March 27, 2021
Swiss newspaper Le Temps recently published an article on cycling influencers. It was interesting to see a mainstream media writing about such a niche subject and the journalist, Florian Delafoi, did a great job. And I’m not saying this because he interviewed me. No, I just learnt something and it made me think. Good journalism.
In the article, I was quoted saying that cycling influencers are “a commercial phenomenon that contributes to leveling down social media with standardized content”. It sounds quite cynical and I didn’t feel good when I saw the article. After all I am part of this “phenomenon”. I’m regularly approached by companies who want me to push their products to my audience. And the few brands that support my guiding and content creation activities expect me to promote them one way or another.
I also understand that brands want to spend some of their marketing budget on ordinary people rather than on world class athletes. We’re all more likely to buy a product because someone we can relate to uses it, not a star paid millions to endorse it.
Still, I often feel awkward. How to do my job? How can I stay authentic while fulfilling my contract, providing the service expected by the brand that supports me?
To turn my cynicism into something more constructive from which I would learn, I asked myself: what do I like to see on my Instagram feed? What inspires me? I also looked at what some big cycling influencers do and tried to understand what I liked, and what I didn’t.
The result: the chart below, which compares my dream feed with the garbage I want to stay away from.
(are you on a smartphone? rotate your device to read the table in landscape mode)
|What inspires me||What turns me off|
|Switchbacks, high peaks, cobbles, a smooth gravel road, endless rolling hills.|
Anything that will make me scream: where is this place? I freakin’ want to get off my screen and go there RIGHT NOW.
|A rider on a “road” where it would be way more fun to be mountain biking / skiing / hiking / mountaineering.|
|A good story (yes, I read captions).|
Example: something that actually happened on your ride. If it’s funny, even better.
It can also be sad, because we all have bad days and that’s OK.
|Continuous, shameless plugs for sponsors
Dumb hashtags (#Mondaymotivation anyone?)
Trivial questions (what’s your favorite workout? Where did you ride on the week end?
|One good picture of a beautiful bike with a good caption promoting the brand.||Lots and lots of photos of a bike on a brick / snow / wood / sunset background.|
|One good picture of a beautiful kit / helmet / pair of glasses with a good caption promoting the brand.||Lots and lots of average photos of kit / helmet / sunglasses pretending they are just there by accident.|
|Coffee, cakes, beer and the odd branded energy bar.||Lots and lots of photos of heavily branded energy bars in mouth / pockets / hands. They remind me of those super long rides when the mere thought of an energy bar makes me want to throw up.|
|People smiling at each other.||A cyclist adjusting his/her jersey with a serious face.|
|An occasional photo that shows that you can be cold/hot/thirsty/hungry/tired on a bike (with a funny caption).||A feed pretending that cycling is a permanent sufferfest and you are a super hero: rain, snow, cold, steep climbs...|
|Photos edited with taste to make the subject shine.||The same unrealistic filter, over and over (hey, why is the road always dirty orange in this guy’s pictures?).|
|Eyes||Mirror sunglasses on each and every picture|
|A feed that shows you first and foremost love riding your bike and sharing the experience is secondary||A feed that shows that you are in love with yourself and your sponsors and riding your bike is secondary|
|A full human body on a bike.||Selfies and close ups of calves / thighs / asses / cleavages|
|Descending on your saddle.||Descending on your top tube.
Think what you want of the UCI, being an influencer means influencing people and this is not a behavior that should be encouraged.
|A real conversation between passionate cyclists in the comments.||Group congratulations between influencers. (Great shot! Keep it up and and ride on! 💪👏🤩🚴🏻♀️).|
|An inspiring photo with 100 likes.||A boring photo with 2000 likes.|
|People riding bikes and interacting, just like in real life.||The same serious, logo covered cyclist (you) riding alone all the time.|
|Your story||The brand’s story|
|No post||Old photo posted because you had nothing else to share (eg “can’t wait for summer!” in the middle of January)|
|Outdoor cycling||Indoor cycling|
To sum it up: I want to see real people riding bikes in beautiful places on my feed, and I am happy if they have partners supporting them to do it. I also want to hear stories the way you would tell them to your best friend, face to face. Not a fake story you shout to the world, hidden behind your screen.
Remember: people look at online cycling content because they want to be inspired, get away from the daily grind. Not to see logos and serious people who love themselves too much. Likewise, brands will want to support you for your unique ability to push people to get on their bike. Not to throw products and your awesome body in the face of your followers.
This quote from Andy Waterman, an executive of a running company in an article on Pinkbike says it better: “Obviously we want to grow our slice of the pie within the running industry, but it’s also important to grow the pie as a whole. If more people feel confident to say, “I am a runner”, that’s good for them, for us, and for the sport in general.”
Looking at my own feed, I realise I do not always follow my sound advice. I sometimes scream “what was I thinking when I posted this crap selfie with an obnoxious logo?”. And that’s OK, we’re all learning. We’re real people.
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