Social Life: The Impact of Influence

What does it mean to have influence? On today’s episode, we’re exploring how social influencers’ social lives are impacted by being influencers. We speak with two young people who run Instagram accounts with decent popularity and how it impacts their lives. How does Instagram, and other platforms, change how we choose to show ourselves and influence our experiences out in the world? Taking photos at brunch, or going to a bar because you saw it on social media, etc.

Our guests are Kate Weiser, who runs a popular Instagram account called Bucket List Boston, where she travels all over Boston and the New England area and takes photos of restaurants, outdoor spaces, museums and more. We also get some insight from Maddie Durso, Kate’s best friend and the model in a lot of her photos. We also feature Dr. Aman Kanwar, who runs a popular Instagram account where he shares photos of himself with animals and his life as a veterinarian.

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Experience This Podcast is created and produced by Action! by Design. Action! by Design is a citizen-centered design company that helps people build better products, launch impactful campaigns, and elevate their brand.

The show is hosted by Joshua Croke and produced by Mariel Cariker.

Behind the Scenes Photos

Kate’s post of the Figure 8 Pools on Bucket List Sydney

Kate’s post of the Figure 8 Pools on Bucket List Sydney

Kate taking photos of the lattes at 4A coffee

Kate taking photos of the lattes at 4A coffee

Kate and Maddie in their shared apartment on the day of our interview (check out the Bucket List Boston logo mug!)

Kate and Maddie in their shared apartment on the day of our interview (check out the Bucket List Boston logo mug!)

Aman Kanwar speaking with Joshua Croke

Aman Kanwar speaking with Joshua Croke

Episode Transcription

AMAN KANWAR: If you deem yourself a social media influencer, then you got to ask yourself, “Okay, you’re influencing people. How do you want to influence them?”

KATE WEISER: It can be hard to trust people on social media because there is so much of the paying and collaborations going on behind the scenes, and you don’t necessarily know how much of it is real, and how much is curated and made to look real.

JOSHUA CROKE: The .2 seconds it takes to double tap that food photo on Instagram — that’s a fraction of the time it takes that account to deliver that picture to your feed. On today’s episode, we’re exploring how social influencers’ social lives are impacted by being influencers.

This is Experience This Podcast, I’m Joshua Croke.

AMAN KANWAR: I think each and every one of us has something that makes us unique and very different, and I think you should play to those strengths. So with me, it was, I want to be a vet, I’m vegan, I like animals, and I like cute puppies. So I made my page about that.

JOSHUA CROKE: This is Aman Kanwar, DVM. That’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. His Instagram following is directly connected to his passion for animals and animal rights. You know the Instagram account, “Hot Dudes With Dogs”? It’s kind of like that — which Aman has been featured on a few times.

AMAN KANWAR: Growing up I was always a very artsy person. In high school, I excelled more in arts than I did in sciences. So the fact that I chose to pursue science as like my main career option was sometimes very tasking on me because it’s not necessarily my strong suit, and I kind of lost my art side when I went through school. And now doing this, I get to come up with cool concepts. And it kind of excites me because it’s like I get to be creative again.

JOSHUA CROKE: Aman’s Instagram account started to gain attention when he started vet school in Saint Kitts in the Caribbean. He started curating his feed to mostly be pictures with animals, and the account took off from there. Aman now has over twenty-six thousand followers on his personal account, and used that following and influence to start a non-profit.

AMAN KANWAR: The Traveling Vet Rescue was kind of this concept that combined everything I was passionate about in life. I was traveling, rescuing animals, and educating other people. And so I came up with this idea where okay, I want to go to areas where they don’t have education and they don’t have the means to rescue animals, and play more of an influence there.

JOSHUA CROKE: In April 2018, Aman was asked to attend the London Cat Festival due to the popularity of his personal account. At the festival, he launched The Traveling Vet Rescue. The organization works to improve the health and well-being of animals by providing veterinary care, disaster relief and community education worldwide. In summer 2018, Aman traveled to China during the Yulin Dog Festival, to work with dogs saved from slaughterhouses.

