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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Social media is no longer just for sharing photos of your family vacation. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are home to a nearly $14 billion industry for influencers to grow their brand, and their image. FOX4 spoke with three local influencers who get ”real” about the power of social media.

If you have an Instagram account, chances are likely that you’re following an influencer. Maybe you like their recipes, exercise videos, or their fashion. Whatever it is, they’re complete strangers who feel like friends, influencing you in one way or another.  

“It’s not that I was ever like, ‘I really want to be an influencer,’ and I still don’t necessarily consider myself one. But I guess if you have a little bit of a following and people look to you for some type of advice or direction, I guess that’s that. So, I kind of just fell into whatever I’m doing,” Aja James (@ajakenzie) said.

James and Mallory Jansen started their fitness company “It’s Flexy’’ in 2017. Their business account on Instagram now has more than 8,000 followers. Jansen agreed, the “influencing” just kind of happened. 

“I don’t know if it was totally intentional. Aja and I work together for Flexy, and we coach people together all the time,” Jansen (@malloryjansen) said.

“I think it was kind of a seamless transition in showing your own personal lifestyle and understanding how our clients like to be spoken to or coached. And understanding that social media can take that to a whole new level and help more people.”

For Jennifer Robinson, the desire to influence was 100% intentional.

“So when I first decided to put myself out there, I would reach out to a few photographers and most of them told me, ‘I really don’t shoot plus-size models I’m sorry,’” Robinson (@thefoxxiblog) said. 

“I was like, I’m tough, I got tough skin, I’m fine. But when you see the words in the email or DMs, just ‘No thank you, and you’re a bigger model, and that’s just not what I photograph.’ For a split second, it stings.” 

That’s when “The Foxxi Blog” was born. Robinson bought a camera and started taking her own modeling photos. Now, she has more than 4,000 followers, and sponsorship deals with several major brands.

Although social media is a powerful tool – it can also punch you right where it hurts: your insecurities.

“People can be very bold when they’re behind a computer,” Jansen said. 

“I think on one side you’re getting those messages that are like, ‘Oh heyyyy.’ But there’s also those people that are looking and saying, ‘Why is she posting in only a sports bra? Why is she in lingerie?’” James said.

And although these three do their best to keep it “real” – filters make it easier than ever for anyone to give themselves bigger lips, longer lashes, and flawless skin. While this virtual face lift can make you feel good in the moment – it’s important to use it carefully. 

“I do feel like if you aren’t in touch with yourself, using a filter can really alter the way you see yourself. Using a filter, you see no pores. And your skin is just fabulous and the moment you take it off you’re just like, ‘Oh.’ And it’s like pores, we all have pores. There’s nothing wrong with them,” Robinson said. 

Filter or not, influencers are meant to influence and inspire. If you’re not feeling it, Jansen says you’ll know when it’s time to unfollow. 

“How does it make you feel when you’re looking at these things? And if it’s something that’s pulling from your energy, then it’s probably not something you should be investing your time in,” Jansen said.

“But if it’s something that makes you happy and you think will help you progress in your own life, then that’s the content you should be investing in.”

And the term “influencer” isn’t just for people with thousands or millions of followers. Even if you have 20 followers, you might already be an influencer and you don’t even know it. 

“This is something I’ve realized. You may be looking at another woman saying, ‘Ugh, I wish I had this.’ There’s another woman looking at you, saying the exact same thing,” Robinson said.  

Here’s one thing influencers have perfected: taking a magazine-worthy photo! Wednesday, FOX4’s #RealMeKC series continues with the tricks photographers play to get that perfect photo.