2019 was certainly a learning year for me in a lot of ways. I would say that my two biggest takeaways from this year would be jumping into the “business side” of the blogging/social media world and also learning that there is, in fact, a difference between wax paper and parchment paper. I REALLY wish someone would’ve told me the latter a while ago so I didn’t have to keep accidentally eating the little pieces of wax paper stuck to food, but I digress.
As a millennial, I fully expected the whole “create your own website” thing to go a little smoother than it did. Basically every choice I made was the wrong one and I got a crash course in coding and website building. I started researching and bought my domain back in January with a scheduled launch for March 1. On launch day, I was using a different hosting platform and realized how restrictive it was for my audience – it left them no opportunity to engage with me. It also was overly simple with the design and layout aspects; plus, it didn’t allow me to sync all of my platforms together. Summed up, BORING. That night I switched my host to WordPress and HERE WE ARE. Learning the ropes of WordPress had me pulling quite a lot of all-nighters but almost every question I had or problem I encountered was google-able and I eventually got the hang of it. Progress, not perfection.
Then comes graphic design. I had to create a theme and a logo. Plus random graphics for my blog posts and IG. If you’ve been visiting my site since it’s inception you’ve probably noticed that the logo has changed pretty frequently. It’s been extremely tempting to hire a graphic designer to help me with this piece, but for now I’m happy with what I have come up with. It’s not that I don’t like graphic design, I actually really enjoy it, but it is a beast to learn. Right now, I use the Canva app to create everything, it’s a (small) monthly subscription but I use it almost everyday for content creation so it’s a justified cost – highly recommend it!
I also had to teach myself the “boring” (but necessary) back-end side of running a website. Data encryption, analytics, SSL-ing shit, coding – AKA techy stuff that no one wants to read about. Even recently I’ve had to upgrade my site to stay secure so that FireFox and Chrome users are granted immediate access to my site instead of having to click through a bunch of re-directs because of changes that are taking place on the internets in 2020.
Blogging may LOOK easy and glamorous, and maybe it is if you have a team of people running it for you where all you have to do is write (GOALS). But the behind-the-scenes stuff can be pretty heavy and frustrating at times – there were moments where I was reading instructions in what might as well have been Japanese. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TECHY WORDS? It’s like human anatomy or the “words” my Dad claims to see on the Boggle board, the words sound made up and don’t mean what you think they mean. I was the first of my crew to embark on the blogging venture so I had no help, guidance, mentors… I was flying solo with my face shoved into a computer screen and a dirty chai latte (or a dirty martini depending on the time of day) permanently attached to my hand. BUT IT WAS ALL WORTH IT because I really, truly enjoy this. Even all the techy, wordy, boring aspects.
Instagram, when used as a business, is more complicated than blogging for one very simple reason : the algorithm. If I had a question about my blog, I could google – shit, I could even pick up the phone and call WordPress or GoDaddy and have someone literally walk me through it. But the IG algorithm, it’s elusive and ever-changing. The second you’ve found your flow, there’s a shift and it’s *almost* back to square one. IG doesn’t give you a step-by-step How-To on how to be successful on it’s platform and you certainly can’t call them and ask them for the secret sauce that gets the job done, that’s for YOU to figure out. I’d like to break down the 4th wall a bit and share what I’ve learned about IG through a lot of trial and error, keep in mind though that this is specific to MY experience only and it could be completely different for another person.
MONEY, AFFILIATE LINKS, + COLLABS
Let’s get the big one out of the way since it is the one thing I am most frequently asked about. Yes, I have made money from my Instagram posts but IG does not pay me or facilitate payment for bloggers or influencers. I became an affiliate partner (through an application process) for several of my favorite brands and then eventually was accepted into the RewardStyle (i.e. LikeToKnow.It) program. I get paid a commission based off sales that come through my affiliate links. An affiliate is different than an ambassador, the two words are frequently (but incorrectly) interchanged. Almost anyone can apply to an affiliate program (being accepted, well that’s different) and you’re usually paid a small percentage of sales that originate through your links. Ambassadorships are usually unpaid in the traditional sense (i.e. you’re not getting a check) but rather you’re being “paid” with product – free clothes, makeup, experiences, etc. Ambassadorships also usually come with contingencies that state that in exchange for the product, you must post a certain amount of times in your feed, stories, blog, etc. Collaborations are typically the same as an ambassador agreement although influencers with high engagement rates and thousands of followers are likely also charging their fees for promotion in addition to the free product.
