How to Make it on Instagram According to an Influencer OG
If you have an Instagram account, you’ve definitely seen the unmistakable muted-blue tube of 2018’s skincare sensation, Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag Mask. The brand’s inaugural launch was met with tremendous Internet fanfare (not to mention casually debuted at Sephora) and set a new beauty standard for what it means to go viral. The brain behind it all? Modern multihyphenate Marianna Hewitt, who runs Summer Fridays with co-founder Lauren Gores Ireland. But skincare guru and brand founder aren’t the only hustles on her resume—she’s also an established lifestyle influencer and blogger with roots as a TV host and on-air personality. Here, Marianna shares her expertise on how to succeed in the digital world, how to brand yourself, and more about her fascinating journey from broadcast journalism student to trailblazing entrepreneur.
Photo courtesy of @MARIANNA_HEWITT
Photo courtesy of @MARIANNA_HEWITT
You began your career as a broadcast journalism school graduate following her dream of becoming a TV presenter. What skillset did you develop during this time that served you later on?
I think what’s really helped are my research skills. As a journalist, I was always looking for and finding out information. In school, we learned to be a one-man-band. We learned how to research our stories, film our content, edit our content. It also made me learn about deadlines and timing and how quick and fast-paced the world of news is. That’s really helped me time manage.
What led you to leverage the marketing power of social media before “influencer” was even really coined a term, and how did it become a full-time career?
I always loved sharing stories and things that I liked through photo and video. Naturally I was already doing that in my job, but with YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, I had more platforms and new spaces to do what I loved and what I went to school for. So instead of working for a network, your network is YouTube and instead of writing content for maybe a digital media outlet, your outlet is your blog. So, when I saw this opportunity, I really did it out of passion for sharing stuff, and then luckily people gravitated towards that. I was always myself on my platform. I wasn't trying to be like anyone else, and I think that made me stand out at the beginning.
I think also being a little bit older when I started and having already had some work experience helped me look a little more professionally. I had the background of journalism that really helped me in what we know now is called creating content. So, while I was working at my job, brands started reaching out to me and asking to do sponsored Instagram posts. Those kinds of sponsored social media jobs were the same as what I would make at work. I realized I wanted to dedicate myself full time to that because I could actually make an income—it wasn't a step backwards.
There are many misconceptions about what it takes to build a successful and lucrative career as an influencer. Can you shed some light on what actually goes into this profession?
It’s a seven-days-a-week, every day of the year type of job. Content isn't just being shared between Monday and Friday from 9 to 5. We work during the day, but also attend events and do a lot of networking on nights and weekends. And people don't realize the different roles—it’s not just the photographs on the Internet all the time. That there's so much that goes on behind the scenes to make it all work. You’re your own photographer, videographer, stylist, hair and makeup artist, publicist. You do social media, you’re a writer, you’re an editor. You’re a manager and negotiate your own jobs, meaning then you also do accounting and invoicing. As an influencer, you’re so many jobs in one and there is so much pressure because so much of what our job is—it’s just us. It's a great job, but it's definitely also a job with pressure because you have to physically be working to make an income. It’s not a job that has security. It's not a job that has health benefits. It's not a job that has paid sick days. You have to be super self-sufficient.
You’ve been at the center of many high-level partnerships—what have you found really makes for a successful influencer-brand campaign?
For me, it’s finding a brand that I've actually already worked with, loved or purchased before, and then genuinely partnering together. It’s working with a brand that understands that they have a point they want to get across or something they want to market and sell, but then let the influencer do what they do best and execute the campaign in the way they think will work best with their audience. And I think as a brand it's about working with influencers who are a good fit, who are “on-brand” for you. It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking, ‘This person has the most followers, so let's go for them.’ But there could be someone that may be smaller but who is so perfect for the brand. That more niche person may a better success rate.
Do you have tips for women who are interested in becoming digital influencers?
I think even though it's saturated, there is room for everyone. I think any person can make it in this space right now. I think number one is quality content. This doesn't mean it all has to be taken with a professional camera, it just means that it has to really look great. That’s how someone who finds your page will follow you. I think number two is to have a personality. Now, because there are so many options, people need to be engaged with your personality and with you personally. This is really easy to do with Instagram stories and with captions that really speak to who you are. And I think number three is to be yourself. Don’t try to be a digital influencer and copy what someone else is doing. People can just follow that person. Being unique, creating beautiful content and showing your personality will draw people to you because they won’t be able to get that content from anywhere else—no one else is you!
