The world of online influencers

through a chance of luck or in a deliberate effort, people who gain a large following online are able to profit, market, and have incredible impact on social media platforms

by sara cronin

At sixteen, Anna Ivanov gained over 50,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel after one of her online videos went viral and made her an “influencer.”

Courtney Clark, a successful certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, has expanded her influence to hundreds of people through her online content on Instagram.

Erin Druga and LeaAnn Santo Colombo started blogs for fun but have since grown into influencers on wildly different topics that have changed their lives, and those of their followers.

Ivanov, Clark, and Druga and Santo Colombo are examples of online “influencers,” or people on social media sites such as YouTube and Instagram, who have established a credible online presence, whether it be intentional or not, and have gained a large following. Influencers are able to create a name for themselves online after accumulating thousands of followers, which can open doors to allow them to gain profit from outside companies, or even expand their own personal business.

“I feel like social media has hurt a lot of people’s self-image of themselves because they see perfection online and that’s all that they [try] to aspire to be and that’s what society wants,” said Santo Colombo, who began blogging before becoming an influencer herself. “I got into influencing because I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to influence people to be better people.”

According to a study conducted by “We Are Social” in January 2019, 3.4 billion people are active users on social media sites. This means that 45% of the world’s population is online. The study also revealed that there were 5.11 billion unique mobile users across the world in 2019, and the number is projected to continue to increase in upcoming years to follow.

The success and trends of online social media sites are responsible for the creation of this new job and the new term of “influencer” and the “influencer lifestyle.”

Unplanned Potential

People online don’t always choose to become influencers on purpose, and Ivanov didn’t necessarily expect to become one herself. However, after she posted a hairstyling video online to her YouTube account and it went viral, Ivanov’s YouTube channel gained a massive following, allowing her to eventually monetize her account.

“I started posting about 5 years ago, but I only posted two videos.

In the next year, I posted more videos, and I didn’t really get into it

until the end of 2018,” Ivanov said. “I would see other YouTubers,

and I would want to make videos like them. I first started [making

lifestyle videos] on my iPod. Over time I got a camera and

everything else.”

As a busy high school student, most of Ivanov’s week is consumed

by school and sports, leaving Ivanov to only have time to film

her YouTube videos on the weekend. She edits a single video

during the week whenever she can find the time, explaining that

it usually takes her a total of 5 hours to complete the editing


Over the past few months, Ivanov mainly focuses on posting

lifestyle videos that include her showing her audience her

favorite and new clothing selections for the summer and fall

season, her morning and night school routine, and a room tour.

Her school night routine video received the most

views at 392,000.

Despite her success online, Ivanov explained that she’s surprised that she was able to gain the 50,000 subscribers that she did on YouTube so quickly.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have that many [followers] because I haven’t posted many videos. I posted about 20 something, which isn’t that much,” Ivanov said. “You see some YouTubers and they work years to get to 40 or 50 thousand [subscribers], and I got that from a couple of videos combined.”

However, Ivanov explained that she really owes her large following to the success of her hairstyling video that she posted in October of 2018. Titled “13 Easy Hairstyles for School,” Ivanov posted the video to share simple and easy hairstyles that included her showing how to create various braided hairstyles and half-up-half-down hairstyles in an upbeat video. The video currently totals 2.3 million views.

Ivanov laughed as she explained that looking back, she almost hates listening to the video, due to the fact that she didn’t have the proper microphone at the time of filming. However, the video has since allowed Ivanov to gain popularity on YouTube and has also allowed her to gain $600 in just one month.

Ivanov explained that YouTube allows certain accounts and videos to become monetized, meaning that the creator or user responsible for a popular video can earn money by including ads throughout their video. However, there are certain credentials that YouTubers must meet in order to become a monetized account.

“You have to get 1,000 subscribers, and then 4,000 watch hours

before you can even start to get monetized,” Ivanov said.

“I ended up getting monetized last spring, and I was getting all

excited because I was getting paid, and then my hairstyle video

started to blow up, and I made around $600 in June and then

I made around $500 in July.”

When it comes to gaining her future income,

Ivanov plans to continue to make as many videos

as she can during and after high school before starting to pursue

a career in college.

Once YouTubers hit the benchmarks for what they need in order to

get monetized, YouTube then sends the user a notification where

the user can choose whether they want to monetize the channel

and include their banking information. YouTube then will review

the channel, and if it is approved, YouTube, through Google Adsense,

will start to include ads as part of the video, and YouTubers will

begin to get paid.


Ivanov explained that although she has been successful, being a YouTuber comes with its own set of challenges that she wasn’t expecting. Ivanov now must meet her large audience’s expectations, and feels pressure to continue to make videos as a high school student and athlete.

