30 December 2016

Bloomberg: “Confessions of an Instagram Influencer”

Earlier this year, on the marketing website Digiday, an anonymous social media executive ranted that marketers were essentially throwing money away on influencers, whom the ranter characterized as talentless. That made me curious, and I started asking around to understand just how hard this job really is. Some swore the work is difficult. If it was so easy to be an influencer, then every single person on earth would do it, said Gary Vaynerchuk, who parlayed a YouTube channel into an ad agency, VaynerMedia, that specializes in social media marketing and now employs about 750 people. But another influencer guru, Daniel Saynt of the agency Socialyte, disputed that. With the right guidance, he said, almost anyone could Instagram professionally. To prove it, he made me an offer: He’d help me become an influencer myself.

The plan, which I worked out with my editor and a slightly confused Bloomberg Businessweek lawyer, was this: With Saynt’s company advising me, I would go undercover for a month, attempting to turn my schlubby @mchafkin profile into that of a full-fledged influencer. I would do everything possible within legal bounds to amass as many followers as I could. My niche would be men’s fashion, a fast-growing category in which I clearly had no experience. The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence.

Max Chafkin

A ‘My Fair Lady’ story for the 21st century.

Max Chafkin getting ready for the paparazzi
Getting ready for the paparazzi.
Photographer: Amy Lombard for Bloomberg Businessweek

While after the recent American election everyone is talking about the noxious effects of ‘fake news’, this is a good reminder that in our digital age the truth is diluted all around us by people living ‘fake lives’ on social media. And for people wondering how others gather so many Instagram likes, the answer is simple: many are generated by bots, while others are gained by social gaming tactics like following lots of users or leaving praising comments.

A week later, after a haircut the price and duration of which I refuse to share, I met Marcel Floruss and Nathan McCallum, two of Socialyte’s professional clients, at Lord & Taylor to borrow some outfits. The two men are opposites in almost every way. McCallum is compact and favors ripped jeans and piercings, and Floruss is lanky and clean-cut. Both are cartoonishly handsome, and both (I noticed this later when I checked out their Instagram work) have amazing abdominal muscles. Constantly, Floruss said, when I asked him how often he takes pictures of himself. You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.

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