Instagram-ready: Meet Hertfordshire’s interiors influencers
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It’s all about Instagram for many interiors enthusiasts, and a select group of influencers are reaping the rewards. Richard Burton checked out Hertfordshire’s finest...
There was a time when anyone wanting ideas on décor would buy an interiors magazine or three and perhaps tune into the likes of BBC’s Changing Rooms.
These days they’re more likely to click “follow” on their mobile phones, thanks to the growing number – not to mention persuasive power – of interiors influencers.
And by that I mean, those innovators – from seasoned pros to newbies who just happen to have “an eye for what works” - who amass pop star followings and dispense the sort of advice traditional interior designers would rightly charge fees for.
The ones who find themselves courted by marketers who follow social networks seeking out those with the largest followings for branding “collaborations”, safe in the knowledge that a favourable mention of something as small as a retro place mat could send inquiries – and often sales – through the roof.
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There are even people who influence the influencers. Agencies such as Wolverhampton-based Acifin specialise in finding business opportunities for those who want to make best use of the “unique and intimate relationship [they have] with their fans”.
The good thing is, the key players in this new world all appear refreshingly open about such deals; flagging up such sponsorships, making clear when something they’re featuring has been “gifted” and, even then, resisting anything they see as mere product placements and out of place in their feed.
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One of the biggest names, London-based Geraldine Tan, who posts as Little Big Bell, makes clear on her blog that “sponsored posts will be clearly labelled and declared”.
Geraldine, who the Evening Standard voted one of the top five interiors Instagrammers to follow, even goes as far as listing companies with whom she has collaborated; naming niche brands alongside High Street giants such as John Lewis and the White Company, neither of whom, incidentally, responded to my requests to talk about this new style of marketing.
Hertfordshire has its fair share of Instagram stars with growing numbers of loyal followers keen to engage with them on the smallest of details as they follow their lives online.
When Emma Davidson, who recently settled in St Albans and regularly writes about her new life here, posted a picture of a new mug that had arrived in the post the other day, it was “liked” over 700 times and attracted 45 comments.
Then there’s Rebecca Stirling who has grown a following of nearly 80,000 by sharing details of the renovation work at the Kings Langley home she shares with her property developer husband, Ben.
They moved when the house came on the market by chance in her favourite road and plunged into a serious – and, to her followers, intriguing – upgrade job, having just completed one on a Victorian terrace nearby.
But it wasn’t just the 10 months spent battling local planners for permission to extend, and the six months of building work totally transforming a historic property that hooked them but the images she takes on her travels, many of which she brings home and sparks discussion by integrating into her own designs.
Like many others, she sees Instagram as an environment that thrives on trust and openness. She told the Cotswold Company interiors blog: “It’s such a fantastic, inspiring, creative community that brings like-minded people together.”
Another local – and rising – social star, fashion buyer Katie Seidler, agrees. “Instagram is just so positive,” she said. “It’s not like Twitter. I’ve met a lot of kindred spirits through it and been inspired myself by what I’ve seen.”
Katie, 36, has amassed a following of 15,000 by sharing the smallest details of the stunning transformation she has made of her St Albans home. She’s a true Insta purist, someone whose interests lie not so much in commercial partnerships but more in the joy of being able to share a passion she has held since childhood.
“As a young girl I became hooked on shows like Changing Rooms,” she said. “I remember being 15 and dragging my mum off to the Ideal Home Show. Things just grew from there. All this is just an extension of my hobby.”
She admits to “decorating all the time”, as she constantly rethinks aspects of her striking monochrome-styled rooms, often bouncing ideas off her followers and seeking their opinions. And even though she’s taking and posting images all the time, they rarely include a selfie.
“It was never going to be about me,” she said. “I started to share things and ideas I really liked. It was always only about that. The worst thing I could have done would have been to share stuff I didn’t like. You have to be true to yourself and your audience.
“And it’s all about engaging with people, not just because of how the algorithms work but because, if someone has taken the trouble to write, I really think they deserve a reply. I try to make sure I respond to every message.”
Like many others, she’s still coming to terms with the size and pace of her success; one which saw her following grow from “a flat 500” 18 months ago to the 15,000 plus she has today.
“It has been a little surprising,” she said. “I foundd I’d wake up in the morning and discover I’ve gained 29 more followers and think ‘where did they come from?’”
Rebecca Stirling showed commendable modesty last week when she wrote of her surprise at gaining the sort of following she has.
She told followers: “Did I ever imagine that starting a blog/Instagram would end up becoming my job and such a huge part of my life? Nope! Definitely a big case of imposter syndrome here right now but I’m grateful for every second of it.”
Super-blogger Lisa Dawson, whose online career grew with the aid of constant requests from people wanting to know more about the interiors images she posted on Instagram echoes Katie’s views.
“Authenticity is key. If you’re not authentic, social media will chew you up and spit you out,” she wrote in an advice posting about life on social media.
“Social media is a voyeuristic space and portraying yourself as something you are not is never going to be a winner.”
The mother of three who recently moved to live in York and is a Marie Claire “verified influencer”, runs interiors workshops with her friend and fellow expert, Dee Campling, another mum-of-three from Cheltenham who has enough followers to fill Watford’s football ground five and a half times.
With those sort of followings it’s hardly surprising that many have secured book deals and are in constant demand for interviews by traditional media.
Both Katie Seidler and Rebecca Stirling will be featured in glossy magazines over the next few months.
And if there were ever any doubt about the pace of change in this new world, bear in mind that, since I first compiled the graphic featured here a few weeks ago, I had to update the numbers as I awaited a deadline.
In all, I did so seven times - and added more than 3,000 followers.