"Being an Influencer in Chicago" breaks down how to become an influencer, how to create business partnerships and how to make money doing it.

What does it take to be a social media influencer in Chicago?

Video Transcript


JENNY HEINRICH: Social media changed everything. Being an influencer became a job. It became a profession. Everyone wants to become an influencer.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: When I say we're in it, we're in it. We are on these social platforms for hours a day.

IAN EASTWOOD: I was laughed out of so many meetings and so many things because I was a YouTuber.

- How many times a day do you check your phone?


DANI SOMMERFELD: The most we've been paid from one single brand? $50,000.

JENNY HEINRICH: Influencers cost money. That's the name of the game.

IAN EASTWOOD: Everybody found a way to monetize it.

JEREMY JOYCE: It's digital currency.

JENNY HEINRICH: Number one question I get asked, how do I become an influencer?

CAITLIN JECKLIN: Welcome to Doll Talk.

JENNY HEINRICH: What's an influencer?


DANI SOMMERFELD: When we prep for a photo shoot, it actually starts days before. After our 7:00 AM workouts, we take showers, and now it is time for breakfast. We, for the most part, eat very healthy, drink a gallon of water a day. We will get adequate amounts of sleep. And when we know we're doing a shoot like this, just make sure we're, like, living our healthiest, best life so that that translates into what we're doing on camera.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: So we're doing full hair and makeup today. Maybe change a lip.

DANI SOMMERFELD: We'll change our lips.


DANI SOMMERFELD: We were out and about. People were constantly asking us about our lifestyle-- what we were eating, the workouts we were doing, the clothes we were wearing, the music we were listening to. The list goes on and on. We basically took the money we had in our pockets and incorporated our business, Once Upon a Dollhouse.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: So Dani's going to wear this.

- Holy cow.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: And it'll be tight on her. And then this is my, like, maternity action.

- Wonderful.

DANI SOMMERFELD: My background is in broadcast journalism.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: I was working full time at a PR agency. And it was after the first year that we decided that we wanted to try and do this full time.


JENNY HEINRICH: May 2019, Oxford Dictionary added the word "influencer." I've been working on the business of influence for 15 years. Number one question I get asked, how do I become an influencer? Everyone wants to be an influencer. I want to be an influencer.

And the trick is, we are all influencers. Everyone is influential for something. That's that one thing that your friends always go to you to ask the question.

- If someone else asks me out on a date and I'm not exclusive with someone, do I go on the date?

JENNY HEINRICH: That's how you become an influencer. You find your thing and you dive in.

[MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) I just took off.

IAN EASTWOOD: What's up, you guys? I'm Ian Eastwood. I'm 27 years old. I'm from Oak Park, Illinois, and I'm a dancer/choreographer.

Once I saw "Smooth Criminal," that, like, basically set the trajectory for my whole career of what I was trying to recreate. And I didn't necessarily know what that was, but I knew, OK, that's what I want to do. So 2007, I made my YouTube account.

No one cared about YouTube at all for the first several years. So I didn't even know that news or subscribers even existed or were a thing until two to three years into me uploading videos. My dad was really the first one to start noticing, like, hey, Ian, yo, people are watching your video in Italy and Germany and Russia.

I just didn't even-- I didn't even know that those things were getting recorded or any of those analytics existed. The internet just really kind of exploded, and I was able to get all these opportunities before I even graduated high school. And it evolved into an entire lifestyle.

Love you, mom.

JEREMY JOYCE: What's going on today, everybody? I am live here in Chicago Food on the Run. Note it's Soulful Sunday. December 12, 2017, is when I started Black People Eats.

Highlighting Black-owned restaurants means a lot to me, because it's like they're at the kiddie table when there's a dinner table full of all different cultures. And I just wanted to be the spark, the legs at that table to raise them up so their place can be seen with all other cultures and cuisines of food.

And just look at how the break-away looks. Ooh. I'm excited. So let's check this out, see how it tastes.

I like to infuse optimism in everything that I do. So that's why my team and I, we've decided since the very beginning, we only highlight the positive. Ooh, look at the smoke. Chef, ay, how you come up with this?

I don't believe in negativity, especially in the Black community. I think we deal with a lot, and we struggle with highlighting the positive instead of the negative. And there's so many people, you know, walking with negativity. So my job was to bring the joy to people through food.

JENNY HEINRICH: One of the biggest misconceptions out there about influencers is that in order to be influential, you have to have reach. You have to have millions and millions of followers on social. And that's actually not the case. There are incredibly influential people out there with very, very small followings.

So the way that we think about it is think about a pyramid. And at the bottom, you know, you've got us. Their social channels are for their friends and families. And then you've got your nano and your micro influencers. Those people have anywhere from 5,000, maybe, to 150,000 followers across their social channels. The thing about micro influencers is that they don't have millions and millions of people in their community, but they have great engagement.

