Followers, photos and fakeness: the impacts of social media influencing

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“No one should ever create an online profile with the intention of becoming an influencer,” says social media superstar, Nathan Darma. He tells Mitch Gardner about his relationship with Instagram, and the effect it has had on his mental health

Donning a black puffer jacket and pastel-coloured tee while drinking his cold-press coffee, Nathan Darma, 24, appears to be an everyday inner-city millennial.

Living in a South Yarra apartment after growing up in the bayside suburb of Seaford and working in marketing after finishing his degree at Swinburne University, Darma certainly appears to be an ordinary, young Melburnian.

In actual fact, however, his life is anything but. Having amassed over 45,000 international fans on Instagram, Darma is the most followed Australian magician “influencer” on the platform.

Having worked in the past with brands such as Asics, Coca-Cola and Chobani Yoghurt, Darma says it “still feels so bizarre to have these huge brands offer me money” in exchange for an advertisement on his account.

“My first [brand deal] was with Optus a few years ago, who asked me to put a photo advertising one of their phones, and they’d pay me in return,” he says. “I was just like, ‘Excuse me?’”

Darma’s predominant Instagram account, dubbed ‘sleightlyjacked’, is home to nearly 30,000 followers, and is where he posts the majority of his sponsored content.

He had never planned to create such sponsored content when he first launched the account; Darma initially simply wanted to grow the magic community in Australia.

“It didn’t really exist over here a few years ago,” he says. “So I began putting content out there to try and create an online community.”

“I started getting really involved with the overseas community, before I started to notice that my account was growing really quickly.

“Before I knew it, brands were approaching me, and that’s when I knew that I had something special going on here.”

With over one billion users on Instagram across the world, it is unsurprising that brands are continuing to work with users with mass audiences to advertise their products.

According to an Instagram Rich List online study conducted by website HopperHQ, sponsored posts by Instagram influencers can collect rewards ranging from simply a free product from a company to up to six-figure payments.

It makes sense, then, for the role of an “influencer” to seem extremely desirable, particularly for young children.

However, Darma says it is a dream that should not be encouraged.

“No one should ever create an online profile with the intention of becoming an influencer,” he says. “It makes your posts and account ungenuine.”

“The authenticity of your voice, your account and your content goes a long way in creating a strong following.”

Darma first discovered the mystical world of magic and illusions nearly seven years ago, when he was 18.

“I was at a party, and this friend of my brother, who was certainly not a magician, grabbed a deck of cards and showed me a trick,” he says. “I remember that it absolutely floored me.”

With over 45,000 followers, Nathan Darma says that “the authenticity of your voice, your account and your content goes a long way in creating a strong following.” Photo Mitch Gardner.

“I’m quite a logical thinker, so I became obsessed with figuring it out, and after watching some video tutorials I was able to perform the trick myself.”

Darma attributes the wonders of magic to the innate sense of logic and reasoning which people develop as they get older.

“I think that, as adults, we don’t really get those moments which make us think that we just witnessed something that doesn’t exist,” he says.

“Adults know that magic doesn’t really exist, and to see their minds scramble after witnessing a trick is just the best feeling.”

Since then, Darma has gone on to work with many international brands and products, and has even gone on to create his own ranges of playing cards, something he “didn’t even plan to release”.

“I just wanted my own deck of cards to play with,” he says, “but I discovered that the minimum order was at least 1,000 decks, which I definitely didn’t need!”

“I created a Kickstarter campaign after asking my followers on Instagram whether they’d buy a deck, and it just went off.”

From there, his Implicit Playing Cards were distributed around the world, even reaching shelves in American Wal-Mart stores.

Although Darma’s journey as an Instagram influencer has so far been mostly turbulence-free, he says that the role still does not come without its burdens.

“There’s definitely an almost self-imposed pressure to upload pretty much every day,” he says. “Although I never deliberately tried to, I’m now intentionally creating quality, brand-friendly content because I see the multitude of benefits that comes with it, both personal and financial.”

“There’s certainly a need to stay ‘relevant’ in the eyes of your followers, too, so I’m always making sure that I have something to share.”

Darma also says that being in the magical community online also brings many negative comments, thoughts and opinions.

“There’s definitely a lot of people, especially kids, who try to call me out on every post by saying things like, ‘I know how you did this’, trying to ‘expose’ me,” he says.

The best way to deal with it, he says, is to simply “block it out”.

“Kill them with kindness is always my thing… I usually respond with something like a kissy face or a love heart, because they can’t really come back from that.”

Research by Federation University Australia also attests to the likely negative effects of prolonged exposure to Instagram.

The study, completed by Professor Danielle Wagstaff, found that people typically compare themselves with others, in a primordial instinct to find where they stand. Wagstaff says that Instagram in particular “confuses our social radar”.

She says that it is the predominantly visual nature of Instagram which “can lead to negative outcomes”.

“Instagram’s main feature of video and photo sharing may, in fact, be more harmful than other [social networks] that have a focus on written content… rather than strictly visual displays.”

Darma agrees, saying keeping a “level head” is imperative, regardless of the number of followers.

“By having this number, bigger [Instagram accounts] suss me out and think ‘oh, this guy must be important.’

I don’t like that side of the industry, because I’m still the same person as I was with 15,000, 5,000, even 50 followers.”

“It’s so, so critical to not lose your sense of self.”

Sarah Thomas, 24, of Rosebud, also says “you have to be doing [Instagram] because you want to, not because you want to be famous”.

In late February 2019, Miss Thomas bought an English Staffordshire Terrier puppy, who she named Daisy.

Shortly after taking her home, Thomas launched her own social media alias, ‘melbournedogmum’, both as an Instagram account and online blog, where she could “share her thoughts, experiences and stories with the world”.

“When we first got Daisy, I was only working part time in a local shop,” Thomas says.

“It was great, because I had so much time to help Daisy familiarise with her new home and surroundings, but it was definitely quite isolating when all of my friends and family have work during the typical 9-5 hours.”

“I’ve always loved writing and photography, but never found the ‘thing’ that made me stick with it,” she says.

Creating the social media accounts, however, has helped her “reignite the passion for creating”, as well as meeting a whole new community of people.

“Although I’ve only been running my Instagram account for a couple of months now, I’ve already made a heap of new on- and offline friends!” Thomas says.

“Just the other week, I had a follower reach out to me who, as it turns out, lives just down the road in Tootgarook, so we met up and took our puppies on an awesome play date at a nearby park.

I love the sense of community that I’ve developed from launching my page.”

“I also love the fact that I can write about something new with every post,” she says. “It really is helping me stay creative and original.”

Although she hasn’t aimed to receive product samples and join the ‘influencer’ guild on Instagram, Thomas still hasn’t ruled it out completely.

Much like Darma, she says that “as long as I’m not selling myself out, or having to be ungenuine just for the prospect of money or free products, I’m happy”.

“I think that the most important part of staying healthy on social media is staying true to yourself and your beliefs,” she says.

“So long as you don’t value yourself based on your follower count, you’ll be okay.”

* Source: https://www.hopperhq.com/blog/instagram-rich-list-2017-platforms-highest-earners-revealed/