By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
They are known to impart knowledge, views, and perspective over carefully cultivated niches within their respective realms of industry. Known as social media influencers, these individuals leverage creative content for paying contracts with businesses big and small that want to gain access to their audiences and curated platforms. Their organic reach and authenticity can garner interest and paid sponsorships, ambassadorships, and income for high-profile content creators. These social media mavens understand the game: algorithms, reach, consistency, quality, and, most importantly, how to grab your attention and keep it.
The Magic City is home to several social media influencers, and the Birmingham Times recently sat with a few.
For Emma “Funmi” Ford, being an influencer is a superpower. It means having the capacity to affect the character, development, and behavior of someone or something—and she takes her ability to penetrate the hearts and minds of black women seriously. With everyone she encounters, her aim is to build, motivate, and encourage them to dream big, work hard, and achieve their goals no matter how old they are.
“Especially with black women,” Ford said. “I want to influence [them] to start businesses and get into this blogging world because there are so few of us doing it.”
Asked why she thinks there are so few black women succeeding at influencing in the blogging industry at her level, she said, “It’s partly because of bias and a fear to try something different. As black influencers, we get paid less for the same campaigns and we get overlooked. … The consensus among a lot of brands is that we don’t appeal or sell as well as our counterparts. This is erroneous.”
According to Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company that provides a view available of consumers and markets worldwide, African Americans have $1.2 trillion in annual spending power and account for 85 percent of the total spent on beauty and hair care industry products and services.
“We need representation,” Ford said. “We need more black women to get on these platforms, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, and learn how to monetize their influence.”
Becoming a Business
Montgomery, Ala., native Ford, 33, is creator and founder of FunmiFord LLC. Her blog, houseofodara.com is a platform she established in 2016 under the moniker “Oluwafunmifly,” paying homage to her name and Nigerian roots. She is known around town as Emma or Funmi, names that originate from her full birth name, Emmanuella Oluwafunmilayo.
“I changed my business name to FUNMIFORD about six months ago,” she said. “I began it as a hobby and a way to self-express and show off my style, but after my son was born, I knew I wanted it to become a business.”
Although the social media maven had paid sponsorships, brand ambassadorships, and had been creating content for major companies, she formed a limited liability company (LLC) in 2019 and started operating as a business and platform for creating “great content for my followers,” she said.
The Hoover resident has more than 34,000 followers on Instagram, and her clients have included Target, Pampers, Johnson’s Baby, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Sam’s Club, Kleenex, Dollar General, Whataburger, Dove, and Pantene. She has attended numerous New York Fashion Week shows, and has worked internationally, styling at African Fashion Week in London and planning and executing photoshoots and events in Accra, Ghana.
Ford said she loves creating content for brands: “I believe people follow me because of my creativity, authenticity, and my bold fashion. I make an effort to interact with everyone, whether it’s via comments or messages. … I also believe in selling not just products but also a lifestyle. I encourage my followers to better themselves, think positive, and go after their goals.”
Ford has worked with major and smaller brands, and hustles equally for all of them.
“For me, the biggest compliment is to have a brand want to work with me again after our contract is over,” she said.
Although Ford has clearly discovered a formula that leverages consistent growth, she doesn’t consider herself an expert yet.
“I call myself a student, and I will forever be a student because I have so much more to learn,” she said. “I haven’t put in enough years yet.”
Asked what constitutes a social media maven, she said, “For me, being a maven or expert is someone who has years in the game but is still willing to share their expertise and be kind to everyone they meet, no matter if they are just starting out or have more than 100K followers. There are so many people I consider social media mavens, and most of them are not considered major bloggers. I hope one day to become one, but I try to pass on the little I do know.”
Ford wears several hats. She is the wife of Birmingham attorney Sam K. Ford, a mother of two—2-year-old Sammy and newborn Solomon—and she includes her family in her social media identity.
“Fashion, faith, and family all intermix to make me one-of-a-kind,” she said. “I’ve included my son Sammy in several concepts; he was the star of the Johnson’s Baby campaign I did. My husband was the focus of the imagery I created for a campaign I did with MVMT Watches.”
Ford even chartered a private jet to shoot her 2019 pregnancy announcement concept, which featured her husband.
Still, she faces challenges balancing the demands of the industry, which include constantly creating content [and] having to please so many brands as well as her audience.
“It can become overwhelming,” she said. “Plus, learning to not compare my journey to anyone else’s and being content with the niche I’ve carved out for myself is a battle I fight daily.”
Asked how difficult it was to grow her following, Ford said, “Harder than getting my toddler to take a nap!”
“Some bloggers talk about the good ol’ days when growing [your following] was easy, but I came into it after all the algorithm changes and before Instagram became more of a pay-to-play platform. It was a long road growing and learning the nuances of the business and platforms.”
Making a Difference
It took Ford years to realize that people could get paid from creating content.
“A lot of bloggers in this business are very close-lipped when it comes to how to get contracts, how to pitch, and how to monetize your platform,” she said. “That makes it hard for those starting out to [learn how to] turn their passion into a paycheck.”
A conversation with a friend helped Ford realize that there was money to be made in the field.
“After talking to her, I went online and researched away,” Ford said. “I took the advice she gave me and figured out how to make it work for my audience and me. After a couple of months, I started to see the work pay off.”
Part of what she learned led to an investment in a camera and learning to edit. “[Then] contracts began to come in,” she said.
Asked how she’s used her platform to make a difference, Ford said, “I’ve had the opportunity to work with various businesses in the city, including the Junior League of Birmingham. … I love their passion for the city and raising money for those in need. Being able to say I’ve been a part of an organization whose sole purpose is to give back to the city brings me such fulfillment.
“Also, this year, my other brand, Stylemavens, started its first annual coat drive to help give back to homeless [people] during the winter months. I am able to do this and get men and women to donate coats, blankets, and other essentials because of my platform. That in itself makes @funmiford worth something bigger than just good pictures and funny captions.”
Instagram: @funmiford; Website: houseofodara.com.
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