I have a terrible habit of always reaching for my phone the second I open my eyes, and this morning I woke up to an email with a subject that simply said "stay". I opened it to this:
I don't generally receive hate mail, so I had a strong idea of what this prompted this love note. A few weeks ago, I was contacted to answer a number of questions regarding my experience as an Influencer for a CNN Travel Article - and it must have been published.
You can see the full article here: Inside the complicated world of the travel influencer.
How Interviews Come Together:
Most of the interviews I have done have come from writers emailing me directly asking if I would participate. For this editorial, which I was told would focus on influencers working with PR and tourism boards, the journalist sent me a list of 15 questions to answer, which I did, and then rewrote, and then rewrote again. Some answers are just a couple of sentences, and some are full paragraphs, as I tried to describe all of my feelings and experiences in as succinct a way as possible. (Scroll down for the full question and answer list) I always think that interviews like these will be something I can send over very quickly - but they always end up taking me hours. I try to read every answer objectively, to look at various external optics, to make sure I don't say anything too negative, too controversial, or that could potentially make me look bad. I've been on the internet since basically the dawn of time, and I know how even innocuous statements can get twisted. This piece in particular opens with my full name - something that can be amazing, or terrible. This one wasn't terrible, but to be completely honest, I was not happy with what was chosen from my interview to focus on.
Aggregate articles that combine interviews with multiple people will always pick and choose naturally, there isn't enough room to include everything that everyone has to say, and it is understandable. But it can be disappointing when I open the final piece and see that the ideas I was most passionate about sharing were excluded - which does tend to happen a lot. I have found myself misquoted or misrepresented in the past. While I don't strictly think that CNN misrepresented me, they did frame me negatively, and did use statements I never said ("not used to having doors slammed in my face" - I have had plenty of professional rejection, likely more than most). I was disappointed that the shortest and somewhat silliest answer in my entire interview was the one most heavily featured. There is so much that I have to say about this industry, and its intertwining with the commercial photography world I spent a decade working in, the least important of which being a snippy email I received back in 2017.
The Good, the Bad, and the Interesting:
As you can see on our about page, Brandon and I have contributed to a number of publications over the last couple of years. The most exciting was our interview with InStyle very early on, published the same month we moved out of New York. This piece ended up being translated into Italian and shared by many large Italian publications (Including Huffington Post Italy and La Repubblica) - which gave us both a large follower boost in our very early stages. It was so amazing for us at the time!
The most interesting piece I have seen so far was a year ago, when The Daily Mail repurposed questions I had answered for Husskie Mag into a column that was riddled with errors and inaccuracies, and as a friend of mine put it, "looked like it was written by an algorithm." This one we just laughed at. And, for the record, I do swear by that Maybelline Lipstick. I have yet to have any publication completely drag me through the mud - but who knows what the future may hold!
I am always happy to be interviewed, have discussions, and contribute to editorials, both because it's an opportunity to be featured on larger publications, and because I have a lot that I would like to share. All press is good press! Right? And most everyone knows by now that the first rule of the internet is to never read the comments. But most everyone also knows that there is no way they could stop themselves from reading them anyway. CNN doesn't have comments enabled, but that didn't keep well-wishers from heading over to my Instagram to comment anyway. A couple of selections on today's post:
My Take Away:
For me, it is always tempting to respond to snarky or straight mean comments with an explanation - my urge isn't to yell or argue with people, but to try to make them understand. But the reality is that people who go out of their way to attack you - either egregiously or with just subtle jabs - is that trying to have a real conversation can be somewhat impossible.
The crux of this article is true - the world really does love to hate influencers.
I can't honestly say that it doesn't bother me that the career I have spent 15 years working towards get consistently disparaged because I now carry the very loaded title of Influencer, in addition to photographer. And I do feel like I constantly need to explain myself and justify my life and experience and career.
"I'm big on Instagram, but I've always been a photographer..."
"I actually have a degree in photography started out as a fashion photographer...."
"What we actually do is....."
And on and on. And maybe I am part of the problem here. I don't label myself or introduce myself as an influencer. Or a content creator. Or even a blogger - even though all three of those are accurate titles. I identify with being a professional photographer and a commercial film director. But the question here is, do Brandon and I think we're better than others because we shoot "real" projects? Because we have shot full campaigns and directed commercials with 50+ people on set? Because I spent so many years working in 'real' advertising photography? Maybe I'm the one that needs to adjust my thinking.