“Since I didn’t expect to get so many followers so quickly, I wasn’t planning on trying to post super often,” Ivanov said. “But once I did [get a lot of followers], everyone’s like ‘Well you have to be posting every week now.’ Every day they’ll ask ‘What are you going to post? When are you going to upload?’ And then everyone gets upset when I don’t upload.”

Ivanov explained that she doesn’t directly receive criticism or “hate” on her videos from her audience, but sometimes the pressure to continue to post content can be a burden that is heavy on her shoulders.

Ivanov explains that she doesn’t think people realize how difficult it can be as an online influencer, especially on a platform like YouTube. Ivanov can’t record a video and then upload it online. It takes her hours to add in small edits, captions, and transitions, all while editing on her HP computer using PowerDirector, a video editing software.

Ivanov tries to split up her editing time throughout the week so she doesn’t have to do it all at once, but sometimes the time she needs for editing has to replace Ivanov’s free time and time spent with friends.

“What people don’t understand is how much time and how much effort it takes to make a video. You have to have decent equipment, the work ethic to get it done, and you have to put effort into it because people are going to want to watch a video that’s well made,” Ivanov said. “Also, you have to be good in front of the camera, because some people shut down in front of it.”

Five years ago, when Ivanov first tried getting in front of the camera herself, she admitted that shutting down was something she felt vulnerable doing. But after spending time in front of the camera, she was able to feel comfortable.

“I feel like everyone can get there, you just can’t really jump right into it,” Ivanov said.

Despite Ivanov’s own challenges, she explained that the most important thing that she’s found for her own success is for her to be true to herself on YouTube. Ivanov doesn’t want to follow video trends and appear fake online just to accumulate views and gain profit.

“I don’t want to seem like somebody else who just tries to be like other people, or tries to copy different editing styles or concepts or different things. I just try to be myself and I feel like that’s the biggest thing to make someone stand out,” Ivanov said. “It’s funny, this week my teacher shared a quote, and I think it was ‘it’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in expectation. ’That is just so good, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Just to be myself and not copy everyone else.”

Work It Out

Similar to Ivanov, Clark decided to become an influencer online after literally saving herself by choosing to pursue a career as a trainer and nutrition coach after struggling with an eating disorder. Clark slowly nursed herself back to health after choosing healthier eating habits and finding happiness and satisfaction with going to the gym. Clark used her knowledge and experience to help others to not only become physically fit but also mentally stronger.

Now a physically fit, incredibly hardworking and successful woman,

Clark explained that that was not always the case. At one point in

her life as an adult, Clark weighed only 90 pounds.

“One day the doctor said to me ‘you need to do something or

you will die; you’re malnourished,’ and so I panicked,” Clark said.

“Something in me just switched up right there and I started doing a

lot of research to get myself healthy.”

Clark slowly began to take measures in order for her to get herself

and her life back on track. She began by practicing veganism to

help her gain the nutrients back into her body in a healthy way.

On her road to a healthier lifestyle, Clark also found the world of


“I started going to the gym with no idea why I was going, and

I looked at people and I thought, what am I doing? I can tell that

they're moving, I can tell that it looks like it's working. How do I do 

that?” Clark said.


Clark ditched old habits of sitting at home and eating large amounts of food after exercising since she found that she was continually hungry after burning so many calories. She instead became determined to find success both in her diet and at the gym. Eventually, after months of hard work and commitment, Clark was able to see results.

“I found that going to the gym brought me peace. I was very happy being at the gym, and then when I started to see a little bit of change in my body, where I wasn't super skinny anymore, that started making me feel good internally,” Clark said. “When I started making these positive changes and as I was seeing changes in my physique, I was then able to keep going.”

Clark used her success in fitness to help others who may be struggling to commit to a lifestyle change. Clark, the creator of her own business, currently operates her own personal training business both in-person and online by reaching out and gaining clientele through her Instagram account that has over 4,000 followers. While she does meet anywhere between 14 to 20 people in person, Clark also coaches up to 75 additional people online from across the globe.

For example, Clark’s online users can participate in Clark’s fitness programs that frequently vary

and are available for purchase. Currently, one of Clark’s programs available for purchase is a 

21-week ab challenge that includes 6-8 minute long videos of ab workouts, a meal guide, and

group support.

“In the health and fitness business, the turnover rates are pretty high,” Clark said. “My turnover

rate is not high, which means that there’s trust in me and in the community with my clientele.

They are serious.”

Clark explained that she is able to use her Instagram account and her online influence to help build

up that trust with her clientele. On Instagram, she is able to conduct polls to help her target what

it is that her followers want, whether it be a lifestyle change or suggesting meal plans, for example.

