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Instagram Influencers in the Spotlight

Meet five social media stars who use their personal brand to connect with followers around the world.

By Shannon Dewey and Laura Mishkind


They find their niche and build a reputation. They post alluring photos and share personal stories and advice. They have thousands of people following them, and companies that want to partner with them. So, what’s the big deal about Instagram influencers?

Influencers can persuade others by being authentic, relevant, and trustworthy in their dedicated subject area or expertise. They have established their credibility with a captive audience who follows their every post. With more than 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram is a social networking app that has helped influencers skyrocket their careers, connect globally, and communicate with a visual platform.

While you may not be looking to become “instafamous” any time soon, you can learn some important takeaways on personal branding and how to make an impact with your message. Read about five current and former Toastmasters who used their skills to boost their credibility and confidence on Instagram.


Man posing with golf club

Andy Proudman

  • Wolverhampton, England
  • Age: 39
  • First joined Instagram: 2016
  • 20,300 followers
  • @andyproudman

Tell us about your personal brand and the content you post.

My posts vary from mindset to personal growth, business, fitness, and travel. My strategy is to share my experiences and document my journey. I also use it as a tool to deepen my learning. Every time I post quotes and messages, I am actually speaking to myself as well as my followers.

I also promote my company, Me and My Golf. Our mission is to help grow the game of golf and help golfers all over the world to improve their game. We saw an opportunity to use social media to spread our message and knowledge to the world to educate golfers and create better golf and more enjoyment in the game. Social media is a tool to show how great this game is—anyone can play and it’s amazing for health and relationships.


Man mid-swing with golf club

What do you think attracts followers to you?

I think by showing followers what I am doing rather than just telling them, it provides some real value in showing that you can do great things, but nothing comes easy. I hope to portray the importance of great work ethic.

Every time I post quotes and messages, I am actually speaking to myself as well as my followers.

—Andy Proudman

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I joined because I didn’t have the confidence in speaking to large groups, and I realized that if I want to impact a lot of people then this was a skill I needed to work on. It’s also important to me that I am putting myself in uncomfortable situations, as I know this is where the growth happens. [The Toastmasters training] was hugely valuable in a keynote speech I had to deliver to 250 PGA golf professionals, on how to build a business online, at the 2019 Teaching and Coaching Summit in Australia.


What advice do you have for others looking to influence people?

I would say get comfortable being uncomfortable. Be yourself as much as possible and focus on what you can give to others. So many people hold themselves back due to the fear of what others say and think. Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from doing something you love, just focus on how it can help others.

Figure out why you are doing what you are doing. This is what will drive you and what is personal to you. We all have different reasons for why we do things but getting clear on yours will help motivate you to keep going.

Understand who your audience is. This is crucial; you need to create content that relates to that specific audience and to understand the problems and challenges they have so you can provide solutions.


Woman singing onstage

Samantha Mogwe

  • Gaborone, Botswana
  • Age: 32
  • First joined Instagram: 2014
  • 61,700 followers
  • @samanthamogwe

Tell us about your personal brand and the content you post.

My personal brand is really an extension of who I am. I have been very deliberate in terms of not fabricating what I post, and anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t have the energy to project something that I am not. I guess in short, I would say that my personal brand is authentic and that’s the inspiration behind it.

I post about my work as a singer, and videos and photos from my music-related work so that people can follow my career. I also post about my radio work, specifically to my Instagram stories, interviews done on the “The Midday Fix” (a radio show hosted on Gabz-FM). I also post about my healthy lifestyle, which includes fitness, eating healthy, and taking care of myself.


Woman with headphones and microphone at radio station

What do you think attracts followers to you?

My audience seems to be quite broad. I have young people following me, people who listen to my music and my radio show. I’m followed by young mothers, aspiring artists, industry colleagues, brands that have worked with me, and brands that would want to work with me.

My goal is to attract followers who value the efforts I bring to my work, and I’m glad that the interactions I get are genuine ones with people who enjoy how I bring my true self to this platform.

