To Be or Not to Be an Influencer: How to Decide?


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Influencer or not

In the summer of 2009, I decided to take a job that I’d quickly discover I was terrible at:

Yes, that’s right folks.

I willingly signed away 3 months of my life to be a camp counselor to…

(Drumroll please.)

… ten — count ‘em, TEN — 12 year old girls.

Who’s In Charge Here?

Now, make no mistake, it wasn’t my girls’ fault.

They were all pretty awesome as pre-teens go, and we had a solid, unspoken truce all summer long:

I wouldn’t rip the sheets off them to wake them up in the morning, and they wouldn’t rat me out to management for stumbling back to the bunk after a few too many beers on my nights off.

It was management that was the problem.

They were the reason that summer would go down on record as one of my most miserable on record — because, while I didn’t realize it when I said yes, accepting that job involved abiding by an incredibly long set of increasingly more draconian rules.

Rules that, when broken, would get you fired basically immediately. And that was not a bluff.

The rules involved some expected stuff: don’t smoke cigarettes on campus even a mile+ away from any campers, don’t come back to camp three sheets to the wind…

Don’t Say It…Don’t Day It…Don’t Say It!

… But also, some quite unexpected: if you arrived even one minute after curfew, you’d lose one of your nights off, and if your campers asked you anything about your personal life, or gasp. sex — you were required to deflect, deflect, deflect.

I didn’t LOVE it, for a number of reasons. (The amount of misinformation swirling around camp about intimate relationships especially, even in the age of the internet, was staggering.)

But I wasn’t their parent, and management made the rules. They also paid my tiny salary.

Thus: I digressed.

I’d bend the rules where I could here and there but overall, I’d need to find a middle ground to spend my summer in peace.

Oh Honey…Nobody WANTS To

So imagine my amusement when I broke up a squabble between my campers, and pulled the instigator aside to encourage her to apologize, only to have her tell me:

“Well, my mom said I never have to do anything I don’t wanna do.”

And, as a young hippie whippersnapper feeling constrained by camp credo at that very moment…

“BOY ARE YOU IN FOR A RUDE AWAKENING, KID,” I wanted to shoot back.

But I resisted dropping that sick burn.

“Well,” I said instead. “You’re right — technically, you don’t have to do anything.

But being able to compromise will make your life easier. So I’ll leave the next steps up to you.”

Eventually, she apologized.

Pragmatism: 1

Tween drama: 0

Sometimes The Middle Ground Is The High Ground

Because the truth is?

While we should genuinely avoid draconian and unrealistic rules for ourselves and each other… digging our heels in and refusing to do anything, ever, isn’t the answer.

Sometimes we’ve gotta find a middle ground between what we want to do, and what we understand needs to be done to get where we wanna go.

And I think about that summer, and that little conversation, when I see this “all or nothing” mentality reflected in the online business world, too.

Particularly when it comes to social media, there are two perceived rules at play:

The draconian: You need to be “an influencer” to succeed in business. Without that strategy, you will fail. And the unnecessarily entirely resistant: Influencers are garbage, the urge to become an influencer is inherently shallow, and in business, you should never have to do anything you don’t wanna do.

But the reality is, as always, somewhere in between

Do you need to force yourself to do stuff you don’t wanna do, and be “an influencer” (whatever that means) so you can make All the Monies?

No.

But similarly, are all influencers shallow garbage people, and are you a similar garbage person for desiring even a modest following?

Also very no.

Knowing Where To Draw The Line

However, when defining your strategy, you ultimately need to decide where you’ll draw your own draconian “no” line, and where you’ll choose to be pragmatic.

Do you have the kind of business where being a visible voice in your space will be a sales driver, and a path forward to becoming the kind of voice and authority you want to be? If so, how do you approach that responsibly and consciously?

But also: What are your other options for building that visibility without social media?

And, similarly, where does your disdain for building visibility come from? Is it actually a moral imperative, or are you just worried about what other people think?

On-Stage or Back-Stage? Why Not Both?

We get into all these questions AND MORE on today’s {encore} episode of #HAMYAW, appropriately titled: “Do I “have” to be an influencer?”

Inside this quick 16-minute chat, we discuss:

Do YOU have to be an influencer to create the kind of success you want? Disdain for influencer culture, and where it comes from Ideas for what you can do to grow your business without being super active on social media CAN you sell your stuff first behind the scenes without building an audience? (Absolutely.) Ways our fear of visibility can cut us off at the knees The real secret to keeping up momentum on social media — even if it’s not your favorite place to be

Click here to catch it now, and while you’re over there, let us know…

What are YOUR takes on influencer culture?

Do you approach your social media pragmatically? Or are you more an “all or nothing” type?

