It’s afternoon in Paris and the Eiffel Tower takes centre stage in the middle of a huge oval hotel room window. Macarons, croissants and flowers are dotted on tables serving as props for the perfect selfie - near-identical versions of which can be seen on hundreds of different Instagram profiles under Le Metropolitan hotel’s glamorous location tag.
Lucy glances out at the view, the room (she thinks) costing six or seven hundred euros per night. But she’s not here as a paying guest. The reason? She’s on the job as assistant to Tina Lee, an Instagram influencer with over 580,000 followers - and, as she jokes later in a behind-the-scenes video, Lucy’s eating the props.
Glamorous shoot days like these are a rare but essential part of Lucy’s day-to-day job with Tina, who makes a living sharing mostly travel and lifestyle content on her Instagram page @ofleatherandlace. Usually, Lucy can be found working from home in her New York City apartment, primarily making graphics for Tina’s second account (@fulltimeinfluencer.co which houses an influencer how-to course,) as well as publishing the day’s scheduled posts and Stories, writing captions and engaging with Tina’s followers in the comments and DMs.
Photoshoot-focused days (like the one in Paris) are much more intense: two shoots in the morning for sunrise, one or two in the afternoon, and then one more for sunset. At night, it’s time to edit, write captions and catch up on admin.
‘Influencer’s assistant’ might not be a job you’ve heard of, but in 2021 they’re more common than it may initially seem. Lucy, age 23, got the job after graduating into the pandemic in 2020 (when “no one was hiring”) with a degree in business administration and graphic design.
“I did not expect that this would be my job,” she tells me on Zoom from her Insta-perfect aesthetic studio. “I saw Tina post on her story that she was looking for an assistant,” and after working on an initial project to launch Tina’s course, Lucy was hired to come back full time.
For most social media natives, it sounds like a dream. “I get paid more than my friends who are working for corporations in entry level jobs,” Lucy discloses. Plus, flexible hours with Tina (work days are usually 10am-4pm) mean she’s able to work on freelance graphic design projects on the side.
Then there’s the fact that Lucy’s own Instagram following has grown since working for Tina, and her day-in-the-life Reels sharing a glimpse into her job have started to gain traction - 29.6k followers’ worth, to be exact.
“I think in the future, I'd probably end up being an influencer myself,” she admits. “It's like the modern day version of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. [Tina] feels like my Instagram mom.” However, it’s a while off, with Lucy citing 100k followers as the threshold for being able to support yourself financially.
Still, like with all jobs, there are downsides. Social media (as many of us know) never sleeps, and while most other workplaces wind down during festive and national holidays, Instagram picks up. “As an influencer, you don't really get days off. If you take days off, you start losing your engagement and your following,” Lucy explains, adding that assistants will usually be working on holidays and sometimes at weekends too.
“I've been at brunch with my laptop because I was working. Everyone else is doing bottomless mimosas and I'm trying to write captions,” she recalls. “If you need complete separation from your life and your job, then that wouldn't work.”
For a job based around connection, it can also get lonely. “I have one coworker and it's my boss, and people aren't going around networking like, ‘Oh, I'm an influencer’s assistant.’ ‘Me too!’ So it is hard to find other people in the same line of work,” Lucy admits.
Still, they do exist. One fellow influencer’s assistant is Harmony, a 31-year-old living in New York with her husband and two-year-old son. She’s been working as an assistant for fashion and beauty influencer Rachel Martino since 2017, and during that time has watched Rachel’s following grow from around 200k to her current 479k.
Harmony had already been following Rachel for five years when she first saw the job ad - now spending most days working from Rachel’s dining room table. She started off doing the “mundane things” like picking up coffee or organising Rachel’s closet before quickly moving to content creation. Now, she’s Rachel’s photographer, also setting up video shoots, editing videos and doing “everything to help her out” (though she adds that Rachel edits her own pictures). There’s also admin and emails. “All of the bigger bloggers have agents,” she explains, “and so we work as a trio: Rachel, me and her agency.
“I'm kind of her right arm, assisting her in every part of the job.”
This amping up of assistant responsibilities is testament to the trend we’ve seen over the past few years: influencing has gone from being individuals posting alone to an actual business model.
“Bloggers started as regular [people] just filming themselves in their bedroom with their webcam. And the thing is that the job has evolved so much that more and more and more is being asked of influencers. And so they are getting to a point where it's physically humanly impossible to do it all by yourself. So more and more people are recruiting assistants,” Harmony explains.
But where does that leave us when it comes to ownership?
“Their brand is only them,” she continues. “Like, Rachel's brand is not ‘Rachel and Harmony’. It's ‘Rachel Martino’. So assistants are like people in the shadows … And I don't mind personally. [Influencers] have to maintain [their] internet persona,” Harmony adds, comparing the job to her previous role as an interpreter: “you never see them”.
Both Lucy and Harmony say their bosses have introduced them to their followers. Others, like Sammy, who lives in LA working for influencer Amie Tollefsrud (aka @rebellenutrition), are uber transparent. Helping with Amie’s account and her online business courses, Sammy’s main duties are to create Instagram graphics, edit Amie’s podcast and YouTube videos, and to occasionally look after her Pomeranian dogs. They’ll also appear in YouTube videos on Amie’s channel too, and both are open about their earnings. “Right now, I’m making $1,000 a week,” Sammy explains, while Amie often talks about her “seven-figure business” and never shies away from posting about money.
Still, thanks to all of the assisting, admin and all-day photoshoots that take place behind the scenes, you might start to get the impression that influencers’ selfies are a lot more professional and potentially less personal than they initially seem. In fact, Lucy’s latest Reel shows her and Tina shooting in a purpose-built studio that looks just like a picture-perfect living room.
It's interesting to think about how this moves the conversation on from ‘influencers taking pictures in their bedrooms’ to 'influencers who are open and transparent about their need for assistants' (side note: though neither feels very catchy.) With engagement a priority and high influence key to making money, it's the obvious next step. So, we probably won't be seeing influencers or their assistants going anywhere anytime soon.
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