I first learned about Irish influencer Sersh Meenaghan when I was searching for businesswomen to interview for our inspiring women series. Her social media accounts, like most influencers, struck me as very open and honest. It was clear Sersh wasn’t afraid of being vulnerable online.
Being vulnerable in the public eye requires confidence, resilience and a thick layer of skin. There’s a great amount of shame attached to the expression of certain emotions. Sometimes it can seem like the majority of people online are more captivated by your failures than they are with your success. Anyone who looks like they’re trying to achieve something bigger and better for themselves can quickly get struck down and criticised by others who lack that same confidence.
There’s one thing striving for something better in private, but another doing it in the public eye. How easy it is to shame and mock those at the beginning of their influencer journey as they work to build followers. Yet the moment they reach a magic number and a blue tick – we glorify them.
I admire anyone who has the ability to push forward in the face of hate and online trolls, but I wonder, is there a trick or mind-set you have to have in order to find such strength? Women UK chats with Sersha Meenaghan on what it’s really like being an influencer, how you get started and the social responsibility you have to push positive messages.
Sersh’s Journey Becoming An Influencer
How did you get involved with the influencer blogging world?
“It was when I lived in London, 5 or 6 years ago that I decided this is what I’m going to do. I started out like most people thinking, this is so easy I’m going to get loads of free stuff but actually there’s such a graft to it. Especially in London, it’s almost impossible to break into it there.
“I first started out writing blog posts and worked with a photographer to capture my visuals. After awhile I moved back to Dublin, which is when things really started to take off. I found it was a little easier to start here because the population is smaller and it’s easier to meet the right people. I started to reach out to PR companies and then I found the bloggers brunch. Anyone who is looking to start blogging should go to this brunch. Everyone has to present what they blog about and then we share emails and social handles so everyone can follow each other. It’s an amazing community.”
How has your blogging business developed into what it is today? Would you consider yourself an influencer?
“I would consider myself a freelance social media manager. I recognised early on that I had to move away from blogging. Unless you have a huge following, there’s not a lot of money in it.
“I knew I had a strong social media skill set so I used that to acquire clients and now I manage the social media accounts of 4 small businesses. I do all the content, for example if they go to the shop or gym I take photos with my camera, edit the photos, create a posting plan and then send it off to the client so they can sign it off.
“A lot of small businesses either don’t have time or they don’t know how to engage with consumers. In business it’s best to collaborate with other people who are better at specific roles. The idea is to make it easier for the person running the business.”
Growing An Influencer Instagram Account
Are there any tricks to growing your Instagram account to reach the Influencer stage?
“Not really, you have to test everything out and see what works for you. At the beginning I would have been obsessed with getting the right theme, like having a consistent colour theme, but then I realised, it’s all rubbish”.
As someone who has been obsessed with creating a fluent theme, I gasp at this answer.
Sersh laughs, “Well it depends on what you want your brand to look like. I feel like I tried to do the theme because everyone else was doing it, so I thought that was what people wanted. Nowadays I post as I’m going along and that works much better for me. Your account needs to reflect who you are as a person, that’s what makes it real and engaging. Don’t do the theme thing unless this is something you want to do. It’s always so important to make sure you’re personality comes through not just your posting.”
I reply, “I suppose it’s all about being authentic and that can’t happen if you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do”.
“I think that’s why people find it so difficult to break into blogging because you’re trying to follow these trends, but it’s the massive bloggers that set those trends. There always needs to be something different about you and that difference comes from being yourself.”
A lot of people don’t know how to be their authentic self, how did you learn to speak your truth?
“I’ve always known who I was and I’ve always been very thick skinned. I guess at the beginning you do feel a bit nervous putting yourself out there, especially in this industry you have to make yourself vulnerable in order to work as an influencer. But you get better at it as the years go on, with every post you gain more confidence. For example posting a photo of myself with no makeup on, four years ago I would have never done that.
“Now I know that if I can’t be my most honest self in front of the people who are following me, what’s the point? With or without makeup, I’m still me. My Dad’s favourite quote is ‘be yourself because everybody else is taken.’ I always think of that whenever I’m posting”.
People’s Attitude Toward Blogging As A Career
What do your friends and family think of your career choice?
“With my family I guess – because I work from my phone my Dad would make comments like ‘why are you always on your phone?” But I do try and be present when I’m with people. A lot of bloggers I know, when we’re out for dinner if the food comes no one is aloud to touch it until they get photos. I’ve been brought up to believe, when you’re at the table phones are a no go. I’ll go out for a meal and yes take photos of the food, but I won’t sit there and upload it straight away.