For Interviews, I will still try to contribute to every one that asks me to. I want to share my experiences. And I want to hopefully expand the conversations that are being had. I don't know many people that got into this crazy social media world from being a part of the traditional photography world, and I feel like I do have a pretty unique perspective on both sides of the industry.
Putting your words into someone else's hands is risky - they can be edited, and used out of context. A great writer can turn what you have to say to fit whatever their narrative is, if they want to. But, it is also the way to get your words, your experiences, and your voice out to the world, and onto new platforms. I choose to think that the good of sharing and splaying my inner self out to the world and contributing will outweigh the bad - or at least I will keep hoping that it does.
Read My Full CNN Interview:
Q: Why did you become a travel influencer? What motivated you to enter this field? How did you get started? Why did you want to focus on the travel space?
I didn’t plan on becoming an influencer at all! My background is as a photographer: I went to college for commercial photography and moved to New York to be a fashion photographer. A few years later, I was working in photo production and started dating Brandon (my business partner and now fiancé.) Neither of us had travelled much before we were together, but from day one of our relationship, it became a huge part of our life. We always took photos together for fun, and then started playing around with video. We both got hooked on creating videos, and traveling as much as we possible could, so we decided to leave our life in NYC to travel full time and try to start our own photo and video production company - and started using Instagram just as a way to help move that forward. I had no idea how big it would become! We have been working for ourselves for 3 years now, and it’s been a wild, amazing, exhausting, beautiful, sometimes terrifying, and absolutely unbelievable ride.
Q: How do you set yourself apart as a good/quality influencer?
I hope that the quality of our photography and film work is what sets me apart the most of all. While, of course, I’m never going to be the best or most creative photographer in the world, I am always trying to create beautiful, unique, and interesting images. I am always trying to not just travel to the most popular places, but show some destinations that maybe my followers have never seen much of or even heard of before. Also, I think it is very important to have a voice, a point of view, and something to say. I genuinely didn’t set out to be an influencer, I set out to be a creator. And then as my platform started to build, it became incredibly important to me to share how someone with my background of eating disorders and anxiety issues could really overcome some of these things and actually go LIVE. I spent my entire youth believing that anything close to the life I have no would never be possible for me, and I want to write the kind of articles that I wish I had read at 13 or 18 or even 24 years old.
Q: What makes you qualified as a travel influencer?
It’s very difficult to determine yourself ‘qualified’, but I believe I have been successful in travel because I genuinely love exploring and experiencing the far corners of the world. We don’t just hop to resorts for a couple of days and then back home (although I love a good resort trip as well!) - we have travelled with serious highs and lows. As soon as we left New York, we spent our first almost 3 months traveling all around South East Asia as cheaply as we possibly could. We’ve been through Ethiopia, Borneo, Vietnam, small towns in France and Poland, and every small topical island we’ve been able to so far. In between the beautiful experiences, We’ve been extorted and had to flee a country, had our photography gear seized, and had my passport stolen in a foreign country. Not to say that any form of travel makes you better than anyone else - I just believe that the more varied experiences you have, the more you can speak to.
Q: How do you measure your success?
Living a somewhat untraditional life, success is not something I can measure in one metric. I would say the biggest marker was when our business started becoming sustainable, and then profitable and growing. We started with no idea if anything we tried would work or not, and when we started making an income was a huge mark of success for us. But it’s not just financial, I feel successful when we create photos and videos that I’m really proud of, when people read the travel guides on my blog and then visit my suggestions, when I publish personal essays about my struggles that I hope resonates with someone else who is struggling.
Q: What are some of the different programs you use to analyze and determine the quality of your followers/reach/etc.?
To measure social metrics, I love SocialBlade (although I miss when it held full data and not just the last couple of weeks), and Fohr.co.
Q: How do you work with tourism boards?
Brandon and I have a somewhat different business than most people I know in the social media space, because we are commercial photographers and filmmakers first, so the kind of work we do varies extremely. With tourism boards, sometimes we shoot full-production commercials and photo libraries, sometimes we join on group press trips with an Instagram/blog focus, and sometimes it’s a combination of some or all of the above!
Q: How many press trips have you been on with tourism boards?
