What it's really like to be an Instagram influencer

Being an Instagram influencer is a very real job for many people around the world who've turning social media from a hobby into a career. Still, the idea of being an influencer is very polarizing. Some people think it's a great gig to strive for, while others think it's a silly excuse for a job. However you feel about it, there seems to be no stopping the movement, and it's only getting bigger. Today, there are plenty of influencers who have made it so big on Instagram that they've created their own beauty and clothing brands, as well as their own companies. Pretty impressive, to say the least.

The fact is, there is a lot more to being an influencer than just taking some photos of yourself, wearing nice clothes, and posting ads on your Instagram feed. The job requires a lot of dedication, effort, hard work, and business smarts. Though, of course, it's a fun job with tons of great opportunities like trips and free products. But what's it really like to be an influencer? Read on to find out.

You basically have to work 24/7

Making a living with social media means you don't work regular 9 to 5 hours. Instead, you have to be "on" all the time. In an interview with AFAR, Kiersten "Kiki" Rich, the woman behind the account The Blonde Abroad, explained that the hardest thing about being an influencer is "keeping up with it," adding, "You can't go on a week's vacation. It's every day, all day long." In an interview with USA Today, beauty influencer Huda Kuttan pointed out the same thing, saying, "The most important thing is that this isn't a part-time job. When you leave the office on weekends, you are always going to be this person –- especially if you are an influencer-founded brand, you never get to leave that life." 

Influencer Jane Aldridge of Sea of Shoes, shared with Man Repeller some of the things that go into her week, which she says is "scheduled top-to-bottom." She says there's "styling, shooting, post-processing, writing, web management," and more. She noted that there's so much that goes into the job that it can sometimes be "draining."

You have to be ready to evolve

Being an Instagram influencer obviously means working primarily with your Instagram account, but Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad noted that it's important you're always ready to evolve and change things up, as internet and social media trends change all the time. In an interview with AFAR, she explained, "I realized very early on that you can't put all of your eggs in one basket in this industry." She discussed the importance of using other apps aside from just Instagram, saying that it really all comes down to intuition. She explained, "I have a very strong sense of who my readers are, so I need to ask: 'Does this platform speak to young women? Could I see myself using it? And how is it used?'" 

In an interview with Man Repeller, an influencer who wanted to remain anonymous explained that the job is about more than just taking good pictures. She said, "There is a certain savvy that is required, and if you don't have it, there is definitely the requirement of good judgment because you have to find someone to work with you who does have the savvy gene." 

You're often underestimated

Influencers work hard and take on many different tasks, but most people assume that their job is a joke. In an interview with Influry, influencer Charlotte Nikitopoulos of Charlotte's Lookbook said that it isn't just about creating photos, but it's also about being in control of a brand and its content. She said, "Most influencers are highly educated people and are often seen to be 'nothing but a pretty face.'" 

In an interview with Man Repeller, influencer Lainy Hedaya said something similar, pointing out that her brand is extremely important to her (as it is for most influencers). She explained, "A lot of people think I just frolic around the world wearing cool clothes, take selfies and my work is simple, but there's a lot behind the scenes that goes into a single Instagram post." An influencer who asked to remain anonymous gave a warning to anyone who wants the job via Man Repeller, saying, "If you are trying to make 'influencing' a full-time gig, you might be surprised at how much goes into it on the business side."

It's more stressful than it seems

So what are influencers doing aside from taking photos? According to many of them, quite a bit — and it's pretty stressful. One tough part is always answering to a large audience. Canadian influencer Tee Go of ThatSoTee talked about it in an interview with Narcity, saying that the job can be amazing, but, at the end of the day, "your audience is also your boss." She said it can be hard to listen to so many voices at once, saying, "You need the right attitude and tough skin if you're going to work in this field."

Aimee Song of Song of Style said something similar to Man Repeller, pointing out that there are a lot aspects of the business that go unnoticed to outsiders. Arielle Charnas, who used Instagram fame to create her brand Something Navy, added that it can be tough to stay on top of things, explaining, "The pressure to deliver content every day is always there." She noted, "The worst part is losing creative freedom." 

It's all about engaging with your audience

Instagram influencers don't only have to manage a business and a personal brand, take great photos, and constantly stay on the pulse of social media — they also have to stay engaged with their audience 24/7. Influencer Caitlyn Warakomski told The Digest Online that a huge part of her job is "answering comments, DMs, engaging with [her audience's] personal content and profiles." She added, "It's super important because it shows that you're a real person, not just some fantasy-unattainable-Instagram-thing. It's like I'm your friend." 

Engagement might be difficult to get under control, but, for most influencers, it's totally worth the effort. Aimee Song explained to Man Repeller that, while the free stuff and travel is undoubtably great, what she really loves is her audience, saying, "Having an online community can be a very positive and empowering thing, especially as a woman in today's world. The best part about this journey is I get to meet so many amazing people."

Your finances can be unpredictable

It's easy to assume that Instagram influencers are all well off. Their photos make it seem like they have endless money, time, and resources, and there are wild rumors about how much they get paid to post one small ad. While some things are true for select big influencers, these things are not true for all of them. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, influencer Asiyami Gold explained how unpredictable money can be without a stable income. She said, "You [can] go through a month, two months, three months of not knowing where your daily bread is coming from. Sometimes you have to save that $5,000 you got for the next five months, because you don't know when you're going to make money [again]."