Using Instagram to her advantage, she can then use the results of the polls to determine what kind

of content she can create for her audience.

“When [my followers] do vote, I go through and I sit there and I message people separately and

say something like, ‘Hi, how are you? I saw you voted that you wanted help with nutrition. What

can I do for you?’” Clark said. “The great thing about the app is I can do it nationally or even

internationally. I have clients on the other side of the country, and I have clients in Australia.”

When it comes to online coaching, Clark requires her online clients to participate from two to three

video calls a week. Since she’s not there with them in person to physically see progress, she also

requests photos once a month so she is able to see and target areas that her clients need help in,

whether it be assisting in creating nutritious meal plans according to their body, or finding solutions

to combating old habits.

Clark explained that while online coaching has its advantages, doing physical training is easier to do in person since it is easier to hold people accountable when they miss their training sessions.

“If it’s just online, it’s easy to ignore my text. It’s easy to ignore my calls and to forget to follow up with me after the session. They can fall off because they’ll get distracted. It does take a lot of willpower to focus on following online,” Clark said. “You have to find people that are really confident in wanting it and that’s not everybody. Sometimes it takes a long time for [clients] to get there, and I don’t push, I open the doors for people. It’s your choice to take the initiative.”

Clark explains that she considers herself a successful influencer because she was able to create her own business, and is continually recognized for what she does by both past and new clients. She has earned enough money to provide for herself and her everyday needs and is now hoping to one day acquire a space of her own to use to carry on her influence.

“My goal was to get my name out there and get noticed for what I do and have a positive

response. As far as success goes, it’s to have a very positive and enduring reputation in the

community,” Clark said.

Clark explained that she feels that one of her greater accomplishments is that some people have

reached out to her or have been referred to her by people she had never met. She explained that

she believes that the reasoning she is able to gain clientele she hadn’t known before shows how

influential she is not only as a personal trainer but also as a person.

An Original Influencer 

For many influencers like Erin Druga, the term “influencer” hadn’t even been established before

she became the influencer she is now on Instagram and on her blog. Druga started blogging

as a hobby, and once social media came on the scene, her online blog audience helped her

gain popularity on Instagram as well.

Druga’s blog, titled “The Almond Eater,” has become successful in sharing diet-friendly, quick,

and healthy recipes. Druga was able to turn what had initially started off as an interest and a

hobby into her full-time career.

“I started blogging in 2014, and the term influencer wasn’t even a real thing,” Druga said.

“If someone asks me what I do, I probably wouldn’t say that I’m an influencer, I still say I’m a

food blogger and I do food photography, but under the definition of influencer,

I do consider myself one.”

In college, Druga followed bloggers herself, and always wanted to create one, but was unsure how to get started. She didn’t take blogging seriously until after she graduated from college with a degree in public relations. After landing a job in her major that she didn’t feel passionate about, she turned to blogging and used it as both a hobby and a space for her to get away after a day at work.

“When I first created my blog, it was all over the place because it was just a hobby,” Druga said. “I was blogging about food, fashion, fitness, life, and just everything. After doing that for a year, I decided that I wasn't really pumped about creating fitness and fashion content, and I was really into creating recipes and taking food photos. I kind of narrowed my focus down.”

Druga really became immersed in the food blogging world after she ended up losing her job in public relations. She came to a point where she needed to decide whether she wanted to get another full-time job or to try to find success in her food blog.

Druga immediately began looking for freelancing jobs and was fortunate enough to land a job right away by pursuing freelance food photography. She paired her newfound passion for photography with her food blog, and within a few months, Druga was making enough income for her to be comfortable.

Now Druga is able to make money as an influencer in several different ways from the success of her blog and Instagram account that has gained over 35,000 followers where she continues to share images of healthy and mouth-watering recipes to her followers. Freelance food photography, ads, sponsored content, and packaged brand deals, are all ways that Druga is able to generate her income as an influencer.

                                                                                     “I work with other food bloggers who are basically outsourcing their photography. They’ll send                                                                                        me a recipe via email, and I will make the recipe and then photograph it. I’ve also done                                                                                                    photography for a couple of different restaurants before for their website and social media,”                                                                                            Druga said.

                                                                                      Druga explained that she's also part of an ad network that manages everything for her, and                                                                                              recommends where she can include ads on her blog to help her generate income from her                                                                                              blog’s website. Druga is also able to gain profit through posting sponsored content either on                                                                                          her blog or through her Instagram.

                                                                                      “Since I’m a food blogger, I work with food brands, and I usually create recipes using their                                                                                                 product,” Druga said. “A lot of times I will do a package deal and I’ll do six recipes over the                                                                                             course of either six months or a year, and then I’ll create a blog post around that and then                                                                                               promote it on all of my social channels.”