What non-social media strategies have worked best for you?

Spill your guts in the comments — and we’ll catch you over there.

Write on, H

P.S.

Pls enjoy our Lizzo singalong in the opening. We’re planning our stint on America’s Got No Singing Talent as we speak.

Episode Transcript

(humming)

♪ I put my handcuffs ♪

♪ Take my hand ♪

♪ Baby, how you feeling ♪

♪ Man, I feel good ♪

(laughing)

Yes!

(upbeat music)

Welcome back, marketing nerds of the world.

It’s time for another episode of HAMYAW.

And today, we wanna talk about the question we’ve been getting asked a lot by prospects who work with us in a coaching capacity, in a brand capacity, in a creative direction capacity.

And this is the question of can I have a successful business if I don’t wanna be an influencer?

(maniacal tune)

So Margo and I are at a little bit of an impasse in terms of our opinions here.

And I can’t wait to dig in personally, but before we do, Margo, how is your influencer life today?

Listen, I’ve always wanted to be an influencer, so yell at me, bro, please.

I will sell all of your Tupperware.

I will dance around in my bikini.

No, okay, we’ll talk.

I’m gonna let you talk about what an influencer actually is but I’m gonna go ahead and take my stand on this which is you absolutely do not have to be an influencer.

You can run a business in many ways.

Nobody knows who the CEO of Uniqlo is and Uniqlo exists as a brand.

Now, I think we should caveat this conversation as service based businesses and I think people

at the least the questions that have been directed to me tell me if you’ve gotten different ones are around digital products.

Yep.

How do you sell digital products and services and agency stuff without your own personal brand being front and center?

It is an absolutely fair question.

It makes me angry because I think a lot of people have taken courses where they are told this is the only version.

And along with this comes the requirement that you must produce content at scale that attracts people to your conversion optimized website, gets them on your email list where you continue to upsell them and it’s a beautiful model that works for many, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it.

I can go on for hours on this, but go ahead and state your claim and then we’ll fight.

I’m gonna say that as somebody who’s been called an influencer once or twice who doesn’t necessarily feel like one, when I think influencer, I think…

When I think influencer, I think Kim Kardashian, I think people selling Tummy Tea, I think people who are there every day with their little bags and they’re posing with the one foot out and they do the pose where they stick their butt out to make their waist look smaller and don’t ask me how I know these things.

But I think there’s a lot of negativity around that kind of influencer culture, for sure.

And I think in our corner of the internet, I think there’s a lot of disdain for influencer culture despite the fact that it is for some of us, me, an essential component of their business model that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are doing TikToks every three seconds, constantly taking awkward photos for the ‘Gram at the museum, that kind of thing.

All the things that annoy us about influencer culture which I believe in the UK is jokingly called influenza culture.

I did an email about this, so if you’ve been on my list for awhile, I think it’s an amazing joke because they’re a sickness.

But overall, I think that people who are questioning the influencer step sometimes there are folks who just have no interest in doing it, but I think there are other folks who do it because they think people are gonna make fun of them, they think it’s gonna be awkward, they think they’re not good enough to have a platform for themselves.

And to those folks, I say if you wanna speak, if you wanna teach, if you wanna have a funnel from social media into your offers, if you wanna build a platform, is it necessary?

Not necessarily, but it helps.

Well, okay, no, this is a really important distinction.

So where I was going was if you don’t wanna be front and center of your brand, you do not have to be.

There is no law that says you have to be front and center, but if you are the company, then there is no avoiding it.

So Hillary and I have built companies around our personalities.

So it would be very difficult to disentangle the two, including this show.

It doesn’t work if it’s not us.

But that’s a choice.

And so I think you’re right in that if the reluctance to being an influencer is coming from a place of fear, that’s different from it coming from a place of sincerely I’m not interested because I’ve worked with people who they are masters of being behind the scenes, they are comfortable there.

They’re not afraid of being front and center, they’re just not interested.

And I think for that, we were talking about this offline, I think for that there are other approaches to business.

And I like to quote Michelle Warner on this that we’re just lacking creativity and thinking about…

You don’t have to sell a course through your website with your face on it.

There are so many other ways to sell a course if we sit down and think about your pipeline and what you want your pipeline to look like and what name you wanna use to productize your product and to brand it and to how you wanna position it in the market, whether you wanna white label it, whether you wanna take it direct to consumer, whether you wanna do B2B partnerships behind the scenes.

I have and you have tons of friends who aren’t front and center in terms of their brand or their public persona is very different from how they make money.

I have a friend that runs a company no one’s ever heard of and she’s known as a life coach, but that is not how she makes money.

She makes money from a different type of company that is completely behind the scenes.

