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Underscore Talent Partner Shares the #1 Key To Authenticity That Audiences Crave

Linnea Toney is a partner and manager at Underscore Talent, co-heading the entertainment department focused on representing digital creators and influencers. Her philosophy? Creators must balance professional success with authentic social good initiatives that align with their personal values.

Toney believes audiences deeply crave that sense of authenticity and purpose from influencers beyond just racking up likes and shares. She cites examples like therapist Kati Morton using YouTube to destigmatize mental health conversations and Jessica McCabe’s “How to ADHD” channel, forming a valuable community resource around the condition.

According to Toney, creators can significantly expand their audiences and learn about new causes by aligning with philanthropic organizations that share their values. This cross-pollination also benefits nonprofits through increased awareness—a win-win that platforms are actively facilitating.

Underscore Talent Partner Shares the #1 Key To Authenticity That Audiences Crave

Blending Authentic Influence and Social Impact at Underscore Talent

Linnea got her start in management a decade ago, first representing YouTuber Hannah Hart. “She was really part of that first generation of YouTube stars that came up when YouTube came out, and they were identifying talent on the platform,” Toney says.

Before joining Underscore, Toney ran her own management company for eight years after previous roles at Ryan Seacrest Productions and the Austin Film Festival. She was drawn to Underscore by the vision of co-founders Dan Weinstein and Reza Izad. 

“They’d been in this space for a long time, and I really saw the power and vision of being with a larger management company,” she explains. “Originally, a lot of managers were independent and doing their own thing. There weren’t these bigger companies that have come to be in the last few years.”

What appealed to Toney was Underscore’s focus on “bringing it back to the basics of what management is and what creators need” while navigating the constantly evolving digital business. “It was a no-brainer to jump on board and get to work with like-minded people and really build a team of managers that are so collaborative,” she says.

As a manager, Toney sees her role as “helping create a vision or mission statement/mood board about the short-term and long-term successes” for a creator’s personal brand. “We really use that as a lens to look at every opportunity that creators have and apply that to what is important in the short term versus the long term,” Toney states, adding that this factors into how Underscore guides talent on social good initiatives and non-profit involvement.

Staying True to Personal Values

Toney believes creators are intrinsically motivated to blend professional success with impactful initiatives that align with their values. “Authenticity plays such a central role in being a content creator, no matter the type of content that you create,” she explains. Linnea says engaging with organizations and causes allows creators to find deeper fulfillment beyond just metrics like likes and shares.

When integrating philanthropic efforts, the veteran manager emphasizes authenticity as key, noting some creators don’t even broadcast that work. “We have a client like Cliff and Brodie. They do a lot of hospital visits…and that’s something Cliff is so passionate about and gets to be in the moment with someone who may need a little sunshine in their day.”

According to her, the agency recommends creators focus on benefiting local communities first, then widening to national and international causes over time. “It’s about strategically picking organizations based on knowing that there are different ways to impact the people around you or your larger community,” Toney states.

She cites the examples of therapist and YouTuber Kati Morton, who has helped destigmatize mental health conversations, and Jessica McCabe, whose “How to ADHD” channel formed a valuable community resource.

Underscore Talent Partner Shares the #1 Key To Authenticity That Audiences Crave

Kati Morton, Cliff & Brodie, and Jessica McCabe

Toney believes the core differentiator is genuinely understanding that “what matters to a creator matters to your audience and community.” As for risks, she says the biggest challenge is simply staying true to one’s values, as audiences will sense any inauthenticity. “It’s about being a dynamic creator. You can’t just be one thing online,” Toney advises.

Building Audiences Through Social Impact

Linnea believes a creator’s involvement in philanthropy can help expand their audience and overall career trajectory. As she explains, “When you’re in the public eye and on social media, your content is constantly evolving. You’re reacting in real-time. Creators are like pop culture.”

Aligning with organizations that share a creator’s values allows them to “find new audiences” and learn about causes they may never have encountered otherwise. “You realize you’re not alone. That’s where you find new audiences and learn from them.”

This cross-pollination benefits both creators and nonprofits. “When organizations have similar missions to the creators they’re working with, you only lift each other up,” Toney says, noting how nonprofits have increasingly embraced working with influencers in recent years as an effective way to raise awareness.

She points out how platforms themselves are also helping to facilitate these connections between creators and social good initiatives. As content becomes more dynamic, such partnerships are proving mutually beneficial for expanding reach.

Navigating Brand Authenticity

While partnering with corporations and platforms can amplify an influencer’s philanthropic messaging, Toney acknowledges there are unique challenges in balancing social good with maintaining brand presence and profitability.

“There are moments when things can become political, and that is challenging. But if creators stay true to who they are and what they believe in and understand why they are participating and sharing, then everything else kind of falls by the wayside.”

The key, in Toney’s view, is creators preserving authenticity to their personal brand identity. “When a creator stays true to who they are, their audience will be there. It allows for a pretty deep relationship with an audience.”

She stresses that audiences don’t want influencers to deviate from their genuine selves. “You have to be true to yourself as a talent on the platform, and your audience doesn’t want you not to be,” Toney states. “That depth and sincerity of who you are personally, and what your personal brand and mission statement is, will carry that through.”

While sociopolitical minefields exist, Toney believes maintaining consistency with one’s core values is paramount when balancing commercial interests with social impact work.

Professional Advice for Aspiring Influencers

Toney advises aspiring influencers to start by defining their core mission and intentions. “What’s your mission statement? Why are you creating the content? Who do you want to be a part of your community and audience?” she says influencers should ask themselves.

“What will be impactful to you first? And then what would you want to share with the world?” Toney continues. “Using those bullet points to align [social good work] and how it can naturally weave into who you are or how you present will be a really important way of being a dynamic talent.”

The key, she emphasizes, is determining “what’s important to you? That will have people care and be engaged in your content.”

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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