Marissa Roy and Qing Zeng have built their brands through contemporary methods on social media, but are the drawbacks worth being your own girl boss?
If anyone has any doubts about the idea of “social media influencer” being a viable option as a career choice for millennial women, they’d better think again.
When YouTube, Instagram and other social media outlets emerged on the web, no one could have ever predicted the mass impact this would have on generating followers and subscribers worldwide. Brands that are looking to sell a product are now turning to influencers to reach audiences through ways that are more personal and authentic.
Two millennial women have tapped into their niche by documenting aspects of their lives in different ways. Marisa Roy, makeup YouTube vlogger, has created a platform which has opened doors to countless business opportunities. Qing Zeng, who is a lifestyle blogger didn’t anticipate her website would gain a following outside of her friends and family, but through her blog she has been able to profit off of her creativity in a major way.
Roy, who was born in Thailand and raised Ottawa, moved to Montreal to attend McGill University for art history. That’s where she fell in love with makeup vlogs. “In the earlier days of YouTube, I would look up reviews for makeup and saw that people had their own channels where they reviewed products and did tutorials,” she said.
Entering the YouTube sphere was the next natural step for Roy. “I spent so much time in the YouTube space and wanted to contribute to it,” she said. In June of 2014, she gathered her father’s video equipment and got started on building her social media brand.
Since then, Roy has used her YouTube presence as leverage into other opportunities. She has worked with Elle Canada, Tweezerman and a few other brands.
Elle Canada gave Roy her first big break. “Elle had a competition for beauty vloggers and I won. Then PR companies wanted to work with me and brands started to reach out to me,” Roy said. The publication decided it wanted to work with her, but wasn’t sure how to utilize a YouTube vlogger at the time. “There was a point where beauty editors did not understand beauty influencers,” Roy explained.
When Elle settled on a position for Roy, she began making videos for them every week. She created all of the sponsored content and would collaborate with the sales team by selling advertising space digitally and in print.
Afterwards, she started a longstanding relationship with Tweezerman, which produced high-end tweezers and other beauty products. They had launched brushes and needed a makeup artist. “They asked me and I was like sure I can do makeup on other people,” she said. “I quickly put together a kit, used their brushes and I began to gain my own clients.”
Makeup artistry was the next step for Roy. She befriended some of the cast members from the CW television show ‘Reign’, an American historical romantic drama, based on the early exploits of Mary, Queen of Scots. Roy would do the actors’ makeup for events and award shows. The cast members would then post pictures and tag Roy, which helped grow her social media following.
Roy now works at MAC Cosmetics in the social media department while still creating her own content.
Blogger Zeng, who lives in Toronto started her website, Qingaling for fun as something to share with her friends, which eventually propelled her into accumulating over 39,000 Instagram followers. Like Roy, Zeng started her social media career in university while going to school for something very different. She was enrolled in the University of Toronto’s pharmacy program and is now working as a pharmacist full-time and blogging on the weekend.
“I love blogging because it allows me the chance to be creative, unlike my full-time job,” Zeng said, adding that she’s found new, exciting opportunities through her blog. “I get invited to events, I get travel opportunities, paid campaigns and free products.”
All opportunities are not created equally
Both Zeng and Roy warned against taking every brand opportunity that comes up. Most influencers have representatives to help them determine what’s best for them.
Jess Hunichen, co-founder of Shine Influencers, a Toronto based agency that represents social media influencers and is currently representing Zeng explains, “We specialize in brand development and strategic partnerships. We work to partner our influencers with products or services that they genuinely love, so they can be integrated into their content with ease,” she said. “We would never recommend that one of our influencers collaborate with brand that they don’t stand behind. At the end of the day, not every brand is right for every influencer.”
The influencer life is not without its challenges. At times your profession is not taken seriously, according to Roy. “Everyone wants to pay you in product when you’re an influencer,” she says. “There’s a barrier in understanding the cost benefit in working with a YouTuber.”
As well, there can be difficulties when you’re first starting up. “Equipment is expensive,” she said. “But you’re an entrepreneur and you have to invest in yourself.”
As much as Zeng loves the creative aspect of being an influencer, she too, admits it can be challenging. “It’s hard to be creative. Sometimes I run out of ideas,” she explained. “There are times I want to switch it up, and I’m afraid of what my audience might say. It’s hard not let the numbers get to your head, even though it doesn’t reflect how good your content is.”
Meanwhile, Roy has some advice for those wanting to start a channel, “You have to love creating content. The majority of the time you are negotiating, editing and content planning,” she said. “Treat your channel like you already have 10,000 followers even if you have a small amount. Finding your niche will help you grow.”