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Influencer: The new career route

A look at how online platforms have made careers and benefited area businesses

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September 12, 2022

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – As social media platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok, have boomed over recent years (and with no end in sight), it should come as no surprise that more opportunities have arisen with them – especially as the platforms pair along with the rising trend of “becoming your own boss.”

However, not everyone who has gotten their start on social media expected to make it their career.

Amber Clemens, a proud resident of Titletown, said her career as a social media influencer was one she had fallen into by chance.

Her Instagram page, alittlebit_amber, shares her weight loss journey, as well as healthy, friendly ways to help others lose weight.

“In 2018, when I started my weight loss journey, I started posting updates about my weight loss,” she said. “Slowly, but surely, people started to find me.”

In 2020, Clemens said she was featured in an interview for Women’s Health.

Within the first day of the article being up, she said she gained nearly 15 thousand followers, though that wasn’t the tipping point in her influencer journey that had her bidding adieu to her 9-5.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The soon-to-be influencer said like many others, she was let go from her job, which allowed her more time to post more regularly to her Instagram page.

It wasn’t until Clemens was recognized in public for the first time that she realized the reach she had.

“When you’re an influencer, you kind of work in your own mind – it’s you and your phone or camera for so much of it,” she said. “I don’t think you realize the people you’re reaching until someone comes up to you.”

Now, Clemens has 127,000 followers on Instagram.

She said the adjustment to becoming a full-time influencer was a weird transition.

From signing a 1099 tax form, to working on her own merch line, the self-entrepreneur said she was “taken aback” by “officially making (herself) a brand.”

It wasn’t until this past year that Clemens said she started to feel like a business owner.

“I think the one thing I’ve learned from going through this process is it’s a lot of work,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize you are essentially running a small business – even though the product might be a 60-second video or a post. A lot of people don’t see a lot of the behind-the-scenes going into planning, shooting, editing and all the hours of thinking about content and planning out what to post.”

There were several tools Clemens said she had to learn along the way, such as how to handle brand negotiation and editing.

While an influencer’s life may look glamorous on screen, Clemens said they’re all humans, and deal with issues offline.

“A lot of people forget we’re still people,” she said. “I think a lot of people look at us like a personality, or a cartoon almost. At the end of the day, we’re all people; and a lot of what I’ve been finding – especially since the pandemic – is that a lot of people didn’t seek this out to be their career. A lot of people didn’t set out with that mindset of ‘I want to be an influencer.’”

Clemens said her biggest struggle was learning to set boundaries within her work – specifically with how much of her personal life she shared with her following.


Amber Clemens started sharing her weight loss journey on Instagram in 2018, and now has 127,000 followers. Submitted Photo

“A lot of being an influencer is being vulnerable, and open and getting to know your audience,” she said. “But, at the same time, when you get to a certain level, you need to set boundaries for your physical safety, your mental safety. That was a hard lesson for me, because I’m an open person.”

Despite the negativity she receives at times, Clemens said she is incredibly grateful that her social media is her full-time job.

“I am so thankful for this every day,” she said. “It came about at a time where I really needed it. It gave me an opportunity to choose a career path that was entirely for me.”

A blog-turned-career
Lindsey Puls, the mind behind Have Clothes, Will Travel, has also made a career out of social media. 

More than eight years ago, Puls said she started Have Clothes, Will Travel as a hobby and a way to keep her family updated on her life, as she traveled the world with her husband. 

On the side, Puls worked as a freelance writer, social media manager and a scattering of English teacher jobs.
In 2019, when she was accepted into the ad network Mediavine, she said she was able to make Have Clothes, Will Travel her full-time career.

“I don’t think there was an exact point where I decided I wanted to be an influencer,” she said. “It was more of a gradual process over the years. I was posting content consistently, and my accounts slowly began to grow.”

Now, the influencer’s brand is focused on online shopping guides and tips, product reviews, outfit ideas and travel.

Puls said she has also partnered with Wisconsin businesses – such as Discover Green Bay, Hotel Retlaw, Destination Door County and The Osthoff Resort.

She said the gradual transition to full-time influencer came with new skills learned over time as well.

Puls said the biggest skill she acquired to become successful was “learning (and continuing to learn) search engine optimization,” and “the ability to write clearly, yet conversationally.”

Becoming comfortable with creating a brand out of herself was an adjustment as well, Puls said.

“It’s weird, to say the least,” she said.

Whereas Clemens said the majority of her work revolves around Instagram, Puls said the biggest misconception about her job is that she only focuses on social media.

“In reality, social media is the smallest portion of what I do, and how I generate revenue,” she said. “Each day is different, but it typically consists of researching keywords and developing content plans, writing content, updating existing content, negotiating brand deals and sponsorships (and more). Posting to social media doesn’t even make it into my schedule some days.”

From individuals to businesses
And it’s not just individuals using social media platforms to grow and succeed.

Businesses are also giving it a go.

Outagamie County Recycling & Solid Waste made the jump to the growing video app TikTok in late 2020 after revamping its social media presence, Marissa Michalkiewicz, the recycling & solid waste program coordinator, said.

Now, Michalkiewicz said Outagamie County Recycling has more than 101,000 followers on TikTok, and has received the “notorious” blue check mark.

“Our recycling and resource recovery administrator, Alex Nett, and I were going back and forth for months trying to determine if we wanted to expand our social media presence and our newly successful video campaigns onto TikTok,” she said. “…very quickly, our department went viral on the app.”

