Knowing someone before and after they became internet-famous can be like a night and day experience. One moment someone is your best friend, and the next, they’re obnoxiously pushing you out of the way of a photo for their “fans.” We see them all day on the internet, but what are influencers (or wannabe influencers) like in real life? These people shared their stories of dealing with “influencers in the wild”—and their experiences range from heartbreaking to infuriating to deeply disturbing. Proceed with caution!
I have a few friends who are small-time food influencers (30-50k followers) and eating out with them is a nightmare. I have to wait for them to position the food perfectly and then take photos of every dish from every angle before I can even pick up my cutlery. Sometimes if I’m lucky, they’ll involve me in the process and ask me to hold my phone flashlight above a dish.
My sister has tens of thousands of followers. We used to be best friends in high school and she was my favorite sibling. I’m number 7 out of 8 kids in my family, I know my parents are crazy. Now I feel like I barely know her. It’s like she’s this shell of the person she used to be. Seriously I’ve never met anyone who could make me laugh as hard as she used to make me laugh.
My friend is conventionally attractive, and if you look at her social media, you'd think she was a supermodel millionaire who goes on tons of trips. She's actually chronically unemployed and has an income of less than $10k a year. Her boyfriend makes about $60k a year which is enough to afford them a very nice 3 1/2-bedroom apartment.
She has tons of props she uses to make each room look different from day to day so it seems like she's always in a new, exotic place. They take two trips a year to fun, tropical places, in which she takes many photos, and posts them as different places throughout the year.
I dated an influencer. Not super popular, but they had followers in the 100k range last time we spoke. I remember getting ignored and only receiving nice gifts/acts of kindness when they could post about it. There were a lot of them asking me to go to nice places since they didn't drive, only to leave me on a bench somewhere while they took pictures.
It was a huge strain on the relationship, especially when they started to get bigger and there was more demand for content.
I worked with YouTube influencers in my last job with an agency that paired sponsors with these “celebrities.” I basically did the grunt work like ensuring hotels/plane tickets, getting coffee, running errands, and meeting with the talent to ensure they were where they needed to be, be it an event, conference, trade show, party, or whatever.
Over time you make friends with others who are in those positions, especially when you're running errands for some entitled pseudo-celebrity. The nicest Youtubers were the animators—always calm and understanding. The worst? By far, the worst was the family vloggers. I've met all the big ones & I never met one that wasn't a completely different person off-camera.
The kids are always spoiled and no one disciplines them so they're running around breaking things or acting like idiots, and no one can yell at them lest their influencer parents find out.
I post travel photos and have about two hundred followers. 200, not 2,000 or higher. My friend somehow thought that was influencer status and decided to copy me—except she quit her job so she could travel more and "grow her own brand." In 2020. She lost her apartment, her car, and still hasn't found a job, but calls herself a professional influencer all the same.
I’m friends with a high-profile athlete who is pretty popular on Instagram. He is always on the phone and never lives in the moment. If we are doing anything fun? Well, it basically didn't happen unless the world knows about it. It’s just annoying. I can’t imagine living for the approval or satisfaction of others.
This was my ex-girlfriend. I couldn’t eat before she took a dozen pictures. We went hiking and had to turn around less than a mile in, since she spent an hour taking videos and photos. She needed to post them right away, and the service connection wasn’t good enough, so we had to go back to the trailhead. She had to post or else “people are going to think I’m broke or depressed and they need to know I’m traveling.”
She lived her life through her phone.
One of my buddies is thinking he’s a social media influencer by constantly filming everything we do and posting it. Eventually, it went too far for me. People started to walk up to me on the street and ask me about him because they've seen me in his posts...I have no idea who they are. It dominates everything he does, and has severely impacted his personal relationships.
He can't keep a girlfriend and it's clearly related to this obsession of his. He does occasionally get some cool stuff out of it though. After pretty much kicking him out of my life because I do not want to be continually posted online, we came up with a solution. When he's about to take a pic or video, he hands me the phone so I’m not in the shot. It works fine for me.
