I want to start out by saying if you’re hoping this is going to make you rich and famous please take a step back and don’t do it. When I started on Instagram in 2017- I wanted one thing- a job.
I went to school and studied English. There’s a song called “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” I wanted to write. I wanted to tell stories and remind the world that there is a lot more going on around them than they think. Instead, I was hit with a rude awakening that San Antonio doesn’t have many open opportunities in the writing field.
Reality usually sets in after the many stages of mourning. I graduated during one of the hardest periods to find a job and realized all my college internships and experiences meant nothing in a city where 100 people were fighting for three writing jobs. Luckily, I was able to make the connection through my last internship at a local alternative news weekly to still be able to write on a smaller scale. All the while I faced with the hard truth that I wasn’t able to pursue my dream full time.
So I sat down and made a list of all the things I was good at. I had practiced photography for years- using film as a child, with a degree in English you knew I had to be great at writing and research and I had a great personality. With that, I realized social media could be a possibility and I knew I had to jump on the Instagram train- fast. I say fast because while I was reading multiple blogs- I came to find out that only posting in an ever-changing world of social media was going to be hard to get a footing in. You needed to have a plan and a strategy to get competitive.
On May 17, 2017, I launched San Antonio Lovelist with the intention of putting all my learning into practice to prove to all the marketing companies that while I didn’t have a degree in Marketing and Social Media I still knew what I was doing. I created a brand with the key focus of writing a giant love letter to my adopted city. I should mention here that I grew up in Los Angeles, CA a place that regularly welcomed the Instagrammer. San Antonio is about 10 years behind the trend of social media influencer. So that would be a challenge I'd learn to navigate in the future.
We’re a top 10 city with a small-town vibe. Who you know is important to get a foot in a door. My experience working for a local magazine was my foot. Due to my previous experience, people found me credible and wanted to work with me. Sure it’s easy to start posting photos but if you’re not connected with your audience or make the effort to connect then you’re not really leaving a mark. At some point, you have to turn this hobby into a business and learn to have structure. This is something I learned quickly. I created a brand guide, a social media brand guide and finally an editorial guide when I launched the blog earlier in 2019.
I took the time to analyze the market and noticed that there was a huge gap in consumer-based blogging. Sure, there are huge Instagram accounts in the city, but if IG goes down tomorrow- will they actually survive? Bloggers here in San Antonio have websites, but they’re often dormant or they’re for when they pitch national campaigns. Their writing is casual, simple- not strategic, not made for SEO or Google Analytics, and that's okay! If you are building a brand though, especially if it's on one or two platforms, you are building a house of cards. One weak card- the whole thing falls down.
When you build a brand on one or two platforms you’re building your business on a house of cards. If any piece of the system fails, you’re going to crash- especially if you’re monetizing.
I guess it’s worth mentioning that I actually did get several jobs during this time all in social media and I learned a lot- The biggest lesson I learned is that while people know they need social media, the completely undervalue it. While working "full time" jobs I was severely underpaid, and truth be told- I was making more per hour working as an influencer part-time than I was at my full-time job. In January 2019 I took the leap of faith and quit my job after a long conversation with my mother. That conversation ended with her suggesting I move back home so I can focus on creating a brand from the ground up and push that narrative without worrying about large bills like rent and utilities. In the meantime, I picked up small gigs doing consulting while I established myself as a paid influencer.
Now, remember how I said SA doesn’t see value in investing in social media? Well, they’re also seeing that parallel in investing in influencers. They’re assuming they can partner with an influencer in exchange for food, goods, products, etc. The thing you need to remember as an influencer is that you grew a following that they want to reach. You’ve got to remind them that you’re basically providing the same publicity as ad space in local publishing, radio or media but with a more engaged audience. You spend a large amount of your time explaining and educating your clients on the value of partnering and investing in working with you.
In complete transparency audience has grown from 0 to 12.7k in two years on IG alone and my website visits have grown from 55 the first month back in February to 5k as of July 2019 and that’s what you have to bring to the table. Show your value in your numbers and explain who you are as a creative professional and the doors should hypothetically open. You can also find the safety net in partnering with national brands. Which currently is what I do. I pitch my audience to national brands and let them know that I have a largely Hispanic audience if that is a demographic they are interested in. The future is looking at the more targeted following. Who are you? What makes you different?
Currently, diversity is an issue I’ve encountered as part of the conversation. That's my selling point. I'm a bilingual brand. I can market to both English and Spanish speakers on one platform and seem reliable. It's great having a following of people that have a Latinx background. They've grown around the culture enough so they understand trends, tastes, and slang.
It makes me one of them. But that's also an issue; a large amount of influencers are not Hispanic. So getting in front of the right brands or showing companies they should work with me is harder but not impossible. Latinx communities love entertainment, food, and having a good time. They're more likely to spend money on things knowing it'll make them happy so that's what I tell them. I also feel a huge shift coming from national brands that are noticing this. A lot of them are looking for Latinx people who know how to market to Spanish speakers or English dom Latinx organically.
I also live closer to the border meaning we have a large amount of tourism from Mexico. How can I leverage that to benefit me? Taking into consideration all these things is part of being an influencer. It’s how I learn & grow. As my mentor once told me, “If you’re proud of something you did three years ago like it was the best thing you’ve ever done- you’re not growing.”
Another thing I have to consider is that my market when I started was made up of millennials. We’re now moving toward more Gen Z and the voice is different and the vibe is unfamiliar. I’ve gotta learn to swim or sink. You can’t accept that one thing will always work
Would I change this career for anything? Maybe a writing job- but if you check my website you’ll see I’m doing what publications like Infatuation, Eater and Thrillist are already doing on my own. I’m building my own digital publication and presence. It’s a seven days a week job and the line between working and not working is very blurred. It all comes down to plan your week- what days to pitch, edit, shoot, write, and still have time to learn and grow. You always have to be open to growing. You have to be okay with “no, thank you” or “not interested” or even radio silence. It’s acknowledging the need for validation in likes yet understanding that it's out of your control. (side note those are vanity metrics meaning they're not really going to help. You're looking for ROI and reach metrics) . It’s taking a leap off into the deep end and hoping you know enough not to sink. While it’s hard work the reward is high, the amount of people you meet is amazing and best of all I get to hang out with my dog as much as I want. I also get to create insane amounts of content only limited by my own imagination. I've seen my skills as a photographer grow.
I get paid to party and to create with no limitation. So while it’s challenging- I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you're interested in this Wild West career, I'd say have a plan, ask questions and be ready for anything!