With over 20,000 followers on Instagram, The GR Guide, aka Sara Visser, has easily earned her moniker.
Visser is a born and raised Grand Rapidian who jumped on the Instagram platform early on while living and working in Chicago and today operates a thriving account, @thegrguide, (and a blog) where she shares all her favorite things about Grand Rapids with her followers.
“I worked for a fashion startup in Chicago, and we were, at that time, capitalizing a lot on Instagram. That drove me straight into it. That was when Instagram was just taking off,” Visser said. “At that time, we were posting our outfits every day, going to New York Fashion Week, really just trying to get the ball rolling.”
Visser also began her own blog focused on Chicago restaurants, fashion and other lifestyle topics. When she decided to make the move back to Grand Rapids, she got the idea for The GR Guide.
“Talking about the growth and the fun things that were happening in the city,” she said. She launched the blog aspect of the project first, followed by the Instagram account. Within a few months, the Instagram account was gaining followers.
Five years later, The GR Guide has become a go-to resource for many people looking for the newest restaurants, retailers and other fun content Visser shares.
When she first started her accounts, “influencer” wasn’t really a job, but today, companies are scrambling to enlist influencers in their marketing campaigns — there are even agencies whose sole purpose is to represent influencers and garner deals for them with corporations.
Visser said she has experienced an uptick in companies that want to partner with her. Over the summer, she partnered with Priority Health on a Savor the Summer series, for instance. But she said she remains choosy about who she decides to work with and is focused on retaining the integrity of her brand by staying genuine.
“There might be a misconception that this is so easy or that it’s not a real job. It is a really, really hard job to do. You can’t just check out at 5 and be done with work for the day.”
“As an influencer or blogger, you get a lot of emails from people who want to work with you, and I really pick and choose companies, whether local or national, that I feel are a good fit for myself. It would be easy to say yeah (to) anyone that reaches out to me, but I do pick and choose, and I try to be genuine about sharing things that I actually use in my everyday life,” she explained.
Visser said a lot of the growth of influencers has to do with the tools available. Instagram grew from a photo-sharing platform to include video, live streams and more.
“It’s different now with social media. I think you can tell a bit more of a story with what you are doing in the Instagram stories and creating more videos and it’s cool to see the direction that is taking, and I think companies are finding that valuable,” she said. “I really think the video aspect and more of the interacting with people is going to be a big thing. It’s cool how Instagram Live lets you interact with people one on one. If they ask you a question, you can respond to it right away.”
She said the important thing to her has been to stay true to herself and while she’s eager to try new things, she also wants to ensure she is sticking with what she is best at and not becoming overwhelmed by all the new platforms and tools available.
She also enjoys the blogging aspect of her work and continues telling stories that way, noting, “I still like to bring the story in on the blog, too.” And with local media shrinking, social media influencers are becoming a bigger piece of the local community’s storytelling outlets.
Visser said she is seeing more local influencers or would-be influencers cropping up, but she welcomes them, and she is happy to offer advice to others.
“Truly just be yourself. I think all of us as individuals have different stories to tell, so even if there is another GR influencer, I could tell a story one way of going to a restaurant and they could tell it a different way. I could take a photo of a dish and they could take a photo of a dish and they’re going to look different,” she said. “I think it’s cool to have different people in the community doing their own thing.”
Visser said it’s been exciting to see her Instagram grow and evolve over the past five years and she continues to see new opportunities as social media expands.
A typical day for her includes coffee in the morning with her husband before diving into emails from the comfort of her kitchen table, followed by an afternoon of creative work, which might include creating a blog post or other content or taking photos.
Visser said the biggest misconception about being an influencer is that it isn’t work. “There might be a misconception that this is so easy or that it’s not a real job. It is a really, really hard job to do. You can’t just check out at 5 and be done with work for the day. It’s wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, the continual process of working, it might not always feel like working, but it is, but it’s also a fun job. What I love most about what I do is being creative.”
As she looks to the future, Visser plans to stay the course and continue focusing on spotlighting Grand Rapids.
“I’m really trying to focus a little more on the videos and that kind of storytelling, and it’s cool to see from when I started Instagram to see where it is today. The growth that has happened, and I’m excited what can happen in the future,” Visser said.
Sara Visser shares the accounts she loves to follow on Instagram:
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.