Shiquita Hyman’s bright red floral dress caught the eye of a woman passing by on the street.
“Excuse me, but can I ask you where you got your dress?” the woman said, stopping by Hyman’s table outside a coffee shop.
“Oh, Target!” Hyman said. “I just got it last week, it’s still there.”
Hyman is used to being complimented on her outfits. She gets hundreds of likes every day on social media on pictures of her ensembles. But she makes money with these recommendations. She shares or tags where she got the clothes or accessories so followers can find them for themselves.
Hyman, who calls herself the “Unconventional Southern Belle,” is what’s known as an influencer, part of a growing trend of people getting paid to use their social media accounts to advertise brands and products. Thanks to professionally shot photographs that look straight out of a magazine and a friendly tone, people look to these influencers for inspiration and advice on lifestyle topics like fashion, beauty, food and travel.
Jo-Anne Coombes, vice president of Bolt PR, said people follow influencers because they can relate to them.
“When influencers recommend a product or company, it’s more like the consumer is hearing it from a close friend over a glass of wine than from an outside source,” Coombes said.
It’s a burgeoning business, and one that can pay enough money to become a full-time job. CNBC said the influencer market was $1 billion in 2018 and is expected to double this year. They get paid according to the level of influence that they have. Celebrity influencers like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” star Kylie Jenner, for example, can make up to $1 million for one sponsored Instagram post, according to CNBC.
But not all brands are interested in big-name clients or can afford celebrity endorsements. Bolt PR often recommends their clients work with “microinfluencers” — someone with less than 50,000 followers with a specific interest — so the advertisement feels more authentic, Coombes said. For instance, one of Bolt’s clients is Virginia International Raceway. Coombes said she would recommend the company partner with a local influencer that likes sporting events or family-friendly activities.
Hyman, with 6,500 Instagram followers on social media platforms and her blog, is considered a microinfluencer. For Hyman, social media is more of a hobby than a job. She already works full-time at the Austism Society of North Carolina and a part-time job as a therapist.
“I really enjoy doing it, some days more than my full time job,” she said. “But my full-time job supports my bills.”
For Linda Nguyen, a Raleigh-based influencer, social media is her full-time job. She mainly blogs and Instagrams photos of food at area restaurants under the heading of “Girl Eats World” and gives recommendations to her 16,000 followers.
It’s easy to assume influencers don’t work hard, Nguyen said. Nguyen also is a photographer and helps other people create online content.
“It looks more glamorous than it really is,” she said. “If you want to be rich, this is not the route I recommend going.”
Rates vary per project, but some influencers can make $1,000 for a blog post if they work directly with the brand.
Marianne Verrilli, a Raleigh influencer, said the general base rate for one Instagram post is $100 per 10,000 followers. Verrilli has over 33,000 Instagram followers.
The price can be negotiated based on follower engagement as well, not just on the number of followers. The more people that “like,” comment and interact with the content, the more influencers can charge, Verrilli said.
She also partners with a company called Reward Style, which gives her a small commission every time someone buys a product through a link that she posted.
Verrilli became an influencer full-time after getting bored at her retail job. She started with her blog, thematimes.com. Although keeping her brand going is mostly fun, it definitely feels like a job, she said.
“I looked at my steps app on my phone the other day, and I had, like, 300 steps,” Verrilli said, laughing. “So that’s how much I’m glued to my computer.”
Hyman, Nguyen and Verrilli share the same mantra that the most important part of their work is establishing consumer trust. They say their followings were built organically, by responding to followers and reciprocating their interest.
Nguyen said being genuine and less guarded makes her audience trust her more, and consequently adds credibility to her product recommendations.
The influencer trend has been growing nationally, and it’s common for them to live in major cities like Los Angeles or New York. But more influencers are launching in North Carolina, and Verilli said it’s possible to make a living.
“The more that the influencer industry grows and people are seeing other people being successful at it, they realize how easy it is to just go after what you’re passionate about and make it happen,” she said.