When you go up into the pyramid, you get into your mid tier influencers. They have about 150,000 to 500,000 followers across social. And then you keep going up and up into your pyramid, where you've got top tier influencers, celebrities. When you work with them, you only need very few of those celebrities or your top tier influencers, because they have massive reach. But if you really want to engage and partner with people who got an active community, who are really, you know, not just passively looking at content but engaging with it, reading with it, clicking through, questions, commenting on those posts, that's when you really want to get into your mid tier influencers and your micro influencers.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: So right now we're setting up for our podcast called the "Doll Talk Podcast."

DANI SOMMERFELD: You can be a part of the blog. You can be a part of all of our social media outlets. And you can be on the "Doll Talk Podcast." So we've made it so that we have a lot of different ways to reach people.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: Getting more followers is a topic that everyone loves to talk about. We are very quality over quantity. So something that we have found to be very beneficial while we build our community is, first of all, being open and honest and only promoting products or services that we truly believe in.

So this is going to help her not clench her jaw, right?

- Mm-hmm. It's going to help her bites.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: Which hopefully will relieve some headaches, too.

And then another thing that I find to be so important is the open communication. So our DM box is never, like, too full to read. We answer every single message.

DANI SOMMERFELD: I think another way to really grow your following is to be consistent, and engagement is very important. We spend three-plus hours each every day interacting on our personal Once Upon a Dollhouse and the brands that we manage. So it is a lot of reaching out to different locations, different hashtags. You're liking, your commenting. You're constantly on there interacting with people.

We are heading in to get our COVID-19 antibody lab testing.

JEREMY JOYCE: I check my phone a lot. My screen time is huge. I would say at least six hours minimum-- minimum six hours. Actually, I do have a full-time job. I work in corporate finance, so I balance between that and Black People Eats.

My favorite drink. Purple rain.

My team and I, we post at least once a day, but typically twice a day. And that's at 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM.

One of the first things people do when they get to work is they check their phones. And nine times out of 10, that's going to be social media. So I like to grab their attention with a nice picture at 9:00 AM. Then at 6:00 PM, right when they getting ready to walk through the door, then we do a food video, whether that's just a food porn video or a reaction video. And the reason I chose those times is because those to me are the peak times that I've seen work.

IAN EASTWOOD: Any time you think something is, like, a made-in-the-shade guarantee of, like, aw, people are going to love this, this is going to blow up, da, da, da, that is never a thing. It never happens.

JENNY HEINRICH: You can't make a viral anything. You know, the-- the whole concept of something going viral is that-- you know, a spark. And then it catches on. And to get that content to spark, there's a number of different things you can do. So you need paid amplification on your content, using hashtags that are trending, also link love, making sure that you're connecting with influencers, connecting with their content. And they'll do the same back to you. And then another way to make your content go viral is to have it be really, really meaningful. Give people a reason to share it.

IAN EASTWOOD: All of these strategies are basically just hopes for influencers to get seen by other brands and other people. And it's-- it's one of these.

Posting videos online from the jump has allowed so many opportunities for me all the time, varying from working with huge artists, like Chance, Childish Gambino. I got my first commercial choreography gig, which was Zendaya's "Replay."

[MUSIC - ZENDAYA, "REPLAY"] (SINGING) Want to put this song on replay.

IAN EASTWOOD: The way I actually got that was that her and her friends were big fans of watching my videos, and she had decided, like, a year or some change before that, before she ever had a music video, that whenever she did have a music video, I was going to choreograph it. Because she actually watched my content and genuinely enjoyed it.

It was my dream for it to unroll that way, but I never really expected it necessarily to actually come true.

DANI SOMMERFELD: This is someone that we partner with.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: A really beautiful brand called Lagos.

DANI SOMMERFELD: Lagos Jewelry. And they sent us this jewelry for the shoot.

We have a media kit in which we have our set price, and then we have the brand send us products that reaches out to us or that we reach out to. And we try them, and we really submerge ourselves into what it is that we will possibly be promoting.

I am using Hello Body Rose Refined.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: We actually love relationship builders because it's a chance for us to show just a taste of what we're worth and then grow from there. Until we're doing a full-day photo shoot and providing them with hundreds of photos of content and video, that's where we really see a turnaround, where we really see a return on investment.

JENNY HEINRICH: Compensation with influencers is all over the board. There is no one rate card for all influencers. Of course, your celebrities, your top tier influencers, people with a lot of reach, people with facial recognition, they typically cost a pretty penny. But when you get into your lower tier influencers, your mid tier, your micro influencers, that's really where you're going to find your efficiency.

Micro influencers, they typically charge anywhere from $1,000 to about $3,000 per post. Mid tier influencers, around $5,000 to $7,000 a post. And then mid tier, top tier up, you're looking at about $10,000 per post or more. The more that you ask influencers to do, the more money they'll charge you.

