Story originally published Nov. 1, 2017 on Huddle Today.
Moncton-based Sarah Duquette started her fashion blog, Boho and Braids about six years ago. At the time, she was also a teacher, a job she wasn’t truly happy with, but it paid the bills.
Over time, the audience and following for Boho and Braids continued to grow, particularly on Instagram. When Duquette got around 3,000 followers, she started getting approached by local fashion brands to partner with her. They would give her free product in exchange for things like contests and/or social media promotion Boho and Braids’ channels.
“Local people would contact me and stuff throughout the East Coast and then probably it was about a few years in when bigger brands started approaching me and I started getting more paid work instead of just getting free stuff all the time,” says Duquette.
This kind of work has made Duquette an “influencer,” someone with a strong brand and social media following that works with businesses to promote their products via their blogs and social media accounts, particularly Instagram.
Today with over 12,000 Instagram followers, Duquette has worked with brands like Bench, Le Chateau, Biolage, Ecco, Lise Watier and Marshall’s, just to name a few. It’s by doing this kind of work, along with her personal styling services, that allowed her to leave her teaching job to blog full-time around three years ago.
“It’s a pretty big percentage of the pie. Most of what I do is that, not my styling work. That kind of comes second,” she says.
Duquette isn’t the only New Brunswicker making money from being an influencer. Saint John-based photographer and entrepreneur Allie Beckwith is too. A professional photographer by trade, influencing was work she stumbled into while going to school in Halifax a few years back.
“When I was in school in Halifax I was just focusing on my Instagram a lot. I made a New Year’s resolution the year before that to post every single day no matter what, like a photography challenge. So my following started to grow and I think it was in Halifax when I got my first partnership, just basically free stuff,” says Beckwith.
“Pura Vida Bracelets and Ten Tree reached out to me because they liked the photography on my page and they saw that I had a little bit of a following, so it just started right there.”
Today with more than 20,000 Instagram followers, Beckwith works with brands like LG, Lexus, Endy, Dyson, Tim Hortons, Daniel Wellington among many others. Along with her photography, art and interior decor businesses, it’s work that’s helping her make a living.
“When someone has a following and great photography and people commenting or liking their photos, businesses see that as an opportunity to get their product in your hands to your audience,” says Beckwith.
“It sounds really awesome when you’re starting out. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, I get free stuff. This is great.’ But then after, very quickly, it starts to turn into work and you see that these brands are trying to use you to get to your audience you spent a lot of years building up.”
Both Duquette and Beckwith now have rates they charge companies they work with, in addition to receiving the product, though they can make some exceptions depending on the company and product. They also only partner with companies and products that fit into their individual brands and niches. This brings a level of authenticity, so their followers will actually pay attention to what they’re recommending.
“I’m pretty picky too. If it doesn’t fit my brand or if I wouldn’t be interested in it, I say, ‘No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t fit my branding,’ ” says Beckwith. “I’ve turned down a few paid jobs because it didn’t fit my branding. But at the end of the day, that’s what I want to attract. It’s companies that I use every day.”
Beckwith says another important key to being a successful influencer is having a loyal and interactive following. Anyone can easily buy thousands of followers, and that’s one of the first red flags companies will look for when scouting out influencers. Instead, they want to see if your followers engage and interact with you in a meaningful way.
“Having great readers and followers is huge. I find a lot of mine grew up with me. I would and still do host photography workshops and I was pretty active on Facebook in my earlier photography days. I think a lot of those people converted over to Instagram, which is my primary platform now,” she says. “I find that people feel like they get to know you and they really like you and you gain a good, solid, loyal following.”
Duquette says quality and consistency is also important for influencers. This means paying attention to the overall look and aesthetics of your social media platforms. This means having things like good photography and variety. She says it’s also important to post regularly.
“It’s constantly going. A lot of people I find they post something and then they won’t post for three or four days,” she says. “That’s not going to cut it, especially with Instagram, because you start losing that way. People lose interest in you or the algorithm kicks and you start losing followers. You have to keep up with it regularly.”
