Meghan Yuri Young drinking wine with a friend in a restaurant

“Brands use influencers for a sense of personal attachment,” says Meghan Yuri Young. “The idea is that we’re not as removed from our followers as, say, a model in a commercial—we’re closer to a friend.” (Courtesy of Meghan Yuri Young)

Features | From Pivot Magazine

Under the influence

For Meghan Yuri Young, posting photos on Instagram isn’t a time-killing distraction. It’s a full-time job.

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“I never set out to become an influencer. In 2013, I was five years out of university, where I’d studied psychology and English, and was working as a freelance writer. I got invited to a lot of events—a perk of being in media—including, at one point, a Nike running pop-up shop. At the time, I was about to get married and trying to keep fit and healthy, so I went. I found myself in a group—not necessarily celebrities or bloggers, but people with large social media followings nonetheless—who, like me, were approached to review new gear. That was my first brush with “influencers.”

Profile shot of Meghan Yuri Young (Courtesy of Meghan Yuri Young)

Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be an influencer. I see an influencer as someone—an artist, writer, business mogul, socialite or maybe just a big spender—who is doing something online that’s earned them a large following and put them in a position that other people aspire to.

I’ve always liked taking nice photos and putting thought into my Instagram posts. But I was astounded when—despite the fact I had fewer than 10,000 followers at the time (I now have 17,500)—Mountain Equipment Co-op sent me an email asking if I’d be their first ambassador.

Influencers are not as removed from fans as, say, a model—we’re closer to a friend

Today, partnering with brands and freelance writing are my sole sources of income. I have an agent and work with companies like MEC, Chapters-Indigo and Nike. Brands say they like my voice and authenticity. They may approach me specifically or go to my agency and ask, “Who on your roster would be good for our campaign?” Brands use influencers for a sense of personal attachment. The idea is that we’re not as removed from our followers as, say, a model in a commercial—we’re closer to a friend. Some followers realize I am paid by the brands I feature; others may not (bylaws require me to be transparent about whether a post is sponsored). Either way, there’s a level of trust there.

Meghan Yuri Young on a mountain(Courtesy of Meghan Yuri Young)

The work I do depends on the brand. Sometimes, it’s a one-off picture, like the one I took at a Wiz Khalifa concert for Amex. Other times, it’s an ongoing campaign, like my partnership with Endy. I’ve made anywhere from $500 to $1,500 for a single post, and even more from campaigns. Once I take the image, I write a caption and send it to the brand for approval. I also attend meetings and about three events a week—fitness stuff, parties, charitable events. Sometimes I go to events just to stay relevant. It’s easy to get scared about not being in demand, but I try to remind myself that the right brands might just not have the budget for me at that moment.

I didn’t consciously start this “business.” I go with the flow and accept or decline opportunities as they come. But there have been moments when I’ve decided to organize myself and strategize. I’ve been proactive and pitched my own ideas, a couple of which have come to fruition in big ways. The biggest challenge has always been convincing potential investors that they should not only be involved, but care about it as much as I do.

I’m lucky that the brands that have approached me understand my core values.

The projects I take on have to serve me. Anything where a brand wants me to be a Price Is Right model for their product, I almost immediately say no—that goes for events with free alcohol as a selling point. But if the key messaging is well-being or something that’s aligned with fitness or charitable work, even if it’s sponsored by a product, I’ll do it.

I’m lucky that the brands that have approached me understand my core values. Last year, with Air Transat, I went on my first humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic to see the outreach work of SOS Children’s Villages. I also appreciate having a platform to say important things and take on passion projects, like being the face of One Brave Night, a fundraiser for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I love that people care what I have to say.

Meghan Yuri Young practicing yoga(Courtesy of Meghan Yuri Young)

That said, I have definitely taken jobs where I end up thinking, “Why did I do that?” I want my platform to be a reflection of who I am, but it’s hard, especially when dollar amounts come into it. You end up saying, “I need to eat” or “I really want to take that trip with my brother.” You can get blinded by a dollar amount, even if it’s not a big one. I get nervous, because I’m still a freelancer. I still stress about money. As a sole proprietor, it can be exhausting always being “on,” relying mostly on yourself to keep going and knowing when to take breaks to avoid burning out. My agent helps with administrative work, which is a relief, but, ideally, I’d like to hire someone to help me stay organized and execute my ideas.

Everything has an expiry date—if not the influencing industry, then I do. I’m posting creative writing now to get back to my writing roots. I’ve also consulted for brands here and there, and I’ve created programs like a book club with Indigo. It shows I’m not just a face. I can do more.”