I wouldn't call myself an influencer but I've moved in the influencer world for some time now and have friends who are definitely VERY INFLUENTIAL. It's a funny place. I remember when I went to an event a few years ago - a book launch for a big influencer - and my best friend accompanied me.
This particular friend wasn't on Instagram and the world felt very alien to her.
'Why is everyone looking over everyone elses' shoulder?' she asked, 'Someone was talking to me but spent the whole time looking at the door.'
'They're checking to see if anyone more important has come in,' I said.
'It's a bit rude,' she said, 'I mean don't they like people who aren't on Instagram?"
'No of course they do.'
But the reality was that if you aren't an influencer and are at an influencer event, it can feel rather brutal.
During this book launch, whilst the influencer did her talk about her book, the woman next to me was talking very loudly.
'She's doing well. A bloody book deal. Now a podcast.'
'Everyone is doing a bloody podcast,' her friend said, 'NEWSFLASH my cat's doing one.'
'Apparently she's got an exclusive with Primark,' her friend said, 'Some sort of home accessories range.'
'Her stories are boring. Blah blah blah. Motherhood is hard. I can't sleep. Blah blah. God I can't stand them.'
'Oh I like her stories. I mean they go on a bit but she's pretty honest right?'
'I might try and get a selfie with her when she stops talking.'
'What's she going on about?'
'Her struggle with facial hair I think.'
'Shall we get the book?'
'No let's not bother. Come on move closer. They're doing photos now.'
This kind of exchange isn't that uncommon at influencer events. There is a hierarchy in place with big influencers with lots of followers in the centre (the ones ordinary people want selfies with) and then there are are lots of people on the periphery who have their nose pressed up against the glass and are staring in (and I've been one of these I suppose at times).
I was asked to one event where I was sat next to a lot of very famous YouTube stars. They were all much younger than me and assumed I was the Grandma of one of these stars. They didn't stop filming the whole time we were there. They filmed the food arriving. They set up tripods and filmed themselves eating the food. They bitched about other Youtubers they hated for various reasons. Half way through the event the PR agency realised that I wasn't quite in the same league as these stars and looked like they regretted inviting me along (I think it was a case of mistaken identity as I used to work for a lovely influencer and they sometimes got us mixed up).
There is also a lot of rumour and gossip at these events - usually about how wealthy people are, what they earn for posting about a new organic ear bud brand and whether their marriage is still healthy or not. I often run into problems at events as I cannot remember anyones' name. I often have to double check in the toilet to see if the person I've been talking to is someone I should have heard of or not. It is not uncommon for people to check your profile whilst you're talking to them and there have been two occasions where that person has excused themselves quite quickly when they've realised that my profile isn't big enough to waste their time on.
On the odd occasion I have been asked by brands to get on board with some sort of promotion. I'd like to say that I've earned millions in beauty products and holidays but so far I've received:
An advent calendar full of protein bars
'So when will people start sending you like proper stuff?' my sister asked, 'You know like a big holiday abroad or a caravan?'
'Never I guess.'
The truth is I'm not very good at promoting things. My digital skills are basic and I get stressed when the instructions are very strict and specific. I got involved with a sanitary towel brand and found the whole thing anxiety making. There were very specific pointers on what needed to be posted, what day, what time, what words needed to be in there, what descriptions needed to be avoided, what images needed to be shared and all of it needed to be approved ahead of time. I gained a new respect for influencers. It clearly isn't just about taking a nice photo of yourself in a bra and gallivanting about. It's a business. You are a brand and everything has to be JUST SO in order to really succeed in this sphere.
In the influencer world there is also a lot of chat about 'raising your profile' and how you can do this through attending different events or being photographed with specific people. In the beginning, when I first hawked myself around at various talks and events, people would tell me I needed to 'get on more panels because it'll raise your profile.'
'But will it really?' I'd say.
I found the idea of working for nothing a strange one - even if it meant you would gain more followers in the end. I came from a background where people were PAID for the work they did (a simple enough equation) and found it strange that I would schlep to the other side of London, spend an evening working, pay for a taxi home again, and all for my 'profile'.
Perhaps I am too old for this game. Perhaps that's the rub.
Even now I can hear people in advertising agencies scrolling through social media accounts. They eventually arrive on my feed.
'God she looks terrible. How old is she?'
'She's used that face-ageing app I think.'
'She must be in her forties I guess.'
'Does she always wear a dressing gown?'
'Her kitchen is a pigs sty.'
'Don't think we'd get DFS interested with a front room like that.'
'Does she have a baby?'
'Yeah so she may be good for that baby food brand we've got coming up.'
'But I heard she struggled to log into IGTV and then missed the deadline for that sanitary towel project. I also think she's a little TOO authentic.We need more aspiration.'
I have a sense that I've come close to influencer stardom but missed the boat.
Are influencers nice?
This is a question I get asked by Mum's at the school gate sometimes and friends who say 'I never go on Instagram, it's so shallow,' but are secretly curious about the whole thing and seem to know an awful lot about who the big influencers are, how many followers they have, what they posted last week.
'I've heard they're complete bitches. I mean you would be if you got all that free stuff right?'
'They're not all the same. They differ. There are some proper wankers in there of course though.'
The truth is influencers are like everyone else. Some are nice. Some seem to have got slightly carried away with themselves (and wear dark glasses even when the sun isn't shining). Others will constantly look over your shoulder to see if someone more important has just walked in. Some will greet you warmly but have a look in their eyes that suggests they can't wait to move onto someone further up the hierarchy. Others will be genuine. Some will hold their drink out and wait for you to fill it up.
'I don't like this whole scene. It feels like we're back at bloody school again,' my best friend said at the influencer book event, 'Nobody is having a real conversation. And why would a GROWN WOMAN want a selfie with someone so she can gain more followers?'
'It's a business love. You're either cut out for it or you're not,' I replied.
'Come over and get a boomerang!' one of the influencers shouted gesturing at me frantically.
'What's a fucking boomerang?' my friend mouthed.
'It's a video where you do a funny movement like this and then you put it on your feed,' I said wearily.
'And how old are you?' she replied sarcastically.
I hesitated. Did I need to raise my profile? The truth was my follower number was pretty static. I seemed to mainly get old military men messaging me and I never got sent any free stuff. It would be lovely to get free stuff would't it? But then there was also the work involved and the fact that you had to be super efficient and cool and probably attend events all the time- at least a few each month and I was tired and probably too old for all that now. Could I be arsed? I looked over and four women were waving their hands in the air and laughing whilst a fifth shot the boomerang. The influencer in question had smoked all my fags at the last event(this is another type- someone who is your best friend for one night but never acknowledges you again- it was also very rare for me to have fags on me in the first place but I'd been nervous and had treated myself).
'Go and get your boomerang. You know you want to,' my friend said.
'No let's go to Pizza Express,' I said, 'I am in the mood for a four cheese.'