Follower Forever

Maria Astor has over 200,000 followers on Instagram and is one of Germany’s best-known influencers. She’s a professional blogger on various social media under her pen name Masha Sedgwick, discussing fashion, beauty, travel and her personal experiences. We caught up with this Berlin blogger and talked about the ‘influencer’ business model and why it pays to take (and blog) the rough with the smooth.

At Ambiente, Masha Sedgwick leans on a plywood wall smiling.

Doing it as a sideline wasn’t working. Masha Sedgwick stopped studying business and devoted herself to blogging full time. She became better known and attracted the attention of many brands. Masha became a pioneer in the world of German influencers. She now has a presence on many different platforms, plus her own podcast. Her followers come with her to far-off lands and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion world. Masha was born in 1989 and now earns her living from ‘editorials’, i.e. series of images in which she wears particular clothing, as well as affiliate marketing where she earns commission from product linking. We ask about the key to generating both followers and income.

Hi Masha, what’s the secret of achieving success?

“Firstly, it’s having the right network. Secondly, it’s the influencer’s most valuable asset – authenticity. To achieve that, it’s better to be critical than to say everything’s good all the time. If you do that, you don’t stand out and people soon get fed up. If you want to stay relevant, you need to take a clear position and show the rough along with the smooth. You need to make yourself irreplaceable: people follow me because of my opinions. Charisma and a cool attitude can help you become well known. These are both attributes that come from within, not so much from your external appearance.”

How important is it to be international?

“My main market is Germany, and that’ll be the case for as long I’m based here. The rule seems to be: where you’re based is where your followers will be. In Germany people hold back with their likes, they seem almost miserly compared to the USA for example, where social media etiquette is more embedded and the culture of likes is seen as something to celebrate.”

Do you see yourself as a service provider or an artist?

“More as an artist. But others see themselves as service providers and do very well out of it. Not everybody has the potential to be an influencer. And why is that? Well, not everybody wants to attract public attention and not everybody wants to be on show all the time. Besides, cool style is not something you can learn. With photography, you can of course learn the techniques, but you either have an eye for a photo or you don’t.”

Masha Sedgwick being interviewed at Ambiente's Flamingo Café

These days even teenagers are itching to be rich and famous with a wide reach. It seems easy to advertise things casually, almost incidentally, and now countless self-appointed influencers and brand ambassadors are swirling around on social media. Some of them are mocked for showcasing their beautiful lifestyles 24/7.

“It’s up to the individual who they follow. Some people consciously decide to follow clichéd accounts and people with no rough edges. It’s up to each person to reflect on their own behaviour. All of my posts are conscious decisions to go against the mainstream. I’m sure my life would be simpler if I only posted selfies and showed a lot more skin. There are some women influencers in the gaming and tech sectors who aren’t particularly popular and have very few followers. They don’t have the same reach and therefore also have a lower profile. It’s more a reflection on society than it is on these influencers.”

Is it true that superficial issues make a bigger splash?

“That’s not my experience. I get a lot more feedback on personal and emotional posts and images. I’ve also noticed that on Instagram, mainstream content is generally better received.”

Influencer marketing, where companies work with opinion-formers in the world of social media, is increasingly viewed as the only show in town when it comes to disseminating commercial information effectively. Masha Sedgwick can see why.

“It’s easier to measure success than it is with a print advertising campaign. It’s also easier to target influencer marketing to particular groups. That’s what makes this online marketing discipline so attractive – brands should be using it much more. It’s not like it was in the past. Now it’s not reach that’s key, but the influencer’s engagement – how they position themselves, their target audience and the interaction they get.”

Mandatory labelling of advertising

“As an influencer in Germany I still feel there’s a lack of legal certainty about this. That’s why I label everything as advertising, otherwise the VSW social media association will be hot on your heels. Before I labelled everything, I was much more transparent and relatable.”

Hype always comes to an end. Is that what will happen to the influencer market? It certainly seems to be saturated and therefore confusing. Which influencers will still be worth millions in future? And above all, which channels will tomorrow’s influencers be using?

“In future, influencers will need to expand beyond Facebook and Instagram. Smaller, more specific networks will have greater potential. There are already many networks with very active communities, but influencers often overlook these. One example is TripAdvisor. Tomorrow’s influencers should operate on several of these networks. And where people used to have blogs, they now have podcasts.”

There are different theories about how influencing will develop in future. One is that in a few years’ time, there will only be authors’ collectives.

“I can’t see that myself. In the past, collectives tended to fail. Major influencers will still mainly work alone – although they won’t gain the same visibility and prominence. It’s a bit like the supermodels in the 1990s, who were so well-known we only used their first names: everybody knew who Claudia, Cindy and Naomi were. Today you’ve got Kylie and Chiara – people know straight away that they’re fashion bloggers. Strictly speaking, however, the era of just a few, elite influencers is over. In today’s increasingly diverse market it’s no longer possible to grow and gain global recognition quickly.”

Thank you for the interview!