Finding the Right Fit
Cait Milberry, marketing and communications manager at Saint John-based ICS Creative Agency, says influencers can be powerful marketing tools for some businesses. But with different kinds of influencers out there, picking the right one for your business is crucial if you want to get measurable value.
“Influence can just be a friend of a family member recommending something just off your Facebook page, or it can be hiring someone who helps do a makeup tutorial and helps your makeup brand. It can be a different spectrum of things,” says Milberry.
“But I think the most important aspect is choosing the right person or the right medium in which you need the influence to happen and making sure that you’re able to understand the return on it.”
For example, while it makes sense for some businesses to work with more well-established brand influencers, for others it might make more sense to work with local-level influencers.
Milberry says these are people who don’t necessarily call themselves influencers, or necessarily try to be one. But they have a strong influence in their communities based on the content they put out and what they do. She puts these people in the category of micro-influencers.
“Different people that are covering things that are important that influence the people and the businesses in the community that we live in, that to me is an influencer. Working with people that can elevate you, elevate your brand and the way you operate,” she says.
“Those people seem to have way lower followings because they are more focused on content instead of optimizing the content. They just want to get it out. The people who are hungry for it will find it, but they’re not worried about how many followers they have because they know what they have is good.”
Regardless of the type of influencer a business goes with, it’s important for them to work with ones that fit their brand and have an engaged following. In other words, don’t just hire the person with 100,000 followers. Figure out if that person is going to have the most effective return for your business.
“People don’t just trust someone that has a large following because they’re not feeling it’s as sincere. It’s just that they’re constantly working with different people. They’re just pushing out stuff, which is awesome,” says Milberry.
“But it’s a fine point for businesses to work with different people with large followings and small ones. They really have to think why they want to hire or work with that person.”
For aspiring influencers, Milberry says it’s important to create that brand and niche for yourself. Though it may be tempting to say ‘yes’ to every offer that comes your way, be selective and choose work that’s in line with your brand. This will make you more overall appealing to companies you want to attract.
“Because being a ‘yes’ to everything does not show you are an expert or an industry leader in anything. It just shows you’re a ‘yes’ person. That to me is a busy-body,” she says.
“Which is great, but at the same time, what is it that’s your niche? What are you an expert in? Why would I come to you? Why would I hire you? I think what it comes down to is what information that you have that’s beneficial to my end users or my audience?”
Influencing New Brunswick
It’s keeping in-line with their brands and building strong, loyal followings that have helped both Sarah Duquette and Allie Beckwith generate income as brand influencers. However, being a brand influencer in New Brunswick has its challenges.
“It definitely has a kind of a negative impact, because a lot of people in Moncton have no idea what a fashion blogger is. I find, at least around Moncton, there’s not a lot for me to do,” says Duquette. “I usually have to go to Halifax. I work with an agency there. They have a lot of events I find that bloggers get invited to.”
Beckwith also says she’s missed out on some opportunities due to geography. Most opportunities for bloggers and influencers are in bigger cities.
“There’s a lot of PR events and really cool stuff going on in places like Toronto for bloggers and influencers,” says Beckwith. “I get invited to all these fun events I can’t go to and the cities and the photo opportunities, stuff like that.”
But she says being based in New Brunswick has allowed her more freedom to do what she wants to do.
“I’m making do with being in Saint John. It’s really fun. I live right [uptown], my family’s here and I can make a living from it. So clearly it’s working and it is comfortable,” she says. “I really like it and I’m not doing anything that I really hate doing. As long as I can travel from here, it’s good.”
Duquette says she is hopeful that the province’s business world will catch on to this new kind of marketing.
“Hopefully, Moncton will join the bandwagon. Lately, more and more people have been reaching out to me from local businesses,” she says. “So I think that’s the way to make it happen. More and more people will be like, ‘Ok, this makes sense.’ ”