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Inside Influence: One On One With Can Ahtam

I spoke to social media influencer Can Ahtam about his journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to go behind the brand. First things first, though, what is something about you that the many people who follow you don’t know?

Can:  Thank you Adam, for your time as well! I guess what many people don’t know about me is how to pronounce my name, Can, correctly. It is a Turkish name and I always tend to begin my encounters with people with explaining what my name is and how it is pronounced. It is actually pronounced similarly to a John or Jon. My Dad wanted me to have an international name which is very strategic and worldly of him but so far it has primarily benefited me at Starbucks.

Adam: How did you get here? How did you become an influencer? What is the inside story?

Can: When you look at today’s generation of influencers, they mostly came into being with the sole intention of becoming influencers whereas when I started Instagram I did not carry such a mission, let alone there was any of them concept strongly formed yet. I have been practicing professional photography for 10+ years and always had photography as a hobby prior to that. Back in 2012, I was introduced to Instagram and decided to create a profile. To me, back then, sharing photos I would shoot on my professional camera to Instagram sort of felt like it was defeating the purpose of Instant Photography, so I initially did not share any of the photos I would take on my cameras. Instead I would share photos of stray cats of Istanbul, my breakfast, sunsets…etc that I would capture on my smartphone, making my profile the typical average Instagram. It was after my friends persuaded me into sharing my professional photos on Instagram I started seeing the influencer side of the world. I started receiving press support as well as Instagram’s Suggested User boost to grow my followers. Then brands began to reach out one by one asking me to shoot photos for them and promote them on my profile. From watches to home goods and technology products, I’ve had the pleasure of shooting for and promoting various brands.

Adam: What advice do you have for those interested in working with influencers? How do you decide who to work with?

Can: Set your priorities straight before jumping into an influencer campaign strategy.I would definitely recommend those who are interested in working with influencers to see if the influencers you want are the right fit for your brand. If you are an apparel brand, for instance, do you see that particular influencer matching your brand’s image/persona? Many brands out there are still stuck in the follower count of influencers but followers do not necessarily translate to conversion. You should also see how much the influencer knows about your brand because being fluent in delivering a narrative is also a crucial element in creating that personalized mood. I have influencers reaching out to various brands I manage, just sending copy/paste template phrases to inquire about opportunities. There is no emotional or familiar bond for their interest in the brand, they just want the money or the free product/service. You don’t want that! Make sure to look at their prior and relevant portfolio to see how they performed. That will usually tell you how seriously they will take a project or not as well.

Adam: What advice do you have for those interested in becoming influencers?

Can: Be different! Nowadays, most influencers start with the goal to become influencers, but they miss what makes them unique compared to others. To be honest, there are a ton of influencers in this world, so you need to better position and differentiate yourself among the others who are competing against you. Don’t do the same things that others do. I happen to see a lot of those orange filters, for instance, that lifestyle/fashion influencers use a lot. Not many brands actually like that filter and every profile happens to look the same which diminishes your work and your personal brand. Be different as different stands out!

Adam: What is the biggest misconception about the influencer world and life as an influencer?

Can: Not every influencer’s life is that glamorous! In my opinion, promoting positivity took a bad turn with the influencer world as faking positivity is not true positivity. Many influencers out there are trying to promote a lifestyle that they necessarily can’t afford to an audience who may not be able to afford either. That’s why we see so many influencers spamming brands with copy/paste messages, almost begging to receive products/money for collaborations. That’s why we see so many uses of body editing and manipulating apps. This creates situations such as “FOMO” as well as hatred and jealousy at those who are showcasing make-shift lifestyles. There is no shame in living and sharing your life with others. Living and sharing a true, transparent, and honest life can promote more diversity, empathy, and positivity.

Adam: What has being an influencer taught you about branding and marketing? What are your three best marketing and branding tips?

Can: First of, I’d like to clarify for many out there that being an influencer does not make you a marketing guru. I’ve had my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Marketing and Management dual focuses) and got my MBA with a Marketing concentration, and work in marketing but I still don’t see myself as a Marketing guru. Influencer Strategy is just one of the tools used within marketing. Social Media and Influencer Marketing is not for every brand and there is no one size fits all. Here are my three best marketing and branding tips:

  • Is your brand fit for social media/influencer marketing realm?
  • Social Media is not the only marketing strategy out there. 
  • Create a marketing portfolio for better outcomes on your investment.

Adam: Who are the best leaders you have been around and what have you learned from them? What do you believe everyone should know about leadership?

Can: Leadership is not bossing around. Leadership is working and setting the pathway with the team. Meeting Mr. Muhtar Kent, former CEO of Coca-Cola Company, has been a dream come true for me back in 2013 and I have learned a lot from his leadership during my career at the firm. I have especially enjoyed “A Day in the Life of a Truck Driver” during orientation in which you have to accompany a full day schedule of a truck driver, delivering and loading cases loads of product to clients. This shows you what the capabilities of a company are as well as what the process is like.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Can: Photography has been the strongest hobby of mine since I was a young kid and now I get to enjoy it professionally. It has certainly helped me develop build stronger and more diverse perspective of the world we live in. I get to focus on the NOW during photography.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Can: I am a big believer in the power of community and am an active Instagram community member when it comes to hosting Instameets. I have been doing them for 5-6 years now and there is nothing satisfying then pairing up online and offline experiences together as you network, shoot photos together, and share best practices. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram @canahtam.

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