Saturday, November 20, 2021

On Being an "Influencer"

I don't like the word "influencer". I don't think of myself as someone who influences other people. I like to share my stories and express my opinions. It does feel satisfying when that's helpful to others, but selfishly, I simply enjoy putting myself out there. I prefer the term "content creator" or simply "blogger". But at some point, someone came up with the term "influencer" to describe people on social media with large followings. And now we're stuck with it!

I wanted to write a post that briefly describes how I became an influencer (I'll stop using the quotes around the word), what it's like, and how I feel about it.

From MySpace Blogger to Instagram Creator
I started this blog in 2006 on MySpace. I transitioned it over to the Blogger platform in 2008 as MySpace was starting its decline. I think the world would be a better place if we had stayed on MySpace and hadn't transitioned to Facebook, but that's another post.

For 10 years very few people read my blog. In fact, when people told me they read my blog I was surprised. I had some limited analytics in the blogger platform which revealed a few really popular posts because of the search engines pointing to them. Most of my readers were other bloggers and for a while there was a close-knit blogging community. 

I never tried to attract a wider audience. I mainly wrote the blog for myself. I enjoy writing and journaling (I have kept a journal since I was 7), and the blog is the perfect outlet for that. Why not just keep a private diary? When I know that others will read it, it forces me to articulate myself clearly and make sure I am communicating my thoughts accurately. Otherwise, I might be left with a stream of consciousness.

To this day I still consider myself as my target audience for my blog. I go back and read race reports if I repeat a race. It's helpful to document the various pacing strategies and fueling strategies, and to see how I have evolved mentally. It's good to know what I wore in various conditions and if I was too hot or too cold. These are probably boring details for my readers, but they are helpful to me.

When I came out with my book in 2016, I decided I should promote it on social media. But I had a very small audience. Maybe 400 followers on Instagram. So, using my knowledge of how to grow an audience (I work in marketing full time) I started attracting more followers. It wasn't rocket science and the Instagram algorithm was much simpler back then. Really all I did was post photos of myself running every day with my time, distance and pace, and notes about how the run went.
Post from June 2016

I didn't consider my daily posts to be inspiring or particularly interesting, but they generated thousands of followers in a few months. I did write posts that talked about the content in my book, and I think that was follow-worthy. But of course I couldn't talk about my book every single day; that would have gotten repetitive!

And then the book really took off and people starting following me because they had heard about the book. I learned that my book was being used in book clubs all around the country and my book started to pop up in other people's posts. It was surreal. It's still surreal!

Brand Partnerships
In the spring of 2017, Under Armour sent me an email asking me to participate in the launch of their new line of shoes. They offered me two pairs of shoes, a ton of other gear (sports bras, tanks, tights, shorts) and a cash payment to wear this gear in a few of my Instagram photos. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! They were giving me so much and all I had to do was the same thing I did every day- post a picture with a caption. 

BUT. . . it actually wasn't all that easy. Since this would be an official post for Under Armour, I wanted to make it much better than my normal posts. I wanted to go above and beyond and as a perfectionist, I wanted it to be perfect. This resulted in multiple photo shoots with Greg, multiple video takes, time spent trying to find the best location, writing and re-writing the caption, and more. So it ended up being rather time consuming and suddenly I felt like I was, in fact, earning what I was receiving. 

Under Armour Campaign 2017
Did I love doing it? Yes! This was the definition of getting paid for doing something that I loved.  Did I
felt like I was "selling out" and posting something inauthentic? No, because I did actually wear that gear and I did write an honest review of it.

Since then, I have formed partnerships with multiple brands. Everything from sports detergent to recovery boots to electrolyte popsicles to sunglasses. Some of them have included cash payments but usually it's a simple exchange of free products for exposure on my account. I receive about 10 partnership offers each week. Who knew there were so many nutritional supplement companies and compression sock companies? I only accept about 5% of the offers I receive, and I have a few brands with which I have a longstanding relationship. 

I choose my brand partnerships very carefully because I do not want to cheapen my Instagram account, post anything inauthentic, or write a positive review of a product I genuinely don't like or wouldn't use. Occasionally, I go "shopping" by reaching out to brands that have products I want to try and asking if they partner with influencers. This happened last summer when I saw an ad for TRIHARD chlorine removal shampoo and conditioner and I was swimming every day.

