I’ve just finished watching the show that has taken Netflix by storm: Emily In Paris. I’m going to be honest – I still can’t tell if I like it or not. On the one hand, it’s objectively a bit shit. It’s incredibly unrealistic and feels like a Mary-Sue fantasy version of reality, written by a teenager based on what their idea of adult life is like. On the other hand, it’s without a doubt incredibly entertaining. So the jury’s still out for that one.
One thing I DO know how I feel about is the shows attitude to influencers. I don’t even know where to begin, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts on it from the point of view of an (aspiring) influencer. I feel that I have a bit of insight into this world, despite not having been doing it for long. In fact, my experience SHOULD correlate more with Emily’s than someone who obtained 100,000 followers in 2012 say, as the landscape has very much changed since then (and continues to change).
First of all, the show seems to take place in some upside down universe where the entire city is filtered to perfection, and everyone looks and dresses like an Instagram model every day, and yet Emily’s photos look significantly worse than most things currently on Instagram.
The photo quality
Influencer quality has increased dramatically over the past decade. While someone’s account might have gone viral on selfies alone ten years ago, today audiences expect almost professional level quality (a similar thing has happened on other platforms such as YouTube).
Emily’s photo quality is consistently poor throughout the series. In real life, she’d be lucky to get a few likes from her friends on some of those shots, let alone gain followers.
In order to gain followers from a photo, it needs to be so striking and achieve so much engagement (usually within the first 10 minutes or so of posting) that it ends up on a user’s explore page. That user might simply like the photo, or they might click onto the profile of the poster. If this happens, they usually decide within a split second whether to follow or not. Factors include consistency (is the photo they clicked on of a similar style and quality to other feed photos?), bio (what story is the person telling, who is their account for, and what sort of content can you expect to see from them in future?), and overall aesthetic. This means a lot of accounts tend to think about things like how their photo will look compared to the photos around it (maybe they’ll use a similar colour palette or lighting) and keeping a consistent theme or “brand” in mind throughout (e.g. primarily travel content or skincare). Emily’s account fulfils zero of these criteria.
How many photos she takes in one go
Ask any influencer, and they’ll tell you they never snap just one photo. It could turn out blurry, there could be someone in the background, or some other aspect might not be “neat” enough – perhaps a slightly different angle would look better, or if it’s a photo of a person they might have their eyes closed or be pulling a face. From personal experience, for each photo posted I take around 100 shots. I realise this sounds like a lot – but with the level of perfection currently required for social media, I think it makes sense.
Emily only ever snaps a single photo. This explains why her photos are always so poor in quality (although some of them inexplicably seem to change their photography angle between her taking the photo and posting it). This is fundamentally unrealistic when it comes to social media. The only thing you might snap a single photo for would be something like instagram stories, and even then, some level of care has to go into framing the shot.
I’d bet the reason the show creators made this decision – to not have Emily take 50-100 photos every time she sees something instagrammable – is that it would be frustrating to watch. We want to see someone effortlessly capture the moment, not spend hours staging until her freshly baked croissant goes cold or the ice in her drink melts. The problem is, this gives an unrealistic portrayal of influencer life – one that makes it seem like an easy, “not-a-real-job” vocation. One of the most frustrating things about running an account and taking it seriously is that photo quality needs to be top notch, which can sometimes interfere with “enjoying the moment”. It can get in the way of holidays, trips, meals – you name it. That’s part of the sacrifice, in a way. Representing instagram photography as something that simple takes away from the extreme amount of care, dedication, and thought it takes on a daily basis.
She doesn’t edit
This one is pretty obvious, but she never edits her photos. Not only does this mean there’s no consistency in her feed in terms of lighting, but it also, to put things bluntly, makes the photos less interesting to look at.
She doesn’t post consistently
Her posting times are quite erratic – she seems to just snap a shot whenever she fancies it and post it straight away. Anyone who uses the platform seriously knows that there are certain times of day that are better to post, and that you need to be fairly regular in posting (I’d say 4-5 times a week as a rule of thumb, although this can vary from account to account).
I can guarantee you that most if not all influencers use some sort of “grid” app to plan their posts in advance. That way you can check how your posts will line up with one another, whether the mood and colour palette will be similar, and whether or not you’ve got a good mix of different angles as opposed to several almost-identical shots in a row. Emily’s method of snapping and posting is great for a “personal” account, but certainly not for an influencer one in 2020.
