There's something really significant about independent and intelligent women sharing their wisdom and insight on how they've built their digital presence and business with an enthralled audience. Our recent event in partnership with General Assembly, Shape Shifting Social: How to Stay Ahead of the Instagram Curve like an Influencer captivated all of that and more with our incredible speakers Jane Ko of A Taste of Koko and Paola Mathé of Finding Paola and Fanm Djanm.
For an hour and a half, we sat down to talk all things Instagram and Influencer Marketing, where they dished all of their tips about how they tackle everything from beating the algorithm to making the right partnerships to creating engaging content in a competitive social space. With the help of our very own Brand Partnerships Manager, Priscilla Castro, we not only got tons of insight from Jane and Paola, but we even offered up some social media advice on behalf of PLANOLY to help give our perspective on managing social media from a brand's side. Not only that, but we had some special treats from our amazing sponsors featuring bubbly rosé from Le Grand Courtâge, refreshing sips from Health-Ade Kombucha and Austin Cocktails, and healthy bites from Bare Snacks. It was a great mid-week treat for everyone! Missed out on our panel, or want to look back at some of the key moments last week? Read on for a full recap of the panel event and also learn more about our speakers!
As the editor of A Taste of Koko, the premier food and travel blog featuring the hottest restaurants and weekend getaways, Jane Ko has done an impeccable job of storytelling through Instagram Stories and has taken her readers through a world of food, travel, and lifestyle. And brands have taken notice: with all her strategic partnerships, Jane loves helping brands tell their story and build a powerful social presence through community engagement, strategy, and digital marketing. Having already spoken at the University of Texas Austin, Google and Whole Foods on entrepreneurship and social media, along with hosting the largest food crawl in Austin during SXSW with over 20,000 participants, it's safe to say Jane knows what she's talking about. For Paola, born a dreamer from a small town in Haiti, she moved to New York City after her studies to pursue her dreams. While having a full-time job in Manhattan, she started her blog, Finding Paola, where she began to share her colorful life in the big city with vivid storytelling, musings, and personal style. However, Paola has not limited herself to being just a content creator - she also dove into entrepreneurship and launched Fanm Djanm, a head wrap collection and popular lifestyle brand that celebrates the strength of women while also empowering to live boldly. Known for her bold style and creative visions, Paola has been featured in many established online and print publications such as The New York Times, Teen Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Huffington Post, and many more.
Instagram is continually throwing new updates at everyone, which leaves you playing the game of catch-up just as you're getting used to the last feature that was released. It's a frustrating game to play, but in the ever-changing world of social media, it's something you have to learn to get used to.
"I have a love and hate relationship with Instagram," says Jane. "There are weeks when Instagram is so good to me, and they show my posts, and I see my engagement going up, and then there are weeks where it feels like my posts don't get seen by anybody." So if you think that you're the only one that's not getting love on your profile as hard as you try, don't worry: influencers are dealing with the frustration too. "Nobody really knows what the algorithm is doing," says Jane, "but for me, I focus on what my readers are looking for."
Listening to your audience is by far one of the most crucial elements when creating a vital social strategy. Your profile is not only a landing page for your photos and who you are, but it's also a reflection of the community that you've created that share your common interest and admire you as an influencer. So it's best to say that when creating content, you are the only one who knows your audience best and to stick to being authentic to what they already follow you for. "My social strategy, in general, is just to be myself," said Paola when asked about what she's done when rolling with Instagram's ever-changing landscape. "I always go with my gut and do what I want. I know my own audience and act based on that."
"I pay close attention to the comments that my readers leave, so I know what they're interested in learning about and then create content based off of that," says Jane. "I feel like that's how you get around the algorithm: just by knowing what your audience would want to read so that it will increase your engagement."
Since Paola and Jane have started their digital platforms, it's very hard to say whether a lot has stayed the same in an ever-changing digital landscape like Instagram.
"When I started, it was very personal and honest," says Paola about Instagram in the early days. "The thing with Instagram is that sometimes when you feature different parts of your life or business, you tend to get boxed into a certain category and I knew I didn't want to get boxed into a category. One of the things that kept me successful was just being as honest as possible. I started finding an audience that was interested in the different things I was willing to share." It seems like the one thing that has stayed the same for both Paola and Jane throughout the years is a sense of consistency and authenticity. As a content creator and influencer, when you lose those two elements, your followers are very quick to take notice. Having your true voice on your platform is key because let's face it, that's why your followers started following you in the first place.
A good chunk of content that we find online, especially from the influencers and content creators we follow, is sponsored. While it is important to find ways for you to monetize your blog when you become a full-time content creator, you have to make sure that you're making the right partnerships that are true to you and resonate with your audience.
"Going into different verticals [with brands like] Carnival Cruise, I was transparent with [them] and told them I didn't think my readers would be very interested," said Jane. "[However], they were excited to work with me because of the brand that I had, and they wanted me to achieve organic and authentic branding through storytelling. People resonated with it, and that led to me doing much more travel-based content."
"Sometimes I post about why I turn down partnerships or other honest things, and my followers often react to that more," says Paola. "Everyone's trying to sell something on Instagram these days, and sometimes people just want to reflect. When it comes to partnerships, I try to say no to more and yes to the few that are going to pay me more." And Paola has been able to put that money in her own pocket with her brand Fanm Djanm. Good to note that if you don't want your feed to become ad space for other brands just so you can monetize your content, create your own brand and build your own business!
Sometimes, it's a matter of just throwing yourself to the wolves when exploring strategy and content creation as a business. Just now, people are going to school for this space, but how have other influencers done it now and grown their brands with no prior experience?
"I'll be pretty transparent; I didn't have much of a strategy when I first started out. I didn't go to business school, and I don't have a marketing degree," says Jane about her approach to growing her blog in the early days, and even now. "A lot of it was just figuring things out along the way." There's no perfect guidebook for success in social media. One common denominator that Jane and Paola shared is that the content that has performed the best are the ones they didn't think were going to perform well, and often were the most personal and candid. At the end of the day, it's all trial and error, seeing what works for you and your audience, but also never losing sight of who you are as an individual on social media.
"My content is constantly shifting, and I tell my followers that it's not going to be the same all the time," says Paola. "It's all about what you want to portray...what your page is about. I think that's what will always bring you success is just knowing and asking yourself questions. When you get a reaction from people, you'll tend to want to keep doing what they want, and then you can get lost. Know yourself."
"It's not just about the food, but about telling a story."
"2018 will be the rise of micro-influencers."
"Focus on evergreen content." Paola:
"My social strategy, in general, is just to be myself."
"Instagram will burn you out if you don't run it."
"People want to follow real people." If you want to watch the whole recorded live-stream of the panel, make sure to check it out here on General Assembly's Facebook, and stay tuned for our next General Assembly panel next quarter!