INFLUENCER? INSTA-MUM? OR JUST ‘ME’?

BY CLEMMIE TELFORD, EMOTIONAL, MENTAL HEALTH, MOTHER OF ALL LISTS, MOTHERHOOD, MUST READ, SOCIAL MEDIA, THOUGHT-PROVOKING, USEFUL, WORK & MONEY

Mother of All Lists came about as a form of self-therapy. Getting everything down in list form helps me make sense of all the thoughts flying round in my head. And there’s been a lot flying around on the topic of The Influencer and transparency and integrity and professionalism of late. This is by no means an answer to it. But it’s my story and I felt the urge to share it. So here it is.

  • I never set out to be an Influencer.

  • Back in early 2015 (when the term didn’t exist) I set out to save my own sanity.

  • Motherhood had flipped my world upside down.

  • I’d lost my sense of self.

  • I had a limited supported network (first of my mates or siblings to have a baby, no parents around).

  • And had struggled to find my tribe.

  • And was desperate to find someone, anyone, who would just be honest with me and allow me to be honest with them about the madness of parenting.

  • i.e. how it can be the best but hardest but best thing ever.

  • How you can be obsessively in love with my child but still count down the seconds until bed time. And don’t get me started on the mixed feelings towards my body and husband….

  • ANYWAY, I digress. What’s this got to do with social media? 

  • EVERYTHING REALLY, because social media was the very thing that helped save me.

  • It begun almost by accident. I had been reading Clemmie Hooper’s Gas and Air blog, which lead me to Mothers Meetings, which at that time was taking place in a local pub in Nunhead, then later at Shoreditch House.. 

  • I went along to my first Mothers Meeting feeling gut-wrenchingly nervous. 

  • But left feeling elated. 

  • I felt like ‘me’, normal ‘me’, not a ‘just a Mum’, but a woman who also happened to have a baby.

  • Later I found the folks I met there on Instagram. Which was also first. Up until then  I was using Instagram to put dodgy hipstamatic filters and borders on pictures. Remember when that was thing? 

  • Still not knowing what I was doing, I started sharing glimpses of my parenting experiences online. 

  • Not the glossy ‘keeping up appearances’ version of Motherhood. The real bits: the mess, the temper-tantrums, the ugliness of nursing bras.

  • This may not sound radical. But at the time that stuff wasn’t in the public eye much (although unbeknownst to me the likes of @unmumsymum and @hurrahforgin and @scummymummies already existed).

  • The more truthful and open I was in my posts, the more truthful and open people were with me. I felt understood and it was brilliant liberating  to be connecting  rather than just hanging out alone with my thoughts and a baby for company.

  • I had found a community, a tribe, a village. In the digital sense but also in the real world sense.

  •  I loved that maternity leave. But after 8 months off work (and 6 months after launching my blog Mother of All Lists) I went back to work to my job as an advertising creative.

  • Though I was sad to be leaving my 2  boys, I was also excitement because I loved my job.  I loved using my brain. I loved working with brands. Also, most importantly, we needed to pay the bills.

  • Sadly, my return was laden with frustration both personal and professional.

  • Personally I couldn’t get the balance right. Either I was doing well as a parent and feeling like I wasn’t being the best employee I could be (although on reflection I was probably being too harsh on myself).

  • OR I was excelling at work but not giving my kids/husband enough of me.

  • I was awash with constant anxiety and guilt but unable to see a way out.

  • Professionally I was frustrated to be sitting in meetings listening to people talking about ‘marketing to Mums’.

  • The version of ‘Mums’ they described was the antithesis of the women I knew. 

  • These hip-young-guys in boardrooms were casting Mothers as oppressed housewives which couldn’t be further from the incredible ladies I was now lucky enough to call my crew.

  • This riled me. How could agency’s be earning the big bucks for ‘way making off the mark’ assumptions that wouldn’t work for the brand AND also damaged their audience in the process?

  • It proved to me, in a very real way, that the media are partly to blame for the confidence crisis that happens to Mothers. One minute you are stereotyped as a professional go-getter woman, the next you are type cast as a dowdy nobody who only cares about how much your little one slept/poohed that day.

  • Don’t get me wrong I am guilty of that chat too. But what those marketing folk didn’t understand was that Motherhood could be a huge part of you, but it didn’t define you. That having a baby doesn’t mean you lose your intelligence or humour or opinions or sense style. 

  • ANYWAY. While this growing sense of dissatisfaction was occurring within my career, my social media following was growing.

  • I hit 5k followers (which felt HUGE) and received my first ‘influencer brief’.

  • It looked exactly like the briefs I was receiving in the agency as a creative: split down into the usual way – an encapsulation of the market, the brand position and a sales proposition.

  • BUT the difference here was  a) I could answer it within my own time, not within the shackles of office hours. B) I got to talk to Mum’s the way I (they) might wanted to be spoken to. Which was particularly apt given that it was highlighting a gifting brands offering for Mothers Day.

  • The £250 I got paid felt like a jackpot win. From then #ADs came in dribs and drabs. But they were nothing more than a bit of fun and a great way to use my professional skills.

