Standing amid the reeds and staring pensively into the distance, Jordan Bunker looks every part the moody model, dressed head to toe in black – in direct contrast with the setting. Another image from his portfolio shows him in industrial environs, sporting a minimalist brown trench coat as he looks directly at the camera.
However, the reality for the 24-year-old is far from the glamour associated with the fashion world. In his pajamas in bed – he’s fighting a cold – at home, he shares with his parents in Leicester, Bunker says his set-up is worlds apart from the reflective street-style glossy shots of him kitted out in designers Paul Smith, Grenson and Joseph on his Instagram page, which has amassed 17,500 followers.
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“All isn’t how it is perceived on Instagram,” he says. “People assume I have a great life and everything is handed to me. I live with my parents, and I work from a desk in my room; it’s not like I have a separate working space or office.”
Bunker is one of a growing army of “micro-influencers,” social media personalities with a following of between 10,000 and 100,000.
The growth of social media has resulted in the rise of the influencer who, at the top end, can make millions a year through the endorsement of products.
But these high earners are a tiny minority: those like Bunker earn significantly less, while still maintaining the attention of thousands of young people.
While regularly seen dressed in on-trend menswear, Bunker is actually on a modest freelance income of about £30,000, with most stemming from social media, blog posts and guest talks.
“It’s quite a humble salary, but I’m quite proud of it,” he admits. He charges between £500 and £1,000 to promote a brand on his Instagram feed or blog.
The scale of the industry is substantial and growing – market research firm Statista says the value of the global Instagram influencer market is set to reach $2.38bn in 2019 from $1.07bn in 2017.
Earlier this year, more than a dozen celebrities, including Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding, pledged to change the way they label social media posts after the competition watchdog clamped down on the practice of stars being paid for endorsing products without disclosing the company was rewarding them.
The Competition and Markets Authority said it had secured formal commitments from 16 celebrities to state clearly if they have been paid, or received gifts or loans of products that they endorse.
But for the micro-influencers, the paydays enjoyed by the stars are still a long way away. With pictures on the Instagram grid of her modeling a new watch or a blow dry, Emily Lavinia is the first to put her hands up and admit her online persona doesn’t reflect reality.
“It is more glamorous and together than I probably am,” says the 28-year-old. “I have ‘imposter syndrome’ and don’t feel that proud. I try to air this idea that I’m incredibly confident – it helps me get to where I am and makes other people believe in you. A lot of it is smoke and mirrors.”
Looking around her one-bedroom flat in Fitzrovia in central London, she reels off items she’s been “gifted” since she started writing about tech, sex, beauty and wellness on her blog aceandboogie.com in 2017.
“There’s a Google Home, candles from brands, everything in the kitchen is gifted, there’s a big Range cooker, pink and gold crockery, cupboards with healthy food and protein powders. I get spa breaks – I can’t remember the last time I paid for a facial or to get my hair done. But I do try to be generous and give stuff to charities and friends.”
In February, she was gifted around £2,000 of products. “I feel fortunate. But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that it was just handed to me. I have worked hard for it.”
Blogging comes in addition to her other job with a skin clinic brand. She spends several hours a day updating her social media, which can usually command between £250 to £500 for a sponsored post or blog.