I can relate. My closest friend is a social media influencer and now talks to me only when she needs to complain about something, for other things she has her followers. It really sucks. She doesn't even ask me how I'm doing anymore, just talks about herself and I don't really know what to do because somehow, I feel like I'm the one who's being egocentric here. What a mess.
My ex’s sister is an influencer in the world of beauty and makeup with over a million followers on YouTube. She was so anxious and stressed all the time. And, she’s horribly insecure. If she got some backlash or bad comments, she’d be so upset. She was on a lot of anti-anxiety medication. Meanwhile, all the posts are her looking beautiful and traveling, etc. She didn’t have many friends either—that I saw anyway. Just lots of fans.
One of my best friends dated a really Insta-famous guy. He invited us to his house for a Christmas party. This was when I realized how fake social media was. First, the guy didn’t have the car he paraded on social media. He leased it, took several photoshoots with it, then gave it back. On top of that, his house was in a different city than he claimed.
I don’t think it was for security reasons though. He said he lived in a very rich city, but his house was in a more modest area. He asked me to send him the videos I took at the party, posted them, and didn’t even tag me—and the reason why was utterly ridiculous. He said it was because I “didn’t have enough followers.”
The worst part was that all the social media people at the party just kept yelling over each other trying to make the next big joke…but none of them were funny.
Two of my distant cousins, they’re sisters, and are relatively well-known YouTubers. I remember the first time I met them, I was 9 years old and saw that one of them was fiddling with a program on her laptop. I asked her what it was, and she showed me her editing software. Thinking back, it was probably iMovie. She basically told me about how she records videos and posts them to YouTube, and that she had about 5,000 subscribers.
She was really passionate and excited about it, and it seemed like she could go on and on for hours. I don’t think she got paid a penny. I thought it was cool at the time but didn’t think much of it. Just a hobby, I figured. Fast forward almost 10 years, and she has nearly 9 million subscribers, lives in a beautiful house in LA, and makes more money than anyone else her age could dream of.
Her sister graduated college, but she saw her success and fell into the same “influencer” trap as well, because that’s where the money was/is. So they both “influence” full-time and have a whole team of people to do editing, assistant work, PR, managing, etc.
Not friends with any anymore, but I used to work in San Diego nightlife and I had to rub elbows with a lot of these types. I'm talking 1-6 million follower type girls who were brought into the club as promoters, back in ~2016 when 1 million followers was a big deal. The girls themselves aren't that bad. Some are crazy entitled, but for the most part they're there for business and SD is a small enough town that reputation matters.
The worst were the subsuckers. Other girls who had fewer than 1 million followers, who hung around to try and soak up subscribers and make contacts in the industry. Think of them as small-time actors who think they're a big deal just because they have a few pilots in production.
A girl in my homeschool group in middle school was always bragging about how her parents had a YouTube channel with thousands of subscribers. She was really arrogant about it and I didn’t enjoy spending time with her because she was a brat. The funny thing is, nobody ever believed her…until one day, I stumbled across a video of theirs while scrolling through YouTube.
Sure enough, they had thousands of subscribers. She hadn’t been lying, and I was shocked. Now they have well over a million.
I have a friend who has recently started trying to become one. It’s SO DUMB. She posts pictures of herself wearing barely anything. The pictures of herself come with captions that have nothing to do with the picture. She spends hours getting ready for her iPhone photo shoots and has little time for anything besides content creation. Being an influencer is pretty much against everything I care about and stand for, so I envision us slowly drifting further apart. That stuff is so stupid.
My sister was an influencer of sorts. She was on Instagram doing bodybuilding and was sponsored by a few protein shake companies. She didn't have mega fame or anything but did have friends in high places. She was one of those popular girls in high school and that persona carried on into her influencer career. She was very distant from her family and cut off most of her old friends.
The few times she did visit, she was very selective about who could be seen with her. She moved to another city to be closer to the bodybuilding scene, building up followers as she went. She dated some guy who gave her a lavish lifestyle for a bit—but it ended in disaster. He cheated on her, so she moved to the other side of the country.
