Five Top Influencers On Authenticity, Building A Following, And Whether Clubhouse Is The Next Big Thing

by Freya Drohan

What makes a social media account soar? As the influencer industry shows no signs of slowing down, this is the question on everyone’s lips. Is it still possible to gain traction in a crowded space? What type of content will resonate? What platform should up-and-comers have their eye on? To get the scoop, we caught up with some of the best in the game. School is in session!

Mary Leest 

Followers: 1 million

 

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A post shared by Mary Leest (@maryleest)

What’s your most-asked question about social media?
How do you become an Instagram blogger and gain followers. I definitely think nowadays it’s a bit more complicated than before. When there were less creators and the platform wasn’t as saturated, it was enough just to take beautiful photos. Now everyone who owns a smartphone can do that, so you really need to have a unique vision and something special to share to grow.

How do you stay authentic?
I am who I am. I always say what I think, even if others don’t agree with my opinion. I am greatly sensitive and emotional, someone who pursues the world through feelings. All my actions are driven by feelings. Instead of overthinking or measuring every step, I just do what feels right in the moment.

Top three tips for posing?
1. Lighting is essential. The most perfect time for your pictures is golden hour—one hour after sunrise or one hour before sunset.
2. Know your angles! They’re different for everyone, so you need to find out what works best for you. Try playing in front of the mirror and observe what looks the most flattering.
3. Stop posing. I only pose when I’m at a professional shoot. In all other cases, I am just having fun, walking around, playing with my hair, enjoying the process. I like my pictures to look as if they were taken by accident.

What’s your advice for people looking to gain followers?
Video is a big new chapter. Jump on TikTok before it’s too late! Don’t focus on just one platform; you should develop several at the same time as you never know what’s going to be most fruitful.

Who do you love to follow on social media?
I follow my friends to stay updated, and also a lot of aesthetic pages. I unfollowed most celebrities as I can’t really connect with them. If I get caught up on Instagram, I’d rather spend time to my advantage and learn something. I try to avoid wasting time scrolling through pictures that don’t bring value to my life.

 

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A post shared by Mary Leest (@maryleest)

TikTok or Reels?
If you’re trying to build an audience, then both! I personally prefer Reels. Social media for me is already overwhelming, so I would rather have everything in one place.

How much time do you spend on social media every day?
It depends—on weekends, my average is about two or three hours. On weekdays, it’s five or six hours, as being on social media is a big part of my job. If I wasn’t an influencer, I would definitely significantly lower this amount.

Have you ever done a digital detox?
I do it from time to time, but it always feels like I’m missing out on my work, and that I lose connection to the world. I do believe that real life has a lot more to offer. Being online is what I do for a living, so I can’t really be off as much as I would like to.

What is the funniest DM you’ve ever received?
Messages when people make completely wrong assumptions about me. That always makes me laugh!

If you could take over one person’s account for the day, who would it be?
I’ve heard Queen Elizabeth II is looking for a social media manager, so I think hers!

What do you think the next big platform will be?
Clubhouse, where you listen to people discussing specific themes or talk with other creative, inspiring people without seeing them. It’s growing rapidly. I don’t think it’s going to be as huge as Instagram, but the concept is interesting.

How do you maintain a good relationship with social media?
It’s important to have a close circle of people who know who you really are and remind you about it every single day. I also think children shouldn’t be allowed on social media. When I get cyberbullied, I can still have mental breakdowns. I have a psychologist who helps me deal with all the daily social media pressure.

Serena Goh 

Followers: 250,000

 

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A post shared by Serena Goh (@theserenagoh)

What question do you get asked the most about your social media account?
I probably get the most questions about the products I wear, the food I cook, and my dog, Luna.

What’s the funniest DM you’ve ever received?
I do this series called Gossip Goh, where my followers submit confessions and secrets around a particular topic that I share anonymously. I once did a dating one and I got to read some amazing stories!

How do you maintain a positive relationship with social media?
I think it’s so important to take breaks and to set rules for myself, like designating times to turn off.

Sarah Bryant, aka @sarah_louwho

Followers: 346,000

What’s your most-asked question about social media?
The most recurring is definitely, “How did you get started?” I cut my hair into a pixie cut five years ago, and my picture went viral. I started receiving messages from people asking how I styled it, and I was answering the same questions over and over. To make it easier, I created a video to show the process. You could say things kind of snowballed from there.

How do you stay authentic?
Unless it’s a sponsored post, I don’t plan my content far in advance. I know some creators love it, but my daily posts are usually shot that same day. This allows me to feel more connected to my audience.

