The power of the influencer and the art of the Instagram hustle – this is how brands and companies are reaching that coveted group of buyers, especially in Nashville.
This is a story I worked on at my station – as part of our Nashville 2017 brand – which focuses on all the things that are changing with Nashville. We’ve got 80-100 people moving here each DAY. Of course that means a change in real estate prices, so many new businesses, and also new jobs! That’s what this piece is about – a new job trend, mostly women — called influencers.
Influencer marketing is nothing new – it’s been around for years. The idea is that a celebrity or someone who is “influential” will endorse your product on social media in a seemingly natural way. That leads to sales. This concept is taking off though, and it’s not just for celebrities…it’s for the girl-next-door, your best friend or the ‘insider.’ And ANYONE can do it. Seriously anyone. But you have to put in the work.
When I first moved to Nashville I started following local bloggers on Instagram to get to know my new city better. And I noticed something- once I hit ‘follow’ – dozens and dozens of other Nashville influencers popped up as suggestions. Woah. This is a THING.
The first two influencers that caught my attention were Hunter Schleicher and Ashley McClellan Houston. First, for obvious reasons – these girls are gorgeous. Then, for their taste – I was scrolling through their pics screen shooting and double-tapping like “want this, want this and yes this too, please.” I reached out to them – and they agreed to do an interview.
First up was Ashley McClellan-Houston, a stay-at-home mom of two gorgeous girls, a dog and a cat. After chatting with her, I realized we are from the same hometown (Kingsport, TN) and I went to high school with her husband. This is SO Nashville, big city with small town feel.
Ashley is a creative person who missed writing and decided to start a blog in her free time (which is very few and far between). Her husband came up with the name: “Nashville WifeStyles.” It stuck—and took off. She has more than 32,000 Instagram followers. Advertisers pay big bucks for people like Ashley – because their following is real, passionate and targeted. Most of Ashley’s followers are just like her, i.e. – the target audience for many companies.
Ashley has more than 50 clients on her roster right now, she gets paid anywhere from $250 to upwards of $500 per post. Her clients are wide-ranging, too. Pier One, Rebecca Minkoff, Band of Gypsies, Bauble Bar, just to name a few.
What’s charming about Ashley, is her ability to be relatable and enviable at the same time. I don’t mean enviable in the negative sense – I mean this girl makes you want the outfit or lipstick she’s wearing…which, is the job of an influencer. Ashley will tell you her life is “a mess.” “Most days I am sitting at home in my sweatpants and my computer just trying to get stuff done,” says Ashley. “I work randomly, all hours of the day especially because I’m a mom. When my kids go to bed, I’m doing a lot of it because it’s really hard to get work done with a 4-month-old and a 5-year-old running around.”
Although her Instagram posts are perfectly-curated and very pretty her Insta-story is where you see the real Ashley. She’s in a top knot, no make-up, toting a baby on one hip and chasing the other kid around the house, usually a dog nipping at her heels. It’s adorable and relatable. She portrays a sense of – “she’s got it all” at first glance. But then you take a deeper look and you see, this girl is just like me. That’s why Ashley is so successful, she keeps it real.
“Bloggers especially are telling a story. You want to go to the restaurant they went to or you want to go to the event they went to,” says Ashley.
Ashley also posts YouTube tutorials about makeup, fashion, beauty, even some featuring her beautiful kids.
Next I met Hunter Schleicher, an influencer who is actually FROM Nashville. So promoting her city and the brands and businesses here is just natural for her.
For Hunter, a blog just made sense.
“In college, we just dressed everyone. People came to our room and we gave them accessories and shoes and a purse,” Hunter says.
Hunter majored in journalism and always loved writing and creating. She used to work in public relations at a big-time firm in Nashville, but when her blog just took off, she decided it was ‘now or never’ to pursue it full-time. Her fiance, Cameron, takes all her pictures.
Hunter has more than 26,000 Instagram followers and gets paid anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per post.
Hunter, like Ashley, is also adamant about keeping it real. She only works with brands or products she actually LIKES. “You are just promoting what you are already wearing, what you already have in your closet,” says Hunter.
