Influencer Chris Chung is no newbie on how to brand yourself and use Instagram for building your self-image and brand. I spoke to him about building a followers base, content, staying authentic, creating paid collaborations, and the difference between the markets on three continents.
On Social Media Between the US, Europe & Asia
Chris, one thing that I find interesting about you is that you’re based between London, Hong Kong and LA. Could you tell me a little bit about the differences when it comes to how people use social platforms in these cities?
The differences are largely driven by culture. London is more artsy, LA is sunshine, it’s white and bubbly, people are active. LA is the Coachella setting – it’s very white and pink. You can’t do the sam thing in London. If you’re in London, you have to win your own way how to do it [the content], not to mimic but do something you would enjoy creating, using the settings that are available.
A lot of people obsess about their feed. But it’s impossible to recreate what they’re [people in LA] making because it’s not assessable. An average London street will have bricks and certain kind of shop windows. Of course your grid will look different in LA than in London.
What are the restrictions in China? I know Facebook and other platforms are banned in the country, but is the market interested in Facebook and Instagram?
Facebook is not in China, only in Hong Kong. People log in using a different VPN. VPN businesses in China are constantly being shut down. A lot of other sites are being blocked – like Google, it’s blocked. It’s quite a bit of a hassle to keep up on the global scale.
People are not that interested in Facebook because we don’t have Facebook, we use Weibo and WeChat. All the celebrities are on those platform, you can interact with them the same way. We have verified accounts, streams, everything works, but in a Chinese kind of way.
Do people feel isolated?
In LA we have A-listers – actors like Angelina Jolie, B-liststers with models, C-listers… In China they have up to 7 to 8-listers. Of course there are known celebrities. The community is very very busy. Businesses in China respect global businesses and they’re looking for a bridging factor – if you don’t understand the language and the humour you can’t expand in China. My company runs their social because they can’t do it.
How does WeChat work?
WeChat is ahead of the times. It’s so integrated into the daily lives of Chinese people. You use it to pay for a taxi and services. When there’s a Chinese new year, we get this red pocket with money – today you do it with your phone. With WeChat I don’t need your phone number, we scan an ID or use a QR code. You can’t take it away. We don’t even exchange phone numbers anymore. There are no phone numbers anymore. If everyone is connected to this, you must be there. Everyone’s attention is there on the app and you can use it towards your advantage for promoting and branding.
On Things You Didn’t Know About Instagram
You started your Instagram account about three years ago with a simple idea. You wanted to find out if it was possible to post on a social platform, have fun and make money off it. I suppose the word “influencer” wasn’t that common at the time but you picked up on it quite intuitively. Can you tell me what was the hardest thing for you in the beginning about being an influencer?
When I started three years ago, I struggled finding my own lane within Instagram. Figuring about what works best for me. The way I work with content or content curating is that I work backwards and I “reverse engineer”. If you scroll down a bit you would see all things white, it’s just about playing around what works best. A lot of people use Instagram just to keep up with friends and family, but in my case, there’s a purpose for every post. I’m currently working on partnerships so I’m taking steps that way. I choose to showcase that what co-lines with my branding.
It’s a lot harder to create without seeing where you want to go. That’s why working backwards work. If I want to work with Gucci, I need to see who’s working with them, who are those people – a stylist or a blogger, or someone who knows someone. I look at how many followers they have, what their content looks like.
I love Gary Vaynerchuck. He kinds of documents his life, he doesn’t create content.
I see what you mean – what he does looks effortless, the content is made around his life, rather than on top of what he does. I suppose that’s what most of us, especially the beginners, want to achieve. What would you suggest to someone who wants to start their Instagram account or become an influencer?
You want to find a way how to duplicate [content first]. I think the best way to do it is to look at the person who already does it. You need to kind of obsess about how and why he does it. You have to start copying his methodology and why does he read what he reads, and watches what he watches. When you learn that you can start to originate.
I couldn’t agree more with this. I discovered this with all kinds of creative work, from writing to content creating for social media. And I used to do it it – the best way to start is to look at what others do, adapt what works for you, replicate it and add your point of view until it becomes your own. Your content is a nice blend of lifestyle – fashion, food, travel. Why did you decide to focus your profile on these three topics? How do you as an influencer make a choice on what content to post?
It depends on what do you have an actual interest of. Obviously it’s hard for me to talk about makeup. I don’t care about it. You have to care about it. Fashion and lifestyle is something I like and people get paid absurd money to get paid for creating content.