“The whole idea of posting and blogging so everyone knows everything you do can be great. I like that people can see behind the scenes of my business. But it’s also very important to be present, otherwise you’ll miss life happening in real time. When you look back you won’t remember being there because you spent the whole time on your phone. So I try to avoid that and find the balance.
“As for my friends and their perception of my work, they are always joking ‘did you blog about it?”
Do you find the attitude Irish people have about influencing less supportive, in comparison to England?
“I do feel like a lot of people think blogging, social media and being an influencer is a fake job. I think it’s because I travel a lot and can work from anywhere so people will make comments like, ‘do you even work?’ Before I go away, I spend a week planning and prepping all my content for the week after so when I am away I can actually only work for one hour in the morning and just sort of enjoy it. So people think that’s not really a job, but it is.
Do those comments ever get you down?
“Not really. I have a lot of friends who have similar roles and we’re really supportive of each other. A good few of my female friends are actually looking into leaving work so they can take on blogging and influencing as a full time role.
It’s definitely an appealing industry to be apart of. Do you think the women in this industry are supportive?
“Generally, yes. But there is a small amount of bitchiness amongst bloggers, especially when you go to events. I’m sure it’s the same in most industries. I don’t ever get involved with that though. You can’t take anything that’s said to heart. It all goes back to being yourself, being confident in who you are and what you’re doing. I always find if people talk about you then they’re probably not confident or happy in themselves, so you can’t let it get to you.”
The Negative Effects of Social Media Influences
What would you say is the biggest issue with social media?
“At the moment there are huge issues with people getting bullied online. I never had social media in school. We weren’t allowed camera phones, which obviously is different now. There was no such a thing as cyber bullying. It’s scary now, how social media has become so huge and dangerous.
“I think it’s our responsibility to paint social media in a more supportive light. My network on social media is very supportive of each other; we’re always commenting and liking each other’s posts. It should be like that with everyone, I don’t know why it’s not.”
“It’s something that needs to stop. People on social media need to teach people, especially young people, how we can use it to support each other rather than bring each other down.”
How do you handle online trolls?
“I’m quite lucky I don’t get a lot of hate online. I’ve gotten the odd comment but immediately I block them. I have a zero tolerance policy. If you look into these accounts you find that they’re generally trolling pages. They have no followers and they don’t post anything. They seem to have these pages just so they can spread negativity.”
Would you have any advice for people suffering with mental health issues?
“Always talk about it because there’s always an answer. The scary thing is, it’s generally people who you think are fine that are suffering the most. This is why talking about it and creating an environment that lets people know how easy it is to talk about, is so important. I would encourage everyone – parents, friends, family, and teachers to keep talking about these things, so people feel supported to open up. Talking will always help, even if means going to see a counsellor.
“Or, go for a drink with a friend and have a vent, just get it off your chest and you might find they feel the exact same way. You’d be so surprised how many people you think are happy. When you end up sitting down with them you’ll probably find they share the exact same anxieties and insecurities as you. People have this mask on. By opening up you could actually encourage your friend to do the same. We all have worries. We all need to have a cry sometimes.”
The Challenges Influencers Have Working In The ‘Always On’ Culture
How do you separate your online and offline life? Can you switch off?
“There are different times of the day when I’m better at switching off. Generally in the evening time I try to be more present. In the morning I use it as soon as I get up and then I’m on it throughout the day.
“It’s very important for me to be present though, especially when important things are happening. I like to be able to spend quality time with people that matter.
“It is difficult because it is a seven day job that never stops. If I disappear for a day my followers could drop by 150, which can be hard”.
Sounds tough, does the work cause you a lot of stress?
“I only get stressed if I’m running out of content for a client. Or if their page isn’t picking up as quickly as you would want to – even on my own page views, if that starts dropping its easy to get into a panic wondering ‘where are people going?’ But you have to be realistic; maybe they’re just taking some time off social media. At the end of the day, it’s just numbers, you can’t let it control you”.
Do you worry about losing your right to privacy?
“Yes but I’m very aware of what I’m posting, and how much. There are girls who I’ve met who put their whole life on social media. For me, I’m already putting myself in a very vulnerable position; I think there’s a line. Say for example you’re having a bad day. I don’t think you should go on social media and cry about it. You’re engagement is probably going up because it will cause concern, but I think there needs to be some things you keep private. Complaining about being single or commenting on a boyfriend/ friend after a fight are things I would never do.
