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Eden Hagos’s Instagram account, blackfoodie.co, spawned a platform that encompasses social media, a website and a content creation agency.

Rob Gurdebeke/Handout

The nature of work and what it means to achieve your dream job is changing. In this series, we dive into some of the most aspirational jobs coveted by a new generation.

When Eden Hagos posted her first Instagram in 2015, she had no idea it would be the start of a career in social media. In fact, it wasn’t even an original image, but rather a regram.

“It wasn’t anything special,” she recalls of that first post on blackfoodie.co, an account she started after experiencing racism in a restaurant setting. Hagos’s motivations were personal rather than professional: she was looking for a space online where she could find Black restaurants and learn about the food she’d grown up with.

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“Black Foodie gave me an outlet for that,” says the Windsor, Ont., resident. “I realized that you can post a thought, and find other people that resonate with that [thought], and create real community. It wasn’t about taking pretty photos or selling things, it was learning about our identity, sharing our cultural recipes and supporting Black businesses.”

Hagos filled her insta with the mouth-watering recipe content that is still a main draw today – recent highlights include shiro, an East African vegan chickpea stew; atchonmons, a sweet croquette popular in Togo and Cuban guava tarts. Interviews with chefs are in the mix, as well as guides to Black-owned businesses and Black food traditions.

Six years and 112,000 Instagram followers later, running Black Foodie is Hagos’s full-time job. She has a two-person team helping her with the platform, which includes social media, a website and a content creation agency where she works with brands to produce custom content.

“If I told ten-year-old me this would be my career, she’d say, ‘You’re lying,’” she says with a laugh.

Wearer of many hats

As the needs and wants of workers change, particularly with Millennials and Generation Z, the definition of a “dream job” is also changing. Aspirational jobs are no longer just doctors and lawyers, but also new types of professions.

It makes sense that social media would be an important part of the younger generation’s career aspirations. Market research company Insider Intelligence revealed in their Canada Social Media 2021 report that social networks will reach almost full penetration among adult Gen Zers this year, or 99 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24. The next-highest penetration rate will be among Millennials aged 25-34, at 91 per cent. And Deloitte’s 2019 Welcome to Generation Z report found that a majority of that age group prefer to work in industries that they interact with in their personal lives.

Meanwhile, social media influencing has moved a long way past the days of blonde girls posing against murals and brandishing It bags to a million followers. For starters, most influencers much prefer to be called “creators” these days.

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Food influencers like Eden Hagos may take on many roles, including chef, community manager, content creator and photographer.

Handout

“That term is much more encompassing of what they actually do,” says Ashley Cassidy Seale, founder and creative director of Ruby Social Co, a Toronto-based boutique PR firm. She reels off a list of possible hats a creator might wear: Stylist, community manager, photographer, editor.

Hagos understands well that multi-tasking mentality. A day in her life might include online shopping for groceries to make a recipe, leading an editorial planning meeting, pitching a potential brand partner via Zoom and squeezing in a video shoot before losing the light.

Seale notes that these days, a brand can’t just ask an influencer with a lot of followers to post a picture and be done with it. “[Brands] need to come with a budget, and it’s got to be collaborative,” says Seale, who works with influencers for most of her campaigns.

The notion of influencers taking #sponcon from the highest bidder, no questions asked, is largely untrue, because it would just be bad business sense, says Seale.

“Most influencers have to be really critical about the partnerships they take on, because they’ve spent years building their communities, and they know they can’t just take a big cheque for a product that has nothing to do with what they talk about.”

It may seem like a cliché, but authenticity is a creator’s most precious asset, says Seale, especially as audiences become savvier.

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“It’s no longer just about having a lot of followers,” says Seale. “What’s really changed is that you need to have something to say.”

Different paths to profit

Until recently, it was hard to simply decide to be a full-time influencer in the same way that you might make other career switches with more delineated paths and credentials.

“Up until 2021, most people would tell you they’re accidental influencers,” says Brittany Hennessy, the New York City-based author of Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand In The Age of Social Media. “Now it’s been around long enough that people have figured out the formula.”

Food photos, like this one featuring sweet potato cornbread with honey butter, make up a large part of Eden Hagos’s social media content

Eden Hagos/Handout

That said, building a substantial audience remains equal parts plugging away and luck-of-the-draw, Hennessy notes. Would-be influencers first need to pick a path, she adds.

“The most common [route] is sponsored content,” says Hennessy, referring to those posts you may have seen marked #AD. “The brand pays you to promote their product to your audience.”

There’s also the “content path,” where influencers curate content and make money through affiliate marketing. Here, influencers get a cut of the purchases followers make when they click on their links to a product. Hennessy says that this route can be challenging because you need to write copy, take great pictures and know where to put the “buy” button.

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Other influencers with large followings go the “product route,” launching a real-world offering that reflects their online presence. A beauty influencer might launch a skin care line, or a fitness influencer might offer personal training services.

The payoff from all of these methods varies widely, Hennessy says.

“Being an influencer is very similar to being an actor,” she says. “There are A-list actors who make tens of millions. There are plenty of actors who can’t even get an audition and don’t make any money. And there are a bunch of people in the middle.”

Growing as your audience grows

It’s a job that requires endless evolution, Hennessy says. Influencers need to pivot as platforms go in and out fashion, changing content to fit trends while keeping the audience they’ve built. It’s also a job that could have staying power, if you play it right. For example, a 25-year-old can grow with this career as they age, she says.

“If you’re a lifestyle influencer, it’s similar to being a musical artist. If you write your own songs, and they change with your life experiences, your audience will stay with you.”

Whatever the future might hold for her social media following, Eden Hagos says she’s already incredibly proud of the work that she and her team have done with Black Foodie. “My favourite part of the job is getting to extend opportunities,” she says, using their recent Black Foodie Battle series as an example.

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“It was this interactive cooking competition where we were able to teach people about different ingredients from the diaspora, celebrate Black chefs and put them on a platform where hundreds of thousands of people could see them,” she says.

The first year Hagos did it for fun, and this year she and her team were able to get a sponsor on board.

“I like that sweet spot,” Hagos says, “where I find a brand partner that aligns perfectly, I create opportunities for other content creators and the audience is also really entertained.”

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