I accepted one collaboration this year (with Bleu Rod Beattie swim) but was offered quite a few that I politely declined; it was extremely tempting, especially at first, to accept every offer. It felt incredibly validating. I read through the fine print though and some parts didn’t sit right with me and other offers just weren’t “on brand” for me. I have made conscious decisions to not accept offers or collaborate with a brand that I don’t truly believe in or support – so if that means I get one collaboration a year, so be it. How do you get a collab? You pitch the brand or they come to you with an offer, in my case, Bleu Rod emailed me but people can be just as successful when reaching out to a brand themselves. I haven’t pitched a brand so my knowledge on that is very limited but here’s what I do know for anyone trying to establish a relationship with a company:
- Don’t DM your pitch. Email it. DMs often go unread anyways.
- BE PROFESSIONAL FFS. This doesn’t mean formal but it does mean that you need to spell check, have a signature, and link your shit.
- Don’t just ask for free product – tell the brand what YOU can offer THEM. Why should they send you free product or pay you?
- Have your media card and rates available but don’t bombard the brand with your fees during your first communication. The numbers they care about in that pitch email are your engagement rate and your follower count.
- Stay in your lane – basically, if you’re a beauty blogger, don’t request a collab for fishing gear. You have the audience that you have because of your current content. If you want to branch out, go for it but you need to bring value to a company if they’re going to pay you – it’s a business, they want a return.
- Don’t take it personally if they say no. Again, it’s a business. If you really want that collab, work for it* (see Content Creation block). Otherwise, move on.
Full disclosure, before I switched my IG over to “business”, I thought that fashion bloggers had it easy. ::Put on a cute outfit, take a pic, post, move on with the day:: Nah, sis. NAH. It’s so much work, especially for those of us who do this *on the side*. To start, there’s planning: what’s my budget, what’s my audience’s budget, what do I want to wear, where can I buy it, if I order online when will it arrive, where can I take these pictures, when can I take these pictures, how should I edit these pictures, when should I post these pictures, etc. THAT’S NOT EVEN ALL OF THE QUESTIONS I HAVE TO ASK MYSELF. For me, since I do not have unlimited funds or the ability to take outfit photos every single day – it’s a matter of grouping things together and timing what I want to buy for MYSELF with taking photos. So over here at House Bogard, we have Content Day. Jarrod and I, even though we both work full-time, have the luxury of creating our own schedules (to an extent). This means that we’ll choose a random day of the week, pack the car up with all of my outfits that have been carefully laid out and accessorized the night before, drive around town and shoot 4-5 outfits over the course of one day, take ourselves out on a day-date, and then it’s right home to start uploading and editing all of the pictures. It takes a lot of mindfulness and strategizing from start to finish and a very patient, very handsome Instagram Husband.
We shoot most of my pics on my iPhone, the camera is just so good. But we also have a Canon point and shoot that we use on occasion. Neither of us is a professional photographer so we had to learn about lighting, angles, camera settings, all that fun stuff. I have hired a professional before and she is SO GOOD, I love her so much (SHOUT OUT TO REBECCA JORDAN!) – she would shoot and edit the photos for me and I’d have a finished product in my email in less than a week’s time. But at the rate at which I was shooting outfits, I couldn’t hire a photographer each time. Jarrod keeps trying to put me on a “budget”.
That being said, it doesn’t matter how cute your outfit is if the picture sucks. We take HUNDREDS, if not thousands, of pictures each content day. We also shoot in the middle of the week since there’s smaller crowds – fewer people in the background and even fewer people staring at you standing in the middle of the street with your husband crouching down 5 feet in front of you with a camera. It’s awkward and when you feel awkward, you look awkward. The outfit, or whatever it is you’re shooting, needs to be front and center – a background that’s too busy, bad angles, low quality images, or shitty lighting can ruin it. The goal should always be to take a picture SO GOOD that when you start tagging brands, they take notice; a picture SO GOOD that when it’s on the “popular” page, it makes someone want to click on it and check it out. And guess what, that’s. not. easy. Does every picture on your feed need to be 100% perfect? Definitely not. A good caption can certainly help compensate for a mediocre picture. But if you want to work with brands, you have to step your game up – if you have expectations of payment, whether it be money or product, the brand also has expectations of quality and you HAVE to deliver.
