What It’s Really Like Being an Influencer: A Peek Behind the Curtain
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Mappy Hour about how I get paid to travel for a living and more broadly about what it’s like to be an influencer. I got to discuss the common misconceptions about getting paid to travel vs. being on vacation 24/7, how I actually make a sustainable income and the truth about the “dream” job. You can watch the whole video (if you ignore the horribly unflattering camera angle) or check out some of the key takeaways here:
The Term Influencer is Pretentious as Hell. What I Actually Do is Create Content
While you may only see one Instagram post, tweet or Facebook update, the majority of the projects I work on are integrated campaigns with travel brands. Very rarely do I do one-off posts for companies. To be successful with any type of digital campaign, you want to have as many potential consumer touch points as possible. This means I’ll create blogs for my channel, articles for their site, offer takeovers, stories, videos, etc. I’m a digital storyteller with an arsenal of tools and built-in distribution channels at my disposal.
The Majority of My Clients Are Not Who You Picture When You Think of Vacation
While I’d love all my clients to be sexy destinations like the Banffs’ and Bali’s of the world, the reality is they’re more the Kansas’s and the Idaho’s and places that need help getting travelers or to show off a different side of themselves. Truthfully, this is one of the best parts of the job – going to a place I know nothing about, discovering new hidden gems, and helping brands that really need it. Everywhere has something interesting to uncover – there is no such thing as a flyover state.
The Lifestyle Isn’t For Everyone
I travel 70% of the month hopping between time zones with crazy, jam-packed itineraries. It’s hard on your body and any sort of routine – forget it. It strains relationships when you miss important events and milestones. Maintaining any sort of bond with friends or significant others is a challenge.
It’s the Dream Job Because I’m My Own Boss Not Because I Get Paid to Travel
While my Instagram feed may have you thinking I’m a perma-beach bum, the reality is I’m not getting paid to vacation -- I’m getting paid to travel to do a job. You’re only in each destination for a finite amount of time with x amount of deliverables and attractions to cover. If there’s bad weather or other setbacks, you just have to roll with it. It’s made me crazy adaptable and used to always having at least one if not two backup plans.
If You Are Interested in This World – Anyone Can Do It
I recently published a guide how anyone can be an influencer and I totally believe that because I made myself one. There’s this crazy misconception that people are born famous, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Do you know what Kim Kardashian was doing before she got famous? Organizing other celebrity’s closets. She’s a hustler, plain and simple. Anyone can do it with the right drive and dedication. There’s no degree, you just obsessively learn everything you can about social media and your niche.
But You Need to Determine What Value You Can Provide Both Brands and Followers
Really identify what makes you different and why people should care about you. Personal branding is everything. Your goal is to create a brand that people want to partner with.
Even Without A Million Followers, You Can Be Successful as a Content Creator
Take epic pictures or videos as if you were getting paid for a real photoshoot. Tag the brands you feature. Gearhead? Start a blog doing reviews on your own. Send a copy to the company to show you’re a real fan. Do whatever it takes to get them to notice you. Fake it until you make it if you have to.
Adopt the Principles from “How to Win Friends and Influence People
The principle of reciprocity states that if you do something for someone, they’ll likely feel inclined to do something in return. It’s all about providing an equal value to the brands you partner with. And then always underpromise and overdeliver.
Getting Followers Isn’t a Passive Process
People think that with good content followers just come. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 90% of the influencers I know are doing some sort of audience development. No one sees the hours and hours of unpaid and thankless work that goes into cultivating a fanbase. There is no shortcut or silver bullet for getting people to care about you. Getting followers is actually less important than keeping followers and developing a community. Strive to create fans, not followers.
You Don’t Need to Be An Influencer to Travel for Free
You can become an expert miles hacker, you can win a travel contest (note that contests are not sweepstakes. I only participate if they’re skill based, not random). You can volunteer abroad or find seasonal jobs abroad (cruises are popular). Personally, I staffed high school graduation trips to Mexico and accepted job interviews out of state. Way before I was an influencer, I taught English in Israel and scoured the internet for programs like Boulder Startup Week which flew me out to Colorado and put me up on someone’s couch. It’s not luxurious, but if you’re determined, you’ll find a way to make it work for you.
As a takeaway, if you want to be an influencer:
1. Obsess over your personal branding and what your channels say about you.
2. Identify unique services you can offer.
3. Start viewing your profiles as business opportunities.
4. Brainstorm a list of dream partnerships and try pitching them.
Remember: The most successful photographer is not the one who takes the best pictures. It’s the person who makes the most sales. That could be you.