                                                                                       When it comes to the success of her blog and Instagram, Druga believes that there are a few                                                                                           key factors, like consistency, that play into not only gaining a lot of followers but also keeping                                                                                         an engaged audience.

                                                                                       “To be a successful influencer I think you have to provide valuable content, show up on                                                                                                     Instagram, and then even before Instagram, show up on your blog consistently,” Druga said.                                                                                          “I feel like you have to show up every single day in order to gain an audience.”

                                                                                      But Druga’s large following didn’t come overnight. It was a long period of consistency and                                                                                                building up her content that helped her get to where she is now.


“For me personally, I’ve never had a huge surge of people, maybe a couple hundred, which is a lot, but that’s not going to blow you out of the water or anything,” Druga said. “I do think some people think they can start an Instagram and within a week have 50,000 followers. I just don’t think that is realistic at all. You have to be really patient and focus on the content you’re producing and if people like it, they’ll follow you.”

Druga explained that in order to keep creativity and her own ideas for recipes flowing, she’s found it important for her to create and work with a content calendar where she plans what she is going to post anywhere from three weeks up to a month in advance.

Usually, Druga will already have her recipes created and photographed, and will only have to go back into her blog to write about it. However, sometimes finding creative and delicious meals can be tricky, when something has already been created and posted about before.

“If I want to make a chicken recipe, for example, I have to think about what I want to make that’s going to stand out from all the other chicken recipes on the internet,” Druga said. “That can be a little bit challenging because you want to come up with creative recipes, but you don’t want them to be too out there so that people won’t think that it’s weird and random, and say that they’re not going to make that.”

When it comes to her future, one of Druga’s main goals is improving her SEO, or search engine optimization, so that her recipes can stand higher in Google searches.

“Getting more of my recipes to rank higher on Google is a

never-ending goal for pretty much every single blogger with a

website,” Druga said. “My eventual goal is to be able to hire a

full-time employee, someone helping me with my social media,

Facebook, and Pinterest. That’s something I dream about.”

Real and Raw

On her blog, Santa Colombo writes about topics such as

overcoming and dealing with depression and anxiety and tries to

show her true self online to her followers on Instagram to help

break the stigma of having a “perfect” online presence on social


One thing influencer and blogger Santo Colombo seeks to do on

her own Instagram page and blog is to spread positive messages

that you don’t always have to look or act perfect online, even when

you have a large following and audience.

Santo Colombo is able to prove this on her Instagram by posting

photos of herself without makeup on and by explaining her current

situation and feelings in her captions to her photos, even if she isn’t having the most perfect day.

Now a stay at home mom and full-time influencer, Santo Colombo initially pursued a career in nursing school since she knew helping people was something that she had always wanted to do. However, she found that the healthcare field she couldn’t do and be happy in, so she pursued becoming an influencer instead.

“Being [an influencer] is something that I know will benefit people. You don’t have to be a certain body type to be an influencer, you don’t have to look a certain way to be successful in the world, or have millions of followers,” Santo Colombo said. “Whether everyone in the world sees [my posts] or not. There’s somebody out there that needs to hear that or see it.”

Santo Colombo often makes posts about body positivity and isn’t afraid to share her true self online with her audience, even the negative aspects of her life. She explained that oftentimes, influencers can come off as “fake” and only show an exaggerated or perfect lifestyle.

In one of her posts from March of this year, Santo Colombo shared an image of herself in a shirt that read “cute and cozy,” while she looks off to the side. In the caption in an act of vulnerability, Santo Colombo explains that the photo was taken without her wearing any makeup, or without any editing.

“I’m bloated, uncomfortable tired, breaking out, struggling mentally because toddlers are savages, in a funk and just trying my best,” The caption reads.

Keywords: Influencer, Instagram, Social Media, YouTube, Lifestyle, Followers, Online, Video, Monetized, Blog

Sara Cronin is a senior photojournalism major at Point Park University.

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Ivanov has gained over 50,000 subscribers, posting as frequently as she can while she balances the workload of a high school student and athlete.

Ivanov's hairstyling tutorial went viral onYouTube, totally over 2 million views. Ivanov's viral video helped her to gain recognition on that platform.

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Courtney Clark, a professional trainer and nutritionist, gains clientele both online through her Instagram platform, and in person.

Clark uses Instagram's polling feature to help her better understand what her followers are interested in getting help with nutritionally

Erin Druga started blogging as a hobby in college. Her food blog became an instant success. 

Druga uses her Instagram page to share hundreds of her healthy and easy recipes to her audience of over 35,000 followers.

LeAnn Santa Colombo uses her position as an influencer to encourage her followers that it is okay to be real and honest online.