What it takes to be an Influencer

Image Credit: Mandy Maher

Sitting down with Mandy Maher of The Platform, Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell asks all things content-creation and how the world has gone online.

Launching a business a year into a global pandemic is no mean feat, but successful businesswoman, Mandy Maher, knows where things are going. Maher launched the influencer agency The Platform on Friday, March 5th 2021. As described on their website, The Platform is designed to allow “brands to engage with social media influencers and content creators”. From the moment it launched on Instagram, The Platform already had a significant number of famous faces and brands associated with its page. At the time of publication, the agency already had twenty-five clients listed on their social media page and website;
“The Platform is a sister agency to Catwalk Modelling Agency. We represent influencers and content creators for social media sites, which predominantly would be Instagram. Yes, we do Facebook and we will definitely be hitting-in on the TikTok area, but it is predominantly Instagram influencers really”.

Maher is best known for her Catwalk Modelling Agency and has over twenty years experience in the modelling industry. As part of Catwalk, Maher has worked with everything from fashion shows and promotional events, to photoshoots and bridal fairs, and she features regularly on Virgin Media’s Ireland AM as a stylist.
“The fashion industry got such a hammering in the last twelve months, and it’s going to continue for another year, pretty much. Regarding Catwalk Modelling, we have pretty much wrote-off this year for work. Yes, we will do certain things, we’re still legally allowed to do digital shoots on a one-to-one basis in order for businesses to stay alive, so we can continue those. But regarding doing any events or anything, until the hospitality industry opens up and until numbers can get back to some normality, we’ve written-off that. This is really where your influencer business is coming in because so many people are on their phones and they’re really following these people.
“For brands, this is just a new way of advertising. When they’re sitting down with their marketing department, their budgets now are for so many radio campaigns, so many newspaper campaigns, but now the big thing is social media [...] which will obviously fall under the umbrella of influencers and content creators. That’s where it’s going, this is only the tip of the iceberg I believe”.

Featuring influencers who cover everything from food and fashion, to home and fitness, the platform offers a wide array of influencers to follow, and from a business point of view, to collaborate with; “What we do is that we effectively will deal with everything to do with brands. Say, for example, a brand could contact me about working with a particular influencer, and what we do then is that we decide, ok working out a package for them that they want to promote.
“The influencers I [...] actually have on the books right now for me myself are ones that I have been doing research on for the last couple of months, really, before I launched - and it’s people from all walks of life, whether its fashion, whether it’s food, whether it’s home living and interior, fitness. What we’re trying to do is bring a diversity of different influencers that are on their social media pages so the regular person who’s watching at home can actually see what’s going on in regard to their brands, and what promotions are going on.
“But”, she emphasises, “what’s important is that they stay true to their followers, so that they’re not promoting something they know in heart and soul that they don’t believe in the product, or it’s putting on a jumper and they know in their heart and soul that they would not wear that jumper. So they need to stay true to who they actually are, because we are adamant on that”.
As our social media feeds have been saturated with content-creators, it is worth asking whether or not this can be considered a sustainable career choice. ‘Influencing’ appears to have become a full-time job, and Maher agrees that this time last year she would have been sceptical;
“I can actually tell you if you said that to me a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed it as much as I do know. Probably because we’re all living in a world of everything being so fast, no one really took a step back and actually looked at what’s happening and what’s going on. But moreso, since the pandemic hit last March 2020, I would say it is imperative for every business to survive that they need to have an online presence, without a doubt. We’re not going backwards now, this is going to be our future. The last year would definitely have zoned in on that, because the bulk of us have been at home. So what do you do? The bulk of us have been on our phones all the time, and checking through what’s going on through social media outlets, whatever it is, but this is the way forward [...] It’s going to get bigger”.

In a society where services are becoming increasingly difficult to be appropriately remunerated for, I ask whether this revitalised bartering system of goods in exchange for promotion is difficult to capitalise on, and make money? For instance, you get sent a self-tanning lotion - how does that translate into paying for your rent?
“This is where I come in”, Maher explained. “A lot of influencers have been exploited, and [...] people are contacting them to promote their brands and  they're getting nothing for it. Effectively now it has got to the stage that this is their business, so there are a lot of influencers - even some of the ones we have on our books - this is their full-time job.
“Effectively how it translates, if a client [or] a brand is looking to get promoted, they have to pay for it. That’s the way it’s gone. This is another form of advertising. Instead of going your traditional route of being your radio, or tv ad, or your newspaper, it’s now your online advertising, and it’s being done by people who have tried out these products. It’s being done by the ordinary person at home, so for argument’s sake you take the likes of Bellamianta Tan, these influencers are physically trying on that tan. And they’re telling their followers, yes I really recommend this, it sits really well, it’s really easy to apply, whatever. If they don’t believe in it, they’re not going to promote it. Well they shouldn’t promote it! Their followers are following them because they believe in them”.

