With the emergence of new social trends and platforms, businesses continue to put their trust in the next generation of content creators, influencers, and marketers. As we've learned in our past PLANOLEADER features, career experience—and expertise —can be cultivated in numerous ways. Today's PLANOLEADER checks both of these boxes and also proves that leading with enthusiasm is a sure path to success no matter where you are in your professional journey. Enter Susie Benitez of Chillhouse. Susie's passion for storytelling has laid the foundation for a promising career, which began with an internship at the world-renowned modeling agency, Wilhelmina. Today, Susie is the Community Coordinator at Chillhouse. She has already enjoyed several opportunities to engage with Chillhouse's community across its growing digital channels. And while having only recently turned the corner on her first anniversary with the industry-leading company, the budding marketing maven has big plans for the brand, and herself, with the new decade ahead. Susie kindly gave us a tour of Chillhouse's stunning SoHo flagship and shared how social media has played an integral role in solidifying the Chillhouse brand experience.
Please introduce yourself!
Hi! I'm Susie Benitez, and I'm the Community Coordinator for Chillhouse. I'm originally from Miami, Florida, and have been living in NYC for almost six years now—four of which were spent at NYU. I created my own major in Magazine Design and Journalism at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Since I was about 13, I thought I'd work for a fashion magazine, but as I grew older, my passions expanded and now include a heavy dose of music and travel. So in my free time, it's safe to say that I'm probably either flipping through international magazines at McNally Jackson, browsing Scandinavian fashion brands online, planning my next vacation (and making sure it somehow stops in London, my favorite city on earth) or at a (probably) loud and (definitely) fun concert. Or, honestly, a curious combination of all four of these things. (I make it work.)
Before Chillhouse, what were you up to professionally, what role did digital play in your job description, and what have been some notable moments throughout your career so far?
Wow! Well, first off, seeing the words your career in any capacity is still a crazy thing(in the best way) because I've actually only been doing this full-time for about a year now. So to answer that first question, before Chillhouse, I was a full-time student—this is actually my very first job out of college. That sounds like a big jump, but it's not quite that sudden. I was the social media and editorial intern over at The Chill Times, our sister site before I became the full-time Community Coordinator for Chillhouse. Hence, it felt like a pretty natural transition. However, before that, I was an intern with Wilhelmina Models for almost two years. I was lucky enough to have positions across many different boards, cities, and even countries (remember what I said about London!). That's where I began my formal introduction to social media. As for the notable moments with Chillhouse, I would say my first SXSW last March, our Montauk pop-up last summer, and the opening of our flagship location in SoHo in November have been some of my stand-out moments in terms of "Wow... I was a part of this? I helped create this?" Those moments were pretty cool.
Describe your role as Chillhouse's Community Coordinator. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about your position, and how do you think it will evolve in tandem with the current business landscape?
My role is one that didn't even exist just a few years ago, so I'd actually like to tackle the second part of this question first. I deal with a lot of things that people see as total buzzwords: content, influencers, engagement, and so on. But because these words are so relatively new, especially in this context, and so attributed to young people, I feel like community coordinators, content creators, social media managers, influencers, and everyone who can get lumped into these "social" job descriptions don't get taken very seriously. Some people think I'm just sitting on Instagram all day doing nothing. And sure, I'm on my phone a lot, but that's quite literally my job, which(newsflash!) doesn't mean it's always fun! Or easy. Just because my job doesn't look like what someone expects a typical job to look like doesn't mean that it's not challenging in its own ways—or, more importantly, that everyone can "just" do it. The word "just" gets thrown around a lot when it comes to social media. "Just" post this or "just" make that. It can make these tasks seem thoughtless or unimportant when really, there's a lot more thought, planning, skill, and effort that goes into these types of jobs than some may realize. I recognize that I do not have the hardest job in the world, but I have one that I've realized after a year, commands a bit more respect than it's often given. How do I think it will evolve? That's an exciting question. And to be honest, I don't think it's one that I can answer very easily—if at all. The thing with jobs like mine is that they are so contingent upon much larger trends. The approach to our social media presence, content, strategy, and therefore the job itself can change from one day to the next. What is working one day may stop working the next. People simply don't want to engage with it anymore; they've had enough. Essentially, social media, and the online communities that we build through it, evolve so regularly that it's hard for me to predict the next big "thing" when every day involves a bit of prediction. One thing I can confidently say (although it might sound a little obvious) is that people are actively trying to go on their phones less. So the importance of cultivating that community offline becomes all the more vital. This is something I've been trying to focus on the past few months. Even for me, it's nice to get off my phone for a while!