She continued her bodybuilding but then decided she wanted to be a cop. They told her she'd never be a cop with a social media presence like that because too easy for the media to use it against her. I couldn’t believe what she did next. She went home, deleted every account that day, and went back. Now she's a cop and doing so much better in life than she ever did before.
All of her old personality is gone and I've never been prouder of her in my life. She's really nice now and spends her days being a small-town cop-out in the middle of nowhere.
I worked as an animator influencer for an educational kids' YouTube channel for a number of years. My boss was OBSESSED with views and subscriber count. A big part of one of my colleague’s jobs was spending hours trawling through all our “competitors” videos and channels, putting all their views and subscriber counts into a massive spreadsheet.
Last I heard he had fired all of his remaining employees and was making unboxing videos alone in his house that get hardly any views...
My cousin is a moderately successful Instagram model—and she absolutely hates it. She hates her fans and finds them all cringey and pathetic. She hates the drama and how PC it all is—in real life, she's very conservative/traditional. She only does it because it's the only way she can make money. She dropped out of school and endorsing products and taking pictures of herself is the only way she knows how to pay rent.
I have a neighbor who is a social media influencer. She actually uses her kids and behind the scenes is nothing like the happy pictures she posts all over the internet! She screams at them to smile and on one occasion, said, "I don’t give a care if you don’t like the juice! Just pretend and smile!" It’s all fake and I hate it.
One of my best friends growing up is a YouTube star now. We were roommates for a while too. he was the sweetest, nerdiest, most authentic person I knew, once mailed me $10 when I was saving for a concert and came up short. There’s just one problem. He’s still sweet and a nerd and authentic now, but it’s just like...I don’t know how to put it.
It’s like he’s trying to make people think he’s all of the things, trying to convince people he’s funny and nice...when he doesn’t need to convince anyone, he’s like that naturally. So it comes off as sort of trite and forced most of the time.
I’m not a friend of an influencer, but I am an “influencer,” I guess. I have 150k+ on YouTube. It was so much fun to start out with, but now all I feel is constant pressure. If I make one mistake, I could lose everything I’ve spent years building. I’m never sure whether new friends like me for me or because they want “clout.” Even though my content is focused on true crime, and not me, having that many people watch you and comment on your appearance, the way you talk, etc. can really mess you up.
It completely distorts your idea of self if you don’t find ways to step back. Having non-social media friends really helps bring you back to earth, and I try to treat it as if it’s a typical 9-5.
I don't know if this counts, but I work at a record company and artists are always coming in and out of our office. Well, one day I walk in on DJ Khaled screaming at this new girl. He was really yelling at her, telling her: "I got the number one album of the year, what do you have? You don't have anything." Not four minutes later, he's on Snapchat praising God and making inspirational speeches.
There is a very famous IG fashion/travel/family Instagram influencer that I know of. The now-wife met her husband while he was married with one young child and a baby on his way with another woman. Well, she had him show up to see his wife just after she delivered their baby and made him ask for a divorce—obviously, he was a huge jerk, and willing to do anything this woman said.
His first wife was in the hospital, recovering from a traumatic birth. Now he and this other woman live out this perfect life, promoting Hello Fresh and stuff like that. He says she’s never cooked a day in their life. She uses her stepkids and their kids for money/content. Everything is a professional photoshoot. It’s gross, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to recognize her in real life.
A friend of mine is an influencer in his own country on both Instagram and YouTube. Whenever he travels to my country for a meet-up, I become his personal photographer. Even a regular wall of my apartment requires 25-30 photos in various poses, let alone the meals we have. And the touristy spots are worse, so many pictures and poses. That said, he did teach me how to take better photos and train my eye for taking IG shots, which is good for my work.
He's not all bad, quite a friendly funny guy when he's not focused on social media. I'm just glad he doesn’t come to my country often.
My wife is an influencer in a particular niche. She’s not a mega-star but has a solid following with a high engagement rate. She mostly sticks to Twitter and YouTube. She doesn’t let it dominate our life and keeps her social media time confined to “work hours.” This took some learning, because we allowed it to bleed into our personal life at first, but calibrated for that work-home life balance.