AMAN KANWAR: I think what social media has helped me do, is help me connect to other people who think like me, who don’t think like me but have the same goal, which makes it really cool because you have the same end goal, but you have all these opinions and perspectives on how to get there.

KATE WEISER: It was the second week of freshman year and I had some friends, but not totally that many yet, and I decided I should go out and explore by myself.

JOSHUA CROKE: This is Kate Weiser. She’s a senior at Boston University.

KATE WEISER: And to my shock, I actually really liked it. And I started taking pictures just to document the new places I was seeing and that was really the start of it.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kate runs an Instagram account called Bucket List Boston, where she posts photos and recommendations of places to experience in the Boston area. Kate started the account to join a Boston-based instagram community, and to document her adventures exploring the city. Now with over sixteen-thousand followers, Kate has realized her account is more than just for her.

KATE WEISER: In my head I had like this realization that I was like providing people with content and information that they actually needed. Especially freshman year, people don’t know where to go in a new city. So that was something that kind of struck me and has been in the back of my head anytime I go out and do something for Bucket List Boston, because I know that there are people that appreciate knowing places to go, and I definitely do feel a commitment to the followers to be sharing and providing them with new information and different things to do around the city, because that’s why they follow in the first place.

JOSHUA CROKE: Recognizing her influence, Kate not only features places she loves in the city, but prioritizes featuring local businesses to support the community.

KATE WEISER: I definitely always tag the place and the location because part of why I love doing this is to spread awareness about smaller businesses or just local Boston places. And so if I can help add some customers or people to go visit a certain spot that’s awesome.

MADDIE DURSO: We get stopped a lot. And even when I’m not with Kate, I’ve been asked multiple times, “Are you 5maddie?”

JOSHUA CROKE: That’s Maddie Durso, Kate’s best friend and roommate. ‘5maddie’ is her Instagram handle. Outside of their tight personal friendship, Maddie also plays her own role in Bucket List Boston’s success. She’s the model in many of Kate’s photos, and also designed the account’s logo.

MADDIE DURSO: I’m just known as like the sidekick in all of her photos, or like the hand model. But I have to have good nail polish on to be the hand model.”

OUTING: *Sound of the camera clicking, street sounds*

KATE: That’s The Paris Creperie, it’s really good.

JOSHUA CROKE: To see Kate’s process, I went on an outing with Kate and Maddie to Coolidge Corner, a block full of small businesses in Brookline, Massachusetts — a town in the greater Boston area. At 4A coffee, a local coffee shop, Maddie gave Kate a suggestion for a good photo.

MADDIE DURSO: My gloves match the wall, and also the 4A coffee beans are against the wall, so I thought maybe it would be fun to have a picture of the coffee with it. So now so I’m holding up the coffee, she asked me to move my hand a little, she’s contemplating whether to put the coffee sleeve on it or not, but she decided upon the white look. Yes, and now she’ll probably take another one with the coffee sleeve just so she has both options to look at later.

KATE WEISER: That’s correct.

JOSHUA CROKE: While running a popular Instagram account has perks for Kate and Aman like travel opportunities, or free food or drinks, maintaining social media relevance and influence takes a lot of time.

AMAN KANWAR: To a lot of people, it’s you take a picture and you post it with a cool caption and that’s it. But there’s actually a lot of work that goes into posting a picture on social media. You got to take like 50 pictures.

KATE WEISER: Grab my camera, run out the door, hope that I remembered my gloves because my fingers will freeze off while I take pictures if I don’t have them.

AMAN KANWAR: Pick one, you gotta edit the picture.

KATE WEISER: Wander around for a couple of hours, get some good shots. If my fingers do freeze off in the middle, I will find a latte to warm myself up and take a picture of it of course.

AMAN KANWAR: You gotta pick when during the day and during the week should you post to get the most attention.

KATE WEISER: Put my SD card into my computer, go through all of the 100s of photos I have undoubtedly taken.

AMAN KANWAR: And then how many times a week do you have to post? Because if you don’t post enough people kind of lose focus on you.

KATE WEISER: Send the good ones to my phone, where I will then edit them in VSCO, and then sort them and make a beautiful feed, and then post my favorite one.