Switching off from work and the right to disconnect has become an increasing problem for many people around the world with the move from the traditional workplace, to the desk at home. Switching-off from social media is perhaps even more difficult. I ask Maher about when you can decide to switch off;
“Absolutely. Even myself, [...] there were times when I thought there were never enough hours in the day. But I put myself in front of the camera during the past year as well, I have been one of those people who have come in front of the camera - which I never would have been before - but I would say nobody realises how time-consuming it is. It is horrendously time- consuming. It’s actually more time consuming than what it would be for the regular person going to work from nine to five, because it is non-stop.

“But a balanced life is vital. But you need to be able to treat it as if you’re going to work everyday. So you know if you have got a particular brand you need to promote, you might set aside four or five hours tomorrow for it, do what you need to get done - whether it’s photographs or videos content, whatever it is - and then you know you’re finished at four or five a clock in the day and you’re ready to go home and do the family thing, do whatever you usually do in the evening, whether it’s exercise, or going to cinema - hopefully we will be getting back there again! - that kind of thing. It is important, it can actually suck you in and take over your life, which is not healthy”.

Another issue which even the most sporadic of social media-users faces is what to show, and what to keep off the timeline. When this concern is coupled with your main source of income, and external pressures from collaborations or business agreements, this line becomes even more difficult to draw. While many parents choose not to show their children on their feed, there a significant number of well-known content creators who have their family front-and-centre, and some who even drive revenue and collaborations as a parent. As the main negotiator between influencer and brand, I ask Maher how involved The Platform is when decided how much the client needs to be willing to show;
“Each influencer is very different. Obviously we only opened up this side of our business last Friday (March 5th), so it is a very new road for me.[...] Each of our influencers I have spoken to individually, I have a photograph of the influencers around my office, because I am now getting to know them. It probably wouldn’t be as personal as it would be with my models, initially anyway, because I don’t know them. So they’re completely new to me as well, but I very much have asked them then in regards to do they want to show their family? I know for me, I don’t put my kids on my pages. I don’t do many home photos, or things from home with regards to my page because I know it’s not really where I want to go. For me, I like to be able to switch off, and home’s home and it’s separate from work. Where there are others who want to live the route of having their family involved, and it’s a very personal choice, I think. It’s really down to each individual influencer”.

If you follow Maher’s social media accounts, you would be aware that she has only recently begun to step in front of the camera herself. I ask her if she has experienced the impact of trolling and how The Platform reacts to such negativity;
“It is horrendously time- consuming. It’s actually more time consuming than what it would be
for the regular person going to work from nine to five, because it is non- stop...you need to be able to treat it as if you’re going to work everyday... it can actually suck you in and take over your life, which is not healthy”.
“Absolutely. It’s huge. It’s very hard. When you’re in the public eye, you have to be able to take it. There are always going to be people that love you, and people that just don’t like you, and that’s fine, that’s life, that’s reality. But anyone that trolls people, really to me they have nothing else to do with their time, and if someone could sit down and write nasty things about other people, so me it says enough about them as a person. Often you can get comments on stuff and they’re never nice, but it’s how you deal with it. You need to be able to grow a thick skin, and move beyond it. Unless it gets out of hand - then you put it into the hands of someone in authority at that stage, if that’s the case”.

It has become commonplace for people to have a couple of social media pages. Often the second account may only be for a specific interest, and may not have been created to earn revenue, but it reflects how social media has changed - everyone is now an influencer. However, for others, their social media page may be financially more worthwhile than their degree; flexible working-hours, free products, perks and experiences, and potentially fame and a lot of money. I ask Maher what are the main things an aspiring influencer should work towards;
“I would say to them, have their page, number one, staying true to who they are. For example, I would say to any influencer, you can’t be a master of everything. You need to be a master of something. There’s no point having a page in fashion (and fashion and skincare and beauty really would come under one umbrella because usually it does), but there’s no point in her also being the mother in the kitchen doing amazing cooking, and ‘watch my new recipes coming’, because you can’t do everything. Or now let’s forget that and talk about wallpaper today. So I would say to any influencer they need to target what they actually want, what they feel they’re good in, and what they feel followers of their page will like.

“I would also definitely say do not promote something if you don’t believe in it. There’s no point going on as an influencer saying ‘this toothpaste is amazing, it really whitens your teeth’, and next week you’re using a completely different brand. You need to be true to yourself because otherwise everything is going to fall flat. It won’t work because people won’t believe you, and if that’s the case then they will start unfollowing you, and brands won’t work with you either”.