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Interview: Sem Tolentino, Creator of Awesem Travels on life as a micro-influencer

by Samantha Sadler

I’ve recently been delving into the topic of micro-influencing and exploring how the new-age marketing kids on the block are shaking up digital campaigns. My main aim is to find out how effective using a micro-influencer can be for product promotion and strengthening brand profile.

My initial view was that this tool was indeed a force to be reckoned with, an opinion which was mirrored last month when I spoke to three Newcastle businesses who are using micro-influencers in client campaigns.

As well as immersing myself in all the relevant information and stats, I’ve been keen to reach this prestigious title on my own Instagram Gannin’ All Owa. Despite trawling through blog posts that detail the top tips on how to become a member of this community, so far it’s been a long and difficult process. Having meticulously followed every shred of advice I could get my hands on, I did expect to have already reached my first 1,000 followers by now. The process hasn’t been as straightforward as some Instagram guides have alluded to and if anything, it has made me appreciate how much effort these influencers are putting into their profiles.

So as promised, in an effort to really understand this from the influencer’s side, I’ve spoken to a micro-influencer to get her views on how it really works. Is there an easier route than I’m taking? What are their motivations and what does it really mean when you’ve reached that golden status?

Without further ado, meet Sem Tolentino! A qualified digital designer, Sem is currently pursuing her wanderlust by travelling the world and sharing her experiences on Instagram profile @awesemtravels. Her photographs feature a variety of beautiful destinations and began to attract attention from Instagram users at the beginning of 2016, which resulted in lifting her to micro-influencer status.

From early on, Sem had a love for photography and would take on freelance projects for wedding events and portrait work, before discovering her passion for travel.

It was a trip to Nice, Cannes and Monaco at the age of 23 that Sem experienced a culture shock, igniting a taste for capturing travel shots.

“This was a time when I could appreciate more things and took advantage of picture perfect spots that I thought other people might appreciate too. It certainly evoked a sense of finding out the differences in anthropology which I have always been passionate about” Sem told me.

Since that visit to France, Sem has been back to explore Paris, as well as also visiting Switzerland, The Alps, Croatia, Bosnia, Philippines, Spain, Turkey, Portugal and Italy.

During her travels, Sem was using her Instagram profile that she had started in 2013 to feature all of her photographs. She began attracting more followers in 2016 and made the decision to delete her older posts and switch all focus towards her travels, food and lifestyle shots.

“Initially, [my instagram profile] was just for fun because I like to travel and take pictures. Then I started getting messages from my followers and other users that I should consider producing more.” Sem explained.

It was with that encouragement that Sem decided to change her Instagram handle from just her name to something a little more punchy to suit her overall theme.

“I coined the name awe-sem a while back, maybe four years ago. I love puns and wanted my audience to know that my feed would represent whatever I see, eat or do during my travels. I’ve had lots of positive feedback!” Sem said.

She is now taking inspiration from both the Instagram community and building on her own original ideas to grow her profile. As well as her own work, Sem has enlisted help from her partner Mark who she has taught to take the perfect photograph.

“Bless Mark! He didn’t know how to adjust settings on a camera before but now I feel that he’s becoming my prodigy! I’ve instructed him numerous times on how to take a photograph but other times, he’ll tell me where to go and which spot I should be in. He’s definitely getting better.”

Sem’s hard work and dedication to her profile is paying off, she has surpassed the 6,000 follower mark and is engaging with all of her followers regularly. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight.

“It’s taken a very long time to build up a following” Sem explained.

“Instagram is a social platform and in order to get seen, as ironic as this may sound, you have to socialise/engage with people on it. When you take time to do this with great patience and consistency, you’ll see momentum.”

“[I use] Insta stories as it’s a great way to get your followers involved in what you do. To see behind the scenes of a post, [shows] that you’re a real person which is a great way to connect with your audience” she added.

As Sem’s following began to grow, she started to attract attention from brands looking for influencers who could engage with their audiences on a personal level. One brand she has recently worked with is Swedish manufacturer of socks and underwear, Happy Socks.

“Happy Socks contacted me via email saying that they love my content and asked if I wanted to do a barter collaboration. They gave me a form and a link to select which socks I would like to keep and post. When the socks arrived through the post, I was tucked in bed with Hugo the cat as I wasn’t feeling very well. He was my inspiration! My audience loved it and Happy Socks engaged on that post.”

Alongside providing exciting opportunities for a micro-influencer, working with relevant brands enhances credibility. Sem explained that gaining experience with a brand helps to draw attention from other brands that you can build together to make your own online CV.

Sometimes though, with a wave of brands approaching you, it might not always fit in with your niche and the story that you’re narrating.

“You have to consider that when you work with lots of brands, your followers might lose interest in your content, especially if you are constantly promoting/selling their product” Sem said.

“I’ve turned down lots of brands because the requirements did not fit with my feed. It’s important to prioritise quality over quantity.”

So what’s next for Sem now that she’s found her travel niche?

“I’m gradually building my lifestyle content and I have a collaboration with a watch brand soon. I want to launch a business that will involve lots of designing new content along with AI development, mixed with travelling in different places.”

And where will she go next?

“September will consist of a hiking trip to Scotland but October is empty so that’s good! Originally my plan for November was to go to Myanmar and Laos but next year’s US trip has taken precedence so that’s changed to Spain. Then in December, I’m in Budapest!”

If you’d like to follow Sem’s on her travels, you can do so here.