Tell us a brief timeline of your history with social media and blogging. Did Instagram come first?
Yes – I’d blogged previously but then had a breakup, a baby and a lot of life change, and Instagram was my way back into that creative world. I was on maternity leave with a baby I was pretty afraid of, living in a house I hated, and feeling scared and alone. I started posting a photo a day, challenging myself to take the best photographs I could using only my iPhone, and very quickly found an audience and sense of community. From there I launched a new blog, and in 2017 I added my podcast, Hashtag Authentic to the mix.
Five years on, I now teach those core lessons the internet taught me for a living: I help others find their tribe online and tell their story through words and pictures.
What do you think are the best ways to grow a social media following in 2018?
It just comes down to really great content and consistent social engagement. You’ll find hundreds of people online trying to sell you quick fixes and sneaky tactics, but gaming the system can never lead to anything of real value. As algorithms increasingly dictate what we see online, a following in itself means less and less anyway – what good is it, if you can’t guarantee your followers will see your posts? 2018 is the time to double down on the metrics that matter – community, comments, connection and conversation. Count these instead of followers and you’ll always be moving in the right direction.
You have a lot on your plate including a young daughter, a successful business and a chronic illness. How do you structure your days in a way that gets it all done, including taking care of yourself?
I feel like I’m still on this learning curve, and I absolutely still screw it up. When you have a chronic illness your energy quota is always low – I can manage about two things in a day before I need to lie down.
I’ve learned to simply choose 3 work tasks per day. I have a huge whiteboard with all the things that need doing – currently it has 39 items on it, and counting – but I sit with my back to it and just write down my three. Once they’re done, that’s it for the day – no more work guilt, I’ve done my part. It’s taken me a long time to get to that headspace and not feel like a massive slacker, but this way I get time with my daughter and time for myself. As I remind my clients regularly, ‘you didn’t leave one job you hated just to make another for yourself!’
How did you get started as an influencer? Is there anything you would do differently knowing what you know now?
When I first started, the term ‘influencer’ didn’t even exist! I made the obvious mistakes – saying yes to the wrong products, undercharging, under-valuing my work. When it came time to quit my job and take the leap to full time, I had to really question if I was ok with selling this voice and platform I’d built for myself to the highest commercial bidder. We have a rare opportunity, as content creators – the chance to be heard as women on a global platform – and I didn’t like how I was winding up railroaded by big male-led corporations back to talk about childrearing, cleaning and clothes. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but it felt like I was being pulled way off track.
Eventually that thinking led to an overhaul of my business with me introducing mentoring and online classes as a way of creating my own income sources and becoming less financially dependent on sponsored work. Now I get to pick and choose the sponsors I say yes to, and it means I can keep my voice and content authentic and hopefully have some small influence on the way the industry is shaping overall.
There seems to be a bias against sponsored content on Instagram… over half responded to our poll that they are less likely to engage with a post if it’s sponsored. Do you see this changing any time soon?
It’s a real and rapid shift from just a year or two ago, when sponsorships were celebrated and met with congratulations from followers on Instagram. There are so many factors at play, from increased competition, a sudden over-saturation, more IG ads in general and the negative impact that poorly done sponsorships have on the perception of it all as a whole. I don’t think sponsored content is going anywhere though and am hopeful it will find a new equilibrium – brands need to get better at identifying the really good content creators, and understanding that a successful campaign is about more than just stats. It’s such a young industry and has incredible power and potential when it’s done right.
Do you have any advice for handling trolls and public criticism?
Well firstly, to know the difference. Some criticism is helpful – it still stings, but we can reflect on it and improve what we do. But if it’s coming from someone outside of your circle, who isn’t really who you’re trying to reach, then feel free to ignore it completely – the feedback that matters comes from your true audience, and it’s a mistake to change for anyone else. I recently read a line in a book that said “some people just need somebody to hate – it’s the only way they know that they are good.”. I think this is the truth behind most internet haters – they are just looking for somewhere to vent all the nastiness that they hear on loop in their head. Make a conscious choice not to engage with their negativity, and let them go and burn themselves out.
You are active on multiple social media channels these days. Do you prioritize or prefer one over the others?
My only system is to follow my interest – life is too short to spend time somewhere you don’t want to be, and I think it always shows when our heart isn’t in it. I love Twitter for conversations, Pinterest for getting inspired. Reddit is my go-to news and analysis platform, and Instagram is my internet home, with a bit of all of those combined. My addictions to each of these ebbs and flows over the course of a year, so I just go with it – put my heart and soul into whatever I’m doing, and trust that it will all come full circle in the end.
There was recently a bit of controversy over your openness regarding your income. Do you want to say a few words about why you feel this should be an open subject?
I don’t know if it was really controversy – the positive responses so vastly outweighed anything else. Of course, there were a couple of people who found it unhelpful or triggering, and it’s hard not to zoom in on that and make it mean something about me or my work, but the response was really overwhelmingly positive, and nobody should feel afraid of speaking out in the same way if they want to.
I wanted to talk about it because it can all be so invisible. We have dreams of using our creativity to launch a business online, but so often the people in our lives tell us it’s impossible, all ‘pie in the sky’. And what evidence do we have to prove otherwise? There’s so much secrecy around incomes, especially in this industry, so nobody is ever quite sure if their dreams are truly practical or if their idols are being quietly bankrolled by some wealthy husband or at their parent’s expense. So as women, we stay in our underpaid jobs and assume it’s all that we’re capable of.
I wanted to show that it really is possible – without cheating, without money, with a kid and a chronic health problem and a day job to do. 6 years ago I couldn’t afford to buy maternity clothes, and last year I made over £250k. My overwhelming feeling when this all unfolded for me was, why didn’t anyone tell me this was possible? So, I’m telling people – and I’m trusting that the right people will get why and what I’m trying to say.
Share with us one of your favorite Instagram posts and the story behind it.
I’ve been taking a photo of my daughter with the clematis every year since we moved to this house when she was 1. I love Instagram as a way of documenting like this – as I mention in the post, I feel like you can really see us both growing year on year when you put the pictures side by side. Social media gets a bad reputation for a lot of things, but I feel like we don’t talk about this side of it enough. For me, Instagram has helped me grow, develop new skills and reflect on my life with more gratitude – which is an awful lot to gain from a free little app!
What is coming up next for you?
I’m putting the finishing touches to my book, which will be out in January 2019, and have just submitted my first column for a magazine I love. I’m on a mission to line up some of my personal heroes for my podcast series, too – but whether that happens or not still remains to be seen!
Sara is sharing her thoughts in a pop-up mentor topic called “Shady growth strategies and brand partnerships” in the forum right now… click HERE to join us. You can find more information about Sara’s courses and other offerings at www.meandorla.co.uk.