What’s your advice for people looking to gain followers?
I think a lot of influencers get caught up in the numbers—it is a business after all—but we should remind ourselves how special it is that the following we have supports us. I do think a mistake that some creators make when growing is that they gain a following by creating one type of content and then feel the need to change it after a while—to level up, so to speak. In these cases, staying the course and getting back to your niche can really help to continue growth.

What is the funniest DM you’ve ever received?
I once got a sext from a woman who meant to send it to her husband! Luckily it was just words and no picture. When she realized what she had done, she apologized profusely and we both had a good laugh about it.

What do you think the next big platform will be?
Anything that makes it easy to create inside of it. That’s why TikTok blew up so fast; it gives you all the tools you need to create a mini production with sound, effects, and editing all easily built in.

Coco Bassey 

Followers: 208,000 

 

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A post shared by coco bassey (@cocobassey)

What’s your advice for people looking to gain followers?
To worry less about that, and stay focused on the things you can control: What’s your message? How is the platform you’re trying to build servicing others? How can you improve on whatever skill you have and want to share with the world?

How do you stay authentic?
By focusing on things that inspire me creatively, and speaking from my own point of view—instead of giving in to pressure to portray myself as something I’m not.

Top three tips for posing?
1. Save photos that inspire you on IG and Pinterest! It’s always helpful when you’re in a creative rut.
2. Wipe your smartphone’s camera lens to make sure your image is sharp.
3. Always shoot with enough negative space around the subject (you!) if you want to be able to crop the photo for Instagram.

Who do you love to follow?
My current girl crush, Dua Lipa. I love her style and fun music! Amberly Valentine, one of my favorite photographers, and Bomanizer, I live for his videos!

TikTok or Reels?
I can’t decide! I love scrolling through TikTok when I want to be mindlessly entertained, but I love the fashion videos on Reels for style inspiration.

How much time do you spend on social media?
Not as much as most people think! A lot more of my time is spent creating the content than consuming it. Because a lot of my work is social media, I actually enjoy my time spent offline.

 

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A post shared by coco bassey (@cocobassey)

What is the funniest DM you’ve ever received?
Someone asked if I wanted to join them and their friends on a helicopter ride to a secret party in the Hamptons. Their account was private, so I don’t know if that party ever happened, but there really are some crazy people who could care less about the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic!

Have you ever done a digital detox?
Taking a break from social media is truly one of my favorite things to do!

What do you think the next big platform will be?
I think Instagram’s here to stay for a while, but I also see a huge opportunity for platforms that encourage live connections and two-way dialogues, like Clubhouse. What I would love to see is a platform that doesn’t depend so heavily on the need to go viral. Community building is so much more important!

How do you personally maintain a good relationship with social media?
The mute function is a godsend, and such a great way to edit down my feed to just accounts and posts I love.

Marina Ingvarsson

Followers: 110,000

 

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A post shared by Marina Ingvarsson (@marinaingvarsson)

What’s your advice for people looking to gain followers?
Be consistent and patient. See what people like about your posts and give them more of that, while cutting out the less engaging content. Occupy a certain niche, and don’t be afraid to do your own thing, but do it as well as you can.

Who do you love to follow on social media?
Accounts like I’ve just described. I usually follow a person for one certain thing or topic they post, and I love when they stick to the chosen format.

Any posing advice for us?
I always check whatever pose or movement I choose will work best for the piece I’m photographing. While posing, I try to keep a good balance—not too editorial, but not overly simple or boring. Make eye contact with the camera, look relaxed, natural, and non-forced by focusing behind the camera lens, instead of on it.

TikTok or Reels?
TikTok is a clear winner, but Reels is doing a great job with fashion films, art house trailers, and behind- the-scenes content. It’s an extension of the fashion accounts I already follow on Instagram.

How much time do you spend on social media every day?
Around four to five hours, which isn’t too bad actually. It beats looking at spreadsheets in an office cubicle!

 

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A post shared by Marina Ingvarsson (@marinaingvarsson)

Have you ever done a digital detox?
Instead of completely detoxing, I choose to treat social media as my job. I’m more engaged with it during the week but almost never pick up my phone on the weekends. This seems a lot more sustainable to me.

How do you stay authentic?
I tell the truth and only recommend something I like and believe in, which means being somewhat picky and selective with my collaborations. I’m happy I’m able to afford that.

What do you think the next big platform will be?
Whatever combines Zoom and TikTok in one…with funny filters.

What are your thoughts on Clubhouse?
An audio-only social network in our heavily visual culture? I’m doubtful, but if that takes off, I don’t see how Instagram wouldn’t be able to add that as an extra feature in its future updates!

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