One video specifically, featuring Outagamie County Recycling’s character “Philthy Philm” on how to properly dispose of holiday lights reached more than 2.4 million views.

Michalkiewicz said the videos are meant to be “quick and entertaining lessons on how to dispose of waste properly,” and do so by using a combination of popular TikTok trends and original content.

“Our intention behind making these videos was to provide a unique educational experience for our viewers to show them what happens once their recycling leaves their curbs,” she said.

While Outagamie County Recycling & Solid Waste isn’t able to confirm if its social media success has translated into an increase in use of its facilities, Michalkiewicz said the team has observed a significant increase in the total attendees at the drop-off site.

“Using TikTok has allowed us to expand our outreach potential both on a local and national level, which has proven to be a useful marketing tool for our department,” she said.

The Green Bay Blizzard shared a similar sentiment toward the popular video app.

Selena Cashman, who works in community relations and group sales for the Blizzard, said the team started to use TikTok to grow awareness.

“Social media is always evolving and changing,” she said. “You have to stay with the change if you want to be relevant. This past year, for 2022, I saw other minor leagues doing (TikTok), and it blew up like crazy as a social media platform. I was like, ‘Hey, we have to do this.’ It took off more toward the back-end of this season.”

Cashman said the team makes a variety of different videos, from when the players are at practice, to TikTok’s infamous transition and voiceover videos, promoting games and quizzing out-of-state players on Wisconsin city pronunciations.
“It’s crazy when you get on something that’s trending, how quickly it can take off,” she said.

Cashman said the TikTok page has allowed for the Green Bay Blizzard to become even more involved with the community.
For example, she said the players wore their jerseys and gave out free hugs at the farmers’ market on Broadway.

The community response from the videos has been great, Cashman said, and while the team doesn’t have specific analytics as to how the Blizzard’s TikTok page has affected their ticket sales, she said it’s been one of the best years for attendance.

Mara Allen, an intern for the Blizzard, said, overall, the team’s turn to TikTok has had a positive impact on everyone.

“Utilizing our TikTok page has helped the Blizzard get in on social media trends, expand our following and allowed us to connect with the fans by highlighting our players’ fun personalities,” she said.

Social media in the classroom
The increase in social media can also be seen throughout post-secondary schools, as more classes have been created that are specifically geared toward social media.

Brad Zima, a career advisor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) said the college’s marketing program offers a social media marketing course that entails choosing a business and creating a social media marketing platform from front to back.

Zima said NWTC also offers a digital marketing class, which involves learning how to effectively use search engine optimization (SEO), keyword searches and other tools; as well as a mobile marketing class.

Students who have graduated with those classes under their belt have marketing degrees, which Zima said allows for a variety of career options post-grad.

“Someone can go into sales, someone could go into social media marketing, someone could go the more digital route,” he said. “There’s graduates whose first job they get after NWTC is as a social media marketer, for sure.”

Zima said the growing presence of social media within academia is integral to any marketing job now.

Outagamie County Recycling & Solid Waste started its TikTok page in 2020, and now has more than 101,000 followers. Submitted Photo

“Digital knowledge in the marketing space is essential,” he said. “A graduate wouldn’t be prepared to work in marketing if they weren’t prepared to market digitally, and that includes social media. Social media marketing, in particular, has so much to do with what your brand voice is, and there’s probably never been a time in history that brand voice was more important than right now.”

While becoming a social media influencer differs from having a position in social media marketing, Zima said “the skills are very much the same.”

A little bit of both
Sometimes, there are those in the community who hold both a position as a social media influencer and a social media marketer/strategist – like Sarah Conery, the face behind Creative and Ambitious.

Conery said while her Instagram and blog are only part-time, she also runs a business where she does marketing, consulting and writing to help other businesses grow their social media, and also works for NWTC’s international program.

As her page has steadily grown, Conery said she “never really chose to be an influencer.”

She said Creative and Ambitious started as a blog, but when she switched over to Instagram to promote the blog, she grew more of a following on the social media app and has moved most of her content to that platform.

The travel influencer said she knew she could make her page successful after seeing others on the platform actively live out her dream.

“It was easy to think, ‘Well, I lived abroad and traveled a lot; there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do this if I’m willing to put in the work,’” she said. “When I realized (my page) could be more realistic was when I was getting close to 4,000 followers. Then I had companies reaching out to me and offering partnerships and things like that.”

Conery said she’s worked with several local businesses, such as The Next, St. Brendan’s Inn and The Ennis Inn, as well as others.

One of her challenges as an influencer, she said, however, is making sure she only accepts partnerships that are authentic.

“I’ve turned down a lot of offers because they don’t really seem to fit with what I’m doing,” she said. “If you post something that’s not quite what you do, or a little too salesy, you’re going to start losing followers… it’s a relationship of trust.”

Conery said keeping current with platform updates, and on new platforms, can also be difficult.

Regardless of being a full-time or part-time influencer, she said one of the biggest misconceptions of the job is comments about it not being a “real job.”

“It’s a ton of work, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” she said. “Before someone can get a brand deal and post a picture to be paid, they need to do a ton of legwork of making connections, building relationships and negotiating. It’s a ton of work, but it tends to look like it’s easy.”

If Creative and Ambitious continues to grow, Conery said she’d love to make it her full-time career.

“I love my job with the international program and being able to share with students the option to be able to study and travel abroad,” she said. “I love that portion of my job, but I know I can also do that for social media. There are a lot of different services that an influencer can provide where it’s not just them posting for commission.”

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