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When it pays to be online

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ull-time bloggers are big influencers, and cashing in.

The Instagram influencer marketing industry is expected to exceed $1 billion by the end of 2017, and more than double by 2019. A Santa Monica-based influencer marketing industry Mediakix forecast these figures by studying the #spon #sp and #ad hashtags on the platform, which saw over 9.7 million posts tagged in 2016, with 14.5 million expected for 2017.

While South Africa may be late to the party for most things digital, there are a fair amount of influencers making waves locally. No matter the niche, there are bloggers and influencers who, through their combined digital platforms, are regarded just as important as journalists when it comes to making an invite list; or taking part in a campaign best aligned with their brand. It is predominant with fashion, beauty and lifestyle bloggers in South Africa where some have quit their full-time jobs to focus on being an ‘influencer’.

Aqeelah Harron Ally
Aqeelah Harron Ally (Photo supplied)

Aqeelah Harron Ally, a 27-year-old fashion, beauty, and travel blogger at FashionBreed, from Cape Town, worked full-time for five years before quitting her job, and tells us she could have afforded to leave sooner, but didn’t have the courage.

Ally, who has been blogging for seven years, initially started her blog so she could work for a magazine to ultimately become a fashion editor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film, Media & Writing, and Drama from the University of Cape Town; and a Diploma in Make Up Artistry.

The decision to quit her job has worked out well for Ally, who says she is much happier now, even though being her own boss can be stressful at times.

“I’ve been lucky because for the last two years, I’ve landed many contracts which span over four, six, or even eight months; this helps a lot with stability, however I’m also fine without those kinds of jobs.”

She has other once-off campaigns that are booked a month or two in advance, and out of the events she attends, about 60% are paid attendance, which is generally tied to a campaign she is already creating content for.

“I seldom get paid just to attend an event and cover it, but I have done it in the past.”

Another digital content creator who quit her full-time job after five years is 26-year-old Anna-Belle Durrant from Parktown North in Johannesburg. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand. She started her blog She Said back in 2013 initially to share her love for Johannesburg, but it has blossomed into stories about travel, fashion, healthy living and design.

“So far it’s worked out incredibly well; I love that I am the master of my own time and creations, and I’m still very fortunate to work closely with agencies like Cerebra [previous employer],” says Durrant.

To her, blogging is like freelancing; work comes in when it comes in and you just have to go with the flow. “However, I do work with brands on a retainer basis to create content around their offerings; and my campaigns run across all my social channels and blog. When you become a blogger, your mind-set changes completely, what you earn is in line with how much you work… so work hard and you should be ok,” she says.

However, the industry has been marred by a fake follower problem where users deceive brands into paying them for being an influencer. Mediakix ran an experiment on two accounts proving how easy it is by purchasing fake followers from as little as $3 for 1,000 followers and $4 for 1,000 likes. Once these accounts reached a threshold of 10,000 followers, they signed up for campaigns – and got accepted for two paying jobs each.

The onus of this falls on PR companies or marketing agencies who need to ensure they’ve done thorough research before approaching an influencer. A quick search on Memeburn.com for an article titled Fake followers are a massive problem, as SA duo proves shows the extent of it in South Africa.

Ally says what they’re doing is illegal.

“It is straight-up fraud because you’re telling a brand to pay you for something you can only pretend to offer. Buying followers is selfish and entitled, but more than anything it’s a charade they won’t be able to keep up with because there are so many tell-tale signs that reveal the cracks in the lie.”

Anna-Belle Durrant (Photo supplied)

Durrant on the other hand feels that while you can cheat anything in life, rather focus on your own content and what you need to do to build your brand as the truth always comes out in the end.

Both Ally and Durrant work extremely hard at being full-time bloggers and share similar sentiments that it’s not all freebies, fame, travel and parties. “You’re a stylist, photographer, writer, curator, art director, model, negotiator/businesswoman, social media manager, video maker; the ultimate definition of a jack-of-all-trades,” says Ally.

Durrant compares it to running a magazine that needs to be published constantly except she’s the CEO, photographer, stylist and janitor, all while fighting for invoices to be paid. “It’s a lifestyle of work hard, play hard.”

Ultimately, both find it very rewarding. For Ally, it’s all about the relationships with her readers, and stresses on how much she values it. “YouTube really extended my reach in this sense which has been so great. It’s also been rewarding growing as a content creator and actually getting paid for it. I’m really thankful for this because creatives don’t often get to say that. It’s really special being able to work for brands I grew up loving and respecting, even more so when their international teams fly to South Africa and get closely involved in what we do.”

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