Are you #influenced?

by anne kendall // photography submitted
Southside instagrammers extend their reach

If you’re looking for something to read, look no further than Kayla Garcia’s Instagram feed. Using the handle @bookstackedblonde, the Franklin resident has curated a collection of lovingly photographed books, from the current best-selling novel “Whisper Network” tucked into a chic straw beach bag, to the latest Jennifer Weiner title angled next to a foam-capped coffee. Peonies and cups of tea abound. Finally, each book gets a caption — anything from a brief review to just a comment or question. Beneath a photo of the Anne of Green Gables series, Garcia cites a favorite line and asks her followers, “Do you have a favorite book-related quote?”

That question right there — that’s called engaging with her audience. It gets the people who read her account to take the next step and show interest. And it’s key if you want to become an Instagram “influencer.”

Doing it for the ’gram
What, precisely, constitutes an influencer is up for debate. The generally accepted definition is that it’s a social media user who has established so much credibility among a certain audience, she can persuade those followers to try things — read a new book, maybe, or buy a cute sweater from a store she’s working with or sign up for a fitness class.

Jordan Shea, who owns a digital marketing agency on the near-south side of Indianapolis, sees influencers as falling into two groups. “Macroinfluencers” have national audiences and can haul in lucrative contracts by working with companies or selling their own goods (think the Kardashians). Then there are the less obvious, but locally important, “microinfluencers.”

“That’s what I’m a big fan of,” says Shea, or @jea_shea. “They may not clear 10,000 followers, but they spread word-of-mouth digitally.” Shea likens local influencers to “that PTO mom who always brings snacks after practice.” These Instagram users are known in the community and develop relationships with their followers, so when they make a cool discovery or a great new business moves into town, their audience listens.

Some influencers get something tangible out of this, yes. For instance, whenever an Instagram post gives you all the details on what’s in a photo you’re looking at — then urges you to use a certain discount to go buy the good — that person will probably get something in return. A bit of store credit, maybe. A free meal here or there. Hair highlights, gratis.

How to win friends and #influence others
If you’re really serious about being a social media influencer, you can step up your game to have a chance at making some actual cash. That would likely entail building up a major presence across not just Instagram but other platforms, then putting together a media kit documenting those numbers plus your reader engagement rate, a description of your audience and brand, and details on what a company can expect from working with you.

But that’s relatively rare.

“That’s what outsiders think — that you’re going to wander around Indianapolis wearing cute clothes and drinking cute coffee and taking your photo, and make all this money,” says Shea. “But you really just have to love what you’re doing.”

That’s why Garcia got in the game. When she started her literary-centric account in February 2018, she wasn’t dreaming of one day getting free advance copies of books (that happens now). It was just a way to reach out to fellow lovers of the written word. “It seems like most influencers have their niche,” she says. “I love to read, I love to write, but I didn’t want to do a whole blog. I thought, ‘Instagram seems pretty cool.’”

Now, with 11,000 followers, she definitely considers herself an influencer. So many new books arrive from publishers, she can hardly keep up with them. And she’s gotten savvy about building her audience even more, like using the common influencer move of holding a drawing for a giveaway — the only requirement being that you follow her and engage with her by leaving a comment or liking a photo.

Other ways to build your Instagram audience, whether you aspire to be the next Kim, Kylie or Khloe, or just want to have fun with it:

be genuine. “That can mean editing the photo in a way you particularly like, or sharing books you particularly like, as opposed to what you think somebody else is going to like,” says Garcia. It can also mean throwing out the look-at-my-perfect-life Instagram clichés.

Shea posted a pic of herself at The Hi-Fi looking dead gorgeous but noted in the caption that the Indy music venue is one of only a few that doesn’t trigger her anxiety issues. She’s also dished about how certain antidepressants “WRECKED my skin” and complained of “cystic zits.” Yes, Instagram is still largely aspirational, like a copy of a glossy style magazine. But there’s something to be said for keeping yourself relatable.

stay active. You can’t just post whenever you feel like it or take that photo whenever it’s convenient, says Shea. “Nobody’s going to want to work with you if you post once a month.”
When Garcia started getting serious about building the @bookstackedblonde brand, she made sure to post at least once a day, a good rule of thumb.

look for partnerships that make sense. A look at Johnette Cruz’s page, @elevatedbyJC, reveals a love for both fitness and fashion. That has allowed her to forge deals with businesses in the Center Grove area, where she lives. “I’ve worked with a lot of fitness places because that is a passion of mine, so it aligns well,” says Cruz, who had 8,917 followers at last count.

So if that snapshot of Cruz at a Pure Barre class inspires you to try it yourself, you’re invited to direct-message her to find out how to take a free class. Another photo shows her perched next to a Cryotherapy Associates machine and extolling its virtues. “Half the comments I got were, ‘I didn’t even know this was in Greenwood!” says Cruz, who says she’s passionate about building her community. Oh, and if you want to buy that floral romper she’s wearing in the cryotherapy pic? Mention her password at the store for a discount.

network. “That is huge,” says Cruz. When she first started ’Gramming, she followed local influencers and saw them document their get-togethers. “I put myself out there, like, ‘Can I come to that monthly lunch you did?’ And I was warmly embraced.” Today, she says, “half the things I’m able to represent this year are because I made that first step.”

show support for your fellow influencers. Don’t just scroll idly through the app. “Like” photos, post comments, ask and answer questions. It’s part of building and maintaining a strong network. If all this is starting to sound like a job, that’s because it kind of is. “It’s a lot of hard work,” says Shea, “and it’s not going to pay the bills.” What it might do is broaden your friend circle and even give you a platform to share your passions and discoveries with others, turning you into a de facto community leader.

“It’s fun and exciting,” says Cruz, adding that she loves the creativity involved. “You can be in your mid-30s and have a family and realize, ‘Maybe this is something I can still do.’”