I have a job that pays well enough, so she is free to pursue this without the worry of “Will it pay the bills?” This is very important, as influencer profits can be wildly inconsistent. She makes roughly the equivalent of minimum wage, plus we get a bunch of free stuff from some companies that we love. And we also regularly go to conventions for free and get to rub shoulders with some fairly famous people when we go. So, that’s pretty cool.
I know two relatively popular influencers for my region in the US. It’s super strange when I’m in the posts, knowing that 50k plus people who I don’t know might see my Insta handle if I’m tagged. They also act very differently online than in person. One of them is a fashion influencer and she is very shy and reserved in person so it still boggles my mind she is trying so hard to get followers.
She’s always complaining about the algorithm and talking to her “audience” like she has a celebrity status following, but would be pretty shy in front of a room full of people. Just entertaining and weird.
I had a friend who did YouTube videos and was pretty big in this niche community. It was fun for ten seconds…and then it was super cringey. I was so self-aware of everything I was doing, knowing I could be shared on YouTube. I got grumpy when she would pull out the camera so she wouldn’t film me. Some of her fans use to like me and tell her to hang out with me, so she wanted us to do videos more, but I would just avoid the topic.
Eventually she had a fight with my best friend and stopped hanging out with us. Then, to make it worse, there was drama in the comments of her stuff about why she wasn’t hanging out with us. It was so annoying. Thankfully, I was a quick phase in her video career, so didn’t lose much!!
I have a small group of friends who each have under 1 million but over 150k followers on Instagram. They definitely helped each to get there and have other “talents” than just influencing, which I think helps them stay down to earth. They are pretty normal about it all and can laugh about their “influence.” But when we all hang out, we’ll go on a hike or something and they will suddenly just stop whatever we are doing and life turns into a photo shoot.
I’ve been mid-conversation with someone who just completely stopped hearing me and started posing while her boyfriend somehow psychically knew it was time to start taking photos. My one friend has this “face” she makes where she squints her eyes and makes her mouth really big/weird and it’s truly hilarious and unsettling but looks good on camera. When “the face” comes out I know it’s time for me to take a walk and come back in five minutes.
I’m friends with the star of a reality dating show—he was only in it for one season, you can guess what one it is. I’m also friends with a fitness influencer. I knew both before they were famous. Now, it’s impossible to see them without their phones, constantly checking them for who knows what. They both seem disengaged from the present. The female fitness influencer has lost her understanding of phone etiquette, and everything is about a photoshoot now.
I went to Vegas with my close friend and her cousin a few years back and her cousin was flirty with everyone. She made out with a random guy at the club despite being married, and supposedly very in love. When I see what she’s doing today, I can’t help but laugh, knowing her dirty little secret. She and her husband get millions of likes on their couples' TikTok account. It’s so lame and phony to me. So many people gas them up for being “goals”…and I just cringe.
We met in college and hung out a bit after. We grabbed dinner a couple of times but mostly we were just going out friends. Anyway, one day we both independently go to a music festival with our respective crews, and I text her trying to meet up. She responded saying she didn’t think she could get me into the VIP section. I said I wasn’t trying to, just wanted to see her and watch a set together with the peasants. Her reaction was devastating.
She didn’t want to leave VIP. That’s when I knew the friendship was over. Anyway, she got a cute dog who became Instagram famous. Then eventually she took over the dog’s account and renamed it so it was all about her. She traveled a bunch, so the dog bounced around between friends. Last I heard, she completely ditched it and left him with her parents.
A family member of mine is a social media influencer. We've always grown up in church and they've always been kind of the reject of the people they were interested in. He wasn't shy, but just one of those people that no one really wanted to hang around. Fast forward to now, he has a YouTube channel of asking people on the street questions. Mostly...less than clean questions.
It's very strange to see people in their comments saying, "Wow, you have so much confidence," or "This guy picks up girls so easily," when I know the way he's acting on camera is all fakeness. Long story short, becoming an influencer changes people. It's not always in a good way. It's heartbreaking, to say the least.
