Who: Alex Evjen
What: Pinterest circa 2010; ethics & FTC disclosures; comment pods
Where: The Ace Hotel
Occupation: Stylist, Art Director, Creative Director & Blogger
Alex started her blog in 2009 as a place to share her love for fashion. Then, in 2010, she started writing about her career shift from public relations to personal styling, using Pinterest as a tool for her new styling business. Since then, she's built a full-time content business that centers on professional asset creation, styling and creative design for brands.
You're a Stylist, Art Director, Creative Director and Blogger—what came first and how has your career evolved?
Styling came first in 2010 when I launched my personal styling business and started helping women simplify the sometimes complicated world of fashion. As I began to build up my clientele, photographers started hiring me to style couples and families for engagement shoots and holiday photos. My work started getting published on popular sites like Style Me Pretty and The Wedding Chicks, and I was thrust into the world of photo styling. I started using Pinterest organically to help find affordable style solutions for clients and collect inspiration for photo shoots, and my following started to grow. I consequently became an influencer with almost a million followers on Pinterest (read on to find out how) and only then did I begin to create content for social media. My blog was really the last piece of my business to fall into place.
One of your largest channels is Pinterest. How long did it take to build that audience?
I was Pinterest early adopter, having joined in 2010, the year it started. I remember just being thankful that there was an easier way to save all of my favorite online shopping finds (I used to clip pictures out of magazines and paste them into a notebook). I received an email one day from Ben (the co-founder of Pinterest) asking me to curate a Spring fashion board for the Pinterest community. I jumped at the chance and felt so honored that someone saw something in a “nobody” like me. Saying "yes" to that chance was the equivalent of a fairy godmother bonking me on the head with her magic wand because my Pinterest account grew to reach over one million followers in about six months. My profile was recommended to every new user who signed up to join Pinterest, and 2010 was the biggest growth year for the platform. Since then, I've continued to grow organically by staying active and pinning daily.
How are you monetizing on Pinterest and how important is the platform to your overall content business?
I monetize Pinterest mostly through original content creation and affiliate links. That’s how I have monetized Pinterest my entire time on the platform. I also do Pinterest consulting and account management for companies. Pinterest is essential to my business today. It’s still my number one traffic driver, and I spend most of my days doing asset creation for companies on the Pinterest platform. In fact, I just wrapped campaigns for Target and Fab Fit Fun. Being an influencer had nothing to do with the campaigns. Rather, they sought me out for my ability to understand the platform, the brand's audience and how to visually express the messages the companies were trying to get across.
"My most lucrative opportunities have nothing to do with my numbers and everything to do with my content creation ability because at the end of the day, Fortune 500 companies already have the followers and the brand recognition."
Let’s discuss Instagram! Between the "Shadow Ban” and changing algorithm, it can be tough to build an organic audience on Instagram today. What’s your strategy for building audience and engagement on the platform?
That seems to be the million-dollar question lately. The only way my Instagram grows organically is when people share my content and mention me in their captions. The great thing about this is that it puts the pressure back on content creation. So, I've really been focusing on content. I've also started looking at my Instagram channel as a microblog. Instead of telling people to go to my blog, I just write a mini blog post for each Instagram post and I always ask my audience questions afterwards.
What are your thoughts on recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm, the Shadow Ban scare and comment pods?
The algorithm change is frustrating on all sides. I’m no longer seeing posts from people who I love following and it’s much harder for my content to be seen, as well. But, we have also experienced this change with Facebook and Pinterest, and we have adapted.
Instagram pods are the only way I can find out when my friends have posted at this point, so I don’t think that they are bad. However, I think that we definitely can’t and shouldn’t require people to comment and engage with content that they don’t like or enjoy. I am in two Instagram pods with bloggers and artists that I genuinely respect and love. We comment and like when can and that’s that. I have no problem supporting them the best that I can to help get their work seen and give feedback on it.
Pinterest has a “re-pin” ability where you can easily share things you like with your followers, and I think that simply commenting or liking a photo is my way to do that on Instagram. I guess the waters get muddy when you are requiring people to like content and comment on things they wouldn’t normally like.
"Instagram pods are the only way I can find out when my friends have posted at this point, so I don’t think that they are bad. However, I think that we definitely can’t and shouldn’t require people to comment and engage with content that they don’t like or enjoy."
One of our favorite things you said during our chat was, “Don’t judge a blogger by their numbers!” A lot of creators are laser focused on audience growth—is that really the most important measure of success?
I think audience size, site visits and engagement are all metrics that have validity, but I definitely don’t think they define success for bloggers. Most of my success has come from asset creation—creating beautiful images that companies can use and share on their own channels. My most lucrative opportunities have nothing to do with my numbers and everything to do with my content creation ability because at the end of the day, Fortune 500 companies already have the followers and the brand recognition. I have created assets for Coca-Cola, Target, Home Depot, Hayneedle and Anthropologie, to name a few. The images that these brands must produce, and the rate they need to produce them at, costs a lot. It's more affordable to outsource the work to content creators like me.
In light of recent news surrounding FTC disclosures, what are your thoughts on how disclosures will shape the future of our industry?
I think regulations are great for influencers because the spectrum of business ethics is way too broad right now. We have to remember that FTC disclosures are there to protect the public (our readers) and they should know when they are being marketed to. No one likes to be mislead, and the last thing we want blogging and social media to become is manipulative and misleading. That’s only going to hurt us in the long run. Print publications and newspapers have regulations to protect the public and our industry should definitely have regulations in place, too.
As a creative professional with influence, what’s your personal code of ethics when it comes to transparency, disclosures and social responsibility?
1. I do not take brand sponsorships unless I personally enjoy the brand/product.
2. I choose not to place ads on my site because I don't want them to detract from the conversation I'm hoping to have with my readers.
3. I use affiliate links and I disclose that there are affiliate links in my posts.
4. I do not use any third party networks to boost my traffic. I do not even pay for boosted posts on social media at this time. The only time a post has been or will be boosted will be at the request of a sponsor using their marketing dollars.
5. I do not have any contributors on my blog. All words and ideas come from me in order to establish more trust and a deeper relationship with my readers.
6. All images I post on my blog and Instagram are ones I styled and directed with my photographer instead of sharing other people’s work. I do this to strengthen my connection with my followers so people can better know my art.
7. I do not post negative reviews or allow slanderous talk on my channels.
8. I use no-follow links for sponsored posts.
9. I disclose all sponsored posts and will even disclose if product was provided as payment as well.
Authenticity is the buzzword of our industry. Do you have any practices for gut checking authenticity?
To me, authenticity means acting with your gut and speaking from your heart. It means being mindful that every action has a reaction. I don’t “like“ and comment with empty words. I don’t blog just to blog or create to populate. A good litmus test is to check where in your life and in your business you are experiencing fear, and to gauge where that fear is coming from. When the fear of losing acceptance, approval, relationships and money becomes greater than the fear of losing yourself, actions and relationships become disingenuous. When you are ready to lose it all for the sake of being true to yourself, you will find authenticity. You can find some additional thoughts on this topic on my blog:
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