Today’s influencers represent a sea change in celebrity culture. Instead of actors and sports figures gaining clout first, then cashing in with endorsements, a new generation of social media stars—and no, that doesn’t just mean Gen Z—are using an interesting lifestyle and a must-engage social feed to build an audience, find a voice, and even earn a living all in real time. Today’s influencers aren’t just trendsetters, reflecting our culture back at us—they’re on their way to being power brokers, shaping the society in which we live. The new wave has reached NoVA, and we’ve gathered together the local social savants putting their stamps on our region and beyond.
We spoke to Sterling-resident Erika Bonnell—a designer whose pretty pics of her interiors have won her followers across the region.
Instagram handle: @erikabonnell
On Instagram since: 2013
Getting started: “Getting your name out there has changed so much in the last 15 years. For me, it was looking at social media and realizing that it’s a great way to promote our work, just by posting these little pictures with a bit of text or content with it.”
Why she does it: “Big-name influencers have built their following by sharing inspiration photos from other designers. My approach is different: I’m showing people in our area that we can execute a design that we post. The work that I share on our feed is always ours, and it’s mainly professionally photographed … We also try to speak to an audience that’s similar to us. That’s one of the reasons we started our weekly cocktail blog, What’s Shakin’: I am a big weekend cocktail or ‘wine down’ type of person. Interiors are built around someone’s lifestyle, and we see a lot of our clients mirroring that.”
Biggest post ever: “Some of our reels have gotten a lot of attention—one of them was from What’s Shakin’. We had a designer gathering in my studio with a fun cocktail. That had about 11,000 views. In our feed, one of our iPhone pics after an install was popular. It was a relatable space—we put in these built-ins; it’s a fun little puzzle station with a settee.”
Favorite feedback: “When we post something new and someone comments, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to hire you.’ That’s nice because they recognize how we can change your life and how you live in your home.”
Weirdest feedback: “Once or twice I had someone say something really odd, and I could tell it was a planted troll. I don’t know what their purpose is in doing that, but for the most part I get supportive and legitimate feedback.”
Future goals: “We get so busy in the day-to-day that we forget to post some of the behind-the-scenes that people want to see. For instance, when things go wrong, we don’t panic—we figure it out. And I want to show more of who we are in general—our personalities, office antics—so people don’t feel intimidated when they contact a designer.”
On “living” off-camera: “I don’t want my children growing up thinking our lives are buried in what we put on social media. I don’t want to be tied to showing every bit of everything I’m doing.”
What she won’t share: “Sadly, I should share this, but I’ve only been in the house I’m living in for three years, and I’m not living the same way I’m telling people to live. I haven’t had time to focus on my house like I’ve focused on theirs.”
Why her followers care: “They turn to us for interior inspiration. Sometimes they’re on the fence and can’t decide whether they want to hire a designer.”
The free loot: “Brands have asked to partner, but I’m not interested in promoting products to clients because I’m getting it for free. It’s not at all what I’m looking to do. I’m promoting a lifestyle.”
Top NoVA spots: “Restaurants are always inspiring. I love La Vie, which my friend David Chenault designed. The buildings are lovely at Oatlands Historic House & Gardens in Leesburg. And Stone Tower Winery: The view is spectacular. You feel like you’re in Napa. Then there’s the wine.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the January issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.