My best friend has 200k (real) followers and uses social media as a platform for her actual career. I get occasional free stuff they don’t want to keep. That’s an upside, but there were plenty of downsides. The food would get cold when we went to a restaurant because they’d take so long photographing it. Making plans would turn out to be an event they had to go to, which they’d leave after 30 minutes, because they were so busy and had to work into the late evening.
She’d only post my birthday message on her private “close friends” list because my profile doesn’t push her business forward enough to say it publicly to her followers. I would constantly have to travel across the city to see her because her schedule was so busy. I played occasional photographer to snap a certain product in a certain place. I love her to pieces, but she’s definitely changed over the years, especially in the early days before all the usual selfie behavior was the norm.
It was frustrating hanging out with a social media influencer. I couldn't go anywhere without them wanting to stop to take videos or photos of literally EVERYTHING they did. The most annoying part is that a good shot takes time, so they have to spend anywhere from 5-20 minutes to get what they considered a good one. Eventually, I learned to just walk away and go do my own thing.
And these were just "local" influencers. I don't even want to imagine how annoying big-time ones are...
I know this is the odd one out, as he is more content creator than an influencer, but my friend is the best. He is top-tier and has stayed grounded. I actually work for him now, helping manage his “influencer stuff,” and he has a great fan base all while continuing to schedule time for things that allow his heart and mind to stay positively full.
Sadly, he suffers in some ways. He feels like he can’t talk to strangers as strangers anymore, but he recognizes these changes and actively works on them. I am so proud of how hard he’s worked for the following he has and how amazing he is at managing everything around it. I kind of feel like I’m part of the magic when I’m by his side and assisting on such a wonderful journey.
I have a former co-worker who has >100k Insta followers. She quit her job because she was making enough from IG to live comfortably. She hasn't changed, but I don't see the need to keep in too regular contact anymore, because I think being an “influencer” is completely stupid.
My cousin has like 900 followers on Insta and she thinks she's a model/influencer. Her only posts are her doing the same pose in front of a mirror with black clothes and dark lipstick every time. She has this diva complex, thinking she's above anyone else. It's infuriating.
I'm friends with a vegan fashion-type influencer. She's perfectly nice and all. Her work doesn't really change her behavior, I don't think, but I doubt that she's “influencing” anything at all. Here’s the worst part. She told me that her job as a postdoc researcher involves testing on animals. Vegan on Instagram by night, testing on animals for money by day. Go figure.
I know two social influencers. She is constantly farming her friends to supplement her hobbies under the guise of her being an influencer. Neither her nor her husband do anything at all to improve their financial situation and lean into being poor to guilt their social circle into buying their craft of the month. I just stopped buying in at some point.
I have a friend with 75k subscribers on YouTube in a language other than English. It used to be about their weekend getaways with nice drone shots. It was interesting. Then, it just gradually became about their lives…how interesting. She’s always getting her phone/camera out at sometimes random moments, which is super annoying.
So she's not so much an influencer anymore, but she acted as a recurring character in a popular enough TV show and she has about 23k or so followers on Instagram. This is up from about 140 before she was on the show, and she's not really changed too much other than more money. Occasionally she'll be paid to post about some clothes or some stuff, but really just more money and slightly less time.
My friend is a very popular influencer on Instagram and Tik Tok for her roller skating and her sense of style. Doesn't bother me because she's an amazing roller skater and has decided to fully not give a care and embrace her dream of being a "magical girl" (think Sailor Moon). She inspires the rest of our skate crew to record ourselves more if not for anything other than to show our progress.
My sister is an influencer and honestly, it hasn’t changed her. Most people don’t change if they’re truly passionate about something, most of the time they’re just happier. For my sister it was make-up, and now she’s really happy. Those who change aren’t doing something because it’s what they want anymore, it’s what the consumer wants. So just remember this: don’t let anyone change who you are.