Still, a few influencers who asked to remain anonymous spoke to Man Repeller and agreed that, once you become successful, it can be a very lucrative career. One influencer said, "From the time Instagram launched, I have been able to support myself from blogging alone. It depends on your situation." 

You always have to advocate for yourself

One of the most important things about being an influencer is being able to stand up for yourself and your brand. You have to have the confidence to push yourself on an audience and on brands and companies you want to work with, and you have to stay true to yourself at the same time. In an interview with Hire Influence, Chiara Marandellas of Culture With Coco explained that one of her keys to success was staying true to herself. She said, "To be successful at blogging is to know your worth. Do not accept every deal even if it may seem lucrative in the beginning. Brands know how valuable the reach of an influencer is, and you shouldn't be settling for less than what you deserve (unless it is for charity of course)." 

Travel blogger Aleisha MacAulay of eat.shop.travel said something similar in an interview with The Sun, during which she talked about how she has to be "extremely protective" of her personal brand, meaning that she turns down a lot of requests in other to keep "an alignment in quality and aesthetic."

You get a lot of great opportunities

Sure, being an influencer can be stressful and time-consuming, but it also has a huge positive side: It can lead to tons of great opportunities and, yes, free stuff. One anonymous influencer told Man Repeller, "You probably could get away with not paying for a single trip or outfit or workout class for the sum of a year. Not sure if this is true for meals, but if it is, I would like to sign up for that perk."

In an interview with Glamour, Aimee Song talked about how much things have changed for her since she started Instagramming. She explained that, in the beginning, she was paying for most of her things, including flights to shoots and travel experiences. But now, with her own brand and an immensely successful following, Song gets a lot of great opportunities she never dreamed of getting like front row fashion show seats, free travel, free clothes, and more.

It takes a lot of time and patience to grow a following

Becoming an Instagram influencer definitely doesn't happen overnight. Many of the most successful influencers say it took them years to really grow their accounts. In an interview with Startup Mindset, Paola Alberdi of Blank Itinerary said, "I feel like everyone wants immediate results but it takes a lot of work and time. You need to have patience and be consistent. You need to invest the time to create unique and amazing content."

Jeanne Grey of The Grey Layers told Business Insider that being an influencer isn't worth pursuing if you aren't very passionate about it, because it takes a long time to get anywhere. She explained, "I think there's no patience if you don't like [influencing] in the beginning. So you have to really like it. I think a lot of us here started as a hobby and we all loved doing it and it became a dollar." Asiyami Gold told Cosmopolitan that it took her "at least three years" before she felt stable in her job.

It can have a serious emotional impact on you

There's an emotional toll that comes with being on social media constantly, and many Instagrammers feel it. It's not just stress — a handful of influencers told Man Repeller that it's also about the pressure of being perfect all the time. Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds talked about competing with other influencers, saying that "the standard is so high that I get frustrated when I can't achieve the perfect feed." 

Lainy Hedaya added that it can be tough to portray your brand online all the time, saying, "In some ways, social media can dehumanize a person. People think what they see on my Instagram is really my life." She went on, "To some extent it might be, but I'm not going to post a picture of me on a Sunday morning with food poisoning. Relatable, sure, but not so inspiring." 

You don't make a lot of money right away

After achieving a big following, influencers can make a lot of money, but it definitely doesn't happen right at the beginning. It takes time. In her interview with AFAR, Kiersten Rich said that, in the beginning of her influencer days, "The struggle was definitely real." She added that she was supporting herself through school, had a few side jobs, and was only doing budget trips. 

While Aimee Song might now make enough money to get on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list, she told Glamour it wasn't always that way, saying it started off as a passion project: "[I had no idea] bloggers could make money at all." Asiyami Gold got real with Cosmopolitan, saying, "For [years], I ate noodles every single day, and it became my favorite meal." Sai de Silva of Scout the City told Business Insider that newcomers should know "if you are starting out and you want to make money, please don't expect to see money for one to three years into it."

You absolutely have to be authentic at all times

Being authentic is an extremely important part of being an influencer, which can be both good and bad. It's a positive thing that you have to always be yourself, but it does add some pressure. Still, big influencers say it's the key to becoming successful. In an interview with Business Insider, fashion influencer Krystal Bick said that the moment you partner with a brand just for the money, followers can tell and it can negatively impact you. She explained, "I think the power of influencer marketing is the inherent trust that I think we all built with the people who follow and read our blogs." 

Jeanne Grey agreed, saying it's so important for followers to see you being real "because at the end of the day, they are the ones double tapping, they are the ones who are going to give you the sale, who are going to give your brands the sale." 

You need to focus on being unique

Being authentic is important, but it's just as important to be unique, which is something many Instagram influencers insist you need to do in order to be successful. In an interview with Hello GigglesMarianna Hewitt, who translated her influencing success into the beauty brand Summer Fridays, explained that, if you want to get started, "Don't copy someone [else's] format or style of photography because there is already someone doing that. The influencer world is very saturated but there is always room for new people."

Arielle Charnas told Fashionista, "I know it's hard to post all the time and always capture content, but I think the more consistent you are, the better chances you have at succeeding. For me, and I'm sure for anyone, you go to an Instagram account, and if you don't see something different after two days, you're not going to go back to that account." That pressure to constantly be creative can be tough, but, if you're really into the job, it's worth it in the end.