This is a conversation with Heather, a young business professional in Dallas, Texas. Initially, it was about her love of two Instagrammers, The Defined Dish and shutthekaleup, but quickly moved into interesting areas around the nature of influence itself.
When did you find Defined Dish?
For Defined Dish, it’s probably been about eight months. My sister told me about her because she went to TCU as well. She said you should follow this influencer, great page, really funny, adorable family, great content, she knew I was interested in similar Instagrammers, like shutthekaleup, Rachael’s Good Eats, stuff like that. Healthy living, clean living, whole foods, things like that. So I found her through that.
Test Photo Credit
The Defined Dish (Alex Snodgrass) in her kitchen with her two girls, Sutton and Winnie
How long have you been into clean living?
A couple years, four years maybe.
What do you think influenced you to move in that direction?
I honestly think that it was Instagram. I found shutthekaleup, whose real name is Jeanette Ogden, she has a couple hundred thousand followers, and absolutely loved her page. She kind of influenced me to think more in terms of whole foods, kind of like more of what you’re putting into your bodies.
I’d seen a couple documentaries that started getting me interested in it, but I think what really pushed me along was the different Instagrams, because it seemed a lot more accessible to me. The fact that, it’s people just like myself, totally normal people, and they’re sharing their favorite brands. So it seemed a lot more accessible. I don’t have to do a ton of research, they do it for me, and I trust them to do it for me. It’s just brands they think are quality and that have had impact in their lives.
shutthekaleup (Jeanette Ogden) at the farmer's market with her son, Elliott
So when shutthekaleup or Defined Dish push a brand into a post, you’d say they’ve definitely influenced you to add those brands into your life as well?
Yeah, no doubt about it. That is how I found out about some of my favorite brands. I did not know about Simple Mills before these Instagrammers, didn’t know about Siete Foods before these Instagrammers, same thing.
Another one that has garnered a cult following, no pun intended, is the Coconut Cult. It’s like a probiotic coconut yogurt, and it sells for about $25 a jar, and it’s like a regular mason jar, not super big, nothing. It’s supposed to be absolutely incredible for you. People go long distances, pay insane amounts of money just to get this coconut yogurt, and it’s just because these influencers decide, “I use this, I eat this and I recommend this.” I’ve seen so many products sold out because of influencers saying, “hey, I’ve tried this,” or “it’s available at this location if you live in this area.”
Do you think there’s any sort of stigma attached to admitting that you’re buying something because you saw it on Instagram?
For me, I have no problem saying it. I’m not going to say, oh, I invented Coconut Cult, or I was the first one to find it. I’m more than willing to say, oh I found it on so and so’s Instagram, and honestly for other people, I have seen them say, I found this on so and so’s Instagram, it’s really cute if you want to order it, too.
So I don’t think there’s a stigma attached when it comes to influencers and saying, this influencer told me to get it.
Has there ever been a time where one of these people that you really like, where they pushed a product that made you feel like, you’re trying to hard, or that doesn’t feel authentic?
There’s actually one specific influencer that I can think of, honestly she used to be super genuine. She’s a nurse, a little more lifestyle, her name’s Claire Guentz. I used to love her page because she’d tell me about different stores to go to, different products to try.
But lately, pretty much all of her stories and posts have been an ad for one thing or another. So it just seems ingenuine. So her page has been a little bit forced. But I think it’s pretty clear when an influencer says, oh my gosh, try this or like this post because I need you to. I’ve seen that, I think it’s transparent, I can see through it.
Heather says Claire Guentz (pictured) lost her influence when her content started to feel too forced and too branded.
When you see that, does it ruin them for you?
It kind of does because I can’t look at her page the same way, to be quite honest. I just kind of see her as wanting to climb the ranks and quit her job as a nurse and become an Instagram influencer.
At the same time, surely you don’t begrudge anyone for figuring out how to make this a full-time job?
Exactly. Without a doubt. There are influencers, again, that I would go and buy the product that they suggest. Whereas her page, she tells me about a sale, or about a new brand or something that she’s trying and I just have no motivation to go look at it because it just seems forced.
I have more desire to support someone who doesn’t seem like a sell-out. If Defined Dish came out with a cookbook, and if Claire came out with a cookbook, I would no doubt buy Defined Dish’s, because I trust what she’s selling.
Do you ever find yourself competing between Defined Dish’s content and something on Netflix or HBO?
So, at night I try and chill out, we’ll watch Netflix or something like that. I’ll go on Instagram, and if there’s someone I want to watch their story and listen to what’s happening, there are also differences in who I’m watching if I care about listening to their story or I don’t care.
