The Inside Scoop from an OG Influencer

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly curious about the world of influencer marketing, especially the perspective of the online personalities who have taken it from a buzzword into a billion-dollar industry. That’s why I decided to go straight to the source and reach out to long-time YouTube personality, content creator, and podcast host Lexie Lombard. A few days following her glamorous 28th birthday, we had a chat about the early days of influencing, brand deals, and what agencies might not know about life behind the camera.  

How long have you been on social media? When did you start making money for content creation? 

I began posting videos online back in 2010, maybe 2009. I was in middle school, had sort of dipped my toes into the water in sixth or seventh grade, far before this industry came about. My personal audience was on grown on YouTube, and then I created a Twitter and an Instagram account for my subscribers. I had created those accounts before any friends had had them. The only thing I was using on a personal level for social media was Facebook. Everything else I was doing online was for me, my Internet friends, and my YouTube and social media audience. It was niche at the time. I began making money from it when I was 13 or 14 years old, and then I was financially independent as soon as I left the house. I’ve been a full time, social media content creator since I was, I guess, effectively 18 years old, but technically, since I was 15 or 16. 

What kind of brands do you see succeeding on what platforms? How have brand deals changed over time? 

When I first began posting on YouTube, some people weren’t even creating content on a camera. It was MacBook Photo Booth videos. The idea of someone like JuicyStar07 at the time… she had sponsorships, but you couldn’t even tell. It was so early on. You wouldn’t know which [beauty product] was sponsored and which one wasn’t. And then in the second [wave], with MacBarbie07, it would be, “I partnered with JC Penney for this video to show you all of my favorite summer…” It was very much a commercial. She was creating a world, whereas my first experience was the girl next door in her bedroom. [Second wave YouTube beauty gurus] were creating sets in their homes to create a world of girl next door. 

We didn’t know how to integrate sponsors into YouTube videos. You felt like you had to keep it a secret, because you didn’t want it to seem too much like a commercial. I love that we’re now in a space where a creator will say, “let’s take a break for today’s sponsor,” and we have a little minute for that.  

But I understand from a brand perspective, if they’re looking for more integration, they don’t want to have someone take a break from the video to thank today’s sponsor. That’s why I think the best brands for influencers to work with are the ones they’re naturally talking about already… it’s just a matter of brand alignment with each individual person. 

What should PR agencies and brands know about approaching an influencer for a brand deal? 

The first thing I think brands should know is that it’s really rude to ask someone to make content about a product in exchange for simply the product. There should be some sort of compensation.  YouTube videos take time, it’s not worth just some coffee beans to do this. It doesn’t even matter how small the creator is because the time to create the content is still time. That is work, and they should at least offer affiliate [commission].  

I’m not personally interested in affiliate commission because I’m not really a product influencer. I’m much more of a public diary. I’m not trying to push products on anyone, I’m much more just offering ideas and thoughts. For the people that are constantly showing products in their content, bare minimum: affiliate. 

Thankfully, there are agencies and managers that have come into the mix to help creators make sure that they’re getting the worth that they deserve, or at least just get paid for the work. Of course, there’s exceptions to the rule. But 9 times out of 10, if you’re creating content, you should be paid for it. 

Do you have creative freedom with brand deals? Do you enjoy that? How does that vary from platform to platform? 

Brands want you to promote to your audience the way that you would best do it. If they’re trying to advertise a certain product, they might have little points that they want you to make, but they don’t care how you do it. I’ve yet to see a brand in the last five years really demand something super specific. They’ll demand the amount of content they want, but that can be as specific as it gets, which I like.  

But then, on the opposite side of the same coin, I love not having to think for a podcast ad read. It’s so systematic, and sometimes that’s nice. Where a brand says, “You advertise to 24- to 36-year-old women. That’s our audience, too. This is what has been working for our podcast, read this one, and you’re good to go.” And I’m like, “Perfect, this makes sense for everybody.” 

It’s good that there’s both. There’s a lot more creative freedom than there has been in the past.  

Have you ever had issues with brand deals not performing well, as in below your typical engagement? How have you handled that with the brand?  

Sometimes you’ll be asked for a make good. Let’s say my Instagram stories always get 20,000 views. And then, for some reason, the day that my Instagram story went up it only got 4,000 views. They were anticipating purchasing 20,000 views, so they might ask from a make good, or my management might say to throw them another story post or two. Typically, Instagram stories are simple and don’t take much time, so it’s not a big issue.  

But there was a period of time around 2018, 2019 — I’ve separated myself from this, but it could still be around — where view guarantees were becoming typical in YouTube sponsors. I hated that, because you just don’t have control over what is going to perform. You wouldn’t get paid the full amount if it didn’t reach the full view guarantee. I stopped accepting those, it wasn’t worth it.  

How else has the influencing space changed, especially with shifts from YouTube to TikTok and other short-form content platforms? 

I’ve been around for so long and have seen so many different eras. Friends of mine that built their audience since COVID, their timeline of social media is so short and so different, where they’ll talk about the 2020 era, 2021 era, and 2022 era. In my head, that’s all chunked into one era.  

With TikTok though, there are such big trends even within 6 months. Creators blow up in such shorter amounts of time that create phases that I almost feel unequipped to speak on. These girls are thinking of [influencer and brand events, experiences] from such a business perspective. Because I entered the social media world as just a girl in middle school and high school having fun, I’m not thinking of it through that lens. I’m almost trying to swap now that I’m a young adult, to that thought process of, “Oh, wow! There are so many opportunities of content to be created.”  

Favorite platform to post on? 

Day to day, I like Instagram the most.  

Favorite brands to work with? 

I love working with ThredUp. They’re so easy to work with, they’re so generous. Another brand I love working with is Halfdays, they’re a skiwear brand. They’re a higher price point, but they’re very personality driven. 

Dream brand collaboration? 

I would love to work with Nike again, because they have so many sectors that are fun and fashion-forward. I would also love to have my own guided run on the Nike Run Club app 

Posted In