She doesn’t use hashtags (apart from ironic ones that went out of fashion 5 years ago)
The hashtags are in many ways the most infuriating thing about the way Emily uses the app. Ironic hashtags such as #mindthemerde were popular when hashtags themselves were a new and scary thing, but if you want to have any actual success on the app nowadays, you should be using the maximum allowed number of 30 hashtags per photo and tailoring them to hashtags that A) don’t have too many posts (the “golden number” is around 100k), B) are relevant to your photo, and C) are non-ironic and will actually help other users discover your profile organically.
She doesn’t engage on the platform
Emily constantly does what is known in the industry as “posting and ghosting”. She doesn’t stick around to engage with people commenting on her photo, or in fact any other accounts on the app at all. Instagram is a two-way street – in order to grow in influence, you need to actually be sociable on there. Unless you’re literally a celebrity to start with, in which case you can probably get away with it.
Her followers grow insanely quickly
This might be the most criticised aspect of Emily’s social media, but she manages to go from 48 followers to 25,000 in a number of months, when she doesn’t use any strategy on her account, puts zero effort into her photos, and doesn’t engage with any of her followers.
In reality, her painfully mediocre content is unlikely to even earn her 1000 followers in that time, let along 25,000. How would anyone stumble upon her page, when she only uses hashtags ironically and has so little influence to begin with? How would her posts ever end up on the Explore page, when her likes trickle in slowly over time? (For reference, you need an insane initial response to a post for it to end up on the Explore page – something like 200 likes in the first 10 minutes of posting.)
I don’t even feel like I need to say much about this, other than how it once again helps solidify the idea that “influencer” is just another word for someone who’s unemployed. If it’s as easy as snapping a few photos here and there and posting them with no follow-up, then every viewer watching the show can justify to themselves that they’re simply not influencers because they have no interest in it. In reality, content creation is extremely hard work, often yielding little or no reward despite many, many hours of dedication. It takes some level of creative talent and an eye for visual flair. It takes hours of research into the best strategies, and again hours of time put in on a weekly basis to implement. By not showing any of this side of things on the show, we are lead to believe that there’s nothing to it, helping to build resentment and lack of understanding among the general population for this new and emerging industry,
The other influencers she meets are stuck up arseholes
I haven’t actually met a huge number of influencers, so for all I know there could be some who are stuck up entitled arseholes, but the few I have met really haven’t fallen into this category, and the impression I get is that generally influencers tend to be nice, considerate people. Many will respond really kindly to direct messages through the app as well. That’s sort of the point – they’re not celebrities, who form very much a one-way relationship with their audience; rather, they act as a sort of semi-friend who you can actually reach out to and ask for their advice and opinions. This is actually why some brands prefer to work with influencers who have a smaller number of followers, with 10k-100k being the “sweet spot”. Anything more and we start to get into “celebrity” territory. The audience is likely to have less trust for the influencer in this case, as there’s less “connection” there.
Again, I don’t really feel the need to say much about this – to me it seems obvious that as a group, influencers aren’t all arseholes – but again, I think this causes a problem in the perception of influencers which is perpetuated by the show. Now they’re not only performing a job literally anyone could do – snapping a photo here and there on their phone – but they’re also entitled prats on top of that who will shove you out of the way to get a photo (something which has never happened to me, by the way, despite often shooting in locations with many influencers present).
She “stumbles” into influencing
Perhaps the biggest sin of all is that she manages to become an influencer without trying. This is sort of the culmination of all of my earlier points, but it’s the final nail in the coffin when trying to explain to someone how difficult an industry influencing is to break into.
It might have been possible to stumble into things seven years ago, but today, I’d say it’s near impossible. If anyone is thinking of moving to Paris (post-Covid, of course) and starting their own @emilyinparis account, I’d recommend following the above steps, and not having too high expectations for gaining tens of thousands of followers straight away. It’s a lot of work, but building your brand is great fun, as well as relying on multiple skills and talents. I’d highly recommend it as a creative outlet – whether you end up as an influencer or not!
Below are some accounts I love who have absolutely fabulous Paris content – maybe follow those instead of Emily.