Tell us more about Chillhouse's social community. What has been one of the biggest lessons you've learned about using social media as a tool to tap into more extensive conversations around wellness and hospitality?
We are so lucky to have the community that we do. Chillhouse is a young brand - only about three years old - so there are quite a lot of people who have been there from the very beginning and watched us grow into what we are now. They understand that at the end of the day, we're all still learning, and they never fault us for making mistakes. I credit a lot of that understanding and compassion to Cyndi, my boss, and the founder of Chillhouse. She's always been so open about what it takes to be a business owner, and our community really appreciates that level of honesty. It's that same honesty that runs throughout our entire approach to wellness. We make it simple and easy to not only understand but enjoy. And in keeping with that, the lesson I've learned is honesty. Keeping that openness going has been so crucial to learn about our community. It's become an open dialogue now, almost like a conversation, and that's special.
Aside from Chillhouse's flourishing Instagram presence, the company also publishes its supplementary editorial arm, The Chill Times. What would you say is the primary difference between Chillhouse's social and blog communities?
Having worked directly with both communities, I can tell you right off the bat that The Chill Times followers are a dedicated bunch! And I say that with the utmost love. When explaining what I do and where to others, I always say that Chillhouse handles a lot of the more "fun" aspects of self-care, like massages, manicures, facials, and all the things that we use to not only take care of ourselves but to treat ourselves. The Chill Times can take that a bit further and explore the parts of self-care that may not be as fun and glamorous as a perfectly designed manicure or a freshly exfoliated face. They touch on sexual health, mental health, questions, experiences, and everything in between that we can't fit as easily into the everyday Chillhouse retail experience—but is just as important to a well-rounded view of what self-care really is. The community of contributors we have built is so passionate. They're some of our biggest cheerleaders. Now, this may be my own bias speaking, but I believe long-form content will always be necessary (similarly to how I think print media will always be necessary, but that's a conversation for another day)—getting the full picture shouldn't always come from bite-size bits of information. Long-form will always be important to the big picture, and I'm proud to work for a company that feels the same way!
The visual pillars of the Chillhouse brand are instantly recognizable. What do you think resonates the most about the brand's social identity?
It's becoming more and more obvious that there is a much larger visual movement that Chill house is a part of, one that's sleek, minimal, and, most importantly, inviting. And that last part is where I think Chillhouse really succeeds. Our brand identity is fun and light and has nothing to hide. It has the same honesty that's imbued in the way that we engage with our community both online and offline. I think it goes without saying, but we don't take ourselves so seriously—come by! Chill out! I believe our identity speaks to that message. It's something that everyone that works at Chillhouse also really believes, including myself, of course, so it's deeply intertwined with our ethos, our services, our beverages, our Instagram, you name it. It's all very cohesive.
What are your top tips for professionals who are looking to create wellness-driven social content that resonates with modern consumers?
- Don't be afraid to ask questions about wellness. Something Chillhouse and The Chill Times have done well from the beginning is to create and maintain a space that celebrates curiosity and discovery. So if you have a question about something, just ask. Dive into it, do your research, experience it for yourself [if you want to], speak to experts, and share what you learn. Chances are someone else has that same question, too. We definitely didn't immediately start as experts!
- When in doubt, think about what you'd like to see.If you don't know about something you're working on, think to yourself, "Would I actually find any interest in this?" Put yourself on the outside for a moment. Put your brand bias aside and think critically about the content that you're creating. Would I enjoy seeing or engaging with this if I didn't work so closely with this brand? Always be open to different perspectives, of course, but if you're feeling conflicted, remember: you're ultimately the one in control.
- Following a trend is okay—to an extent. You don't have to hop on every single trend in social media. I think that's what makes the Chillhouse brand feel so natural and organic. We don't jump on a trend just because it's popular. We definitely have our fun, but we stick to what feels right for us.