  • The blog was growing too. Receiving each new list from someone made heart skip a beatt. Hearing other women’s stories was (and still is) so interesting, educational and energising. I spent every night after work crafting and editing. A proper passionate project.

  • Day to-day my focus was firmly on my career. I had been promoted to Creative Director and am not ashamed to admit it felt validating and reassuring. Especially given that I had had 2 babies, 2 Maternity Leaves and was working flexibly.

  • Perhaps I was proof that you COULD have a career and a kid!!

  • But the joy soon wore off when I realised that there was no pay-rise to go with that promotion.

  • Worse still, a revealing conversation over dinner with peers, bought to light the fact that in fact grossly underpaid (about 40% less than male counter parts) for my role. 

  • From joy to absolute horror, embarrassment/anger. All the emotions.

  • I wasn’t a great example of modern motherhood. I was another example of the gender pay gap. 

  • The one blessing is that it gave me the motivation to FINALLY find a new job. After 5 years.

  • The universe was on side. 

  • I landed a role at Facebook. Stuff of dreams. I spent a year advising brands how to excel on social. With a particular focus on the retail sector and Instagram Stories.

  • The year was incredibly challenging; in the BEST possible way….

  • Facebook pushed me and mind to the limit. My social feeds were becoming more demanding. Again, in a good way.  I was pregnant for the third time. Again, very fortunate. BUT the 3 parts of my life were maxing me out. 

  • I’d occasionally get asked ‘how to do you do it all?’ (Which I could never help but hear as a back-handed criticism). 

  • Answer: I did it because I loved each bit. I felt like something was going to come of it all. Steve jobs talks about ‘the dots one day joining-up’. I kept following my gut and hoping that it would work out – ideally before I self-combusted with stress!

  • Facebook is the most wonderful employer. Not least because of the principles it/they instills in you;

  • DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT, FAIL HARD, BE THE NERD.  These things are plastered on the walls. You soon start living by them. 

  • Also the humbling realisation that NOBODY has all answers when it comes to the future of tech and specifically social. 

  • Things are moving faster. They change, evolve, iterate and are rarely static. There’s no time to rest on laurels or become the expert, because as soon as you do things have already shifted.

  • It also taught me that the ones who will succeed are those who are willing to take risks, to have a go and to learn from their mistakes.

  • The ones who stand at the sidelines criticising, thinking they know better, or being cautious will simply get left behind.

  • This is true of brands, of ad agencies and also people who like the idea of social media as more than a hobby.

  • So, here’s where I am at now…

  • I left my freelance role at Facebook at the end of 2017 to have my third baby Greta. And inspired by all the stuff they had taught me I made the decision to dive in and give THIS ago full-time.

  • Which is frankly terrifying. 

  • I have no salary. No guaranteed pay-check.

  • I have no senior management or role-models to look up to.

  • Now I am not only winging it as parent AND I have a ‘career’ that nobody understands too.

  • When asked what my job is I loved name-dropping Facebook. It came with such kudos.

  • As did saying that I worked top ten Ad Agency.

  • Same can’t be said when you can’t even but a title on what you do:

  • I am Creative Director-social Strategist-Blogger-soon-to-be Podcaster- Instagrammer-Mum-of-Three.

  • Worse still when it gets shorthanded to Influencer.

  • A term that make me shudder. Because it is loaded with such intent.

  • I started on social media to save myself. To make sense of my life.

  • And by all intents and purposes that’s still at the centre of what I do.

  • Frank, honest and open are the values I live-by on and offline.

  • Mother of All Lists exists to provide a space for women’s voices to be heard.

  • I have learned, been inspired and been empowered by social media and I hope my channels do the same.

  • Yes I do #ads.  That’s where my expertise lie. Marketing is my profession. And as consumer and follower I’d MUCH rather see those briefs go to Mum’s than line the pockets of big corporate agencies.

  • Yes I grab the opportunities that come my way with both hands. 

  • Why wouldn’t I? I am YES  person and proud of it.

  • Why wouldn’t I take my kids on trips and work with brands I love and admire? And have a go at using my creative abilities to make a difference?

  • But truth is I ask myself, and my husband, on  a daily basis if I am doing the right thing?

  • Have I made a mistake giving up a career to do this?

  • Have I made a mistake sharing so much of myself on a bunch of squares?

  • Have I made a mistake throwing myself open to constant judgement.

  • Have I made a mistake sharing my most vulnerable parts in the quest of hopefully helping others?

  • Have I made a mistake putting so many emotions, financial, creative, professional, personal eggs in one basket?

  • Because as we know there is no erasing the digital footprint. 

  • Also, having any type of public persona means that you have to take the rough with the smooth. 

  • And though I try my best not to read the threads on forums or take negative comments to heart. 

  • It does hurt. Course it does. 

  • There has been times where I have been left in tears or swallowed up in a panic attack because of it. 

  • You see, I absolute do not expect all people to like me.

  • I absolute do not expect all people to agree with me.

  • What a boring old bland world that’d be if we all were same, same taste, same opinions, same perspectives. No thank you.

