At some point during the Safe Journey Retreat, I jokingly referred to myself as a retired influencer. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, they became real, and the more I said them, the more right it felt.
I have been thinking about whether continuing to blog, create digital content, and work with brands was right for me since 2021, but it took over a year to finally come to terms with the end of what has been a large piece of my life for the past decade. Here are four reasons why I stopped being an influencer after 12.5 years and building a six-figure brand.
I Could No Longer Balance All The Aspects of My Life
October 2021, just a few months into a season of juggling 3 jobs (the postdoc, Cohort Sistas, and blogging) and alternating between solo and long-distance parenting, was one of the hardest months of my life. I had two conversations that began to shift my mindset. One was with my therapist, who asked me what I could remove from my plate if I absolutely had to. I obviously couldn’t stop being a parent, I loved Cohort Sistas work even if it kept me up until 2 in the morning, and I had just moved halfway across the world to explore teaching as a career so it felt silly to give that up. I didn’t verbalize that I could theoretically give up blogging then, but it planted a seed that it was the one negotiable element of my work that was on my plate.
A second conversation was with another therapist, but this time during an interview for the Cohort Sistas Podcast. When discussing how she approached her post-doctoral career options, Dr. Adia Gooden said something to the effect of, “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should do something.” That sentence made me reckon with all the things I was doing professionally and seriously think through what I should be doing vs. what I was doing just because I was able to.
Aside from the fact that something had to give, there were a few elements about influencing itself, and particular, the level of social media and phone usage that was necessary to maintain that career, that also pushed me away from what has long been my favorite creative outlet.
Influencing Was Bad for my Mental Health
There’s no shortage of talk about how toxic social media comparison can be for your mental health. But when a significant portion of your income is literally connected to your digital following and likes, comparison was inevitable as an influencer, and there were moments when it completely consumed me. There are only a handful of Black women lifestyle bloggers, so when a company reached out to me during the scoping phase of a campaign, I sent back my rates, and they decided not to work with me, I always knew it was because they chose to work with another Black blogger. Lo and behold, 6 weeks later, when I saw that post come through on my feed, the hurt and disappointment of being passed over would be felt again.
Another challenge to my mental health was the fact that a significant chunk of my household income was dependent on an ever-changing and unstable industry. Imagine you are a graphic designer, you’ve been doing it for years, and you have a good sense of how many clients you need to secure to reach a certain revenue. But imagine that every 3 months, the graphic design software that you use completely changes — so much so that you have to learn it from scratch. Your clients don’t care that things have changed, they still want their projects completed in the same timeline and with the same results. Isn’t that stressful?? That’s essentially how platforms, Instagram in particular, operated — as soon as a new feature was released, you had to pivot your entire content strategy if you wanted to maintain your engagement. I kind of got by without ever adopting Stories as part of my content strategy, but the push to Reels was completely frustrating for me as someone who was already pressed for time and had already spent so many years creating long-form video content on YouTube.
Social Media Was Bad for my Relationship with God & My Family
Aside from my mental health, social media influencing started to impact my spiritual life. Again, when your economic value is directly tied to post and campaign engagement, it’s difficult not to solely focus on those metrics. Alongside comparing myself to others, I reached a point where I began to idolize likes and follower count, and in general found myself putting my worth in social media rather than in Christ. Not good at all.
The amount of time needed to sustain a robust influencing career also took time away from my family, which is of utmost importance to me. Even with a manager or a three-person team, there’s still a lot of time spent on the phone or computer, and I didn’t want to model that kind of digital attachment as my son grew older. In the weeks when I was solo parenting, I could not be as attentive as I wanted to my son at times because I was distracted by a caption or concept that was due or scheduling a last-minute photoshoot. When we were all together, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, so it was especially painful when I had to work through bathtime, a bedtime story reading, or a movie I’d promised to watch, knowing that our time together was limited anyway.
There was also the increasing awareness or concern that what I posted no longer just affected me, but it also affected Jonathan (who as a grown man could fend for himself), as well as our son (who as a baby/toddler that didn’t choose to have a mom with a public digital presence, could not).
Brand Partnerships No Longer Sit Well with My Spirit
The pandemic also shifted something for me in terms of how I viewed brand partnerships and marketing. During the early months of COVID, in an era of the most economic and physical uncertainty that arguably any millennial has faced, it felt incredibly strange to promote brands. I began to feel icky about the notion of encouraging consumerism during a global health crisis and recession — people’s family members were dying and they’d been furloughed or laid off from work, but hey, you should totally buy this life-changing laundry detergent! I turned down SO much work during this time, which helped with scaling back on the time demands of influencing, but I still often questioned why exactly I was asking folks to spend money on a product or service that I had not spent money on, especially when money was so tight for many people.
Again, because of the way the industry works, and the reliance on engagement as a metric, different industry antics & hacks that other influencers adopted were so disingenuous, I started to become embarrassed by being in the game. While buying likes and comment pods were always engagement strategies, I saw folks do things like comment dozens of times under their own images or create secondary accounts to boost their engagement, especially for campaigns. Combined with an inability and disinterest in pumping out multiple reels a week copying the same trends and audio as everyone else, it started to feel like social media influencing was not only a game that I no longer wanted to play, but one that I was unwilling to play under the new rules of engagement. To be clear, I am not suggesting that people were phony online, but I believe the way that the industry works — both in terms of the technology and the clients (aka brands) — encourages, and at times, rewards inauthenticity.
Now that I’ve stopped being an influencer, what’s next?
As you may have noticed, I have not posted on YouTube since December 2021, and I don’t plan to post any more YouTube videos. I deleted my Twitter account in October. My last brand campaign was in November and I’m back to a team of 1 as of this month. I am giving myself the choice to continue creating content if and when I feel like it for Instagram, but honestly, there are at least 4 recorded reels on my phone that I just don’t have the desire to post anymore. I still have folks impersonating me all over (especially on TikTok, which is hilarious as I’ve never posted a video there), but I don’t have the capacity to care (and these platforms do nothing about impersonation so why waste my energy). Will I ever do a campaign again? Who knows. Maybe things will change after baby #2 or when I feel more settled in either my academic or non-profit careers, but for now, I’m back to being a regular person online who checks her social media accounts maybe once a week, takes selfies when she wants a photo, and actually has storage space on her phone.
I still love long-form writing, and I still like digital marketing as a way to spread education and knowledge. Aside from Cohort Sistas and working on my book, I’ve been working on a podcast about racial health equity with a friend and colleague and can see myself using my remaining digital platforms to share that kind of messaging more and more. But you probably won’t see me promoting a hair or beauty product again anytime soon, and to be honest, I love this era for me.