This is Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
In April, Kimberly Smith announced to followers of her blog, Penny Pincher Fashion, that after a decade of blogging, she had decided to retire.
In a post, Kimberly wrote that she had burned out of the industry once it shifted from traditional blogging to influencing primarily via social media. The industry is very different from the one she joined in 2011, and she said “the more that this industry has changed, the more I have found myself wanting out.”
However, in September, Kimberly returned to the blog with a surprise announcement. Instead of slowly fading her blog out, she had decided to let it live, with a new owner at the helm.
“Two months ago, I met Veronica and I knew she was the perfect person to take over the business,” Kimberly wrote. “I am thrilled to introduce her to you today as the new owner & author of PPF! She is going to breathe new life into the blog and pick up right where I left off.”
Kimberly had passed on her website, her Instagram, and its contents to Veronica, whose last name she did not reveal. Soon after, Veronica introduced herself to the Penny Pincher Fashion audience, writing, “my goal is to continue providing budget friendly fashion finds, outfit inspiration, and beauty ideas to you.” Veronica has kept the core focus of Kimberly’s blog, affordable clothing and budget finds, while putting her own face and spin on it.
Over the past decade, blogs and Instagram accounts have morphed from passion projects into small side hustles to bonafide small businesses, run by thousands of people all over the world. I have often wondered if we would start to see some people, clearly burned out by the frenetic pace of influencing, begin to retire, and if so, what would happen to their incredibly valuable businesses.
It turns out, just like any other small business, like a doctor’s office or a boutique, influencer businesses can be bought and sold. Influencers can also choose to just give away their business to a newcomer eager to try out the influencing game for themselves (it's unclear if Veronica paid to take over Kimberly’s accounts or what her social presence was before this).
This is becoming more and more common, as many influencers are choosing to step away or retire for various reasons. Taking over an established account is a much more enticing option than starting from scratch, as it can be extremely hard to build a new brand from the ground up in an increasingly competitive and crowded marketplace.
For many influencers, passing on their account can also be a way to ensure that their hard work lives on without them having to maintain it. That’s what happened with an account called @ReadLikeARockstar, which provides anti-racism resources and education for teachers, educators, and other advocates.
The account was founded by Naomi Simone O'Brien, an elementary school teacher, and she had amassed more than 100,000 followers by early 2021. One of her fans was Deonna Smith, an assistant principal in the Los Angeles area, who had begun posting about racial justice on her personal account in 2020.
Deonna told me that she first began posting on her private account to show people what the Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles were really like on the ground. Over time, she began sharing more and more resources for anti-racist education and began hosting Instagram lives on the topic. She grew acquainted with Naomi through Instagram. While Deonna’s posts would sometimes go viral, she never cracked more than 800 followers.
Naomi decided that Deonna would be the perfect person to take Read Like a Rockstar into its next chapter. In spring 2021, Deonna said, Naomi reached out to her and asked if she would be interested in taking over @ReadLikeARockstar. She explained that she was burned out from running her Instagram account and wanted to focus on other ventures. Deonna said she did not pay for the account and got it “no strings attached.”
Deonna decided that the account would be a perfect way to launch her activism into even greater heights. On June 1, they officially switched over the account. “Here’s to new beginnings,” Deonna wrote.
“Really it was meant to be because she was praying for a way out and I was ready for the next step in my journey as an advocate, thought leader and consultant,” she continued. “So here I am. Ready to learn and grow with you.”
Despite being excited about the opportunity, Deonna was nervous followers would reject her. However, she said, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Her audience has been into it, like they've been down, which is crazy,” she said. She also didn’t lose followers, as Social Blade data shows the follower count on the page has remained remarkably steady since her takeover.
Deonna has kept the spirit of the page while putting her own flair on it. She changed the name to her own, @deonnasmith, saying she wanted to allow Naomi to keep the “read like a rockstar” moniker. (Naomi now has a smaller following on a new account, @readlikearockstarteaching.)
The main change, she said, is that she and Naomi are different women, with different life experiences, so they present information in different ways. Also, she said, Naomi focused more on resources for teachers to use in the classroom, while she is more geared towards “coaching teachers...to become better as a whole” at anti-racism and recognizing inequities in the systems and institutions.
So what’s it like going from a normal person to having the attention of more than 100,000 people overnight? As crazy as you’d expect, Deonna said. She has had to navigate learning all sides of the business, from brand deals to dealing with a ton of DMs, on top of running the account and her day job (oh yeah, and she’s also a doctoral candidate). However, she knows all the hard work will be worth it. She hopes to grow her consulting business and continue her activism through the account.
“At the end of the day, it's challenging, but I do not regret it for a second because I'd be crazy not to take this opportunity to really do something to put my money where my mouth is,” she said. “This is what I care about.”
Deonna’s story is fascinating and a harbinger of things to come in the industry. People are slowly starting to recognize that being an influencer is akin to being an entrepreneur and that an established Instagram account, blog, and other online establishment is an asset with value.
As the influencer economy grows more mature and complex, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more and more of these deals.