Let your authentic story speak for itself if you want to attract a high-quality audience who will engage with you and follow your jouney.

—Samantha Mogwe

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I joined Toastmasters at the beginning of 2017 to become a better public speaker. My career as a singer/songwriter seemed to go hand in hand with speaking at events, interviews, and panel discussions, which I often turned down because I was petrified and felt ill-equipped to construct sentences properly. Little did I know that it would also prepare me for my radio job, which started at the beginning of 2018. This was one big benefit.

Radio requires a lot of talking and an ability to be able to tell stories that paint a picture for the listener. Toastmasters helped me relish the importance of being descriptive in my dialogue. It also helped me learn how to deal with last-minute changes while on the job, which happens more often than not, but I was trained to deal with unexpected dialogue being thrown my way and not panicking or freezing up.


What advice do you have for others looking to influence people?

Let your authentic story speak for itself if you want to attract a high-quality audience who will engage with you and follow your journey. Once you have a narrative for that story, take amazing images because Instagram is a visual platform.


Woman posing on brown couch

China Jones

  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Age: 34
  • First joined Instagram: 2015
  • 12,300 followers
  • @coachchinajones

Tell us about your personal brand and the content you post.

I’m a big believer in finding what lights you up inside and doing more of that so you can share your light with others. I hope to inspire others to eat nourishing foods, move their bodies often, and live with intention.

I’m a lover of all things personal and professional development. You’ll see a lot of posts around health and wellness, as most of my clients come to me for help in this area. I’m currently working on how to stay authentic and keep sharing content valuable to my audience (which has also shifted) without just posting photos of my adorable son.


Woman holding bag near running track

What do you think attracts followers to you?

The majority of my followers have come my way for health and fitness tips—from recipes to workouts to wellness. But I’d like to think my clever humor keeps them engaged and has helped them stay. As I’ve transitioned to motherhood, I’ve lost some followers. But I’m okay with that because it’s more important to have the right followers who are interested in your content and the value you have to offer. On the flip side I now have a lot more moms who reach out to me in my DMs [direct messages] for advice.


Why did you join Toastmasters?

In 2019 my business partner Randee Brookins and I brought a passion project to reality and created the Women Who Warrior Retreat. The whole event got me interested in bringing more speaking opportunities into my own life. I wanted to be a more confident speaker at our retreats and speak on other people’s stages. I had heard of Toastmasters from a few acquaintances over the years and decided to give it a go.

I joined in the fall of 2019 (pregnant at the time!), and not too long after our meetings transitioned to Zoom calls. So, while I didn’t have much experience giving in-person speeches, I did get quite a bit of experience on Zoom. I really enjoy the connections I have made in the Whitehatters Club and have gotten much more comfortable on camera.

Show your own face and let your personality shine.

—China Jones

What advice do you have for others looking to influence people?

Get really clear on what your brand is and make sure it aligns with your inner values. Then think about who your audience is and what kind of challenges they face. Mix in educational posts with entertainment and inspiration. Show your own face and let your personality shine. Remember that you won’t be the right fit for everyone and that’s okay! You’ll be the right fit for the right audience, and that’s what counts.


Man smiling and posing in white shirt

Dai Manuel, DTM

  • Vancouver, British
    Columbia, Canada
  • Age: 44
  • First joined Instagram: 2011
  • 33,200 followers
  • @daimanuel

Tell us about your personal brand and the content you post.

My brand is accessible, fun, and engaging. After overcoming obesity as a teenager, I became committed to helping as many people as possible in living healthier, more active lives. I believe that life-long happiness and well-being must be built on a rock-solid foundation of health, and that a sustainable healthy lifestyle is possible for anyone.

Often what I share is based on my life experiences. I find myself reflecting on the things that I am grateful for while aiming to share the takeaways from the knowledge I’ve gained. Self-awareness is key to leading a life that allows us to maximize our sense of happiness, joy, and fulfillment.



