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Behind the social media account — Matt Harnacke

With 682,000 followers on Instagram and 349,000 subscribers on YouTube, Matt Harnacke is a social media powerhouse — but more than that, Matt’s also an international model, a rider, and has a lot of other strings to his bow too.

In addition to growing his own platforms, Matt has been involved with the FEI in a presenting role, works with global brands, has travelled around the world as part of his job, and has launched and sold out of two own brand equestrian collections through his social media. And here we get to find out all about him, his growth, and so much more.

How did you get started?

I started sharing part of my life online with friends on Instagram in 2014/2015. I found that I was sharing a lot of horse stuff as that’s such a big part of what I do, and I also realised that not a lot of guys were on Instagram sharing the beginning of the journey. They’re all at the top — it all changes at GP! When I was quite young, it was a point of difference that I was riding, there weren’t many men doing what I was on Instagram. Then I started modelling and I found the need to grow my numbers on social — actually, at a casting, they called the people with the highest number of followers on social media first! I’ve been modelling since I was 17 and my account kind of transitioned as I did. The more modelling I did, the more my account shared my modelling and my horses. And the more I did, the more my life brought me things that I could share, that were also interesting to other people.

What do you enjoy about what you do?

It’s the ability to be my own boss and pick my own trajectory. I don’t feel that I am working as I enjoy everything I do. And it’s not all on social media. Social media has allowed me to develop beyond that. I have a new business launching soon and I have various investments. What I do now is multi-layered and really interesting. And I get to share this passion with all my followers. If you can turn your passion into a job, you’re very lucky.

Which platform do you enjoy the most and why?

They go had in hand. They help each other. I started as an Instagrammer but went to YouTube to share the journey. And I was able to tell my Instagram followers all about my YouTube channel – and I had around 500k followers at that point so that helped a lot. The first thing I posted was sharing the journey from Australia to Netherlands with my horse. I was one of the first to film and produce inside an aircraft. Since doing that, I found a love for content creation. Through YouTube, people get to know you more personally. But on Instagram, I get to share my every day life.

Have you had any ‘pinch me’ or completely surreal moments because of your online presence?

My first ‘OMG’ moment in my modelling was a campaign for American Eagle — I was on a billboard in Times Square — just my face. I was flying at the time and I got an email from a friend and it was a really emotional and surreal moment for me. But beyond that, with social media you get so many crazy, weird moments. I’ve been at a party with Leo DiCaprio. I’ve met A list celebrities. I’ve been asked to be on Dancing with the Stars — I even had an email to be on Love Island. I get a lot opportunities because of social media!

What do you find hard about being an influencer?

Because you’re in charge of your own trajectory, there is no rulebook, there’s no set path to follow, and there are no real rules for the kind of business I’m in. Even things like how much to charge for posts. There are guidelines from other industries but it’s still so new and emerging. When it comes to charging, I’m lucky to have the modelling background as I know the value of what I do, and I can move that over. It can be a struggle though sometimes – as some brands in the horse world are not as aware of the power of social media marketing as many other industries. I still have people offer me a saddlecloth in exchange for social media posts and it’s not right given my audience size. The space is changing a lot and brands are beginning to understand the value more, but it is still difficult.

Do you like the term influencer or do you prefer to be called something different and why?

I don’t mind the term but it has been spread too much and is often used incorrectly. I don’t think of it as someone with a large following; it’s someone with an engaged, interested and trusting following — someone who has earned the fact that they do have influence over their following. So being called an influencer is something to be proud of. But people don’t understand it. If someone isn’t aware of the meaning it’s not the greatest thing to be called. If someone understands the meaning, it’s a big compliment.

Can you talk about some of the opportunities that being an influencer has created? What have been the most memorable for you?

I’ve travelled the world with my social media. My biggest client is Longines. I have been to Paris, London, Hong Kong, US, Barcelona, literally all over the world, shooting social campaigns with them. I’ve also been on a safari tour which I documented through my social media channels — Africa is the most beautiful place and being able to explore it like I have was such a privilege. To be able to buy my own property and have horses at home at 23 is amazing too — that’s a real dream. I love being able to invite new people into the sport, raising awareness of what we do. I also have worked with the FEI, presenting for them, attending events, promoting them — and that has been amazing.

Which brands have you worked with recently? Do you tend to seek out longer term partnerships, individual promotions or a mixture of the two and why?

I always prefer long term as there is no point for me in having no commitment. I need to believe in the product and work long term. Every influencer has a lot of emails about one off posts but it’s something I hardly ever do. I want to treat my followers as friends — I don’t want a two-minute opinion on something and change my mind the next day. I want to be able to tell my followers I genuinely love something, if I don’t I won’t share it, just like when you call a friend and tell them about your latest amazing find. I don’t love change myself and I don’t want to subject my followers to chopping and changing. I really need to believe in the product so I can talk about it passionately, so I need that long term connection.

Do you have any advice for brands or equestrians on forming positive working relationships?

I guess it’s being excited about working together, being positive and excited. I think that equestrians looking to grow in this area need a point of difference. I always try and do something different. You have to think what’s best for the client, but also what’s true to you. You need to be able to have a conversation about what will work for your brand as an influencer. You need to be true to your style and what you believe in, even if that means turning down work. Allow yourself to do that.

How do you decide which opportunities to pursue and which to leave?

I have to like the product and would recommend without an incentive — that’s the point I start at with everything. Then I look whether the company is aware of what I am bringing to the table so we can form a partnership. Once I have those, I move forward.

Do you receive any negativity online? How do you deal with trolls?

It’s natural to have negativity online. I’d say 99% of the feedback I have is positive but I still focus on the negative. I can take things to heart — I care about what people think. I don’t want to offend anyone or make people think I am doing wrong by my horses. I don’t really get hate, but I do think that a lot of negativity comes from ignorance, so I try and educate in my content to address any negativity. I will take time to explain why something looks like it does, or show the messy moments of training, moments of miscommunication, because it’s absolutely normal for a horse and rider to have this! I always try and educate, I don’t directly address the hate.

Top tips for anyone who wants to start an Instagram account and grow it?

If you have a favourite account and want to be just like them — delete your account and don’t do it! In all seriousness, you need to be different. Be niche. You’re not going to be the next ‘X’, you’re going to be you. You need to talk to the camera like you chat to your friends. Get comfortable in front of the camera. Be yourself. Don’t be the next ‘X’.

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And tips for people wanting to grow subscribers on YouTube?

Be regular with the content creation and putting it out there. A lot of my Instagram followers started engaging with YouTube, which helped me when I started the account as I had a large following I could promote my channel to.

I want to watch people going on a journey with their horse, and I think that is such a big part of YouTube. Be interesting, be engaging, be fun. I’d love to see some more fun, reality content on YouTube. Following a journey of a horse getting to a level and competing, interactions with others, fresh ideas, unfiltered content, real moments, relationships, a feeling of how it is to be you! I genuinely find it a bit saddening when I look at a lot of the content out there at the moment as we have an amazing community and sport and we’re lacking in Interesting, educational content. I’m looking to do more and more in this space and it’s definitely where I would tell YouTubers to aim.

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