AMAN KANWAR: If  you post too much it takes away from other aspects of your life.

KATE WEISER: And then tag all of the people that I want to maybe repost me because that is the best way to gain followers I have learned.

JOSHUA CROKE: Aman says it takes between fifteen and twenty minutes to edit each photo. Aman has over three-hundred photos between both of his accounts. Do the math — that’s over 100 hours of work. Reminder: he’s a vet. Running this account isn’t his full-time job.

AMAN KANWAR: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t taking over a lot of my life, ‘cause it really does.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kate has posted almost 1,000 photos on Bucket List Boston. Kate says she brings her camera everywhere to avoid missing a moment, but always having her camera on her makes it hard to create boundaries of when it’s time to put the camera away.

KATE WEISER: That’s a challenge for me, because if I’m always seeing beautiful things I’m always in my head like, ‘Later I’ll want to remember this and have the photo.’ But struggling with that and saying, yes, but also I just like should put it down and look around and be in this moment and be present. That’s something that I work on.

JOSHUA CROKE: A lot of people we follow on social media we feel a connection to — even if it’s someone we’ve never met. That trust drives paid influencer marketing. Social influencers then have to consider that trust to maintain the authenticity of themselves — and their brand.

AMAN KANWAR: I know most of the followers because they’ll comment over and over again, or they’ll like my picture and I’ll be like, “Oh, I know this person a little bit.” So I speak to them. It kind of helps you connect and it helps you make a bond with them, and then they trust you a little bit more. But then that’s more responsibility because it’s like, do I really want to post this product that someone is paying me $1,000 to post because I’m getting the money, but I don’t really necessarily endorse the product?

JOSHUA CROKE: Influencer marketing is on the rise. According to research done by Linqia, an influencer marketing company, 39 percent of marketers said they planned to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018. A third of these marketers said they planned to spend between 25 and 50 thousand dollars on influencer marketing in a year. 92 percent of marketers in the same study chose Instagram as the most important social platform for marketing.

KATE WEISER: The last thing in the world I would want is to seem ingenuine and that I was inauthentic. It would ruin the whole point of my recommendations. So I have done one restaurant where I was paid, I had heard really good things about it going into it and I did it with four of my other blogger friends so that felt safe. Other than that the times that I’ve done paid promotions I’ve known what I’m doing. I’ve either used the product before or I know that it’s a reputable place. I wouldn’t just take money from something I don’t endorse or I don’t believe in beforehand. I do not want to please one person to annoy 16,000 others.

JOSHUA CROKE: But can that work in reverse in real life? To please 16,000 others you may have to annoy a few friends.

MADDIE DURSO: Sometimes I purposely order ugly food to be able to eat my food early.

JOSHUA CROKE: Again, Maddie Durso.

MADDIE DURSO: Because sometimes if I get pretty food, I have to wait probably 20 minutes for Kate to take it somewhere and take a photo of it. Like she takes it over to the window, or onto the floor, and I’m like, “Ugh, god, I just want to eat my food I’m starving.” Like the other week she got really pretty pancakes. And I was like, “I’ll just have eggs and toast.”

JOSHUA CROKE: Back at 4A coffee, Kate grabs Maddie’s latte to snag a photo of it by the window before she takes a sip.

KATE WEISER: I’m dairy-free, which is kind of sucky because the latte art’s never quite as good as with regular milk, so I really love having friends that aren’t dairy free because the latte art is gorgeous.

JOSHUA CROKE: What lengths do people go to capture an experience for social media? Does that effort to get that perfect photo diminish the feeling in that moment?

AMAN KANWAR: Have I done things crazy and out of the ordinary for pictures? Absolutely. Have I made my friends really uncomfortable taking a photo of me in front of like a jam packed full restaurant while I’m sitting there occupying the entire space with a rosé in my hand and a pink background? Yes, I have. Have I done anything dangerous? I don’t think so.

KATE WEISER: I’m starting to see headlines in my head of, “Two girls from America get killed by the infinity pools.”

JOSHUA CROKE: Kate and Maddie did a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. While living there, Kate made a sister account to Bucket List Boston called Bucket List Sydney. Their program encouraged students to explore, but told them specifically to not go to the Figure 8 pools at Sydney’s Royal National Park. The pools are located on a dangerous rock shelf, and people have died while trying to hike to them.