In the past year or two, I have been on at least a dozen trips with tourism boards, including France, Eastern Canada, Dominican Republic, and Poland. My favorite of all time has been our trip to the Cook Islands, and coming up shortly we are working with Tahiti Tourisme which has been one of my biggest dreams!
Q: What is your fee structure?
We make our income through a number of different channels, the biggest being our commercial photo and video work. I also will take on sponsored Instagram and Blog posts for brands that I feel are a natural fit and that I am happy to support. I also make additional income from selling my photography presets and blog affiliates.
Q: How do you disclose paid/sponsored relationships?
I try to always follow FTC guidelines for paid disclosure as much as possible - through statements on my blog posts, #ad or #sponsored on Instagram, and the Branded Content Instagram tool.
Q: What was your most successful post from a press trip (please link) and why?
I would say that my most successful post from a press trip was when I shared this incredible flight deal to the Cook Islands, because a number of my followers and personal friends wrote to me telling me that they discovered the country from my posts, and booked a trip!
Q: Have you seen a remote place you work with been “discovered” in a good way thanks to your work as an influencer?
I feel like I keep mentioning the Cook Islands, but the Cook Islands! They have been running a great press trip campaign over the past couple of years and I have seen their popularity grow immensely on social media. As a said, a number of people have wrote to me that they booked trips after seeing my posts - which makes me so incredibly happy because I love the country dearly! One other example that comes to mind is a hotel in Tulum that we collaborated with very shortly after they opened, and has now become an incredibly popular and Instagrammable place.
Q: Has the recent backlash on influencers behaving badly affected your own work?
I don’t feel like I have seen this measurably affect my work, but I have noticed how much harder cold emailing is now than it was when I first started out, despite how much my following, client list, and work has grown. I assume that everyone in marketing is now just inundated with so many email requests, from people claiming to be influencers, whether or not they really are, that they just have to just blanket ignore most of them. As a professional photographer and filmmaker, it does get frustrating to be lumped in with a stereotype that is no way true to my life or my work. From outside the industry, I definitely see the stigma of people assuming every influencer just snaps a photo on their phone, doesn’t actually work, is always just on vacation, has no real skills, etc, etc. But behind every sponsored post is bidding on a job, contracting, sorting through image requirements, shooting, editing, getting image approvals, and then invoicing and making sure you get paid. Most every influencer is running a business, and it is not all vacations and selfies. I work many, many more hours now than at any other full-time job I have had in my life.
Q: Can you please share a horror story about a comp request, such as this story?
The worst response I ever got to a request was an email back from a hotel in Italy that simply said. “Blogger Infestation. Not interested.”
Q: Please include some links to IG posts from press trips with tourism boards.
Poland Tourism: https://www.instagram.com/p/By0B1xJH2Sh/
Dominican Republic: https://www.instagram.com/p/Br5qXPXgcWF/
Cook Islands: https://www.instagram.com/p/BnT0bHCBYZQ/
Turks and Caicos: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bm1ulqnBRmC/
France.Fr / Visit French Wines: https://www.instagram.com/p/BkhV7PXFzT8/
Q: What do you wish tourism boards/PR reps knew about working with influencers?
One thing I wish Tourism Boards and PR Reps knew is that Influencer is not a one-size-fits-all term, and that everyone came into this space fro m in a different way and with different skills. Personally, I feel like my skills and legitimacy as a professional photographer and commercial film director are sometimes questioned because of my large social media presence, and that people will sometimes take us less seriously. On the contrary, I believe that this should be seen as a strength, since so much advertising now is created specifically to be consumed on social media, who better to create that work than those of us that know the ins and outs and inner workings of those same social platforms? Also, press trips for content creators should be structured very differently than traditional press trips for journalists and travel writers, and it is very apparent when that care has or has not been put into the itineraries and schedules. I have been on press trips in the past that had schedules clearly created for journalists - with lots of strictly informational tours, visits to places where we were unable to take photos, no free time to shoot or edit photos, and dinners scheduled through sunset every single night. There have been times where I was forced to get up in the middle of the night to edit to meet my contracted deliverables, because there was absolutely no time to do it during the days. The best press trips are those with a good balance of activities and down time/shooting time, a mix of famous and local authentic destinations, and arrangements with popular sites before or after hours, to avoid crowds. When tourism boards and PR reps put that care into a trip’s itinerary, the content and the way we can talk about a destination really speaks for themselves.