You have the best daily insta-stories! Any advice on how you keep your content so interesting and engaging?
I really try! I think there’s a testing phase where you just post and see what gets the most likes and comments and what people are really responding to. My life now is much more than being a beauty influencer, so of course, I show beauty content, but it’s also about showing my life and my work and my career and everything that goes into that. Even if someone doesn't care about beauty product, they're still gaining something from me. I try to show as much of my real life through my stories as possible because my Instagram feed is where I post beautiful content that I try to make cohesive and have a certain type of vibe. That way when a brand is working with me, they know what to expect. So, Instagram stories is the place where I can be a little bit more real. I think going back to my days in journalism, creating an editorial calendar helps a lot. If you are doing Instagram stories Monday through Friday you can have ongoing themes or something you'd like to do every day, like Makeup Monday. And then if you want to post additional content, of course you can, but I think it's a really good starting point.
Your resume also includes brilliant business woman thanks to the success of Summer Fridays (@summerfridays), which you launched “social-first.” Can you shed some light on the strategy you developed?
Lauren [Gores Ireland] is my business partner. We are both co-founders, co-CEOS and we really do everything together. We're not just the creative directors, but we're also the business developers and product developers by working really closely with our labs on that. We're such a small team still and we're independently owned, so everyone, including us, does it all. Luckily, we got to hire a few key people at the beginning that really helped on the business side of things that we didn't know, but I also think that not knowing helped us break into the industry in a different way—we didn’t know any better—so like they say, ignorance is bliss. We just set out to do the things we thought were cool.
The social-first strategy we developed came from our experience as influencers. We say all the time we are our target consumer, so how would we want to receive this information? What makes us want to buy a product? What makes us want to photograph a product? What do our followers like? We thought about all of those things, and then we thought about the formula, the naming, the packaging, how it would be shared on Instagram…I think being young female brand founders has helped us so much because we just did what we thought we would like, and you know, thankfully people really resonated with that.
Your Jet Lag Mask became an instant success! How does one even go about making a face mask, let alone one that perfectly answers every skincare woe?
Lauren and I posted product for so many years. People would ask us questions when we posted skincare products. Is this cruelty-free? Is this vegan? Does this have parabens? So, when we created our own line, we knew what people were looking for. We are not chemists and we know that, but we do work with the best labs and we go in with them and we tell them what we want, what we don't want. We work with people who really specialize in clean, natural, organic skincare. They help educate us on the best ingredients out there that are the most effective. The synthetics that we choose to include are the best and cleanest options. So, it was a lot of testing and trying to get something that was perfect, but once it was there, we were so in love with it. We hoped that everyone else would be too.
Who have been the most influential people in your professional journey and why?
Jen Atkins has been so incredible. Before we started Summer Fridays, she was really there for us every step of the way. Since we launched, she has been so supportive and is really someone that we admire and look up to so much. She’s also another woman who balances it all and has two careers. She's one of the top celebrity hairstylists and travels the world with the biggest of celebrities creating the most beautiful hair looks. And she has a whole other business too with Ouai. She manages it all and still has a life somehow!
How have your professional and personal goals changed since the beginning of your career? What were your priorities then, versus now? What’s stayed the same?
I love Oprah, and that was really who I wanted to be at the beginning of my professional career. I wanted to be her because she shared things that she loved, and she inspired people through her platform: television. But now, I get to share those things through my platform of the Internet, and I hope that I too inspire people with the content that I share. So, the core goals of what I wanted to achieve remained the same, just the path changed. In the beginning of my career, Instagram didn't even exist but when it was brought on, I realized that this was a new platform and changed with the times. I think you just have to be flexible with what's happening in the industry and what's happening in the world and the changes in how people receive that content.
And I think it's always just being happy in what I'm doing. That doesn't mean that the work isn't hard. It doesn't mean that there won't be difficult days or that I'm not overwhelmed, but it means if I'm going to work for the rest of my life, I want to enjoy whatever it is I'm working towards. I'm just so grateful for the opportunities that I've been given and that I can have the career I have today. And I really think it's because of all the women who came before me who did so much to, you know, break into these industries that women like myself can have these jobs we have today.