So you want to be an influencer

As businesses scramble to get on board the social media train and harness the power of online marketing, there are those who have planted their feet firmly in this new business opportunity and are making money from their online presence.

From free merchandise to paid vacations, being a social media influencer sounds like a dream job. But what exactly does it mean to be an influencer and how does one sign up for this gig? With almost 17,000 followers on Instagram, 27 year-old Trevor Maingi gives us a peek behind the lens and introduces us to the world of social media marketing.

1.    Why do you call yourself ‘The Mentalyst’?

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If you have watched ‘the mentalist’ TV show then you will know that Patrick Jane is a man who sees what others don’t. I admire that about him. I like looking for the different angles and seeing what might not be obvious to others.

2.    How would you describe yourself and what you do?

I am a photographer; a travel and urban explorer with a touch of lifestyle here and there. For me photography is not yet a full time job although I am hoping that by next year it will be. I work as a content creator for an advertising agency. I take photos and videos for them.

3.    Why is this the kind of photography that you choose to focus on?

It’s out of curiosity. I find the outdoor life more interesting. I like to explore different cultures and different cities.

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4.    How did you manage to grow your social media following?

By constantly pushing out content. I do one post a day on Instagram except on Sundays. I have never advertised on social media.

5.    Did you start your social media pages with the intention of tapping them for business?

No, it all started as a hobby for me. At first I was big on twitter and later transitioned onto Instagram. This was in 2015 when it was still relatively new. I started as a mobile photographer where I would take photos with my phone but now I use both my phone and a professional camera.

6.    How then did this become a business for you?

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In mid 2015, shortly after I started on Instagram, I went for my first Instameet. Seeing other people’s pictures grew my curiosity so I started learning how to do this better. A few months later, Samsung approached me to do a campaign for them. They had a new phone that they were introducing to the market and they wanted me to promote it for them. That was my first gig.

7.    Why did they approach you? What about you attracted their attention?

I had about 3,000 followers at the time and I guess they liked the kind of pictures that I had been posting. In this industry content is king. When I first got started I would shoot everything. Slowly I started to notice what I was good at and what I wasn’t doing so well so I concentrated on the travel and urban landscape photos. Brands like to work with people who are focusing on a specific style.

8.    How did you decide what you were going to charge Samsung for your work?

They are the ones who told me what they were going to pay me. There were no negotiations. Now I however have a manager who deals with these things for me. He is the one who deals with the clients and negotiates my fee.

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9.    What other brands have you worked with?

I have worked with Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Guinness and Airbnb.

10. Have they been the ones to approach you or did you go to them?

They have been the ones to approach me. I have worked with Huawei twice. The first time they came to me but the second time my manager is the one who reached out to them. It was a more detailed project; it was a film project and there were many aspects to be negotiated.

11. What do you require to have when pitching to brands?

I need to show them my portfolio which includes the pictures I have taken and the campaigns that I have done. I only approach brands that fit in with what I am doing. As much as I need the money, my style doesn’t match up with every brand and so I have to be selective about who I work with.

12. You have a lot of photos from various destination around the world. Do you get paid to travel?

I was paid for the Egypt trip. Usually what happens in such cases is they pay for your flights, accommodation and other such expenses. Depending on the brief they give you detailing exactly what they want you to do, you can then determine how much you are going to charge them. Most brands want you to blog about the project, post on twitter and create a hashtag.

13. Why are brands feeling the need to work with influencers?

The advertising media is changing to digital platforms. Although companies can put up their own ads online, they choose to work with people like me because of the reach I have. There is a difference between a regular ad and me recommending a certain product to my followers. An ad will only highlight the good things about the products while I will talk about the good and the bad and can even recommend how best to use the product. It is a review as opposed to just an ad.

14. How would a brand be able to differentiate between a genuine influencer and one who has bought followers?

Instagram is working very hard to get rid of accounts that use bots to add followers and all that but one can always tell if someone is genuine through the engagement on their pages. Someone who has 50,000 followers but very few likes or comments isn’t genuine.

15. What do you see the trajectory of your career being? What do you think you will be doing in 5 years?

I am hoping to be a bigger brand by then. I also hope to influence the advertising agencies to stop using Shutterstock images for their ads but to instead engage local creatives to take these pictures for them.

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