The word "influencer" is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing words in the new millennium. Historically, a person with influence had political sway, or else made a mark in the world through sizable contributions to culture. In the last few years, we've had to rewire our brains to understand the word as relating to a person with a large social-media following who can easily talk you into buying things you usually don't need.
While some strive to live the #ad life, others balk at the number of selfies posted on a given day. Profit-driven marketers sit in offices ranking their likelihood to sell products, while consumers divide them into two basic groups: the ones they follow because they actually like them, and the ones they follow because of unstoppable curiosity.
Love them or hate them, it seems everyone has a strong opinion on this new crop of digital publishers — but what do influencers have to say about what they do? What's it like to chase virtual likes and documented approval — and more important — to depend on them for a living? Can perfectly styled flat-lays, cohesive presets and planned candid (“plandid”) shots truly change people’s perspective about a product, person or way of living?
We asked some of our city’s own bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters and business owners to describe their influence.
Fitness influencer Antoine Howard says he cares just as much about providing value offline as he does online. He first got his start teaching multiple fitness classes, and the relationships he built organically soon turned into digital followers.
“An influencer’s job is to impact followers some way in which they leave better,” says Howard, who is now a CycleBar instructor. “As an influencer, you have to have a message … some people have a lot of followers, but no message. My message is to live with intent.”
Howard says his purpose is to live a healthy, intentional lifestyle by example, and the more he’s been true to his message, the bigger his audience has grown.
“People want to know what you learned, not what you heard you learned,” he says.
Most influencers have figured out that in order to have a strong message that resonates with people, you first have to find your people. Or as the industry insiders call it, your “niche audience.” One vegan influencer with hair as bright as her personality has done just that.
Courtney Garza has captivated the trust of a “micro,” but highly engaged, audience whose passion goes deeper than vegan recipes. Her goal is to show others how to live a sustainable lifestyle, eat less meat and even take on the challenge of “vegan traveling.”
“I feel it is my duty to cover vegan-related events, products, restaurants, recipes and resources to help these people achieve their goals and align with their morals,” says Garza, co-owner of Sprinkles Creative, a creative agency for local vegan brands. “For me, that is the end goal: to help lead into a more vegan, animal-friendly environment.”
Kara Shannon and Lily Kramlich-Taylor, the brains behind Instagram account @dallasites101, have made it their mission to “help newcomers and natives to make the most of life in the big D.” In the process, they’ve nailed the accessible, friendly voice and tone that's meant to resemble that of a well-connected best friend rather than an “influencer.”
“What we love most about having an influential platform and company is that we can play a role in shaping what a person does when they get out of bed in Dallas, every single day,” says Shannon. “We have met people who have met their best friends at our events, or who have discovered their favorite taco spots, or who have found their new favorite dentist — and every time we hear a story like that, or get a DM thanking us, it makes what we are doing worth it!”
Contests and coupon codes are just some of the many tactics that influencers use to build a following, but sometimes what they have to offer is much less strategic.
“The entire (Instagram) account is posting about where we are and what we are doing on a typical day,” says Holly Bennett, mother of the insta-famous Bennett triplets. It started as a way to help out-of-state relatives keep up with her kids, but Bennett decided to grow the account because of users’ growing curiosity for “taking a peek into the lives of a family with multiples.”
While most of her posts are simply dedicated to documenting memories, the small business owner finds purpose in community outreach through Instagram.
“I am all about supporting small businesses and helping people,” says Bennett, who rarely accepts payments for posts. “I don't think doing tons of paid ads will keep the followers around long.”
Fashion and lifestyle blogger Maria Sanchez wants every single one of her blog posts to add knowledge to people’s lives.
“If I can make someone’s life easier by sharing something of value that they enjoy, I’ve done my job right,” says Sanchez, who handed off managing the company she started to pursue blogging full time. Sanchez hopes combining useful information with fun content inspires people to “do something great for themselves.”
Tutorials, "try-on hauls" and "unboxing rituals" may come off as superficial, but those posting them say there's a greater meaning behind the click.
“I like making women feel empowered to wear and do what they please, I have never believed in conforming to society's standards of what a woman should do,” says Candace Hampton, the “tomboy chic” macro-level Instagrammer behind @thebeautybeau. “It also goes beyond fashion and beauty… I feel that some women are afraid to speak out and be themselves because of what they’re not supposed to do, or based on some old traditions that existed decades ago ... that’s the message I like to spread in the content I put out.”
Hampton emphasizes individuality, but also the importance of following who and what makes you happy. “If the person isn’t feeding you, you don’t need to eat from them.”
Dania Badawi or “the girl in the white scarf,” as she's known, says her goal is to influence the fashion world.
“I believe that there is so much more to fashion than what people see it as," she says. "It is not just a way to express who you are but also a form of language you have created and identified yourself as.” Badawi says she hopes to inspire others to create trends instead of following them. “Figuring out who you are and finding your style starts with what you wear.”
The writer of How To Travel The World Without Leaving Texas has made it her mission to help people find magic in their own backyard.
“Most people don't realize that we have our own wine country in Fredericksburg, that you can go sand surfing just a few hours from Dallas, or that you can go on an Italian gondola cruise in Irving,” says nonprofit recruiter turned full-time blogger, Jessica Serna. “Being able to help people live a travel lifestyle, even with a 9-to-5, has been exciting for me. If I could travel three to four times a month with a 9-to-5, then others can too.”
The influencers all express a common theme. Their mission, as they said, is to inspire others. Ultimately, the ever-increasing rise of digital entrepreneurship might tell us more about people as a whole than about influencers alone: we all desperately want to be inspired.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.