I worked for a channel with millions of YouTube subscribers for 10 months. The on-camera influencer was a pretty decent person and we made some good work together. I worked remotely and sometimes I would check Twitter and Instagram to see what my boss was doing when I couldn’t reach him. I was offered a chance to move where they were at and live with them but declined. I sometimes wish I went…
I know a girl whose IG page is her job, she’s at 113k followers on Instagram. She’s a pretty chill person and when I asked her what she did for a living, she just said marketing. She doesn’t like to be called an influencer. A friend I went to high school with is at 100k on YouTube. She’s nice, very intelligent, and lively. She’s made a living off of promotions, commissions, and private consulting.
Another high school friend is at 13k on Instagram for shuffling, she just loves to dance and her page exploded. I dated a few women with between 5k and 11k followers on IG. One was a very beautiful woman, very fun to be with. If I ended up on their story, thirsty boys in the DMs would be mad, and we found that hilarious. One of them does film everything constantly, but videos were a bulk of her content so that made sense. It never really interfered with activities.
Fortunately, they all love what they do and don’t do silly things like take pictures with ice cream cones and then throw them away. I know these aren’t the stories you expect to hear, but that’s the people I know.
I used to be friends with a YouTube guy who’s got like 16mil subs. He was pretty chill, a smart guy who never spent any of his money as far as I could tell. He moved away when he hit like 8mil or something so I haven’t talked to him much since, but I was honestly shocked that being famous didn’t seem to change him much.
This one old friend of mine fell into the social media influencer lifestyle. She hasn’t come to anything I’ve invited her to in five years because she only goes to events that “further her business.” She regularly says things like, “We’re all using each other for something.” Sometimes she texts me the same exact thing word for word over a couple of days, and it’s obvious she just copy/pastes the same thing and sends it to all of us and then forgets who she has sent it to.
She still reaches out to me multiple times a year and claims I’m one of her best friends, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. I’ve told her as much, but she just says, “This is my life now, my business comes first and if you can’t accept that, then I guess you’re not a real friend.”
I was best friends with a girl who is now an influencer. She’s a genuine person but also lies, if that makes sense? She very much about “empowering women” and helping people accept themselves and build their confidence, which is a great platform! However, there’s something her fans don’t know. Some of the anecdotes she tells about “struggling with fitting in” when she was a teen are blatant lies.
She was insanely popular and every guy had a crush on her. I don’t want to undermine whatever internal struggle she faced, but when she tells stories about bullying in high school, they’re lies.
One of my best friends fell real far into Instagram, and for a few years, it was tolerable and understandable, albeit annoying and strange. Everything needed to be documented in specific ways, so lots & lots of photos, even if it took away from the moment. Fast forward a couple of years, and she gets engaged. Boom. This was the catalyst for the worst of the influencer mentality to come out.
I was in the bridal party, and it was a nightmare. No gratitude, just demands. She demands expensive trips and expensive parties and all kinds of things that were above and beyond the means of her closest friends. And all the demands were because she had a “following” and had certain expectations to meet. It was really heart-wrenching to witness someone belittle their best friend and maid of honor for trying to plan a sweet bridal shower because it wasn’t going to be at an expensive restaurant or art gallery. But it didn’t stop there…
It reached its peak for me when, after the in-state wedding became an expensive destination wedding, there was the demand for an out-of-town bachelorette party a few weeks before. I was honest and said I couldn’t afford the bachelorette. Mind you, I made about a thousand sacrifices over those months to afford what I could. I was promptly bridezilla’d. She told me I ruined the whole experience and that I was an awful, fake, inauthentic person.
It got so bad that the bridal party fractured and disintegrated. She lost two of her best friends—myself and the maid of honor didn’t even attend the wedding after all her behavior and blow-ups. We’ve barely spoken since. All so she could have an Instagrammable wedding that would look good for the few photos she ended up sharing of it. That’s not even the strangest part.
True to the weird re-written reality she lived in, she published a public “apology” on her blog for her followers and family that completely distorted and rewrote what happened. She painted herself as the victim, and it got her the sympathy points she was looking for. People really lose themselves when they create an artifice for social media. I learned a lot from her.
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