For Defined Dish, and influencers I’m more interested in their lives about, I’ll pause the show and basically watch the story from beginning to end, even if it’s 40 segments long. Just because I find that more relatable and more enjoyable than whatever I’m watching.
Do you think these Instagram stories compete for your interest equally against mainstream TV or movies you could be watching?
I would say equally captivating for me. Equally, if not more.
And in terms of the way they make you think about the world, the way they make you feel about yourself, do you feel like Instagram is the more influential platform?
I would say so. Actually, I would definitely, one hundred percent say so. And I say that because someone that I’m watching acting is not going to influence me, that’s not their real selves, first of all. Second of all, I don’t find them relatable at all. Whereas Instagram I can relate to the person, and also they’re appearing to be their authentic selves.
You've followed Defined Dish for eight months, you say you like her, she’s obviously influenced you in a lot of different ways, but how likely do you think you are to stick with her over the course of years? New people are going to pop up, competing for your attention, your life is going to change. Is there something about her that’s really sticky?
That’s a really interesting question, because for me, I have a loyalty to her, and a big part of that is just because I feel like I have some connection with her because of her college and my sister. Also at the same time I do feel like I know her kids even though I don’t, which sounds weird. But I want to see them grow up. And that’s the same thing with other influencers. I want to see them get married, have kids, see their kids grow up.
You get that loyalty, I think, personally.
Do you find that most of your friends follow a lot of the same people?
Ok, this is really interesting, actually, because I was thinking about this the other day. I feel like it’s one of those things people don’t really talk about, like, oh, let’s take an inventory of the influencers you follow and here’s what I follow. Because everyone has a secret interest, which sounds weird, but everyone has that interest they don’t really talk about, but they follow a ton of Instagram influencers in that vein, wanting to learn more about it, wanting to be more like them.
But it’s not something people talk about. People will drop it in conversation from time to time, like, oh, I follow so and so and they said this was a great place for dinner, or whatever. But it’s not a conversation topic. And I don’t know if it’s more of a secretive thing, or if it’s more, it doesn’t come up, because it’s not a mutual interest between these two people.
So, this is really interesting. One thing we’ve talked a lot about is the comparison between someone like Defined Dish and a show like Shameless, in that they’re competing equally for your attention, and you are entertained by both. And frankly, influenced probably more by Defined Dish. But why is it that, when friends get together, why is it that it’s far more likely the conversation goes toward, ok, who saw the latest episode of Real Housewives? Ok, who saw this? People talk about shows, and discuss movies, but they don’t discuss, hey, did you see the chicken fingers Defined Dish made for her daughter this morning. Why do you think that is?
I also think it’s, I don’t really know, to be quite honest with you. I don’t know if it’s because you don’t know if the other person is interested in that, too, so you don’t want to admit you follow all these people and they influence you. So that goes back to your earlier point, would you admit someone influenced you to buy something.
Let’s say for whatever reason you’re into motorcycles and you’re with a bunch of friends and you don’t think they’re into that, so yeah, makes sense. The same way that if you watched some motorcycle show you might not bring that one up. But at the same time, these influencers, their content, it’s just obvious—you might not follow this person, but it sure looks like you follow someone similar. We’re wearing the same sorts of things, you know? We’re at the same type of restaurant. Surely there’s nothing weird about bringing up that, this person, she’s in our world, she does the sorts of things we do and talking about what we talk about.
Now that I’m thinking about it—I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the show Vanderpump Rules? It’s on Bravo, similar to Housewives. I know a girl who went to LA and literally went on a tour of the restaurants that are in Vanderpump Rules, ok? And posted it all over her Instagram story. She went to high school with me, and it was the funniest thing ever, and I was like oh my gosh, I actually want to do this. But I feel like it would be super weird if she went on a tour of all the places where shutthekaleup went to, and posted that on her Instagram story. I feel like that’s weird.
I think it’s more because shutthekaleup is a real person, whereas the people on Vanderpump Rules are more like public figures and famous people, so it seems fine to go to their restaurants or go to the same places.
Whereas it seems almost creepy to do that about a real normal person who’s just posting about their day.
But the open secret is they’re not just posting about their day, they’re doing it because they’re trying to use public communication to make money. No different than Vanderpump Rules.
Right. I get that. I feel like it’s the mindset, oh, these normal people who are just casually posting about their day and it’s going to be so weird if someone basically stalks them, follows all their restaurants.
And goes, oh, I went here because of so and so, and going on a tour of all the restaurants that they loved. I feel like that would be weird to me. Oddly enough.