And just as Ashley lets people into her life struggles, Hunter opens up about issues, too. “Never in a million years did I think I would open up about my body image and eating disorder, but that has by far been my most popular post. I still get emails about it every day from girls all across the world.”
Hunter is keenly aware the negative ways social media can impact young girls’ lives. “I just don’t want young girls to look at my blog and think, oh she has it all, why can’t I? So I opened up about my struggle with an eating disorder.”
“I’ve made a conscious effort over the last few months to not just post when I am all done-up, but to do it when I’m sitting here with no makeup eating pizza. Obviously I want to publish the best parts and I’m not going to pretend like I don’t do that, you just can’t help it.”
Hunter and Ashley want girls and women to know, these are highlights — NOT the whole story.
How does it work? “Basically two ways,” says Hunter. “Through brand deals, either I reach out to a company or a company reaches out to me, we work out a brand campaign and launch it.”
There are also services like Reward Style or Shop Style. “When I wear a dress or shoes and I link it, Shop Style and Reward Style have a relationship with that brand, so I get a commission.”
You start by soliciting businesses. “What I’ll typically say is my name is Ashley Houston and I’m the author and creator of Nashville WifeStyles. I tell them my blog purpose and why I’m reaching out to them and also give them a sneak peek into my statistics,” says Ashley.
Ashley, Hunter and the other influencers are not passive-posters. They don’t just take pretty pictures and post them on Instagram. These girls WORK. From networking with each other and attending events, to reaching out to companies and brands to pitch themselves. Many of these women are stay-at-home moms who need a creative outlet, others got so successful with their blog they were able to quit their full-time public relations or marketing jobs. However they got there, I gotta say I absolutely love seeing girl bosses channeling their entrepreneurial spirits.
Ashley and Hunter may seem like unicorns, this ‘dream job’ only attainable by a few, but that’s simply not true.
Not only are there thousands of women doing the same thing, but many are based in Nashville. Some people call them ‘Instagram models’ and think all they do is take pretty pictures, but these women work. I talked to a Nashville marketing and social media company – called Girlilla Marketing, to get their take.
“Put in work every day. It’s a job, it’s not passive,” says Stevie Escoto of Girlilla Marketing say.
Escoto works with celebrities, musicians and influencers across the country. She has also noticed the jump in Nashville-based influencers.
“It’s crazy, it’s crazy,” Stevie says. “I think it’s the appeal of the lifestyle. You get a little bit of both worlds.”
Businesses love it because it seems natural.
“If you read a review of a movie, and it’s terrible, you’re like, eh,” Escoto says. “But if your best friend sees it, and says it’s amazing, you’re going to trust what your friend says.”
And unlike traditional media, Instagram is always available. “It’s on demand; people are fast-forwarding, whereas, on Instagram, people are on it all day. It catches your eye through quality content,” says Stevie.
It is quality content specifically curated for you, by someone like you.
“The thing about Nashville being an IT city, even if you don’t live here, you want to know what’s going on because it’s just an awesome city,” says Ashley.
That’s the power of an influencer.
Here’s the piece:
-THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY –
Here’s the thing I found most charming about this group of women in Nashville: They support each other. Surprising, right? Women can be pretty hard on each other, competitive and not willing to help each other climb to the top. That is NOT the case with Nashville influencers. This was downright shocking to me – aren’t they all striving for more likes, followers and brand deals? Yes, they all told me, but one girls’ success is another. And there’s room for us all. “It’s a huge community. That’s one of the cool things about Nashville,” says Hunter.
“The good thing about Nashville, it is becoming an IT city just like NYC and LA, so the more the population grows the more businesses are moving here,” says Ashley. And that means more opportunities for partnerships.
Is there overlapping? Yes. But that’s a good thing. “I love when Ashley and I get to work with the same companies, we have completely different takes. I think as long as you stay true to yourself, there is room for you,” says Hunter.
Ashley agrees, and even encourages all her friends to start blogging. “It’s the perfect career for a mom.”
These women not only support each other, they are actually friends. I got to join them for a lunch at Sea Salt (see this POST for more on that delicious meal!) and they talk business, give each other tips, tricks, etc… but they also talk about their lives. Throwing each other baby showers, going on walks and just being there for one another.
So who are my favorite influencers in Nashville? Here’s a quick LIST.