The influencer marketing industry is projected to hit $2.38 billion (£2 billion) this year. What started as a wave of indie brands turning to Instagram influencers to gain visibility for their theretofore unknown products has transformed into Fortune 500 companies vying for the influencer embrace of their lotion/water bottles/bed frames/smart home devices, too.
And for good reason — who among us hasn't been moved to buy a face serum here or a chunky earring there at the recommendation of a trusted Instagram expert? For content creators, their commodity is their influence — and that doesn't (and shouldn't) come cheap. From sponsored content to ads to paid appearances — it's nothing short of a business. So we’re pulling back the curtain on the curated world of influence and how the deals get made.
First, we talked to a photographer who makes her living on the 'gram, and now, we're chatting with Alyssa Coscarelli, a fashion influencer with 250,000 followers who has worked with everyone from Urban Outfitters to Moda Operandi and also works as a fashion consultant — most recently for a new retail concept in San Francisco called Re:store. Ahead, we talk to Coscarelli, who started her career as an intern at Refinery29, where she worked for years as a fashion writer before leaving to work as a full-time freelancer, about why she decided to make that career leap and how she really feels about the term "influencer."
Refinery29: How did you gain your following?
Alyssa Coscarelli: I don't have any big secrets to growing a following overnight — it's been a steady climb over probably five or six years. I started my Instagram when I moved to New York City for college, and posted regularly ever since. Sure, things like my travels, my job, and the brands I've worked with over the years have definitely contributed to the growth of it all, but I think I can most attribute the growth to consistent posting and engaging with my audience, as well as remaining as authentic as possible all the while.
Was there one breakthrough post?
Not really, honestly! And what's funny is what may have been a top performer for me five years ago looks like nonsense to me now. I mean, my first brand collaborations were definitely exciting — I remember first working with ASOS and being so stoked that I'd hit the big-time! Those little breakthroughs along the way definitely count for something. And certain posts that are extra scenic, sharing exciting announcements, etc., have always tended to perform well over the years.
What posts of yours has gotten the most engagement?
In the past year, my top-performing post is this one on a recent trip to Turkey where I got to ride in a hot-air balloon. I mean, Instagram gold, right?
How did you decide to make the leap from full-time writer at a media publication to full-time freelancer?
It wasn't an easy decision! But, I had been at my editorial job for five years — it was my first (internship-turned) job out of college. I was ready for a fresh start, and my freelance business was already taking off (or threatening to), so I decided to take the leap of faith. I felt I had a solid enough network of brands and people to work with on both influencer work and writing and consulting gigs, so I didn't feel like I was jumping into an abyss. I felt confident I could make ends meet, so that's how I knew I was ready.
What does being an influencer mean to you?
I hate that the term influencer has gotten a negative connotation in recent years, when the truth is that the concept of an influencer is not a new thing — think of icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn who were "influencers" LOOONG before Instagram was around. The concept of a spokesperson or a "face" of a brand isn't a new one either, hence why brands still like to tap personalities to represent them, vouch for them, make them seem more human. I like to think of being an influencer as being a resource, where people can follow along, feel inspired, get information, and connect with someone who is aspirational yet accessible. I do know firsthand that being an influencer is a full-time job, but I'm also grateful to have skills beyond content creation that I put to use as well, from writing to styling to consulting with small brands on everything from copywriting and PR, to creative direction, producing photoshoots, influencer relations, event planning, and strategy and growth. Because of the few years I have under my belt in both editorial and influencer worlds, I can bring something unique to the table that perhaps not all "influencers" in today's sense of the word can bring.
When you work with a brand, how long does it typically take to execute a deal? From pitch to post and payment, can you walk me through the process?
The timeline really varies; sometimes projects will come in with a super tight turnaround, within the week even. For example, the brand will write and say, "Hey, we're having an event this week, can you come and post from it?" Other times, they'll come up six months in advance (i.e. "We'd love to plan a partnership with you for New York Fashion Week in September," or perhaps even more if it's an actual product collaboration, "Let's design a collection together to come out next summer"). But typically, an email comes in with a pitch, I loop in my manager who deals with the nitty gritty details and tells me what I need to execute with deadlines, and I get to work. It also depends if the brand needs a preview of the content before I post it or not, which sometimes extends the timeline to allow room for feedback or (dreaded) re-shoots. I'm often juggling upwards of 10 to 15 projects a month, so there's certainly never a dull moment, but I'm grateful for it.
How do you strike a balance between sponsored posts and more organic content?
First, I try to make my sponsored posts as authentic and real as possible so they don't stick out like a sore thumb in the first place. Other than that, I've gotten pickier and pickier about the projects I take on, and since I usually post organically one to three times a day, I can usually sprinkle them in fairly easily without bombarding everyone with ads. It's just common sense, really — I obviously want to spread them out so I don't feel like a walking billboard at all times.