Can Influence Be Taught? | BoF Professional, News & Analysis

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Austen Tosone, a New York City-based full-time content creator, has 12,000 followers on Instagram, where she’s been chronicling her outfits and sharing her go-to beauty products for years. But lately, she’s been adding another genre of content to the mix — advice for budding influencers.

“Someone who goes viral for a crazy video on TikTok and gets a million followers, if that person shares what they did, can other people replicate that exact same process [and results]? Not always,” said Tosone, whose recent videos have covered everything from how to negotiate image usage rights with brands to what to do when a brand offers a low rate for a potential collaboration. “It’s really all about thinking about the processes that make you a successful creator.”

Tosone is part of a thriving industry that has sprung up to teach aspiring Kardashians and D’Amelios the tricks of the trade. There are online courses and e-books with titles like “How to Become an Influencer,” or Tosone’s own e-book, called “Right on Pitch.” Conferences put on by Create & Cultivate, a company that hosts events and creates content for female entrepreneurs, invite influencers on stage to share the tricks of the trade, while UCLA’s extension programme offers a course called “Personal Branding and Becoming an Influencer.” Advice ranges from the intangible – creating a winning online persona – to the nuts and bolts of gaming Instagram’s algorithm and how to land a partnership with a brand.

All are catering to a seemingly limitless audience. A November 2019 study from market research company Morning Consult found that 86 percent of people aged 13 to 38 wanted to be an influencer. But earning a living on Instagram, let alone the vast fortunes amassed by the platform’s biggest stars, means rising above an ever-growing crowd. There are few rules governing whose content gets seen, or how brand partnerships are structured, and plenty of scammers looking to take advantage of inexperienced wannabe influencers.

Some, in an eagerness to capitalize on the demand for fast-track paths to influencer, use a one-time win — say, a deal with a major brand — to brand themselves as an expert and turn that into a money-making scheme, warns Alessandro Bogliari, the chief executive of the agency The Influencer Marketing Factory.

“If you see a course on how to become an influencer and it costs $3,000, maybe the person is making more money selling the course than as an influencer,” he said.

The advice market itself contains its share of snake oil, including influencers promising the secrets to overnight success — for a fee. But there are skills necessary for a content creator to find lasting success in the business.

“If you see a course on how to become an influencer and it costs $3,000, maybe the person is making more money selling the course than as an influencer,” he said.

You Can’t Teach Virality

For influencers who have managed to build long-lasting careers, there is an opportunity to share what they’ve learned and “essentially establish themselves as a leader in the industry among the new generation of creators,” said Amber Venz Box, the president and co-founder of LTK, an influencer monetisation platform.

But the number of people looking for a quick path to success, however, has helped lead to a rise in content that promises such a result.

“Nobody can teach you how to have that je ne sais quoi, that’s just right place at the right time and having the right stroke of luck,” said Jessica Camerata, an influencer who runs the blog An Indigo Day as well as The Blog Societies, a community for fashion and lifestyle influencers that offers education resources.

Specific Skills

Influencers often receive critique and confusion from those on the outside — questions such as ‘do you just take pictures of yourself all day?’

Finding long-term success in the space involves quite a bit of behind-the-scenes work, from planning and scheduling out social media posts, filming content, editing images and videos, writing copy, coordinating brand campaigns, creating passive and active income streams and more. For smaller-scale influencers, it also involves more proactive pitching in order to secure brand partnerships.

“It’s not enough just to create content and share it,” said Jade Beason, who runs a company called WeSideHustle that offers education and consulting for aspiring content creators. “You need to learn the algorithms behind every platform, SEO strategy, the basics of marketing to understand why brands want to work with you. A lot of people don’t want to hear that.”

It’s those skills that can be taught, said Kayley Reed, the chief executive and founder of Hermana, an influencer agency, rather than how to be an influencer, particularly one at the top of the pack. Options that promise ultra-fast follower growth or viral success are simply trying to capitalize on a growing trend.

“I tell clients, I’m not going to make you go viral, but I’m going to get you in the best position possible to be able to do well and work with brands,” said Beason.

While learning those skills may not immediately translate to social media fame or having tangible influence over an audience, using them effectively can build the foundation for what could become a long-lasting career. For every Addison Rae and Chiara Ferrigani, there are thousands of others with more modest followings that have been able to replicate (or even top) salaries they might have made in a more traditional career through content creation.

“Most people may never get to stardom, but they can make a decent career out of it,” said Camerata.

Related Articles:

How to Build an Influencer Marketing Team

What Makes the Perfect Influencer Collaboration?

Meet the Next Generation of Fashion Week Influencers

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