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#WineWednesday Panel Recap: Influencers Dish on Instagram Stories, Agency Pitches and Authenticity

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Last night, notable influencers Nicole Balch, Kevin Lu, John Stoffer and Sian-Pierre Regis gathered at 360i’s Chicago office for a WOMMA #WineWednesday event. Over the course of the hour-long panel discussion, moderated by 360i’s SVP of Influencer Marketing Rebecca McCuiston, the four influencers hit on some of the industry’s most challenging pain points: authenticity, ever-changing social platforms and brand-influencer relationships.

Though the influencers differ in their content style and subject matter, they all agreed that when it comes to working with brands, the top consideration is staying true to themselves and to their stories. Authenticity trumps everything else. On his relationship with brands, Regis said, “The brands I trust the most are the ones that trust me to tell stories that I know to be true to myself and to my audience.”

For Regis, the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Swagger, an online community of young voices covering street culture, brand relationships should go beyond the basic endorsement ask. “When working with a brand it’s very important that they engage the influencer to help them do more than they would be able to do by themselves… How can you lift them up to tell a story together, that they would want to tell themselves?,” he said.

Influencers, by and large, view brands and agencies as partners for empowerment and elevation, which makes it difficult when they receive cold-call style emails that don’t even demonstrate the most basic understanding of their creative aesthetic. Stoffer shared that he gets emails every week about new agencies that are sprouting up to connect brands to influencers, saying, “[For them] it’s more about [my] numbers than it is about fitting into [my] narrative… It’s so churned out…. Where brands often fall flat is when they do something that is outside the consistency of the influencer and it seems like such a departure from the voice they’ve created.”

Another challenge the influencers shared is keeping up with the constantly changing social landscape, in particular managing new algorithms on Facebook and Instagram and now, with the roll-out of Instagram Stories, making the decision of what to post where. Balch in particular stressed that finding her audience on Snapchat has been difficult, but “the Instagram Stories thing is exciting… I already have a built in audience there.” For Lu, the choice between platforms is all about time management: “Once Instagram Stories came out I stopped using Snapchat. I only have so much time.”

Even as social platforms evolve with more offerings for brands and influencers alike, it was clear from the panel that balancing adaptation with authenticity is key. “I want someone who will elevate my work and a partnership that will be mutually beneficial. I want to work together. I don’t want to work alone… My dream is to have my content unified on multiple platforms,” said Lu. Stoffer, who is a lifestyle photographer, says that he’s never changed his style and even when Instagram rolled out videos, he said, “I was like, I will never post a video. I think I’ve posted one video. So things change, but my style is the only thing…that’s stayed consistent. And I think that’s why people follow these specific Instagrammers, they want to follow that style.”

Hear more on brand relationships, social platforms and storytelling from our #WineWednesday influencers in the Facebook Live video, available to watch on WOMMA’s Facebook page here. See more photos from the event on 360i’s Facebook page.