How Instagram influencers become businesses and what happens next

By the time Amber Fillerup Clark got a big profile in The Atlantic in 2017, the blogger and Instagrammer had already been at the top of her game for seven years. Clark launched her blog — which has since been renamed but was called Barefoot Blonde at the time — in 2010 and quickly rose to the top of the mommyblogger ecosystem.

Today, more than a decade later, Clark has amassed 1.3 million Instagram followers, oversees nearly a dozen full-time employees, and Dae Hair, the beauty brand she launched in 2020, is the best-selling clean hair care line at Sephora. .

But as Clark and an entire generation of first-wave Instagram influencers have evolved their businesses from image creators to brand builders, the social media landscape has also continued to change — and these days, she’s feeling the pressure to change.

“It’s basically a shift now, and I spend most of my time on TikTok,” Clark told Fast Company on a Zoom call from her home in Arizona. “Everyone is just shifting away from Instagram – I feel like if they don’t seriously change their algorithms back to what they were, Instagram will become obsolete, like Facebook.”

Not that Clark is dependent on social media any longer. In 2016, she turned her love for hairstyling into developing a hair extension company, BFB Hair, and Dae Hair has been hugely popular since her debut two years ago. Some of the most in-demand products in the 14-SKU range, such as the vegan detangler and jumbo-sized shampoos and conditioners, have sold out repeatedly since they hit store shelves.

“I spend most of my time on my businesses, not social media,” Clark says. “The time I spend on social media is not necessarily making money. It’s so important for brand awareness and interaction with the community I’ve built over the past ten years.”

In the burgeoning days of Instagram, which launched in 2010, hardly anyone could have predicted the platform’s future impact on the then fledgling creative economy, which has since grown to an estimated value of $104 billion by 2022. Without the pressures From brand deals or monetization, early adopters were free to post candidly — and Clark attributes much of her success to consistently publishing authentic content about her passions and interests.

“I think it came from a very authentic place,” she says. “These are really my real hobbies and I share them with you. I think when someone really shares what they’re passionate about and you can really feel their passion, it’s contagious. I feel like I’ve always done what I like.”

Today, a whole new generation of creators (the term influencers is slowly going out of fashion) are embarking on their careers with full awareness of its lucrative potential. Since 2019, polls have shown that “YouTuber” is a top career among most kids and teens — and under pressure to gain followers and win sponsorships with “brand safe” content, filtered and curated personas became the social media standard for years. Until TikTok happened.

Short format videos deployed through TikTok’s algorithm, which prioritizes content over creators, has catalyzed a new, more authentic era in the influencer economy. A lower barrier to entry also means more people join — and data-driven engagement metrics show that audiences and consumers prefer real and gritty to slick and pristine.

“There are so many people [on social media] now it’s so saturated,” Clark says. But content is also attracting the public’s attention – and advertisers, including Clark’s companies, have flocked to new platforms to seek out new talent.

“You don’t have to be that big to make money,” she says. “It’s much easier now to get paid for this.”

And as the first wave of OG influencers transition into venture and become business owners, they are turning around and investing marketing dollars in a new generation of social media content creators because they know firsthand how authentic engagement can win over consumers.

“At Dae, we invest in so many micro-influencers and UGC content that comes from people who may not have large followers. We just love their views,” Clark says. “I love that evolution of social media – how relaxed it is now and how nothing is off limits. I think brands are so creative these days. Their customers are within reach, which creates so many possibilities. It’s definitely more fun, for sure.”

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