BREAKING THE RULES
Enter: FTC. If you know me, then you know that I’m a rule follower. So I made sure I read up on all the rules and regulations that the FTC has set forth for advertising on social media. (Interested in all the rules? Read here.) Collaborations, affiliate links, paid ads, hosted events, ambassadorships, etc. have to all be disclosed. That’s why you see #ad (usually means paid), #gifted (usually means free product), #hosted (usually free experience or meal), and #brandambassador or #sponsored (combo of any of the above) in stories or in captions. No matter which hashtag or phrasing is used, the point is that the audience should clearly understand that the Influencer has been reimbursed in some form for this endorsement. The FTC also clearly states that Influencers cannot promote a product that they think sucks or haven’t actually used before. Now, just because these rules are in place doesn’t mean that everyone follows them. (Remember Kim Kardashian advertising diet lollipops? – OK YA RIGHT, SURE YOU BELIEVE IN THOSE AND JUST SUCK ON LOLLIPOPS ALL DAY KIM.) I see these rules broken on the daily and I don’t know why anyone would want to hide a collaborative relationship, but it happens. My advice to shoppers is this: if you see an influencer promoting a product and it interests you, do your research and decide if it’s right for you first, and if it is go back and use their affiliate link or their discount code and give them the credit that they deserve. It costs you absolutely nothing to use an affiliate link and it rewards the person who created content that you responded to in a positive way and allows them to keep at it! I have heard stories of people deliberately bypassing affiliate links but still purchasing the product just so the influencer wouldn’t get commission – clearly those people are off balance and have too much time on their hands. This is the perfect segue to my next point…
COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION
THERE’S PLENTY OF ROOM HERE FOR EVERYONE. IG can be very clique-y, especially with locals, but that’s life y’all! Don’t get worked up over FOMO or jealousy or any of that other crap – remember, IG is a highlight reel and someone showing off their success does not in any way detract from your own. Be better, do better, work harder, BE NICER, and your season to shine will get here. It’s cheesy but women supporting other women is my favorite thing. I attended a couple local influencer events this year and one in particular stands out to me because all the girls at the table sat down and connected – we were all kind, funny, supportive, and engaging. THATS HOW IT SHOULD BE. If you’re not getting the partnerships you want or the recognition that you think you deserve, take a moment to re-evaluate what you can do better cause there is always, always room for improvement. Be honest with yourself and if you can’t do that, ask for feedback (if you can handle constructive criticism). Tune out the trolls and stay true to yourself because THAT is what will translate in a photo and on your platforms. If I post a picture in a cute outfit, or of makeup, food, or Cousteau – that is authentic to who I am as person. But if I post a picture posing with a lawnmower – people are going to call me on my bullshit, one of my goals in life is to never have to mow a lawn and anyone who knows me knows that.
IG MISC. WRAP UP
Here are some final thoughts on IG that I don’t really need to stand on a soapbox for… (at least for now)…
- Ignore those “hey girl, DM us for collabs” comments that happen on photos. Those aren’t real or legit offers – it’s flattery to get YOU to spend money on a product at a “discounted” price and then also promote it. You should NEVER pay to promote a product.
- Don’t use bots to gain followers or engage with your audience. It’s obvious, lazy, and against IG rules. If you don’t want to do the work, don’t, but then this isn’t the “space” for you professionally.
- Don’t participate in engagement groups or follow loops. An engagement group is a group DM where everyone is alerted to go “like” new posts from the members in the group when they’re posted. This waters down the quality, guys. Just don’t do it.
- Don’t copycat other influencers. Be inspired, be motivated, but stay true to yourself.
- Use hashtags. They mean seem annoying to people who don’t understand their purpose, but this is how you get exposure. Whichever ones you use, actually click through those hashtags and engage with other IGers using the same one. Choose hashtags relevant to your post and don’t get carried away.
- “NEW POST” alerts in stories are necessary because of the algorithm, which again may seem annoying to people who don’t understand it. This is the best way to notify your audience (that more than likely missed it in their feed) that you have a new post up.
- If you like someone’s content, the best way to guarantee that you continue to see it is to “like” and “comment” on their posts. If you follow someone but never engage with them, IG will eventually stop showing you those posts and show you more of what you actually ARE engaging with (makes sense).
So that’s what I’ve learned about social media and blogging this year. Well, more like that’s the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve learned. But this is a blog, not a novel. As always, I’m a source to be utilized – if you have any questions or comments for me, feel free to drop them here, email me, or slide into my DMs on IG.
SEE YALL IN 2020!