We all probably know, at least conceptually, what an influencer is by now; someone who uses their social media platforms to influence followers to buy something—some product or service—often through promotional posts and giveaways and the like.
While the term “influencer” might be relatively new, the concept of brands using people with big followings (historically celebrities or athletes) as a promotional tool has been going on for as long as those brands have been selling shit. What has changed, of course, is the proliferation of free social media platforms like Instagram, which allow anyone to amass sizable followings and build their own brands.
If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last five years, you’ve surely seen the gamut of what influencers bring to the table. While the advent of these platforms was a godsend for skilled individuals and small-businesses searching for a cost effective method of growing their brand, it also emboldened a lot of lunatics and enabled wave after wave of talentless, insipid attention-addicts.
So how can you tell which influencers are worthy of your attention? Well, unless you’re stunted, or impossibly horny, we’d recommend passing on any influencer that willingly associates with the term or refers to themselves as such. (Could you even imagine saying that out loud? “I’m an influencer!” No, you’re a narcissistic dolt.)
Truth is, we really have no idea how to navigate the sea of influencers, but a good place to start is by following people that support righteous causes, and who’s brands and careers extend well beyond the borders of the internet. Enter Samantha Coppolino.
Coppolino is a producer for the Elvis Duran and the Morning Show, co-founder/host of the BAM! Wedding Podcast, mental health advocate, Jersey City native, ‘brand ambassador’ (…influencer), and an actual, good human-being. NJ INDY had a chance to chat with her about her engagement, career in media, some of the brands/causes she promotes, and her love of New Jersey.
NJ Indy: I had a chance to listen to the “BAM! Wedding Podcast”, which you host with your fiancé Bill (Domke), and was really impressed. You two are really funny and it’s a cool concept: inviting people into your life and the preparations leading up to your nuptials—speaking of, congratulations on the engagement! When are you getting hitched?
Samantha Coppolino: I can’t tell if this is a great date or the worst date but we picked November 25. So the theme is “eat a lot of food, sleep for a bit and then come to our party.” We have a lot of friends who don’t live in-state, so it actually makes them kind of happy [not having to book another flight]; they’ll already be home for the holiday. And then I have a few family members that I’m going to be OK with if they say they can’t make it. Generally I’m alright with the date but nothing is perfect and I’m prepping myself for that.
NJI: You had the opportunity to recount the engagement in detail with Elvis on the show and what you described was pretty epic: public proposal, serenaded by a band on the street. A lot of your personal life is voluntarily in the public eye, does this ever get difficult to navigate?
SC: It really doesn’t feel like it’s in the public eye because the show is such a small group. I get, realistically, it is [in the public eye], but when I show up to work every day I don’t feel like a professor. I don’t have to sit in front of a bunch of people judging me. Things are shared on social, mostly, and on the show and then I just don’t really exercise my ability to read the messages that come in response to everything. And that’s OK, because I’m usually in a pretty decent space so those messages aren’t really going to put me in a better one, and then if they put me in a worse one, I could do without that.
The actual proposal, while super wonderful, was a great testament to [Bill’s] sense of humor and pushing of my boundaries because I made him promise me “no flash mobs,” but then he countered with a loophole and claimed I never said anything about “no flash bands,” which I didn’t even know was a thing. He said he knew I was going to say “probably,” [to the proposal] which I actually was planning on saying because I thought it would be hilarious. He said he knew I’d be too mortified to say that in front of a bunch of people and he was absolutely correct. There’s a video of one of my friends watching from over top and it’s one of my favorite videos from that night because you can hear her say, “She did not want this, she’s miserable right now.” Pretty accurate. I don’t like feeling watched! I know, I get how contradictory that statement is with my job. But this job, I kind of just fell in love with all of the side elements and then the fact that you are technically watched was just permissible at the time [when I started].
NJI: So no negative aspects from having so much of your life broadcasted?
SC: Not really because I think I’m pretty good at defense… and I go to therapy. I tried to be hard and callous for the first couple of years but I didn’t really like it that much. I’m a marshmallow and that’s totally fine. I don’t block stuff out very well, I just take care of it; and I definitely know the difference between my problem and someone else’s.
NJI: How long have you worked for the ‘Elvis Duran Show’?
SC: Almost 10 years at this point. When I came in, it was mostly behind the scenes but then the rest of the members would be curious due to the life-gap between us. Like, they’d ask me to talk about college or talk about my friend falling off of a bar and getting us banned for life, you know, the kind of shit they didn’t really have time for anymore in their lives. But, for the record, Elvis could out-party anyone that I’ve ever met. Anyway, I think that helped [the college-aged perspective] in the beginning, and then over time they were like, “Hey, you seem warm and fuzzy in a way that maybe some members of the show aren’t,” and that’s sort of what Elvis’ special talent is: picking out people who can do the job but also have personalities that complement the show. There’s no two members of the team that are alike and that’s by design because we need to be able to talk about life for four hours everyday. When there’s no incredible news story lending itself to the fabric of the program, you need to have a diverse cast of personalities to make things interesting.