I agree, “well you are influencers so everything you put up will influence someone’s opinion. If you complain about a boyfriend you could be swaying peoples opinion on that person”.
“Exactly. Relationships in general I think are best kept private. If you have a boyfriend you have to be respectful of their privacy. The choice to be a blogger is your thing. If you bring someone else in you could be exposing him or her in ways they might not be comfortable with. It’s particularly bad if you say negative things to followers you might not even know.
“Say I had a boyfriend who cheated on me and then I go online and cry about it. Your followers might start to hate that person for what, because I said something online? It’s the same as talking about anyone online. You’re influencing people’s opinion, which could lead to online bullying. People need to be more wary of that.”
The Social Responsibility Of Being An Influencer
Do you worry about what way you’re swaying opinion?
“I will always try to keep things positive. If I don’t like something I won’t say it, because I don’t feel like it’s my place to slate something online.
“I do try and be wary of what I say, for example I’ve accidentally put up a story where I say the word fuck unknowingly and then I’ll quickly take it down. My page is me, but it’s also me as social media manager so I’ll be conscious of what way I come across. It’s difficult because you do sometimes forget that you are influencing people and a lot the age group following you could be teenage girls, so you need to be mindful of that”.
Do you think social media should be regulated by age? So you have to be over 18 to use the platform or it should be available to anyone?
“Yes and no. Yes because we’re having huge issues with cyber bullying and trolling online so from that point of view yes. But then online bullying isn’t always specific to teenagers. I know of adults who’ve been online bullied.
“Generally, young people are more vulnerable. Would you want the things that happen when you’re 15 or 16 to be available forever? Because once you post it online it’s there forever. It seems silly to say and maybe quite patronising, but I don’t think that teenagers are responsible enough to be able to handle social media platforms.”
Sersha jokingly worries that teenagers will hate her for trying to take away the platform, but I have to agree. Being able to post such raw, vulnerable and sometimes sexual images at such a young age has the potential to be very damaging to their lives at a later age.
“I think it’s so important for people to understand how careful they need to be using these platforms. How much effect they can have on people’s wellbeing and how dangerous it can be using social media in the wrong way. Influencers especially have a huge responsibility in social media.”
The Importance of Spreading Positivity as An Influencer
“It’s slowly becoming more supportive in ways and more positive messages are being spread, but it needs to be pushed more aggressively. The positive messages have yet to outshine the negative ones and there are still huge issues with online trolling that we need to tackle. Everyone who has any influence on social media should make a point to spread positive messages and lovingly correct anyone who is spreading hate.”
A lot of teenagers today aspire to be influencers, which leaves them open to being followed by anyone. I ask, when you don’t have control over who follows you, how do you create a positive following?
“I think it all comes down to embracing who you are and sticking to that. The way I act towards others, encouraging them to grow and supporting other people online by promoting their content, I would hope it inspires other women to do the same.
“I don’t like to say anything negative on my page, especially when it comes to brands. I would never complain about anyone or anything on my platform. If I had an issue with someone I would say it privately. I feel like if I don’t promote anything negative then I can’t spread any negativity.
“Some people don’t agree, thinking as long as it’s honest its ok. But I would rather be honest about the good things. If a brand gives you something, they’re taking a leap sending you this for free, so it’s costing them. My opinion on something might be very different to someone else’s. I don’t feel like it’s necessary to go online and say ‘I don’t like it because of X, Y and Z. If I don’t like it I’ll send it back with honest feedback, privately. Then I’ll use my platform to promote the things I do like. Businesses should have respect for each other. We’re all out there hustling together.”
Would you recommend this as a career?
“Yes, but it’s not as easy as people think it is. A lot of people think if they become an influencer, suddenly everything will start to happen for them. There’s a huge graft that goes with it and the environment is vastly competitive. It’s important that you find your niche in social media, whether it’s beauty, fashion, gaming, memes, find a community you can grow in and make sure your content is specific to that.
“But most importantly, be yourself. You’ll only make things a lot more difficult if you try to copy someone else. Authenticity is the key.”
What does success look like to you?
“Success looks different to everyone, but for me it’s just about being content. Your business is ticking away nicely, you’re busy, you have a great relationship with your family and friends, just being content.”
What’s next on the cards?
“It’s still very early days as a social media manager so hopefully in the next year I’ll be able to take on more clients and build out the business. I’ll be launching a new website soon, which I’m very excited about.
“Once I launch the website I’ll be writing more about my journey in business, specifically how to grow one using social media and Instagram”.
To learn more about Sersh Meenaghan:
Article written by features editor Ciara Louise Glover
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