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March 26, 2023

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Influencers in Clark County use social media to turn hobbies into income, careers

By , Columbian staff writer
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Eddy Lopez has had success as a lifestyle influencer focusing on construction and home improvement.
Eddy Lopez has had success as a lifestyle influencer focusing on construction and home improvement. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

Jeimy Cruz is not in movies. She’s not on television. But people still recognize her when she’s shopping at Walgreens. Why? She’s an influencer.

Cruz runs her business, Couponing.Craz, primarily with large followings on Instagram and TikTok. She also, however, posts to her profiles on Facebook, YouTube and Telegram. Her niche: couponing.

“At first, it just started as wanting to do a creative outlet,” said Cruz. She started making YouTube videos. She had seen posts of people couponing to donate items to shelters.

“I thought it was cool,” said Cruz, a Vancouver resident.

“Once I started posting a couple of videos, they really gained traction.”

People started finding her and then she started getting comments.

“Hey, you helped me so much! I’m able to make ends meet because I’m able to coupon,” Cruz recalls reading in the comments section of her videos.

“That’s definitely what’s continued the drive for me.”

She decided to put even more effort into it. Posting every Sunday, when coupon deals are announced, she’s been able to grow her Instagram following and expects to break 100,000 followers in the coming week.

Between the brand deals and the monetized links and views, she could support herself. She keeps her full-time job at a bank, however, because she likes it.

Homeowner tips

Eddy Lopez is not your average lifestyle influencer. His focus is on construction and home improvement. Up until recently, he’s had a construction business. But he posted videos to TikTok and Facebook, as well, under the name EZ Home. His social media business shot up in the past year and a half since he started it, to the point where he put his construction work on hold to focus on social media instead. He’s even begun filming a reality series on YouTube.

“Being early and watching the growth, watching all the brands come on board, I noticed and I knew that this is something big, and I really need to focus on making more content,” said Lopez. At the time, he’d only been posting short clips on TikTok. He expanded to Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

“I would have never expected that, you know, just by posting short clips on social media that I would be able to — a year and a half later — be working with major brands and doing what I love but getting paid for it, as well.”

Lopez appreciates the feedback he gets on his videos, sometimes from first- time homeowners thanking him for his tips. But he also loves being able to make whatever content he wants. He can spend a day filming at a friend’s job site. He can offer to do a free home repair.

“I have full control over that,” he said. “It’s just more freedom. That’s, that’s what I love about it.”

Hobby turned career

Roxanna Gonzalez has lived in the area for most of her life. Now as a single mom, she’s raising her daughter here. But it wasn’t long ago, Gonzalez said, when her daughter was a baby, they were living in California and her baby’s father abandoned them.

“Four years ago, I was a single mom. I literally didn’t know how I was going to afford my mortgage,” remembers Gonzalez. “So now I’m just like, ‘Oh my god, I can make money on social media.’”

Gonzalez is a couponer. Her channel mami couponz appears primarily on TikTok and Instagram, but she has profiles on Facebook and YouTube, too. What started for her as a hobby, as it does for so many influencers, has turned into a business profitable enough that it matches the salary of her full-time job.

“I feel very grateful and blessed. Because it wasn’t like an overnight thing.”

The roots of her passion date back to those difficult days in California when she had to figure out how to afford diapers and formula for her daughter. And that keeps her going.

“I’m really at a place now where I can help other moms and I can share deals and help families,” Gonzalez added.

‘Brand partners’

So why are brands paying money to influencers? And why are consumers so drawn to their recommendations?

“Digital influencers can be tremendous brand partners because they’re tailored and personable,” said Shannon Riggs, a senior partner at FINN Partners marketing firm in Portland, in an email to The Columbian. “Influencers have established followings who trust them to share their perspectives and their content is original.

“By naturally weaving products into influencer content, consumers get a clear sense of how products and services can be put to use in their day-to-day world and in turn, brands receive endorsement from the influencer.”

For brands, Riggs added, it’s essential for brands to partner with influencers who share their values. For influencers, it’s essential they do the same.

“Influencers have grown their followings by providing real feedback to their audiences, they’ve established trust,” said Riggs. “By being selective on the brands they choose to align with, influencers can maintain their followers’ trust while serving as powerful brand endorsers.”

Board game reviewer

Richard Ham, who lives north of Vancouver, reviews board games on YouTube, under the name Rahdo Runs Through.

This is where he got his influencer status. He doesn’t offer traditional reviews; he records videos explaining and playing through the games and then offering his final thoughts on the games.

Board-game geeks across the globe love his content and his consistency in his reviews. He’s expanded his brand to also have profiles on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch and the BoardGameGeek website.

Ham was an early creator for YouTube. He’ll be celebrating 10 years on the platform this year. But for the first several years, he never took money for reviewing games. He says, however, he had somewhat mercenary aspirations from the beginning. After walking away from a profitable but draining job in the video game design industry, Ham needed a way to pay for all the board games he loved and wanted to try. Plus, he didn’t want to annoy his wife now always being home.

“I’ll just pick up a camera and start recording games, and kill two birds with one stone. I’ll keep busy and not be underfoot with my wife. And if the show takes off, maybe publishers might want to send me review copies, so I can keep feeding my addiction,” Ham recalls thinking.

Early on in the process, Ham held Kickstarter campaigns to afford the games he was reviewing. Eventually, however, publishers sent him games to review and checks. He’d always tear them up until the time came when he needed more money for his family.

“Fortunately, I started when I did. I stood out. I had a unique voice. I had a unique presentation style. I got in early. I built a fan base, and I have been able to turn it into a career now,” said Ham.

Ham’s found success being open with his viewers.

“If people feel like they know me, then they feel more comfortable trusting my opinion,” said Ham. Plus, he doesn’t review games that he doesn’t think he’ll like; he turns down nine out of the 10 games that are sent to him.

Boosting representation

Jae’Lynn Chaney runs her influencer company, Jae Bae Productions, with profiles on Instagram and TikTok primarily but also on YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

Chaney, who lives in Vancouver, started her first profile as a hobby in February 2019. But that summer, her account had picked up speed and her followers were growing in numbers.

“That’s when I really started to work with brands,” said Chaney. “And I started focusing on it from a business standpoint.”

By 2020, she incorporated her influencer business as a limited liability company.

“I was bringing in a significant amount of money. And I wanted to be able to really make it so that it was a brand, and that it was my personal brand,” she said. She even took on a business partner and now there are three people on her team.

Needless to say, Chaney’s social media-centered business has changed significantly since she incorporated.

“It’s definitely a lot more serious now,” she said. “We track our quarterly earnings. We do pay outs and things like that.”

In the last year, Jae Bae Productions has started to seriously look at performance and analyze how the company can do better and become more profitable. A majority of the company’s earnings come from sponsorships and deals from brands. Chaney has so far worked with 165. But Jae Bae also does affiliate sales and platforms pay her if her videos get a lot of views.

What drives Chaney, a plus size woman, to keep going with this business, however, is her mission to bring more representation for different body types.

“I really want to create representation for all bodies in advertising, because it’s not something I really saw growing up,” said Chaney.

“At the end of the day, consumers want real feedback and experience from people who share their interests, lifestyles or aspirations and that’s exactly what social influencers are delivering,” concluded Riggs.

“I always think about what are deals that I can promote that actually benefit people rather than, deals that I can promote that are just for the money or scams,” said Gonzalez.