Word of mouth has long been considered the most powerful marketing tool. Whether that is your neighbor telling you where he got his new grill, or Kylie Jenner telling us her favorite new mascara. We are naturally more likely to trust people that we know, like and identify with. We also look to those people to help us make buying decisions. This same reason is why websites like Yelp, Angie's List and other recommendation sites have flourished in our internet society. Over the past few years, that word of mouth arbitrage has spread to social media where the word "influencer" has taken on a whole new meaning. Today's influencers are no longer on television or radio, instead, they live on our cell phones on an app called Instagram. Why Instagram and not the other social media channels? You could certainly make a case for Facebook and Twitter, but Instagram is the platform most native for discovery. Instagram’s popular pages and hashtags are made for discovering new people, making product and brand promotion even more effective. These influencers have become increasingly popular to brands because their large, engaged audiences genuinely care what they have to say. That's what has made influencer marketing the biggest marketing trend in 2017 that only projects to get bigger in 2018. Long gone are the days where people joked that social media followings "meant nothing," and no longer can we diminish the value of popularity. All of this because people are finally beginning to understand that followers (as long as they are genuine followers) equal attention. Consumer attention is the number 1 asset in our society because attention is how brands can move the needle! If there was any doubting the ROI of Instagram influencers, consider the endorsement Kylie Jenner made when she posted a photo of her wearing Fashion Nova apparel, a middle-priced fashion brand whose mantra is that you don't have to spend a fortune to look great! The promoted photos received millions of likes within days and Fashion Nova has reported six-figure sales from those promotions. That is the value of attention! So when did Instagram transform from a fun place to take photos into a marketing mega-hub? We had a chance to ask Sophia Pierson, who has amassed over 420,000 followers on Instagram alone. "I started taking Instagram seriously about 2 years ago. I would receive a lot of DMs from companies offering free product/clothing, but it was always awkward because there was no clear communication of posting it on my page in exchange. Eventually, I came up with some rates, and the more I negotiated with the brands, the more I figured out an appropriate price range." That's the interesting dynamic of influencer marketing and part of the reason it has taken so long for big brands to come around on its value. There is no black and white R.O.I. Unlike Facebook or Google Ads, where there are clear conversions, often times sales from influencers come over time as the photos and content are discovered at different points in time. In fact, some may purchase right away. However, some may not see the post for weeks, some may see the post right away, but not purchase for months. Yet, influencer ads are working and big brands are starting to notice which has led Sophia to creating a full time business directly from Instagram. "I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities because of it! To name a few -- working with Marciano/GUESS and a ton of other big names has been great. I did a season of a reality show on E! network (WAGS), and I've generally met and connected with a lot of cool people because of it," said Pierson. Instagram has created such a buzz for Sophia that she decided it was too much to keep up with on her own. So many brands and general requests started coming in that it was just too much so she decided to hire an agency to sift through all of the requests. "The reason I mostly use my own representation/manager is because I bring in the revenue just by having that email in my bio with a number of followers I have, but being with an agency has also been great to feel like a part of a team, they also provide tons of opportunities for influencer events and gifting. Sometimes the pay can be greater with agencies since most companies have a set rate they’ve already approved before going to the Instagram agency for models." We can save the question of agency or self-representation is another conversation for another day, but what is clear, is that big brands are starting to recognize the power of influencers like Sophia. While the attention can be great at times, that amount of followers certainly has some downside. The most interesting part of our conversation with Sophia may have been her insights into the internet "trolls" and crazy things she encounters on a day to day basis. "I don't think people quite understand how many messages and crazy things you see on a daily basis! After doing reality TV it really numbed me. I wanted to delete social media for a while but couldn’t because it’s my career and my passion, and it would only make things worse. I had brands counting on me for the best possible optimization, and because the photos look good people assume I’m doing good and can handle the hate," said Pierson. "It always sucks but I’ve learned that as long as you are happy in your life and fulfilled, nothing can bring you down. Lately, I’ve been so positive and focused on myself that I can’t even see the haters anymore. I’m very intuitive, and if I sense the slightest bit of negativity I’m out. They don’t deserve my energy. I just have to do what’s best for me, no time for anything else." While life as an influencer appears to be all sunshine and glory, it's not without the price of having to gain thick skin. Sophia, much like so many of the influencers we have spoken to, has had to learn to deal with the bad along with all of the good that comes with being an influencer. Influencers like Sophia are continuing to thrive even with the negativity from internet naysayers, and why wouldn't she? She is thriving and following her dreams. To think, a dream like this didn’t even exist 10 years ago, but we’re certainly glad it does now!