The art of influencing

The art of influencing

For SU students, snapping and sharing photos on social media for a living is more work than it may appear.
Published: December 12, 2019
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At the age of four, Garvin Hastings was introduced to the fanciful world of Renaissance festivals by her father and her uncle. At 12, she put together her first costume to wear to one of the festivals and discovered her love for medieval and fantasy clothing. Her adoration of Renaissance-inspired clothing trickled into her everyday style and led to the creation of more and more intricate fantasy costumes she’d wear at festivals. But little did Hastings know that the interests that awarded her the yearbook superlative “Most Unique” in high school would lead to Internet fame.

With 51,000 Instagram followers and counting, Syracuse University senior known as @lotheriel online has achieved social media influencer status. “Influencer” is a relatively new profession, made possible through the social media explosion in the last decade and the desire of brands to reach people directly via individuals with massive online followings.

SU alum Andrew Graham started his career at Fremantle Media before moving to a relatively new company at the time called Fullscreen Media. Fullscreen was focused on helping YouTubers create content and build businesses, a novel endeavor for a company in 2012. After a few other career moves, Graham was hired by Creative Arts Agency as a digital media talent agent to help the famous talent agency recruit popular social media personalities.

Since Graham’s arrival at Creative Arts Agency (more commonly known as CAA) in 2016, influencing has become a lucrative job. Graham remarks on how common it is now for influencers to have significant book and licensing deals and to star in film and television shows. “They own businesses that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” he says. “It’s a completely different ecosystem.”

The social media successes of young adults like Lilly Singh, James Charles and Liza Koshy and the ever-expanding genres to “influence” has inspired many college-aged students to launch their own social channels in an effort to earn fame and money. SU juniors Carly Dossick, Emily Kilman and Halle Tucker met their freshman year while living on The Mount and were encouraged to create a food account on Instagram after sharing a picture of ice cream on their personal accounts. Now the friends use their joint account, @syrachews, to show Syracuse students great places to eat in the area, says Kilman.

As the account nears its first 1,000 followers, the budding influencers hope @syrachews’s audience will continue to grow and plan to take it international once they go abroad next semester. “It would be so cool for our account to go international and to gain recognition elsewhere,” Kilman says. “Lots of Syracuse restaurants comment on our pictures and sometimes repost us, so it would be cool if European places did the same.”

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Rainy day eats????

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While the @syrachews girls try to break into the popular food blogging scene on social media, Hastings has already achieved moderate fame in the more unique realm of costumes and cosplay; this fame allowed Hastings to be featured on the front cover of a novel and in Enchanted Living Magazine (formerly Faerie Magazine), as well as accrue sponsorships and brand deals. More mainstream influencers with more than 50,000 followers might be approached to promote more well-known brands like Sephora makeup or a FabFitFun subscription box, but Hastings’ niche content attracts niche businesses.

Instead of ads for department store makeup, Hastings promotes things such as handcrafted leather shoes, elf ears, and intricately designed fairy wings. “It’s a different type of influencer work,” Hastings says. “I only really sponsor small businesses and artisans, where they’re sending me something they’ve made.”

In a way, Hastings has these crafters to thank for her social media fame. When she was 18, Hastings started to work as an actress at the Renaissance festival she frequently attended, and she hoped to put together a convincing fairy costume for her role. She reached out to Angela Jarman, the owner and designer of Fancy Fairy Wings & Things. Jarman is now known for designing wings for Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, but at the time Jarman was a small business owner who loved designing fairy wings for costumes.

Together, Hastings and Jarman designed beautiful iridescent green wings for Hastings’ costume, and while she was dressed in her newly-minted fairy costume, Hastings snapped a picture. She attributes this costume and the photos of her in it as what truly launched her social media account. “Once I started wearing those wings, it just blew up,” Hastings says.