KATE WEISER: So naturally, Maddie and I found the next available weekend we could do this trip because they’re beautiful. So packed our backpacks, we’re like, alright, it’s just a hike there, we’re fine, we’re athletic. We were not fine. We get there, and first of all as soon as we get off the train. The thunder above us starts rolling. We start hiking, it’s been like 30 minutes, and we see some people walk past us and we’re like, “Oh, much farther?” And they look at us really scared they’re like, “Three, four hours.”

MADDIE DURSO: I hope I don’t sound like a terrible person, I was the one egging us on to keep going.

KATE WEISER: The thunder is louder than ever now and the rain is starting.

MADDIE DURSO: We had to climb over a ton of very slippery rocks. And we also were not in bathing suits, we had to somehow change into bathing suits at the infinity pools. We finally make it to the infinity pools before the time that the tide gets very dangerous, because at the point the tide gets dangerous, there’s photos showing the water just consuming people on the rocks.

KATE WEISER: She convinced us to keep going and we make it. And it was the most amazing feeling ever once we got to the pools, and they were beautiful and it was worth it.

MADDIE DURSO: So basically, we got the photo, but we sat in those pools for two seconds maybe. And I was like, “Kate, smile! Look natural! Look cool!” And it’s like a picture of Kate looking out onto the water, looking super calm. But we were flipping out.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kate did post the photo on Bucket List Sydney with the caption: “Be safe, check the tides, be prepared  — it’s a HIKE.”

JOSHUA CROKE: Both Kate and Aman say running their Instagram accounts have opened up opportunities to meet new people, and try new experiences that they would’ve missed out on otherwise.

AMAN KANWAR: I think social media is kind of like an escape from your reality. It’s like you’re not in the same bubble as you are 24 hours a day. You’re not with your same group of friends, you’re not with your same group of co-workers. You’re not with the same group of people you take the subway with every morning. You get to see other people’s perspectives.

JOSHUA CROKE: As Kate’s partner in crime, Maddie has felt the effects of BucketList Boston.

MADDIE DURSO: I’m definitely not up to the point that Kate is a social media user but I also have seen the power of Instagram after seeing what Kate does. And how many businesses she can help support. How many people reach out to her, how many people do stop us and like say, “Oh, I went to this place because I saw you posted a picture of it.” I think Kate really changes people’s lives, and like changes their experience when they go to different cities.

KATE WEISER: A couple years ago everyone was like, “Oh, social media’s definitely a fad. It’s just going to phase out.” And I think that they’re wrong. I think that it’s here to stay, at least for a very long time. Because people are just starting to find their power within it, and that now, you know, citizen journalism is such a thing. People have a voice in a way that they haven’t ever had one before. And if they are just starting to realize that potential, then it’s here to stay for a good amount of time because that’s something that no one’s had before — and it’s huge.

JOSHUA CROKE: Experience This Podcast is created and produced by Action! by Design. Action! by Design is a citizen-centered design company that helps people build better products, launch impactful campaigns, and elevate their brand. The show is hosted by me, Joshua Croke, founder of Action! By Design. Our producer is Mariel Cariker. Additional mixing by Giuliano D’Orazio. Music for this episode was created by Rob Flax. Special thanks to Topdrawer, 4A Coffee, Brookline Booksmith, Dylan Horn and Allie Richards.

You can find us on social media @XPThisPod. To see behind the scenes photos, including Kate and Maddie at the infinity pools, and to learn more about our organization, visit our website at action by design dot co. If you liked this episode, please consider leaving a review and telling your friends. It really helps the show. See you next week.

JOSHUA CROKE: Would you carry around like an eight pound cell phone like if it had the camera and all of your cell phone components in one bundle?

KATE WEISER: Oh my god… I don’t know. But I think I might. Can it be six pounds? I was six pounds as a baby.

JOSHUA CROKE: Sure. You’re like, I will only carry around an iPhone that’s the same weight of me at birth.

KATE WEISER: Exactly. That seems fair right?