The influencer marketing industry is projected to hit $2.38 billion this year. What started as a wave of indie brands turning to Instagram influencers to gain visibility for their theretofore unknown products (FitTea or SugarBearHair, anyone?) 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 these 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 influencers — starting with Eugénie Grey of Feral Creature, an NYC- and LA-based photographer, and fashion, beauty, and travel blogger who has 407,000 Instagram followers and, according to her bio, can be "usually found at 35,000 ft. up." Her IG grid is comprised of rich travel photos interspersed with soul-baring musings on the self and social justice, and of course, sponsored content. Ahead, we talked to Grey about her business, how she established her following, and what she thinks of the word "influencer."
Refinery29: How did you gain your following?
Eugénie Grey: I was actually an early adopter. I started blogging in 2007, tweeting in 2009, and Instagramming in 2010. I had a lot of exposure due to being one of few big accounts on Instagram, and the newfound following finally gave my blog the traffic it needed.
There was no one breakthrough post — it was a steady growth. I used to hit the Popular page with every post, and Instagram featured me on their Suggested Users list two years in a row!
Which of your posts get the most engagement?
Before, it used to be selfies. Now, it's the posts where I bare my soul. I stopped caring so much about Instagram and what people thought of me, and it has ironically turned out for the best.
What does being an influencer mean to you?
It's such a new term; such new territory. I used to mindlessly think that it meant someone has a lot of followers. But it should, and does, mean something more to me. An influencer is someone people look up to — someone who hopefully uses that privileged position for good.
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What does being an influencer mean? What are we influencing? - These questions have plagued me for the past few years. An ultimately one-dimensional, vain, consumerist cog in the capitalist machine has always been at odds with who I am. I was SO excited when a group of friends and I got together to #LoopForGood—no giveaways, no gimmicks, just an opportunity to break down that invisible partition between us and our followers and get real. TY @marcelfloruss for passing the baton to me. - For #MentalHealthAwareness Month, I want to tell you a little about me. I was suicidal for years. I sliced open my arms and pulled out my hair and scratched myself in efforts to blur out the emotional pain with the physical. Every time my skin opened up, a little tension released. But it was only temporary, and the cycle would continue, and I'd fall further into darkness. My family and I were held captive by some bad people—it's a little hard to explain in such a short blurb but more will come out soon, I promise. I was constantly told I was hideous and a waste of space. I was terribly abused in every way and was kept shut in a dark room when not in school. My social and emotional intelligence were severely stunted well into young adulthood. - This is just tip of the iceberg, but I want you to know we've all felt the same sadness. It's strange how mental illness is the great equalizer, isn't it? The glamorous trips, beautiful clothes, popular friends—those things don't define a person. Social media shows only the highlight reel of everyone's lives. Please don't feel any lesser because of what you're seeing online—comparison will kill you. What I hope to achieve with this #LoopForGood project is moments of vulnerability to stop setting influencers on some unreachable pedestal, and for influencers to be more real with their followers and not be incessantly posi vibes. Real life isn't always positive. It's helpful for everyone to remember that we can relate to one another, esp with our mental health. It takes a village to get through this life, and we are not alone. - Passing it along to @talunzeitoun for his story—all thanks to him for creating this project ❤ #giveaFC #feraldiary
When you work with a brand, how long does it typically take to execute a deal? What does that process look like?
A rough estimate:
• 2-3 days to negotiate SoW and compensation
• A week for product to be shipped
• A week to shoot, edit content, and write copy
• 30 (sometimes a dreaded 60) days to get paid
But usually there will be gaps in this timeline, because sometimes a brand will come back with edits to your work and/or they want to go live on a specific date.
How do you strike a balance between sponsored posts and more organic content?
It's hard. During my really busy times, I can sometimes be posting three, four, five sponsored posts in a row. The key is to keep it real whenever possible, both publicly and to your followers in private. I enjoy talking to my followers over DM whenever I can; they know I'm a real, normal person just trying to pay the bills!
What is your favorite post of yours, and why?
Prior to being an influencer, what did you do for work?
I never really had a 9-to-5, due to starting when I was 17 and in high school. I always had three part-time jobs at the same time as my current job (AND went to school full-time!) until I made enough to drop the other jobs.
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Hi. I’m bi. Holy crap, it felt great to say that. - Bisexual doesn’t mean “attracted to men+women” anymore! It means “attracted to my gender+other genders” and that’s how I choose to define the term. (Btw these are the colors of the bi pride flag 💗💙💜) - I was TORMENTED on whether to make this post or not. The last few weeks, I’ve been reading recent articles on preachers and politicians who want to literally kill gay people. It’s terrifying. Then I saw @eugeneleeyang’s coming out video and it broke me in the best way. I watched, cried, watched, cried, over and over again. He inspired me to speak my truth. - The better part of the last decade of my life was spent questioning, exploring, and accepting my sexual/romantic orientation. At first, I was falling in love with people and not accepting it due to internalized homophobia from years of being taught it was wrong and disgusting. Then, I came out to a small group I knew would understand. For much of my life, my public relationships were with men, and I knew some people would discount my bisexuality because of these heterosexual relationships, not even stopping to think that 1. bi erasure is a real thing, 2. maybe I never told them about my other relationships because of their clear biphobia, and 3. I was a young person who grew up in a forced heteronormative society; it took me long while to get to where I am today. - I don’t have a crazy traumatic story on my orientation—in fact, I am extremely lucky to have never needed to come out to my mother, who has always been supportive of the gay community. She commented on my Facebook coming out post, “I am with you. You be you. I know you live your life doing your best to do the right thing, helping others, and standing for justice. You are honest, kind, and understanding to others. Those qualities make a good human.” WTF. Cue tears. I’m very lucky for the support. - I don’t really have a way to end this post except for the fact that this Pride month has filled me with such happiness and pride for who I am, and just like @eugeneleeyang inspired me to come out, I hope this post inspires someone else to do the same. It’s really liberating. 🏳️🌈 #pridemonth #feraldiary
Was there a particular moment you can recall where doing your work has been most difficult (i.e. mean comments, unwanted attention, work-life balance struggles)?
I was bullied all throughout high school, and some people (or possibly one person with multiple accounts) were clearly upset with my success and were severely cyberbullying me for days on end. It was horrible. I cried for eight hours straight. This was a few years ago, but it happened again recently. They were emailing teen photos of me to my followers with the intention of mocking me. My heart dropped to my stomach for a second, but then I remembered who the hell I am. I'm not weak. I turned around and published those photos on my blog! I never heard from them again.
How do you hope to grow your platform? What's next for you?
I hope to build my own brand someday, but what's in my immediate future is...a book! I'm writing my autobiography. It's going to be a crazy read. I can't wait to tell my story.