Lee Tilghman, giving up influencing for nine to five work

27 June 2023

Laptop, tablet, camera, some of the gear of an influencer

Image courtesy of Veeka Skaya/Vancity Digital.

What do social media influencers, through with influencing, wanting to try something new, do? They find a nine-to-five corporate job, and act as a consultant for other influencers likewise wishing to exit the industry, of course. That’s the story of former — sort of — American wellness influencer Lee Tilghman. But in 2019, with the role no longer fun, Tilghman decided she wanted out. And what’s the point in staying in something you don’t like, especially when there are other options?

But Tilghman’s story is an intriguing one, given the number of people who would give their right arm, to be in her former position. Who wouldn’t want to be self-employed, on a high income, in return for making a few (sponsored) Instagram posts a day? But that’s simplifying matters somewhat. The posts appearing on an influencer’s social media feed or blog, are the tip of the iceberg. Most the work of an online content producer, even those with assistants, takes place behind the scenes.

In a profile written for the New York Times by Mattie Khan, Tilghman speaks of the delight nine-to-five work is presently bringing her. But is the grass really greener on the other side? One of Tilghman’s new corporate colleagues was mortified when he learned she had given up her role as an influencer. How could she possibly want to be “shackled” by a nine-to-five job? But Tilghman replied by saying “when you’re an influencer, then you have chains on.”

The chains binding influencers are numerous. There’s the need to toe the line — or at least convey that impression — of the brands you represent. While you might be happy to take a brand’s money, for a time anyway, your values may not always align with theirs. There’s also pressure to post frequently to keep followers engaged, lest they drift away. Being in the spotlight constantly can also take a toll over time, to say nothing of the criticism some influencers are subject to.

Today Tilghman counts the relatively low profile nature of nine-to-five work as a bonus, citing the absence of a “comments section at an office job.” That may be so, but how about things like office politics, and KPIs, at a corporate job? There’s a comment section surely as fearsome as any other. But I wonder, once an influencer, always an influencer? Despite having turned her back on the profession, Tilghman still has a profile that would make many a newbie green with envy.

At last count, Tilghman had some two-hundred and forty thousand Instagram followers, a following she’s partly leveraging for her side-hustle, online workshops assisting retiring influencers transition to a new career. And despite the desire for a “boring job”, Tilghman admits to occasionally missing her old work. But is influencing really work? It’s hardly what I am, I call it being a self-publisher, or blogger. But it’s not a job, it’s more of a way of life, and one that’s hard to turn away from.


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