

The influencer discussion is fascinating for me. The influencer job is barely a decade old and I think it’s fair to say that with any profession, we can only judge people as individuals. The influencer you dealt with sounds inconsiderate, but nevertheless there are many influencers who are conscientious and stick by their commitments.

The key word in the paragraph above is profession. Being an influencer is a job. With that comes pressure from various sides. As much as you want to be genuine in front of the camera, the pressure to get clicks and earn money governs how you portray yourself. I see this everywhere. The way Mr. Beast talks to his audience isn’t how he talks in real life. “I BOUGHT THIS GINORMOUS PRIVATE ISLAND…” etc. etc. The owners of animal channels do the same. They laugh when their animal does something that’s not funny, but it’s ‘cute’ and gets watch time. I don’t dislike influencers for doing this. It’s part of their job after all. But at some point there’s going to be an internal pressure to be yourself, to be genuine.

A good example of this is a kid called Morgz. He did gaming and pranks, and was well known for his over the top persona. In a video by SunnyV2 that describes Morgz’s drop in viewership, it explains that Morgz relied heavily on clickbait and acting like a child to get views. As he grew up, the pressure of that persona became too much and he dropped the act, losing tons of views in the process. One comment sums it up quite well:

He sacrificed his entire career so he could be himself and enjoy the content he was making instead of going the cheap way out and get more money.

Another side this pressure comes from is sponsors. An article by The Times, ‘Online influencers shun altered images to be the real deal’ describes the experience of Alex Light, an Instagram influencer who lost sponsorship opportunities after she stopped using filters. It’s easy to point the finger at them and coax them to be more authentic but when their livelihood is cut short, sometimes they have no choice but to filter and photoshop. In Light’s words:

Influencers are a victim of this culture as much as anyone else.

The Times Influencer article.jpg
September 16, 2022 2:34 pm

I haven’t had the misfortune of working with influencers so I can’t speak to that but I guess I understand the pressure element. Think about 2 people. Person A works for a company, Person B is an influencer. A does her 9-to-5, clocks off every evening and goes home. She doesn’t work weekends and comes in fresh on Monday morning for another week, gets excited on hump day (Wednesday) and is ecstatic on Friyay. Her attachment to projects is minimal. Yes, she’s enthusiastic and works hard, but she doesn’t really own her work. If a project fails, well it sucks, but she’ll move on. No big deal.

Person B has a different mindset. The TikTok channel and Instagram account belongs to him. He spends hours on his YouTube videos to make them perfect. If he’s not happy with the voiceover, he does it again. If the color grading needs a lift, he’ll stay up all night making it right. With every upload, he watches with hesitation as the content either flops or gets picked up by the algo. His attachment to his work is great, it’s everything to him.

In a company, the work is never really yours. It’s the company’s. If you come up with a great idea, it’s not your idea. The company owns the intellectual property. As an influencer, the content is yours. You own it. You have the concept, the implementation and the rewards. The pressure Person B puts on themselves by virtue of having a greater attachment to their work than Person A, can mean longer hours, more stress and less stability of income. If Person B’s next video doesn’t get picked up by the algo, that’s less money for him this month. Person A could be lazy all month and still earn the same amount she did last month. The pressure is for Person B is far greater than when you’re a corporate statistic.

Fabian Bosiger
September 18, 2022 9:47 pm

The pressure of being an influencer can often come from the pressure they put on themselves. There have been documented examples of users who unexpectedly gained a following and felt the pressure to produce fresh content. Some decided to quit their jobs to make content creation a full-time job. Others deleted their accounts because they didn’t want the pressure. Also as fraudulent detection systems have become more sophisticated on social media platforms, some content creators have lost hundreds, thousands and even millions of followers. An influencer could find in this a positive step, saying good riddance to the fake accounts. Or the influencer could be humiliated by the sudden drop in followers and delete their account.

To give a sense of how big the problem is, when Twitter cracked down on fake accounts in 2018, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift each lost 2 million followers. Even the then CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey lost 200,000 followers. Twitter revealed it has to delete about 1 million spam bots a day. Not to worry, though. Elon Musk has vowed to delete the spam bots or die trying.

Jack Dorsey 200k followers lost.PNG
Murray Hinton
September 20, 2022 9:45 am

Looks like it’s been touched upon already but the pressure comes from all sides, internal and external. Shady individuals and businesses are always on the prowl to exploit the brand image an influencer has built up. This is a frequent occurrence in the fitness industry, where companies offer influencers a turnkey personal training solution. The influencer doesn’t get involved at all but gets a cut of the profits because the company uses the influencer’s name when offering clients online personal training services.

Influencers have to be on constant watch about these scams because in many cases these shady businesses don’t ask for the influencer’s permission. Some scammers don’t even try to hide what they’re doing. You’ll notice this on YouTube, where scammers copy the profile photo of an influencer and then reply to comments on a video saying something like, “Congratulations! You’ve won my competition. Contact me on [WhatsApp no.]”

Another thing scammers are doing is taking advantage of Google Ad placements. This has happened to Greg Doucette, a fitness YouTuber. He has a cookbook that he sells for $199. Way too much for a book. Scammers have taken footage from his videos and created an ad saying the cookbook is on discount. Google lets you target where to show the ads and the scammers have chosen Greg’s videos. So an innocent viewer will watch a Greg Doucette video, see an ad that walks, talks and speaks like Greg offering a discount on the cookbook. They’ll click on the link that takes them to an online shop to buy the cookbook pdf and they’ll cough up. Using Greg Doucette’s name and Google/YouTube’s ad system, scammers get money from innocent customers thinking they’re buying from Greg Doucette himself.

It’s an elaborate scheme that leverages the influencer’s name and takes money from right under their nose. In terms of the question of sympathy, well I’m not so sure. Pressures exist in any and every job. It seems to me, influencers complaining about the pressures of their job is them doing what they do best; bringing attention to themselves.