“We never set out to be influencers,” says Shay Jiles says of her family, known on social media as The Prince and the P. “It just happened. So I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to run with it.’”
Today, @theprinceandthep—which prominently features Jiles’ son MJ and daughter P—boasts more than 50,000 Instagram followers. The North Texans have worked with brands including Disney, Target, Gap, Frito-Lay, H&M and Kardashian Kids; their rate starts at $600 for a static photo post. Social media has been so lucrative for them that Jiles doesn’t even really promote her photography business anymore. “Now I’m like my kids’ personal Kris Jenner,” she laughs.
The family may not have planned to be Insta-famous, but here they are—and they, along with other experts, have lessons to share.
Learn the Social Media Basics—and Have Fun
The Jiles crew’s Instagram, run by Mom, is a family lifestyle account; areas of focus including parenting and children’s fashion. “Several years ago, a friend kept saying, ‘Your kids are so cute. You should create an Instagram account for them,’” recalls Jiles. “I didn’t really understand why a bunch of strangers would be interested in seeing my kids. But I started the account and had posted maybe a dozen pictures. One of those pictures got picked up by the Huffington Post for an article; I think it was called ‘The 11 Most Fashionable Kids in America.’ And our Instagram started growing.”
Not everyone will get that kind of lucky break. Jiles, who is preparing to launch a social media consulting firm, says the real keys to growing an account are hashtags, brand reposts and post shares from other accounts.
“Make sure you are tagging your posts, everything from the chips you are eating to the shoes you are wearing, so the brand picks it up and reposts it. Then you have their followers saying, ‘Who are these people?’”
Instagram is the Jiles family’s main avenue for connecting with fans and brands, but they have other accounts—ranging from a YouTube channel, which features curly hair tutorials (Jiles is also developing her own blends of hair oils and tea rinses), to a blog, where Jiles posts glam photos of the kids and expounds on life’s messier moments. During quarantine, they’ve been trying TikTok.
There are obviously a lot of platforms for getting your family into the social universe. But Jiles advises taking it slowly. “I would start with one platform. Having followers will propel you to success on another platform. You already have this pool of interested people.”
Of course, increasing follower numbers and “like” counts shouldn’t drive you. A passion for fashion was the reason Dallasite Jane Aldridge started her blog, Sea of Shoes, as a teenager in 2007. “I don’t think that popularity or immediate success is a healthy thing for young kids to focus on or expect,” notes Aldridge, now 28. “Those things come with time and commitment. I would focus instead on what great skills you can learn. I learned so much about writing, photography, business management and other skills you need as an entrepreneur.”
Jiles concurs. “If your goal is to blow up and become famous, don’t do it, because there’s no guarantee. If you really care about something and want to share it, you’re much more likely to not get frustrated with the process.”
It’s definitely a process. Influencers have contracts, photo shoots, reshoots, brand approvals, posting, audience engagement… It may not be something your kids are really up for. While Jiles’ kids enjoy the perks (MJ and P love the trips they get to take through their brand connections), they have their limits.
“If [a photo shoot] takes a long time, then I don’t really like doing it that much,” confesses P. And Jiles says there was a period of about a year when MJ didn’t really appear on the account because he just wasn’t into it. Jiles gets it.
“There was a season when we would drive to downtown Dallas and shoot for three or four hours with a car full of 10 outfits,” she says. “It was exhausting on all of us.”
Now, the family shoots a couple of days a month, and Jiles saves content to post over the course of the following weeks.
“You have to listen to your kids. If they’re unhappy, it’s not going to work,” Jiles says. “It can be damaging to their self-esteem, or in the future they might say, ‘My mom always had a camera in my face.’ That’s definitely not the story I want my kids to tell.”
Be Your Kid’s First Line of Defense
Sponsored vacations, designer clothes, free toys—the benefits are numerous if your kids achieve success. But you can’t talk about the perks of the internet without also veering into the dangers.
“A lot of kids are absolutely not following the rules for social networking,” says Katie Greer, a nationally recognized internet safety expert. “If you’re going to have your young child on these apps and sites, parents managing the account is the only way to do it—for their safety and their kids’ developmental well-being. At this point in their lives, kids’ brains aren’t developed enough to handle such a complex space.”
While Greer says there is a federal regulation that requires kids to be at least 13 years old to have their own social media accounts, many children find ways around that. “I see kids as young as kindergarten with these apps and sites,” she notes. “I’d say the majority of middle school kids have at least one of these apps, and with TikTok being wildly popular, a lot of elementary kids are on as well.”
Seemingly, more kids than ever are taking on the potential risks of heightened exposure—but those risks aren’t new. “I got harassed by men who seemed overly keen on working with teenage girls,” remembers Aldridge. “Online harassment is not something unique to being an ‘influencer,’ but if you have a public profile, you can expect to get more of it.”
Aldridge’s parents were very involved in her blog while she was a minor. They went over emails and reported disturbing messages. Greer says that kind of oversight is critical. “There’s no special, secret app that will keep our kids entirely safe, or we would all already be using it,” she points out.
Still, there are tools and practices that can help. “I would definitely discourage any interaction with strangers’ accounts. That’s best achieved by blocking direct message features and not allowing comments,” says Aldridge. “No one should be able to privately contact a child.”
Jiles doesn’t use her kids’ full names and has a block that prevents their names (as well as profanity) from being shared in comments. She doesn’t reveal their city and often purposely tags the wrong location. Jiles also frequently reviews their followers and blocks anyone she deems “sketchy.”
Even when moms and dads are running the social show, Greer advises caution and a thoughtful approach. “Parents are making a giant footprint for their kids. This isn’t a Polaroid we can throw away in 10 years. These are lasting accounts available to millions—even billions—of people, whether we intend for that to happen or not.”
There are specialized marketing platforms that connect brands to influencers and content creators. Companies post paid content opportunities on those websites; influencers create accounts and apply for selection. Each marketing platform may have certain requirements, such as number of followers or a certain engagement rate. Here are a few to check out, recommended by Shay Jiles:
Popular Pays: Its community of influencers includes more than 60,000 people.
AspireIQ: This platform has made more than 500,000 creator-to-brand connections.
Activate: This site has worked with influencers and creators to share over 6,500 pieces of collaborated content each month
Authenticity on Social Media
Shay Jiles says when it comes to influencing, success is for the authentic. Here’s her advice:
Avoid bots. “They have bots that will comment on other accounts for you. The idea is that those people will say, ‘Oh, who’s commenting on my picture? Let me go see.’ And then the hope is that they would follow you. But I’ve seen it backfire. There are bots commenting on inappropriate accounts.”
Don’t pay your way to the top. “People buy followers. They buy likes. They can buy, I think, video views,” says Jiles. “But brands know when you do it. And once you buy them, you cannot take them away.”
This article was originally published in June 2020.
Photo courtesy of The Prince and the P