So I think entertaining those options is absolutely fine.

Absolutely, do you have a couple of examples of how if you don’t wanna be an influencer, but let’s say you wanna sell a digital product. What could that look like for folks?

Yeah, absolutely, I think partnerships are a big one where you can get in front of existing audiences without having to build your own.

So you find pockets and we call them fishing holes of where whether it’s an association, whether it’s a group membership, whatever that you can either do a workshop for or you sell-in an affiliate deal where they do the top of the funnel promotion for you and you sell your widget.

So you’re not putting then into a funnel, you’re not upselling them or maybe you capture their information.

That’s up to you then.

Another way is creating one product.

I have a friend that does this and she white labels it and sells it to B2B companies so they each use their own customized version of her creation.

Then there’s other people who facilitate and they prefer to do live, so it’s less of a digital product.

Maybe I should not use that example then.

But I think it’s apropos, coaches and facilitators that I know who don’t want to build audiences or truly truly don’t have the bandwidth and are building the business first are going directly to decision makers, pitching them directly and saying, hey, I can do a presentation, it cost this much.

And then they use whoever shows up is their pipeline.

So they tend to get clients from the workshops that they go to.

So it’s a less in the public eye.

I mean, those are just a couple examples.

But I think that works if you’re not interested in the stuff that we’re interested in.

Yeah, absolutely and I think we talked a little bit about this on the should you get off social media episode.

Another great episode.

We’re gonna do the thing where we point and then we forget to upload the episode card.

So just look for it, you’ll see it, guys.

For me, I think that when I get that I don’t wanna be an influencer or I hate social media challenge come up, absolutely, this is the salve.

You can actually partner with people, you can borrow audiences and all of that.

But I think you run a risk in two ways.

You don’t wanna do something you hate that’s gonna totally drain you, period.

But also, I think on that episode we talked a lot about the security of having that platform as well and having something you control because when you’re at the mercy of somebody else or another organization, things can change quickly.

I think it’s absolutely an option, but I think the security process has gotta look totally different for those other folks, correct?

How do you, I have to wonder because I don’t, this is not the way I run my business though I do partner with people.

How do you stay secure at that stage?

I think it’s just probably having a great network, period.

It’s your network is your security.

So you’re still I think regardless if you were a CEO or a founder of a company, you’re the face to some degree no matter what, you’re doing cold pitching.

There’s certain things you cannot get around.

And I think building your own audience, I think is I would not call a necessary evil for certain business models.

I think they might be for what we want.

I would say that you can have a profitable business without an audience.

No doubt, yeah.

They’re two different things.

Now, to your point and I want you to elaborate on this, if you want an audience and then claiming you don’t want to be an influencer as a way of staying small and making yourself seem better than others, let’s talk about that ’cause that’s different.

So I run into this actually a fair bit in my coaching as well.

And in my applications, I get that a lot.

But I would say a lot of people who claim to hate social media often they’re not using it to talk about things that they’re passionate about, they’re not using it in a way that gives them energy or drives money to their bank account.

If you were to ask me a year ago how I felt about the platforms, I would have told you and I think we probably have this on the record in an episode that Facebook is my main platform, Twitter is where I go to jerk off and then Instagram is my play platform.

(laughing)

And then LinkedIn, (gags).

I think that’s exactly what I said then and I say it now.

But ultimately in the last year, I hired a team, I got support to use Instagram more effectively and more often.

And it has blown the roof off my business this year.

It has been out of control as a sales tool for me.

It’s fun to use, I enjoy it, I’m always messing around on Stories with new ways to share stuff and just telling funny stories ’cause I find life hilarious.

And Instagram is a great way for me to just talk about that.

I find life and business just as hysterical most of the time especially when I’m making money.

That’s when it’s especially funny.

But I think that ultimately we can cut ourselves off at the knees by making assumptions about what other people are gonna think about us if we start pursuing social platforms more seriously.

I think we’re also concerned because let’s be real, social media can be a frickin dumpster fire.

So you’re getting swept up in that mix, what does that look like, how do you responsible use just like with anything else that gives you a hit of dopamine, right?

And then I think also the third piece of this puzzle is often people are nervous that they’re not gonna know what to say every day, that they’re not gonna have something interesting to share, that no one’s gonna find them cool or funny or clever or authoritative or an expert or a specialist in anything.

So then they might as well go curl up in a ball and die.

I think in addition to that, I think they’re afraid of being known for something that they don’t wanna be known for.

There’s a secret passion somewhere.

Yeah, 100%, and I do this a lot with my clients where it’s like, okay, what do you actually wanna be talking about?

What gets you excited, what are the problems that you wanna solve?

