IF James Buckingham held any doubts over the power of social media influencing they evaporated three months ago when he was eating nachos in a Sydney vegan restaurant.
The owner enquired about his meal and James explained his sister Renee, who founded Instagram page Sydney Vegan Guide, would love this restaurant.
"You would have thought I'd said to him that I was the King of England," the Newcastle-based James says in a three-way Zoom interview with Renee in Melbourne and Weekender.
"His face was like, 'what, you're Renee's brother'? He looked at the staff like, 'somebody should have told me, I could have given it to you'.
"He said he used to be in a smaller restaurant and every person who found out about them was because of Renee."
For the past seven years, the 26-year-old Renee has run the Sydney Vegan Guide, which boasts 39,500 followers. The social media stable has since grown to incorporate Melbourne Vegan Guide (24,900 followers) and fledgling pages for Brisbane, Canberra, New York, London and Los Angeles. It employs five people.
The former Hunter School of Performing Arts student also works as a radio producer for Fox FM's Breakfast show in Melbourne.
Renee has added another string to her bow, by combining her social media knowledge and radio expertise, to launch the DoYouEven Influence? podcast with her brother James.
James, 32, has a long history in the entertainment industry as an actor, musician and film director. He's best known for Channel Nine children's show Magical Tales and for fronting indie-folk band Nova and the Experience.
After three episodes, DoYouEven Influence? has already ranked as high as 15th on the Apple Podcast Entrepreneurship Charts. It aims to explore the world of social media influencers by interviewing and sharing the stories of content creators.
"What we're trying to figure out is what is the role culturally and socially that these people are playing?" James says. "How does it work from their side? What's going to become of this?"
Influencers get a bad rap. To many people they're viewed as vacuous and narcissistic and the dominance young bikini-clad women on Instagram does little to alter that perception.
However it's commercial muscle can't be denied. US news website Business Insider predicts major brands will spend $15 billion on social media influencers in 2022.
"I've worked on the brand side and the influencer side, and I understand both of them, and from what we've noticed, nobody likes the term 'influencer'," Renee says.
"Even myself, I don't love it. Nobody understands what it is and there's so much more to it than that. We all have this idea and stigma around what an influencer is and part of the podcast is to challenge that, break it down and give legitimacy to the industry."
Renee estimates she's worked every day since Christmas updating social media pages and she's been known to manage up to 12 Instagram accounts concurrently.
Even James admits he underestimated the work involved in creating constant content until he saw Renee in action.
"I guess that's the taboo we're trying to break," James says. "It's a serious business. It's a serious job.
"The people that can turn it into a job, for every one that's making money and a career out of it, there's probably a 1000 who aren't. It's a hard thing to do well."
The focus of DoYouEven Influence? is not necessarily to chase interviews with influencers with the greatest number of followers, but to seek out content creators with interesting stories or a particular niche.
Renee says finding a niche and creating genuine content is also the key to becoming a financially-successful influencer.
"There's a big rise to micro-influencers and people who have smaller accounts who want genuine engagement," she says.
"People buy followers, which is something I would never recommend doing. If you're over 3000 followers, you're technically considered a content creator and could start to earn money from it.
"For me it's all about engagement. You could have 120,000 followers, but two comments. That's a gauge on whether people have bought followers."
Renee also hopes the podcast can educate potential influencers on how to launch their own social media pages.
"My fear, and what's driven this podcast, is young women are going to grow up and think 'I wanna be an influencer'," she says. "That's a job, that's what they inspire to be.
"That's fine, but if they're only doing it for aesthetic images or because it's cool and trendy, that concerns me.
"Have a niche and actually care about what you're doing. I care so much about veganism and a plant-based life and making it approachable and accessible, and that's what's driven my Instagram."
DoYouEven Influence? is available on all major podcasting platforms including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.