The way I think about it is that I want to make money off it, then let me do that. I’m a big foodie and my girlfriend is a food blogger. And I much more prefer to get paid and then pay for the food. My goal is the get paid the most, the quickest, whilst creating the content I like. It has to work for both sides. I get paid doing something I like to do.
On Influencers & Influencer Marketing
Is that what influencers care the most about? Good offers from brands? Or do they obsess more about content and the number of followers?
That varies between each person. Some obsess about their feed, some about numbers, some about how much their charge. It depends at what stage their are.
How would you level influencers?
The amateurs obsess about the numbers, the feed. But then without certain numbers you can’t do the job. The numbers help but I think once you get your first 5, 10, 15 jobs, you begin to understand the market. I’m getting this tier from companies and then I have to move up and it becomes a deeper level of content creation. If you want luxury kind of branding, you need to look at every detail. The brands you buy, the restaurants you go to. It’s all about the detail.
I think 10,000 followers is the base when you can start to charge. Once you get to 50,000 and 100,000 you get more say and you get to do do more what you say. I do Instagram more as a branding and self-promotion tool. Not like “I want to be on Instagram”. But this way I don’t need to chase a job every single week, this is a way I get to meet people and it’s a way how to break the ice before a conversation – a way how we met, for example.
I enjoy doing a lot of jobs on Instagram. The jobs I’m getting it’s almost like a bonus and then you get to meet celebrities, have dinner with them and that develops my brand further.
When I work with agencies, they can see something like, “Chris works with the three top brands” – so who are they to say I’m not good enough? It’s not only enough about wearing the shoes. Social proof is super important. If they were there with Paul Smith, you must be somebody. That’s why content curation is so important when it comes to building a brand.
What’s the difference between those who make it as an influencer and those who don’t?
Good content, original content, and consistency. It’s very basic but if you do it it will just work. Nothing works easy. It takes hours, practice, understanding how it works. There are small tips and tricks how you can manipulate it – you can even buy followers. But it’s kind of stupid to make, it costs a lot of money, and it’s not really cool.
How does verification help?
Verification comes for a branding. If you get a chance to get it, it’s definitely worth it. It convinces a client. It gets the talk.
How would you describe the current situation of influencer marketing?
I think there’s a big thing about people not getting paid well enough. I get it from business stand point – it’s only going to get bigger. Brands will say I don’t have to pay you, I can get 10 other people with 10K followers to post about a product. Those people who accept these jobs hurt the market. That way influencers aren’t able to create the best content if they can’t even put food on their table. It is an issue.
That’s why influencers complain that goods don’t pay the bills. It’s hard to find the balance. The term influencer marketing has grown over 400% on Google over past three years. You can see the shift in how people understand the term and it’s becoming more and more competitive.
The problem is there is no guideline for how you charge. People then undercharge themselves. Then someone else comes in, someone who knows what they’re doing and ask more. It’s not like they’re trying to hurt the industry, they just don’t know. That’s why original content means so much. Top bloggers – if they take a picture of this then everyone does. And then it stops working. So you have to keep it original.
How does it work – as an influencer, would you approach first or do you get approached?
I used to do that when I was smaller. I would make relationships with agencies, then you make contacts, and then it’s a snowball.
On Keeping It Authentic
A lot of people talk about branded content and influencers, and that it’s not authentic. How do you deal with that? How do you do promoted content and still keep your followers happy?
You have to produce content that’s good. You have to be smart and that’s why you have to be original.
What was it like for you to start posting pictures of yourself?
A little bit weird for the first couple of pictures. Because I had friends and family following me, so it was kind of weird. They were like, “stop acting, Chris”. Now it doesn’t bother me that much. Once you start to do it it goes away in some time. Then everyone knows what you do.
Any personal accomplishments you’d like to mention?
Yeah. Nothing really.
I love how approachable and humble you are. Do you find it that influencers with a big number of followers are this way too?
I have friends with couple millions followers and they would be very authentic. Sometimes you get those people who are not approachable. It doesn’t happen as often as you would think. They might look mean because how they look in the pictures, but they’re just human.
Do you ever have “bad moments”? Something that stops you from doing the work?
All comes to how bad you want it. If you’re stopped because today you feel bad, then you don’t want it bad enough. Today everyone is being so lucky. You can make money to click this thing [Chris points out to his phone]. It’s good to plan breaks from time to time but you can’t be breaking this pattern all the time.
Chris Chung is a 22-year old, fun-employed influencer and entrepreneur. Follow him on Instagram to see his take on fashion, lifestyle, and food.