NJI: Wow, almost 10 years? With the same crew? You all must be really tight knit by now, no?
SC: Yeah, it really does feel like a family. Maybe more like family members that you don’t necessarily need to be in constant contact with but then you know how close you are when someone comes under criticism or is going through something and you are just compelled by your bond to support them immediately. It’s been about nine years with most of these people. I’ve witnessed some of the darkest personal times that I could have during those nine years in our lives. I mean, Elvis could literally say anything [negative] to me and then in the next moment if someone [outside of our group] said something bad to him, I’d want to choke them out. Who he is, what we’ve been through, what I’ve seen him go through… he’s just a really good, protective dude and after nine years, I’ll just take care of him no matter what goes on. To me, that’s pretty much what family feels like, right? These people don’t feel like coworkers.
NJI: It’s evident that part of your success stems from just being yourself: charismatic, positive, kind, empathetic—all traits that are definitely inherent in you and not feigned for a “public image.” That’s not to say you haven’t had to work incredibly hard. You’ve done really well to leverage the hard work, along with your attributes/talent, to afford yourself some incredible opportunities and status in your industry. Speaking to that hard work: what would you say you’ve done right and what habits did you develop that were most instrumental to your achievements?
SC: Ha! Failing upwards?! I don’t know, this doesn’t totally work for everyone, but, I think I’ve just been really good about being me. I was so happy and peppy in the beginning and then I started to question whether or not I was some big pushover. Do I say yes too much? Do I try to help too many people out? Am I actually in a good mood right now? Because I can’t tell. I started to second guess myself a lot, which then led to taking on attributes of people that I respected—things that worked for them. I’m not sure they really worked for me so much, so I really had to just stay focused on working within myself, knowing who I am, being that person. This may be a hard business to keep that up. Maybe some people can lose their sense of self? I’d like to think that on screen or off, public or private life, I’m pretty much always the same. Unless I’m totally exhausted, in which case, I have to fake being the way I typically would be.
NJI: You are an influencer, Sam! Did that statement make you nauseous, too? Just kidding… sorta. General thoughts on the term “influencer” and social media in general?
SC: Well, the word is terrible. But only because most people don’t really do it very well [utilize their platform]. Actually, most of the people I work with are pretty top-notch I would say.
NJI: Wait, so what does that mean? Do influencers need to improve their thirst-trapping?
SC: Yeah, for sure. I mean we get some lessons on that [thirst-trapping] before we sign up for our Instagram accounts. Ha ha, NO. I think everyone I work with does really well at working within themselves, developing a brand that reflects who they actually are. I’d love to say yes to everyone who wants to pay me to promote whatever. I’d love to take that money, who wouldn’t? But most brands that reach out actually have a pitch that makes sense. Recently I had a brand message me and say, “Hey, we see you’re engaged, would you like to get in better shape?” I mean, yeah, that’s fairly on point; that’s something I can work with. I think that’s sort of how this influencing thing should be. I smirk and tip my cap to the influencers who are full of bullshit. I mean, well done. Why not keep saying “yes” if people are trying to give you money and people are going to keep following? That’s just something I try not to do, even though I get really mad for saying no sometimes.
NJI: So what sort of things are you promoting?
SC: The sex positive stuff. This female-play brand reached out and asked if I’d work with them. I mean, I said yes, but I was still petrified; but that was part of the reason why I said yes to them. Like, you know what? It’s something I feel ashamed of, but I know I shouldn’t. This is super embarrassing for me but it’s actually not supposed to be. I backed everything they were claiming and talking about [regarding sex positivity and normalizing female play] and I could use some other people telling me about it so I wouldn’t feel so embarrassed. So yeah, I started working with them about two years ago. Lost a lot of followers in the beginning, though. People see you on social media and they like to put you in this box. I got a lot of different versions of the same message: “I thought you were nice.” Oh well.
NJI: Anything else you’ve promoted that’s brought you outside of your comfort zone even though you’re passionate about it?
SC: Yeah, I’ve tried to be pretty outspoken about therapy and mental health on the show and social, whenever possible. I guess that’s something that was even harder to talk about; especially because I started [therapy] for a reason that I don’t necessarily think people should need in order to go to therapy. Something hardcore tragic occurred and I literally said out loud, “I don’t have the ability to deal with this.” And that was it, I dove into research and I ultimately saw three or four therapists that were not really a fit until I found my therapist—which is a big reason why I wanted to discuss/promote therapy so much. I liken it to dating, you’re not going to stop dating because you had a few bad dates, that’s not how it works. The benefit of finding someone [a therapist] that is a fit is just astronomical.