And this is the same approach I took to blog writing years ago and this is what I always, always preach which is that if you’re not talking about the stuff that interests you, you’re not gonna keep up with it.

If you’re not talking about the topics that give you energy as opposed to taking it away, there’s no way you’re gonna keep up the momentum.

So I think a lot of people feel like, well, I’m getting on Instagram and I have to make sure I do my 60 bazillion killer posts, whatever the hell that is, talking about…

I’m just kidding, I know what that is.

Where I talk about the basics and where I teach the newbies and then maybe in six months, when I have 10,000 followers, then I can talk about this thing.

It’s like, no, start by talking about the thing and watch how your relationship to the platform changes.

Wait, I think we need to sit here.

Also getting support, that also helps.

Let me tell you, hiring people to help you manage this stuff is very handy especially if it is gonna be a core part of your business model, you don’t have to do it all alone.

Yes, okay, there’s some really important things here I wanna unpack, y’all.

Number one, sequencing like what Hillary’s talking about.

It’s important that it happens after you know what you’re selling.

And I think a lot of people struggle to get started in the beginning because they’re not actually clear on what their business is yet. And so it confuses them.

And then I think there are these beliefs to your first point that we have to be really on the nose.

I hear this a lot from Twitter.

One of my favorite, one of the most talented copywriters I know was telling me that they, they’re like, “I don’t wanna write about coffee,” and “I don’t wanna be known for coffee “but that’s how I make money.”

And I was like, girl, tell me all the things.

Tell her to call me.

(laughing)

And when they started to us and we dug under in the same way and they were like, I wanna dismantle capitalism and patriarch and I was like, okay, this is interesting.

And gender norms and I was like, how is this not related to copy?

Because this feels pretty damn related.

But also you can brand yourself as that.

I am the copywriter who talks about these things.

Where we struggle and I get it because I struggle with this, too, is that we’re often looking for a linear thread between all of our disparate interests and I think that’s where again, sequencing, I’m like what’s my business, what’s my personal and when that all happens, but also boundaries.

So there are certain things that you’re gonna talk about in social media and certain things you’re not.

And if you’re there for a distinctly business purpose or if you’re there also like you said to have a little bit more fun.

And by the way, when we say influencer, we’re focusing on social media, but what we mean by all of this is being the face of your brand, picking a hill to die on, standing for something.

It’s how you show up in public for your business.

It’s not just what you promote on social media.

So final thoughts on this, I think that, again, I think the word influencer has really bad connotations and that’s part of the reason why people wanna run away from it.

‘Cause all the people tell me they don’t wanna be an influencer but also they wanna have a bit of a following on social media and it’s like, well, huh?

So, I think that again it’s the connotation of the word that throws people for a loop in a big way.

I think it also feels like a massive responsibility to have an audience and in some ways it very much is and some people shy away from that.

But ultimately I find if you want to have a business that you are the face of, if you are the face of your brand, this is part of a game in some ways you have to play, especially if you want to speak, if you wanna sell courses, if you don’t wanna be reliant on secondary sources to sell your stuff, it’s important to look down the barrel of that gun and really figure out what you want because you can think through and get creative just in the way you can get creative with business models around how you use social media, how you show up and what you’re talking about in a way that’s actually gonna support you and feel good and not make you feel like an influenza.

(laughing)

Oh, so beautifully said.

Yeah, I agree with Hillary on this.

Sorry, you guys.

Listen, you absolutely do not have to be an influencer but think about your business model first.

So this is where I would encourage people to think about product found or fit.

There’s the businesses you can run and the businesses you should.

And thinking about your natural disposition, what feels comfortable to you because you’re gonna be doing things uncomfortably no matter what in business.

So knowing what that line is for you and what kind of business you wanna run because it might be that you don’t want a personality brand business.

And that’s fine.

That’s absolutely fine, but if you do and then you’re coming in and saying, well, I don’t wanna be an influencer, then you need to find a different way.

Not a different way as in not being an influencer but finding a way of showing up as you that doesn’t make your skin curl and that feels more authentic and then hire Hillary.

Exactly, there’s your answer, truly, at the end of the day, call me, y’all.

For real.
(laughing)

All right, on that note, we do wanna hear what your hesitations are to putting yourself out there, where you have discovered that you wanna put your name on something, where you have either hidden behind a brand unnecessarily or turned your brand into something else and it was the right choice.

Tell us all the things here in the comments below.

If you like this episode, like it below, subscribe to our channel and share it with your friends!

I am Margo Aaron.

And I’m Hillary Weiss.

This has been Hillary and Margo Yell At Websites HAMYAW and we will see you in two weeks.

Bye for now, y’all.
(shouting)

Photo by Juliet Clare Warren

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