We had the pleasure of meeting Calli Cholodenko back in May during our trip to Palm Springs and were immediately drawn to her and her beautiful team. Talk about squad goals! She and her team were energetic and full of positive vibes! Everything about their style and workspace were, dare we say it... "Instagrammable!" Calli founded Something Social LA, a boutique social media agency, in 2013 being one of the first trailblazers to recognize what was happening within Social Media and created her own opportunity. Here's her story...
I grew up in Los Angeles, went to USC and majored in Communication. Throughout college I had a ton of internships in different areas, everything from production to fashion PR to events and nightlife. I couldn't quite find something I truly enjoyed, but always had varying interests in fashion, health, fitness, hospitality, entertainment, beauty, etc. After I graduated, a friend of mine knew someone hiring in social media. At the time, I didn't even know what that meant and I wasn't sure it was something I even wanted to pursue, but I quickly realized that I, not only enjoyed it, I was quite good at it. I began working with brands on everything from strategy to execution, and really loved what I was doing. Social media was the place where all my varying interests met, where I could focus on creativity and business development, on branding and photography, all while working with incredible brands in different industries. When my spin studio, Cycle House, asked to hire me in-house to do their social media, I (somewhat on a whim) decided I would start my own company, and that they would be my first client. I proceeded to get four more clients in the first three weeks, and it just grew from there.
When I first started in social media three years ago, it was important for brands to have a presence, but it wasn't as widely accepted as a necessity as it is today. I saw that all of my favorite brands were focusing their efforts on building strong social media content and followings, and I really believed in social being the best way for a business to brand itself to consumers, customers, clients, etc. What became even more apparent was that most brands/businesses had no idea how to create a strong social media presence. From the photography to the caption writing, and even knowing which platforms to be on, brands seemed completely lost. I realized that a one-stop shop for social was needed, and that there weren't many people offering these services, if any. It became even more clear when the referrals started coming in, and I realized most businesses were in such need of a social media company most businesses were.
It's funny looking back now on when I "started" Something Social, because it was such a seamless transition that I almost thought I was doing something wrong, like it couldn't possibly be this easy to start a business. I think the biggest challenge to overcome, that I still deal with somewhat today, is overcoming the imposter syndrome, like people would somehow figure out I had no idea what I was doing. I have always believed in my unique skill set and my abilities, and every time I'd sign a new contract my confidence would grow. We grew so quickly that the biggest hurdle was finding the right people to service the work we had coming in.
Growing my business and team has been an extremely organic process. I feel grateful for all of the incredible referrals we had in the beginning, and still to this day, it is primarily how clients find us. Word of mouth has been huge for new client acquisition, and for new employees as well. They don't call it the Trojan family for nothing, and two of my first employees actually came from USC / mutual friends. As the business and client base grew, so do did my team, and I would essentially just hire every time the work became too much for the current team's bandwidth to handle. Then we started bringing in specialty services, such as in-house graphic design and photography. Essentially, the business has informed me on hiring along the way, and I am so beyond grateful for my team.
Hands on is an understatement, especially when you're dealing with over 30 clients. I can't quite explain how we do it, but I am grateful to have such an incredible team of talented, bright, hard-working, motivated and all around kick-ass girls, who truly believe in each other, motivate each other, and pick up the slack if and when needed. Sometimes I forget to sit back and admire how truly collaborative and cooperative the team is, and how well we all work together. Everyone has their own role, their own client responsibilities, and their own unique skill set. We also use a great task management program, have weekly team meetings, and keep a master editorial calendar that is organized and color coded that helps us stay on top of posting.
The biggest difference is that we stick to digital, while traditional PR works with news and media outlets. Additionally, while PR focuses on getting brand placements, or having the brand talked about out in the world, we are shaping the brand presence on behalf of the brand, as we shoot all content, write captions and manage the day-to-day platforms. We work extremely close with our clients' PR firms, and also collaborate with several firms to service their client base.
As times progress, the two are blending more closely together; currently, more PR teams are working to secure digital press hits, working with influencers, etc. Overall, it's a very synergistic relationship and there can be quite a bit of a crossover. Take influencer relations or event activations, for example, both of these services can be handled by a social media agency or a PR firm, and quite often brands have both teams collaborate as there is always a common goal: more press, more chatter, more hits for the brand. I think PR and social will become even more intertwined over the next several years, and I expect PR firms to start building out social divisions, and social firms to start partnering with traditional PR.
I don't know that I necessarily have a favorite type of client, but overall I'd say it's the ones who trust our expertise and let us run with creative initiatives, have a strong sense of brand identity that we can then really bring to life through content and visuals, and those who lend themselves to be aesthetically pleasing. While the specific strategies vary for each individual client, the systems we have in place for getting there remain the same. We want to determine the brand identity (who they are and what they're all about), their target audience, how they should exist on social and how to message their voice and vision in the digital space. Then we dive into content strategy, influencer relations, plans for growth and community engagement.
Trust your gut! If it's telling you to do something, do it. Know that you're going to make mistakes, and that's a good thing! You'll learn from them. There's no perfect way to do anything, and sometimes the messier, the better. Know your worth and your value! This is one I'm still practicing on a daily basis. It can be extremely difficult to know how much to charge, how much time to spend on a project, how much of yourself to give, but know that you are the only you there is, and your time is valuable. Know that you're the expert, and have confidence in your unique ability to deliver your talent, skill set, and knowledge.