DANI SOMMERFELD: So the biggest brand deal that we had, where we made $50,000, was a year partnership, and we actually traveled with that brand to different markets. And we--

CAITLIN JECKLIN: All across the country.

DANI SOMMERFELD: All across the country. And we helped them launch the brand in those different markets by hosting influencer events as Once Upon a Dollhouse.

IAN EASTWOOD: I was never able to make money off of my social media content because it always had copyrighted content because of that music. So that's always been a huge problem for dancers on the internet is that we can't translate our following into dollars, but people literally just wanted me to physically show up and teach a dance completely based off of the video itself.

Until like 22, 23 years old, I was paying 100% of my bills off of traveling and teaching. Finally, in the last two, three years, started getting a lot of really big commercial work and grandiose and all just different sorts of things. It was a really long time to invest into this stuff before I was able to actually, in a sense, I guess, cash out.

JENNY HEINRICH: Influencers create beautiful content, but does it actually do anything for a business's success? The quick answer is yes. The beautiful thing about influencers is that because everything happens in the digital space, it's measurable. You can track things. You can track behaviors, like engagements. You can track click-throughs to websites. And with e-commerce, you can actually track sales.

32% of people trust a stranger more than a brand. That in itself shows trust in brands is declining.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: I know right now, for me at least, like, being pregnant right now, where am I going to find what I should wear-- it's other influencers because I can see firsthand their experiences.

Oh my gosh, I'm so happy right now. So these are the Bump'n Power Mama leggings.

DANI SOMMERFELD: I feel like we've gone through, like, a transition a while ago, moving away from, like, listening to what big business or big corporations are telling us to do. And we think of it more of, like, a peer-to-peer type of marketing at this point.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: And you get to see the real-time updates. It's not like an ad that's put out there one time and it's a one-and-done thing. Influencers are posting every single day, every single minute about what is going on.

JEREMY JOYCE: Out here with my family at Golden Gloves Cuisine. I couldn't believe what I saw. A 14-inch pizza. I said, hold up, what's this. Black folks don't make pizza like that, so getting ready to try it out, see how it tastes.

Social media has literally changed the game, especially with COVID-19. If restaurants, all restaurants, have not utilized social media, they're in danger. We did a food festival on Juneteenth, which brought in more than $500,000. My team and I saw Black restaurants email us and saying, we've never had numbers like this. And that was all because of social media.

Here at Monroe's Hot Chicken. Chef Willie, tell them what I'm about-- what we about to eat real quick.

- Man, they about to eat the What the Cluck. That's our hottest of the hot.

JEREMY JOYCE: Hottest of the hot.

When I connect to restaurants, you've got to be very careful you promise them stuff, you know. So for me, I just say, look, if you have a great product and we can expose your great product, it can create some long lasting customers. We can bring exposure to a black restaurant, but it's their product, their service that's going to keep customers.

[MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) Away, away, hidden in the moon light.

DANI SOMMERFELD: So we're going to be doing this until the day that we expire. So you will see these two, like, 90-year-old women out there posing with photographers and our--

CAITLIN JECKLIN: Aspire to inspire until we expire.


CAITLIN JECKLIN: We've built a career that can grow with us. So for example, when I have our baby, the baby will just be part of what we do. Like, we'll be here with the baby.

JENNY HEINRICH: Influencers aren't going away. I think influencers are around to stay. I think it will get weeded out. I think a lot of those sea of same type influencers are going to eventually go away. And I think the cream of the crop are going to rise.

JEREMY JOYCE: A lot of people focus on being an influencer, but I challenge you to focus on creating impact in the community. When you create impact, you're able to build a sustainable brand. You're able to build and lead your community to the future. And that's my job, is to spark the next generation of leaders through food to show them that they can lead the way for their community.

My expectations is I have a digital footprint in every major city. And we're really looking to take this global. So when the time is right, we're going to expand.

IAN EASTWOOD: To give advice to anybody that is trying to gain a following and gain recognition for something that they're doing in their craft, I think the most important thing to focus on is to not focus on gaining a following, because the reality is, people follow identity. Again, it's influence. People want to know what you're doing, what you like. So people want to know you.

DANI SOMMERFELD: If somebody wants to do this, we 100% encourage everyone to try everything because you never know.

CAITLIN JECKLIN: The opportunity is there, but I think it's what you make of the opportunity and how much you put into it.

DANI SOMMERFELD: If one person is impacted in a positive way from something we are doing, then we have done our job.


IAN EASTWOOD: The internet is a great place to dream. And everybody loves to see a dreamer pull their dreams into fruition. You know? Everybody loves seeing that story in any capacity, whether it be super small or really big. So the internet is a great place to dream, and it's a super important place to find your identity so that you can build that following and connect with other people that relate to that identity.


(SINGING) I can feel it everywhere.