TRIHARD Chlorine Removal
Influencer Haters
I know there are people out there who are against the whole "influencer" thing and I can understand that if the influencer is inauthentic and/or if every post is a commercial. Some people resent that we receive free stuff. Some people resent that we have so many followers even though we aren't elite athletes. The reason non-elite athletes attract so many followers is because people want to hear from runners who are relatable. With goals that might also be attainable for them. I once had a coach who would tell us all how one of his olympic level athletes trained for success. And that honestly wasn't helpful for me because I wasn't trying to go to the olympics. I would have preferred that he shared how the Boston Qualifiers trained, fueled, etc.

As for receiving free products, nothing is ever free. I have worked hard over the years to build my following and when I receive a free product it's not as simple as Greg snapping a photo of me holding it or wearing it. I have to figure out a good location for the photo, take multiple photos so I don't have a weird smile, make sure the lighting is good and then write a thoughtful caption. I have fun with it, but getting a good photo can take a lot of work. 

And let's not forget about the trolls. For every 50 positive comments there is usually one troll or one negative commenter. Usually I just ignore these people or I point out that they are the only unsupportive person out of hundreds of comments. It definitely takes a thick skin, and I'm glad I was able to stop caring about what other people think before I accumulated thousands of followers. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Even though this isn't a race report, I feel like it deserves some final thoughts and key takeaways! While my Instagram account began as a way to promote my book, it has become more than that. It's a way for me to document my running journey and share my experiences. I almost never offer advice (because I am not an expert) but I do share what works for me and hopefully it will work for others, too.

Coming up with a new photo and caption (or reel) each day isn't easy, but I enjoy it, and so does Greg. After all, I wouldn't be able to get any of these photos without Greg and his photography skills. Thankfully we run together most days, so it's simply a matter of him getting his camera out at the beginning or the end of the run. Other times it's more orchestrated, like if I'm posing for a giveaway or holding a product in my hands. 

One of the coolest things is when one of my followers recognizes me at a race. There were a few times during the Marshall University Marathon earlier this month when random strangers cheered for me by name and shouted out that they followed me. It also happened walking around Boston the day before the marathon and in NYC's Central Park during a long run. 

It's extremely rewarding to receive messages from followers about how my book has helped them or how my posts have helped them. It's always a little surprising because I don't see myself as particularly helpful, but the hope is always that someone, somewhere will benefit from what I have to say. 


  1. I heard once that the reason why brands work with influencers is that (1) they get better exposure for their product than they would with traditional advertising and (2) it's WAAAAAY cheaper. On the flip side, being an influencer is a lot harder than "Get free stuff. Take picture".

    I think the key to your success is exactly what you said==>you write for yourself AND you reject 95% of the brands that want to work with you. That's good content! I don't come to the internet or IG to look at ads, I'm here for entertainment/information. It's a turnoff when I see a feed that's 100% ads or one that makes a jarring switch to "hi I'm selling something today". You never do that. You're here sharing something that you love and the lessons learned along the way. That's priceless and the internet needs a lot more of it.

    1. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and supportive comment. I also think it’s fun to review stuff, especially sports bras because I’m so picky and always looking for the perfect one.

  2. I did not read all your post intently...just enough to get your perspective. I really don't understand what an "influencer" is or if you qualify as that in a negative context. But do you influence others? Yes is the answer to that as you have influenced me in many ways you unlikely to understand. I have followed you because of your book, but I don't see influencer syndrome there...just you do what you doing in your journey starting to get to Boston...but to be the person who you are these days. Both your book and your blog is a progression of your life and way of being to where you be today. Yes...I have criticized you at times about too much emphasis on split times and deviations between GPS watch and Strava, but all the time remained more interested in the story of the progression thru the race. Yah, I sometimes said you over analyze data, but have over these years recognize your way of being and how you train, and how you assess your performances in races. Still think you too critical in some of your assessments, but you do really fine in looking back and recapping your races to your terms. Be proud of who you are and where you have arrived in your running endeavors and your Boston Bound quest. You are the runner who you are...that is all I conclude from all your posts...and you good just as you be.