Four years and tens of thousands of Instagram followers later, Hastings supports artists and small business owners by promoting merchandise ranging from small pieces of jewelry to full clothing items custom-made for her. Instead of selling mass-produced items, she sees more value in advertising handcrafted items that individuals put time and effort into creating. “It’s their soul, it’s what they want to do for a living,” she says. “And I like to actually get to know the artists that I’m working with and I actually like them as people or I don’t work with them.”

While taking beautiful photographs and working with people you enjoy may seem like fun, influencing truly is a lot of work. CAA talent agent Graham emphasizes that any person who decides they want to try and make it big on social media needs to know what they’re getting into. “Influencing is a full-time job. A lot of talents start out on their own and they truly have to do every single element of their work from scripting to shooting to editing to being their own publicist,” he says. “And you need to be posting and creating content every single week. If you’re on YouTube, you need to be posting a video at least once a week. If you’re on Instagram, you need to be posting something seven days a week.”

The demands of influencing full-time are difficult to meet when the influencers in question are also full-time college students. The @syrachews girls admit that they’ve started posting less as their school careers have progressed. “In the beginning, we posted a lot, but now we normally post whenever we find a new food that we enjoy, but it isn’t as frequent,” Kilman admits.

It’s even more difficult for Hastings to post regularly due to her heavy workload as a theater design and technology student each semester. “I try to post once a week. I just don’t really have time anymore to post every day or every other day,” she admits.

The struggle to post regularly weighs even more heavily on Hastings due to the complexities behind creating her content, and she often relies on throwbacks of old costumes and shoots to satisfy her audience. “My clothing isn’t made in China,” she says. “I actually have to sit down and make it or wait for an artist to send me something and then I have to figure out a photographer, a place to take pictures, and wait for good weather because most of my shoots are outside. So it’s lot more waiting and planning than other types of influencers that can just go out and do it every day.”

Syracuse’s Top 5 Influencers (via

A large social media audience may mean posting often, but it also means that influencers with thousands of followers need to be aware of everything they share online, for better or worse. “You have to be careful that you’re not even getting a street name in the background of a photo or that your license plate isn’t visible in a video,” Graham says. “It’s a crazy level of cautiousness you need to take if you’re being an influencer.”

Hastings, who had a large following on social media platform Tumblr as a minor before shifting over to Instagram, grappled with how much she should share online at a young age. “I remember one time I got a message on Tumblr when I had like 60,000 followers, and I think it was like ‘I saw you walking towards a local coffee shop’ and I was like ‘Time to be private. Time to not show people where I am at all times,’” she says.

Even as an adult, Hastings is careful not to share too much about her life or exact location on social media to maintain a level of privacy. “I don’t want people to know too much about me,” she says. “You can see my pictures, but my life is my life, you know?”

But perhaps one of the most difficult parts of sharing so much of your life online comes in the form of cyberbullies and Internet trolls. “I can’t think of a single person that has taken this influencing journey and not dealt with some level of bullying,” Graham shares. “It’s so important to have positive reinforcement in the workplace, but when your workplace is the Internet and you’re looking for feedback you come across these really terrible comments that are demoralizing and hurtful and pernicious.”

Hastings has plenty of experience with hateful comments just because of her more unique content. “When you do weird things like go out with elf ears and horns on, people don’t see that every day and I feel like people can be quite judgmental,” she says. “People will be mean, and the bigger following you get, the more hate you get.”

Because of the hate, Graham confesses that influencing may not be for you unless you’ve got a very thick skin, and Hastings agrees. “If you’re going to do this it’s something you have to overcome and you’ve got to be like ‘I’m still going to do what I love,’” Hastings says. “And sometimes it’s really just ignorance and you have to realize that it’s rooted somewhere deep within them that’s messed up and they just have to let it out.”

Despite grappling with maintaining privacy and cyberbullying, Hastings thoroughly enjoys getting to share the costumes she creates for such a large group of people. “The key to success is doing what you love and putting effort into it, and I love what I do,” she says. “I cannot picture myself doing anything else.”