How to win followers and influence people: 10 questions with Sara McCorquodale

Influence by Sara McCorquodale

I’ve partnered with Bloomsbury Publishing to celebrate the release of Influence: How social media influencers are shaping our digital future. I’ll be honest: when I received this book in the mail, I wasn’t sure if it would be to my taste. Even though I’m fascinated by influencer culture, I’m not a big reader of non-fiction and it was clear from the get-go that this was a thoroughly-researched book.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book! I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in influencer culture, as well as anyone who works in social media marketing.

I also had the opportunity to interview author Sara McCorquodale and get some extra insight about the future of the influencer space. Thank you, Sara and Bloomsbury, for facilitating this!

The interview:

1.    Many young people now want “to be an influencer” when they leave school because, as you mentioned in Influence, there is an assumption that it’s an easy, lucrative job. What advice would you give to someone with this ambition?

First of all, I would say be ready to work hard. Although this may seem like a path to a luxurious lifestyle, the truth is that the influencer dream has only really played out that way for early adopters of YouTube and Instagram. They have deep relationships with their followers which have developed over long periods of time and brands pay to capitalise on those relationships through which influencers have established trust and affection.

Secondly, consider joining TikTok now – while I don’t think it will replace Instagram, it shows promising signs of becoming significant in the digital landscape and it will be easier to gain traction there now than in, say, 18 months when it could be a mainstream phenomenon. Present yourself truthfully and tell your story with integrity; content which is derivative of others’ is easily identified as this and worst of all, does not inform, entertain or start conversations. It’s pointless.

Lastly, do not buy your followers. To succeed as an influencer, you need an organic core audience of at least 5000 people who have bought in to you – this has the potential to snowball. A bought audience will only ever be fake and you’ll be stuck in a cycle of paying for engagement to maintain the illusion of success. As with everything, nothing beats real.

2.    The constant churn of content, self-imposed deadlines and sharing personal details can have a serious impact on the mental health of influencers. What boundaries would you recommend setting so influencers can preserve mental health while maintaining what feels like an open and honest relationship with their following?

This first era of influencers has been run ragged by the supply and demand mechanics of Instagram and YouTube. To build audiences, they have had to create a stream of constant content across several platforms and respond quickly to replicate content that delivers the most engagement and growth.

For anyone intent on making this their job, constant delivery is almost impossible to avoid. Due to this, I would say organisation and establishing a routine are crucial. Treat content creation like a job; the most successful people in the field are incredibly focused and diligent. Decide your boundaries early on, otherwise you’ll burn out pretty quickly. And set targets for what success means to you on a month-to-month basis. Do not compare yourself to others.

3.    There are a lot of people who hear the term influencer and say, “That’s not a real job.” Over the past five years, has the general public become more or less accepting of influencers?

It just depends on who you’re talking to. Influencers are weirdly divisive but anyone who has worked in the field knows each person who has achieved any degree of success through digital influence has built a brand and income from nothing. That requires significant skill, grit and talent, and deserves to be applauded.

4.    Many top influencers have agents or managers to help negotiate the business side of things. What advice would you give to someone who is only just starting out with branded content? Are there any tips for improving the in-flow of sponsorship opportunities while also maintaining their account’s integrity?

You have to work with brands that make sense in the context of your platforms. Think about the big picture—how do you get from no brand deals to a long-term partnership with Google or Nike? You need a strategy and to build relationships from the ground up. That means emailing the PR office at your target brands, saying you love what they do, explaining what you do and asking to be put on their mailing list. That’s step one. Then, share your content about them with them and propose meeting for coffee. Strong relationships will play dividends; a bad first approach could burn bridges forever.

5.    Influencer marketing has become a huge industry for people in the gaming, beauty and lifestyle fields in particular, but other fields are not viewed as worthy of financial investment. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to negotiate payment for their time and effort promoting a brand?

You have to demonstrate that you’re worth the money. Do you have evidence of a positive impact your content has driven for a brand? Essentially, you need to build up a bank of case studies that prove brand spend with you—regardless of industry—is a smart place for businesses to put their marketing money. This is a competitive field and to succeed you’ll need solid proof you are brilliant at what you do.

6.    You touched on some of Greta Thunberg’s earlier climate change influence in your book, but we’ve recently seen an even more impressive worldwide response with protests drawing in millions of people around the world. Do you think such strong action from someone like Greta will have a positive impact on the way other influencers approach sensitive topics like politics?

Definitely. In the past 12 months, the millennial consumerism platforms like Instagram and YouTube were built on has started to feel uncomfortable in a cultural context of rising climate change awareness. For some influencers, showcasing new outfits every day or consumption of fast products leads to a significant backlash from their audiences, meaning they have had to change their angle when it comes to lifestyle content.

Meanwhile, an entire generation—Gen Z—is redefining what social platforms are for, and positioning themselves as activists rather than influencers. The first era of the influencer industry was defined by product promotion and inward-looking monologues. It was all about the self. The second will be defined by people documenting the action they have taken as a result of concern for the state of the world. This will change everything.

7.    What are some exciting avenues that you’ve seen emerging in the influence space recently (in the book community or any other fields)?

2019 has seen a boom in influencer podcasts, which are compelling as influencers use what they know their followers love about them and present it in a different format. Also, we’ve seen the rise of numerous influencer-founded businesses which are now flying and influencers crossing over to traditional media. Essentially what they’re doing is just another very modern kind of media so I expect this will happen more in 2020.

8. Who are your top influencers you think people should keep their eye on? 

I think Ebony Boadu feels very “now” in both her look and the fact she has a creative, multi-faceted career. Nathan Zed has undeniable charisma and talent, and Venetia Falconer has turned her podcast into a must-listen through really leaning in to talking about the environment. You can tell she is genuinely passionate and ultimately that always creates brilliant content.

Influence by Sara McCorquodale

Some extra info:

What is the book about?*

Digital influencing is one of the most exciting and disruptive new media industries, forecast to be worth over £10bn by 2020. Influencers now dominate the digital world and, when it comes to growth, they are consistently outperforming traditional media and brand advertising.

Despite their prominence, digital influencers continue to be misunderstood and undervalued by many people, as those charged with incorporating the influencer space into their digital strategy rarely comprehend how this extremely powerful industry works. As one of the leading authorities on the influencer space, Sara McCorquodale demystifies exactly how it operates, as she interrogates the phenomenon, analyses its problems and forecasts its future.

Influence draws upon first-hand interviews with world-renowned influencers, providing an invaluable insight into the inner-workings of digital culture and how it can best be used as an effective marketing and branding platform. This compelling guide on how to effectively identify and utilise the power of influencers is a must-read for anyone who wants their business to succeed and prosper online.

Who is Sara?*

Sara McCorquodale is CEO and founder of influencer intelligence and digital trends platform, CORQ. Prior to launching the business in 2017, she spent 12 years as a journalist, starting in local news before working on the launch of Mail Online and later moving to Conde Nast to develop Tatler’s online presence as its first ever digital editor. From there, she headed up Huffington Post Style UK and its sister lifestyle platform MyDaily after which she led global B2C content at trend forecasting agency WGSN as senior editor of special projects. She has been working on influencer campaigns and projects since 2012, consulted on this and the world of digital for many brands including Chanel, Estee Lauder and Net-A-Porter and written for The Guardian and the BBC.

*Blurb and author bio courtesy of Bloomsbury.

You can purchase Influence here. 

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