Freedom of Likes: My Open Letter to the Influencer Community
Hi, my name is Jessica Cobabe, and I’m an Influencer.
To be completely honest, I used to HATE that word because the first thing that comes to mind for many people is an Instagram feed full of half naked gym pics (protein powder in hand #obvi), duck lips and waaaaay too many selfies. I had a really hard time identifying with the word for that reason and made sure to always introduce myself as a content creator or blogger at events. Nevertheless, millions of users have flocked to Instagram, and becoming an Insta-famous ‘public figure’ with a blue checkmark in tow soon became the holy grail of achievements in the digital landscape.
You know what they say though…if something seems too good to be true, it is. Because along with the insta-fame, blue checkmarks, like counts and engagement rates…came a self imposed censorship. Clever captions soon replaced genuine insight, and influencers began to line up to become nothing more than walking billboards who are TERRIFIED of pissing someone off (especially a potential client because there are literally thousands of influencers who could replace you).
Suddenly the dream job that I had sacrificed to much for, seemed…gross. The truth is that influence is more powerful than any weapon. It is the ability to completely change the way people behave and what they believe in without force, which got my thinking…
What kind of society do we live in where we CHOOSE to imprison our very own liberties, like freedom of speech, for fear of not getting enough likes, or ruining our perfectly curated feed? Our planet is dying, women’s reproductive rights are literally being torn away from them, and soooooo many influencers are still just posting selfie after selfie, like everything is okay. Are we even on the same planet?!
Isn’t the point of becoming an influencer, to use your platform to influence people? And no, I am not just talking about selling someone on a product. Trust me, I am not lost on what influencer marketing is and how businesses are using it to drive sales . I am talking about actually saying what you are thinking, and talking to your audience about current issues YOU truly care about!
Look, I get it. I know first hand how terrifying it is to step out of your comfort zone, and speak up for what you believe in. Last year when I made the decision to shift my platform which consisted of 99.9% fast fashion, to providing sustainable alternatives for women…the first thing my mom pointed out was that I needed to be prepared for the financial fallout, because I was cutting off over half of my client list and basically telling people to shop less, then compound that with the fact that I was totally pulling a 180 on the audience I had spent years building.
The thought of losing more than half my clients and alienating my audience terrified me. I mean, I left my corporate career for this. I sacrificed my entire retirement for this. I went days eating nothing but $1 tacos for this…and now you are telling me that everything I worked so hard to build over the last six years was in jeopardy, because I want to say what I’m actually thinking?! WTF? It took me a minute to gain the courage to draw the line in the sand, but after a few months of soul searching I did it anyway.
Full transparency: I am honestly so happy to report to you that since I shifted my mindset to focusing on what I believe in, and then aligning myself with brands who share my same values, my income has actually increased, not diminished. I am able to speak passionately in every single article I write and the reasons I have for sharing content (even sponsored posts) with you, feel so good because I am unwaveringly clear about my message and the brands I want to align myself with.
At the beginning of this article I said I used to hate the word influencer. Now I am so proud to be one regardless of what other people think about the word and what it ‘means’. If I am able to influence just one person to swap a single use plastic straw for a reusable one, that is a success story I can feel good about. I know saying what you really think can be scary because you don’t want to be wrong. The other night a single comment on Facebook turned into a 3 hour debate about the #blacklivesmatter movement and I am not going to lie, every time I saw a reply my palms got a bit sweaty because we were talking about issues way bigger than the best polka-dot dress, but it was also exhilarating to debate the issue and learn about other peoples perspectives.
The truth is we can say it ‘isn’t on brand’ or that we don’t want to alienate our audiences, but in reality those are just excuses that are based in fear. I know that, because I have made them myself. But enough, is enough. To hell with a perfectly curated feed, and to hell with insta-worthy! If now isn’t the time for influencers to speak up for what we believe in, when is?
You may remember last year when James Nord, the co-founder of Fohr.Co helped to create an amazing campaign called ‘Influence the Election’ where he posed the question that “Even if you [influencers] built that following talking about beauty, do you have a responsibility to talk about more pressing issues?” He further went on to say that many influencers have traditionally stayed quiet on political issues because they felt it “wasn’t their place” and didn’t want to hurt their following.
My plea to you as my peers in the influencer community is to SPEAK UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN!!! Challenge brands you want to work with about important issues you disagree on. If they know you want to work with them, but you simply can’t support XYZ about their company, you might actually effect some change instead of going with the flow.
I see what each of you are capable of, you are out there doing the damn thing creating beautiful content everyday while inspiring millions to dream a little bigger. I believe that together, the influencer community can actually create the changes we want to see in the world. Influencers are so much more than walking #ads. Now is the time to unite and show the world what influencers are truly capable of. I said it before, but it is worth repeating. The truth about influence is that it is more powerful than any weapon. It is the ability to completely change the way people behave and what they believe in without force.
I believe JFK said it best, if not us, who? If not now, when?
PS. Looking for some inspiring influencers to fill your feed with? Here are a few of my faves:
- Venessa Kaufman from We the Classy – Venessa and I have never met IRL but connected via the gram. I have always admired Venessa’s content, but it wasn’t until I saw an IG story of hers after someone bullied her for posting a photo where she was cooking while sitting on a counter that I really sat up an took notice of Venessa (and her voice). Venessa not only stood up for herself, but turned counter-gate into an anti-bully movement. She doesn’t sugar coat influencer life, and she keeps it real on all fronts. She is also a badass mom, entrepreneur and has incredible taste in home decor and style.
- Kate Nelson aka Plastic Free Mermaid – Kate Nelson quit using single use/disposable plastics over a decade ago and has made her mission in life to spread awareness about the plastic crisis. Since then, she has hosted workshops for brands like Patagonia, Greenpeace International, Spell and the Gypsy Collective. Her voice, her passion and her solution oriented nature are super refreshing and a great resource for starting your journey towards a plastic-free lifestyle.
- Greta Thunberg – Any time I want to break down and cry because I feel like there is no way in hell one person could ever make a difference…I look to Greta Thunberg. Greta is a 16 year old climate activist with Asperger’s from Sweden. Don’t let her age fool you. At 15, she stood alone outside the Swedish Parliament to protest for immediate action against climate change. Fast forward to March 2019, where now more than 1.4 MILLION students in more than 112 countries joined her strike. Greta has spoken at TEDxStockholm, Davos and the COP24, and she has become the face of climate change, and has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. This month she is on the cover of TIME. She is living proof that no one is too small to make a difference.
- Casey Goode aka Officially Quigley – Casey is such a genuine human. I have followed her for about a year and I really love her authentic nature and thought-provoking captions. She responds thoughtfully to everyones comments and has even sent me voice notes as we have chatted about various topics. All too often I feel like Instagram Influencers feel the need to be seen as ‘cool’ or as if they have some sort of celebrity status. When I first used this app I would look to my Instagram Idols and try to imitate their success including short captions and never responding to peoples comments because that is what ‘successful influencers’ do. Bull. Now more than ever we are seeing a much needed shift in Instagram where truly engaging with and building a community are what SOCIAL media is all about. I love Casey’s mission to redefine people’s relationship with Instagram and breath some much needed soul back into the platform through her course Soulcial Media. Goode stuff 🙂
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