By now, we have all heard about Essena O’Neill and her dramatic departure from paid social media influence. While no one could (or at all should) fault O’Neill for making her own decisions about her future, and few of us can imagine having been sixteen and expected to make informed decisions about our relationship with a corporation, there are ways to be a paid influencer without giving up what’s important to you.

1) Define what lines you won’t cross

Whether it be an unwillingness to promote sugary drinks, to do things that make people feel bad about their bodies, or just to advertise a product you don’t believe in, figure out early on where your limits lie. A few hundred dollars simply to post a picture on Instagram can be difficult to turn down, but if you have effectively set your boundaries, you can more easily decide if you would be selling yourself out or not.

2) Be clear with brands where your boundaries lie

You are valuable to brands because people trust what you post. They believe in you and your content. The best way to protect yourself and your audience (who may become turned off if they feel you are no longer being real with them) is to be clear with brands what boundaries you have set. On the other hand, brands may simply not care, and may try to contractually oblige you to break your boundaries anyway. Thus, it should be a priority to:

3) Hire an experienced lawyer

Former Instagram Influencer Essena O'Neill
Former Instagram Influencer Essena O’Neill

It is incredibly important to have a professional to protect your integrity and interests when signing any contract. While it may seem drastic, especially in your first endorsements, you cannot adequately protect yourself if you don’t hire a seasoned contract attorney. Brands find you valuable, and will usually be willing to work within your boundaries if they care about reaching your audience. By protecting your boundaries early on, you can ensure a lasting relationship with relevant brands, and make sure your audience stays loyal.

4) Understand what is work, and what isn’t

Put frankly, it is miserable to have your personal life and professional life meld, especially when your professional life requires you to be connected. By actively differentiating pleasure from profit, you will be able to still enjoy your personal life while earning money as a social media influencer. This also requires setting boundaries early — what hours are you available for brands? Should they expect you to reply to every comment on a promoted post? Make sure your obligations are clear, and stay consistent. Also, know when to disconnect — go to the beach without your iPhone once in awhile.

5) Understand what it means to be paid

At the same time that is important to protect yourself, it is also important to meet your obligations. If you accept money for a service, you are making a conscious decision to work for/with a company. Most people have aspects of their jobs they don’t like — don’t let your job define you as a person.

Key takeaways

If you are working to become a paid social media influencer, set your boundaries early and legally protect yourself, just like any business development professional would do when making a deal with another company. Understand what it means to be in business, and know when to disconnect.

Lastly, if you don’t like what you are doing, don’t do it! Ms. O’Neill should be commended for making her own choices, and we should all stop bickering about what we think of said choices.

What is your advice for paid social media influencers to maintain a sense of self?