  • BUT what I am not ok with is feeling as if I should apologise for making money.

  • I will not apologise for that.

  • I will not apologise for having a go.

  • I will not apologise for making a bunch of friends who online and sticking to them like glue.

  • I will not apologise for being a flawed human who is trying to learn on the job. 

  • It’s new. We are learning. I get it wrong.

  • I welcome the feedback.

  • But sometimes the contradictions are hard to navigate.

  • Be more professional but don’t lose touch with reality.

  • Be transparent but don’t rub things in people’s faces.

  • Keep providing free content but don’t dare suggest you want to try to find a way to pay your bills/put food on the table. 

  • And don’t get me started on the ’YOU’VE CHANGED’ comment. Damn right I have changed since 2015!! I have a new job. I have different coloured hair. I am at least a dress size bigger. I have a daughter. The list goes on and on…

  • I am not going to pretend to be the person I was in the beginning of all this. I don’t want to stagnate. I want to continue growing at 39, and at 69 and even possibly at 99. 

  • But as my social feeds have  grown so has the way I conduct them. 

  • Again, not because of an ulterior motive.

  • I just see it as progressing, evolving.

  • My feed has become a little more considered than the early days. 

  • First in terms of appearance. Because, well, how can I talk to brands about how best to communicate on feed if I don’t do it myself?

  • Also with more followers comes more responsiblity. To your audience. But also to your family. 

  • Of course, like every parent, I want to shout about my kids from the roof tops. I think they are THE most amazing, gorgeous, funny, brilliant beings that ever existed.

  • And already I feel glad to have documented lots of tiny moments of our life online, mundane but still precious things that might otherwise have been forgotten.

  • BUT I also never want them to look back and what I have shared and feel violated.

  • Because of this and for my well-being I have to put boundaries in place and consciously not share as much as I one might have done.

  • Which can mistakenly give the impression that my life is more exciting than it is. When the truth is the nuts and bolts of my life is still the same: trying to get the kids to bed, fighting a losing battle with the washing, being told I am crap at stacking the dishwasher, calling being home by 10pm a night out. These things are all the same.

  • The only shift is this is my job now (or part of it). 

  • And with any job you need to have the chance to NOT be working. Which means I can’t reply to every comment or DM like I once did. Not because I am arrogant or don’t care or have lost touch.

  • But because I am only a human. And my priorities are my kids, my marriage and my mental health.

  • You see, even though @clemmie_telford is a career I am still just a person not a public service.

  • I don’t owe anyone anything.

  • Yet, know this for sure, I NEVER take any of what has come my way for granted. I am humbled by gifts and the opportunities and the stages I’ve had a seat on and the publications that print my words.

  • I endeavour want to use my platform and to do good. And use my voice responsibly, as best I can.

  • I often think if all this went tomorrow, where would I be?

  • I’d be glad I gave it a crack.

  • I’d be SO proud that sharing my experiences of difficult subjects (mental health, disordered eating, financial crisis) has helped make a difference.

  • And, above all,  I think back to the ‘Me’ crying on a park bench with my first-born, not knowing who she was or where she was going and I know that woman would be amazed and thrilled to see where I am today. 

  • I also think back to the ‘me’ trying and failing to ‘do the juggle’ and feeling like I was failing at home and failing at work. All the while being hugely under paid.

  • I think back to those version of me and hand on heart think THANK GOODNESS FOR INSTAGRAM.

  • For not only allowing me to at least ‘try’ and carve out a life that works for us.

  • But for the people, the community I have met who have changed my life.

  • I am not an ‘Influencer’. 

  • I am not a ‘Insta-mum’.

  • I don’t want a label, or to be contained a ‘convenient box’.

  • I am ME and, as weird as it sounds, social media, has  helped ‘me’ feel more like the ME inside than I ever thought possible.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Sarah Tobin March 22, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Oh Clemmie this is brilliant. So well written and a documentation of success – both highs and lows that have brought you to where you are now. Flexibility and adaptability are key as mothers, expectations (mostly our own) aren’t met and we have to roll with it. I too found my community and tribe on Instagram after Alice died and it made me feel not alone, the messages from lovely people all over the world really played a part in helping me out of that depression. I’m doing something now to try and help others mainly because of what I’ve seen on IG – we actively need tools in our toolkit than we can rely on to help us manage our negative emotions, trauma and stress. I don’t think I would be doing that if it wasn’t for this platform. And just because I am attempting this now doesn’t mean I’ll be doing it in 5 years I hope to adapt and flex accordingly and say YES to opportunities that come my way. Well done for writing this – it’s very useful xx

  • Reply Winging it March 22, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    So in short you are having doubts about whether it’s advisable to live your life in public as a sort of digital mannequin in exchange for free holidays/ cash.

  • Reply Tiffany March 22, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Have to say to you that you are hands down amazing at what you do, and your honesty in your social post are so clearly genuine. Your posts have helped me so much with my confidence as a mum and just in general having confidence in being who I really am. I am so glad this is your main line of work at it because you are great at it! Keep trusting your gut and doing your thing and inspiring and entertaining the modern day mum.

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