 

 

What do you think attracts followers to you?

My audience spans different continents, countries, and cultures. I believe they appreciate that I’m someone who speaks openly and honestly about the challenges we all endure relating to our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. But I’d rather be a mentor than a coach, opting to show, not tell, what I observe and experience as I try to live my values and beliefs.


Get crystal clear on your vision, mission, and values, then determine how you want to serve, support, and share with your audiences.

—Dai Manuel, DTM


Man speaking into microphone onstage

Why did you join Toastmasters?

In my early 30s, I was part of a mastermind group [peers who help each other achieve goals] of professionals and we’d often invite guest speakers to join our monthly meeting. One such speaker joined to tell us about the art of public speaking. We hung on each of his words—he commanded our attention, our energy, and took us on a journey with his stories, examples, and teachings.

As soon as the meeting was over, I approached him and asked, “What do I need to do to be like you in front of an audience?” He looked at me and said one word: Toastmasters. When I went home and searched for clubs in White Rock [a city in British Columbia], I discovered Early Edition Toastmasters.

Through Toastmasters, I’ve gained the clarity, confidence, and ability to take action in areas that I otherwise would have never anticipated. I have increased confidence in my speaking and leadership abilities, allowing me to effectively grow my company and teams. [Toastmasters] has also provided me the ability to speak on stages around the world while also showcasing my expertise, teachings, and mentorship on live TV, radio, and events. None of this would have been possible without the support of my Toastmasters tribe.


What advice do you have for others looking to influence people?

First and foremost, ask yourself ‘Why am I choosing to lean into building a personal brand?’ If your answer is hard to articulate, then you have some more digging to do. Get crystal clear on your vision, mission, and values, then determine how you want to serve, support, and share with your audiences. Enjoy the process of discovering your voice, your message, and being someone who is a result of living their own beliefs … be the best role model you can be!


Woman sitting on chair smiling

Yvette Blaess

  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Age: 29
  • First joined Instagram: 2014
  • 16,900 followers
  • @yvetteblaess

Tell us about your personal brand and the content you post.

Because I aim to influence, educate, and inspire the community, my personal brand shows multiple highlights of my life and what I am doing within the community. I always work to get public support and teach others about dyslexia.

Dyslexia Studio has been a dream of mine for a very long time. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to launch this [fashion] line and be able to start giving back to the dyslexia community in fall 2021! As a person with dyslexia, I am aware of the struggles our community faces. I am also aware of what it takes to overcome the fears and insecurities that come with this “hidden disability.”

My respect for fashion and how it has influenced culture over the years has now led me to create a comfortable line of luxury wear that comes with a message, support for the dyslexia community, and a functional way for those affected and those who want to support to join together. This journey is not just for me, it is for so many who feel they are suffering alone, and I would like them to know, I see you.


Woman posing with laptop

What do you think attracts followers to you?

I personally never know what attracts my followers to me, but I absolutely love getting messages about those who are dyslexic and feel a sense of normalcy when looking at my page, or those who simply send me a message of how organic my page is. I try to always stay in the now and not make it so “influenced.”

I aim to influence, educate, and inspire the community.

Yvette Blaess

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I did not start speaking until I was 4 and because my brain is wired differently, my communication skills have extremely low moments depending on the topic. I wanted to improve the way I gave interviews, presented myself onstage, and how I conducted speeches. I appreciate the people in the club for the endless help on pretty much anything. Toastmasters offers all these benefits and so much more!


What advice do you have for others looking to influence people?

The advice I would give others is to be true to themselves, work hard, and have a great team. When you have all of these attributes, you can shine. By being yourself and authentic, people can feel the confidence and love you have for yourself and others. I work with a public relations and marketing agency and they are a huge help with organizing, scheduling, and getting my message across on all my platforms. A great team helps you to reach goals and show your influence on the world.

How do you influence others? Use #talkingtoastmasters and join the conversation online!


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