Do I Have To Be An 'Influencer' To Make It In A Creative Career? | Read Time 6 mins

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As the elite club of the creative industry saturates to a strict one-in-one-out procedure, is the only way in through the secret side-door, with the password being #ad?

My friend's younger sister is 17 and currently has over fifteen thousand followers on TikTok. 

"She'll probably start earning more money than me soon, if she keeps gaining popularity the way she is, which is insane," my friend admits. Insane, yes, considering my friend is 24, has an English degree and is working full-time as a Marketing Manager in London, while her sister is still in college studying makeup artistry. It's a solid fair play to her; in many ways, for a young girl who aspires to become a successful MUA, creating an online platform to showcase her talent is a very wise career move. Social media provides creatives with the free and easy tools to ensure they're given maximum exposure. Because hasn't that been the goal all along? For your skill to be recognised? To gain popularity? For your passion to pay your monthly salary? With this in mind, I start to rapidly question my own career path. With copywriting taking precedence in my current role, and freelance journalism becoming an ideal outlook for the future, I start to wonder - do I have to become an Influencer to have a successful creative career?

An Influencer's role is measurable by three key traits. The first being popularity - obvs - and with that comes the all important numbers game (to apply for a Blogger and Digital Influencer pass at London Fashion Week, you'll need a minimum of 35k followers on Instagram). The second is relatable and authentic content. This notably comes through sharing lifestyle choices; the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the music they recommend, and so on. Thirdly, a militant ability to adapt and improvise amongst the ever-developing online market.  

What becomes alarming, is that this formula can be seen to repeat itself across many - if not all - creative career paths. Everyone has their favourite writer, designer, artist, musician etc, whose content they can relate to time and time again. But where does the creative freedom stop, and becoming an Influencer begin? It seems as though you can't be one without the other; there's simply not enough room in the industry to just be creative. To earn your keep, you’re now encouraged to promote products on the side; provide links to everything you're wearing in case someone wants to buy it, engage your audience by indulging in yourself, bust your ass even more than you already have done... because you now need to validate your talent through the gaze of heavyweight brands and marketers. 

To influence and inspire is arguably the bread and butter of any creative role. We strive to evoke emotion, thought and sense, much like a seventeen year-old with a 15k following on TikTok does. But I don't feel comfortable being paralleled against an Influencer, and I can imagine that's a shared opinion. It's an umbrella term that is being used to pigeon-hole all creatives into the same category. What's worse, it's dampening the creative voice; we're in an interesting position right now where we as the creative individuals are questioning the effort in the things we do. Influencers are being heard above everything and everyone at the moment, there does come a damning point where one steps back and thinks "what's the point?" 

When I think about why I follow certain creative Influencers on social media, my immediate thought was - "they just seem nice, cool, easy-going, and I love their aesthetic". Bingo. There's the golden word. 'Aesthetic'... aka, they're nice to look at, whether it's their style, or just the fact they're bloody stunning. If it wasn't already hard enough to become a freelancer, you now also need to provide your headshots, and evidence of when you popped off to film a cheeky perfume commercial on the side. Sure, looks have always been a career booster, but surely this applies less to industries where your work is supposed to be the stunning vision in the foreground? What if I just want to write articles in my big comfy knickers and call it a day? Is that now a career ender? Do I have to plaster my mind, body and soul online just so people will read my content? Are all creative professions now forward facing... can no-one hide behind their craft anymore? 

I guess that's just it. Creative people are becoming their craft; the colour scheme that ran through a blogger's website, a graphic designer’s portfolio, a writer's book-cover, is now the dominant colour on their Instagram grid. This physical embodiment of previous creative ventures is now the norm. I've found a lot of talented people through Instagram that are independently successful outside the realm of influencing, but are also using their digital platform to spread the word about important social issues and rights. Florence Given is a perfect example of this. An activist, artist and author - she was named 'Influencer of The Year' in 2019 by Cosmopolitan magazine, and is well-known for her public petition in 2018 to stop the release of Insatiable - a Netflix series that centred around the toxic realm of body-shaming women (the petition got over one hundred thousand signatures). Her Instagram is an amalgamation of colour, retro vibes and forward-thinking, hard-hitting facts and statements. One of her latest posts addresses the devastating events surrounding George Floyd, a Black American who was murdered in a racist attack by a White police officer in Minneapolis, and was boldly titled - "White People, We Have Work To Do." It currently has two hundred and fifty thousand likes. This type of influencing I am all for. 

Ultimately, the decision will always be down to the person who is creating the content, which is the silver lining in all of this - there's no contractual obligation to work with brands and promote goods when you share your work online. Fact is, if a brand that I love approached me wanting to collaborate on a project, it would be silly to say no, just for the sake of principle. Why would you not add another string to your bow, enhance another facet of your business that arguably requires minimal initial effort? Perhaps then, it's the ideology behind being an Influencer that people shun, rather than the act itself. This is a very new, and very modern sub-culture of the creative industry that is having its moment in the spotlight, and with that comes a plethora of toxicity. In the same way that being a Blogger was shunned a few years ago, being an Influencer is currently upsetting the order amongst heavyweight creators as it tries to find its feet. While the scale of popularity and success that comes with being an Influencer is too great to simply call a 'trend', it is imperative that it finds its place in the creative world - and stops being a black hole that other creatives are being unwillingly sucked into.

As always, wishing safe and sound energy to all x

*images taken from Pinterest*  

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