NJI: Practical advice for people who are pursuing a career in media/entertainment?
SC: Make yourself super uncomfortable. I was able to do that before I got comfortable enough to sit in one chair for nine years. Try out everything you can. Before I became an intern with Elvis I had an interest in sports media so I interned with the NFL, which was definitely outside my comfort zone. I loved it, I got to learn a lot; I got to learn that it wasn’t necessarily for me but it was a great experience. Then, I’d also say to do way more than you have to do. I was one of five interns when I first started with Elvis but I always showed up early, I asked a ton of questions (and probably annoyed everyone), I always asked if anyone needed help; I literally pestered people until they realized they did need a hand with something—so do that in any way you can until you actually annoy someone. Come up to the line, just don’t cross it.
NJI: Anything new on the horizon for you, professionally?
SC: In the not so distant future I’m actually going to try my hand at giving other people a platform. I love producing and I invested quite a bit of money into equipment. So yeah, I’m going to definitely try my hand at a bit more of the behind-the-scenes content creation stuff. That’s part of my job with the Elvis show but I want to spend some more time helping other people develop their brands/ideas. So we’ll see how that goes.
NJI: Obviously you need to be close to Manhattan for work and I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to move across the river, what’s kept you on the Jersey side? Is NYC (or perhaps another city) in your future?
SC: Well, I lived in Harlem for a year. I actually really liked it. Had to leave because the roommates were messy and I couldn’t handle it. Wanted to get out before I burned those friendships to the ground. New York is great, still really beautiful, but I just can’t afford to live there how I would need to live. I mean, I need plants and greenery and parks. I live very close to multiple parks where I am in Jersey City; my morning walk-around involves a lot of nature. To be able to afford a similar scene in New York, you have to be doing incredibly well for yourself.
There’s no particular other city or place I’d want to go right now. A part of me wants to try moving, a little bit, at some point, but there’s no place I have in mind just yet. I love NJ so much; I think that’s what makes me say only “a little bit.” But I’m always really impressed by people who can just pick up their lives and go do something else. I’m not sure what they are, but I think there are some things that you can only find out about yourself if you move. My fiancé is not a city person at all, he was ready to move out of Jersey City yesterday.
NJI: You’ve been in Jersey City for a minute now, what are some of your favorite food/drink spots?
SC: Porta, for sure. Rustique Pizza—I love their pizza, not super passionate about the rest of the menu as much, but the pizza is perfect. I love Razza as well, I don’t get to enjoy that as much because it’s like a seven-hour wait, but their stuff is absolutely fantastic. Hamilton Inn and Hamilton Pork, obviously same owners, right across from the park [Hamilton Park], it’s just reliably good food, I love it. Hamilton Inn is like the place that’s open when there’s a blizzard and nothing else is open and it’s just a feeling there… like, I would move in if it wasn’t a restaurant. There’s just a rustic warmth, but professional [staff, kitchen]. If I were to drop anyone off in Jersey City to show them around and say, “This is it,” I’d consider dropping them off there. The vibe there is a Jersey City one. Oh, and Pet Shop! If Pet Shop closed I’d be really, really upset. It’s my favorite “trick” vegetarian restaurant because not everyone knows that it is.
NJI: Favorite restaurant in the state? Favorite dish?
SC: I honestly don’t have one anymore. My favorite food for years was just plain grilled pulpo (octopus), but then in quarantine I watched My Octopus Teacher on Netflix and, I’m not kidding, I haven’t had it since. There’s a place on the water, Hudson & Co, it’s really nice. They have such a beautiful smelling pulpo dish, and I’m so sad I didn’t know about it until after I watched that show. I’m stubborn, so I’m not going to break with that, either.
NJI: Where do you feel most at home in NJ: Jersey City or where you grew up in Monmouth County?
SC: Is it so depressing to say I don’t think there is a place where I feel most at home here? I mean, I know I’ll be inconsolable one day when I inevitably leave Jersey City, but, I guess my most comfortable place on the entire planet is my parents’ backyard before they fenced it in—alone; if there are people there, everything is ruined! Either there or a bench in Hamilton Park.
NJI: What does being a New Jerseyan mean to you?
SC: You have a sense of humor… and an understanding of mental flexibility. Anywhere else you go, reality television has ruined us. Two summers ago I got to go to Japan with work and I can’t tell you how many times I found myself the butt of the joke because they found out I was from New Jersey [because of The Jersey Shore]. Still? I mean, really? OK. It was amazing, though. I think we are just spoiled and stubborn here; we have the best of both kinds of worlds. Personally, I don’t want to leave because I love the city so much but I’m also like 90 years old in my soul so I want space and nature and peace, which Jersey has, too. We’ve got everything, come on. You can wake up and go for a hike and then maybe end your night at some disgusting dive bar that smells like urine in New York. All joking aside, that’s a really beautiful thing.