  3. I have to admire your consistency...I straight up ran out of content on my IG! I used to have it as a record of my training for myself and a few followers, most of whom I know (personally or through blogging/social media). What I find hard is the photo part! I am really rushed in the mornings to begin with, and I don't even know what to take a picture OF. I'm out of photo ideas! Now, training and all my injuries and illnesses and blah blah? I have plenty to say. I just don't have a picture to link it to.
    I've also complicated the matter for myself by limiting who can see pictures of my kid - It feels weird to me that any stranger can see his pictures on instagram, so I only post his pictures in "close friends" stories. Obviously he's a big part of every day, so that reduces the number of photos available, too!
    As far as influencers go, I really appreciate product reviews (honest ones) and follow accounts just for that. But I also really like following training, and seeing how people overcome barriers, develop, and respond to the process. So I enjoy seeing that as well!

    1. I enjoy your IG posts and your blog. I love seeing baby photos so thanks for adding me to the list. You could take photos of your shoes or your Garmin! I like following your training. Your workouts are killer.

  4. I go back and read my own race recaps, too! Thanks for being who you are and for continuing to share your journey. I enjoy following you!

  5. I started following you when you sent me your book to review on my blog! I receive a lot of solicitations from authors to review their books, but I don't usually accept them. Your book struck a chord with me--chasing that Boston dream. I'm so glad you were able to achieve that dream and more. It's been a lot of fun following you over the years and watching you grow your social media. I love your authenticity and self-reflection. I've always tried to do that on my social media too. It's a fine line when you are trying to be genuine and promoting products. Keep doing your thing!

  6. I was among those that started following you because your book helped me so much during a period of multiple marathon DNFs. I am glad you decided to write it and I think the difference with you has been that you speak from the heart and you share who you are no matter what, and not to get endorsements or free stuff. That honesty shines through your book and your social media posts. Keep it up!

  7. I just like that you're a normal chick doing fun running things :)

  8. Hi Elizabeth, I am not on any form of social media but I do love your blog and your book. You have a very clear and interesting way of articulating yourself. I am a lifetime runner and I came across your blog while doing a Google search on the best running blogs and yours was up there. Then I bought your book which brought back happy memories of my Boston Marathon in 2016 and the hard work involved in getting there.
    I totally agree with your approach to ignore the haters because ultimately what matters is how you feel about yourself.
    Keep running strong and writing your blog - it's a great read!
    Kind regards, AV

  9. I believe that I first met you at the 2017 For the Love of it 10K at South Lakes. I remember wondering if you'd mind if I said hello as we waited for the awards presentation in the high school. You were every bit as warm and welcoming in person as you appear on your blog and IG. Keep being you, it's exactly why we follow you!

  10. As you say nothing is free. You talk about your hard work, it's also that coporation believeing that giving away that product to you will benefit them. Their idea isn't to give it to you out of the goodness of their hearts but the fact that you have made a following and that the average runner out there that follows you on Instagram (because I'm sure it's greater than this blog) will be influenced to test out their product and if it works for them, they have a customer for life, or for however long they keep running!!

    I'm reading the last post from Debbie now, it was a podcast you did in I think 2017 now with Jenny Hadfield that I happened to listen too that a year later got us to know one another.

    Never did I imagine I'd make a new awesome, amazing friend from it all, I love reading this blog, I hope something I have said has inspired you to do better, or inspired someone else who reads this to do better.

    I love your success stories, especially that first sub 20 5K that I felt so emotional about and it was you doing it and I had nothing to do with it, but you truly made my day bc it was the worst Thanksgiving Day ever in my life and something positive came out of it for someone I care about!! You never really know!! You write it for you which is good. You're not pinning it hopes for likes and other bs. You do it for you and to share with those of us who care about Elizabeth Clor.

    I don't like the term influencer either. I like the term inspire better. You are giving people inspiration to achieve more. I truly believe that's what you've done for others and while I did buy your book but haven't read a page out of it (I support my friends and consider you such even if virtual), I know you are someone to aspire to as a runner and as a person because you are more than just a runner but a successful, high class individual.

    I'm really honored to be associated with you just thru this blog!! You are a fantastic person on top of your running success THAT YOU ARE STILL ACHIEVING TOO!!