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This Author Has The Secrets To How Influencers Get Paid

Brittany Hennessy Puts Us On To What It Takes To Create A Lucrative Personal Brand

Workin' Girl

More and more, our social media timelines are being filled with carefully curated content. From your high school friend who "randomly" became an IG model to the college buddy who started their own business, everyone is using social media to get ahead. Guess what? So should you.


Whether you have a passion or hobby that you're turning into a business, or have knowledge about something specific that people can gain from, now is the time to get familiar with social media and all of the advantages it can have for business. In 2019, everyone is a personal brand. We can no longer deny that personal branding is a determining factor between those who are average and those who reach success beyond measure.

Social media is a tool that anyone can leverage to shape their personal brand and inevitably take their business to another level. The day I decided that writing and blogging was a passion of mine that I wanted to turn into an income, it hit me that I had to change up the way that I approached social media. For as long as I could remember, I've had a love hate relationship with social media (specifically Instagram). Only since the past year or so have I taken social media seriously and used it for my benefit as it pertains to my writing career. Even with a small following, I've been able to create business opportunities for myself and use my "influence" as an expert to build a personal brand.

On a run to Barnes & Noble after getting a recommendation, I picked up the bookInfluencer: Building Your Personal Brand In The Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy.

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Brittany Hennessy is the Senior Director of Influencer Strategy and Talent Partnerships at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, which means she knows a thing or two about building an audience and being able to grow and monetize your influence. She's the behind the scenes expert that knows everything there is to know about leveraging social media and influence to build a lucrative personal brand or business. The book starts with the preface where she discloses about a instance where she cut a $32,000 check for four social media posts from a dog (yes, a dog)--from that moment I was hooked. From start to finish, Influencer is jam-packed with gems to help influencers at any level and business owners that are looking to get ahead with the help of social media.

Author Brittany Hennessy

Though Brittany's book mainly focuses on those looking to monetize their influence, it's also a great tool for those looking to start or build a business using social media. Brittany sat down with xoNecole to really break down how aspiring influencers and entrepreneurs can leverage social media to bring their respective brands to the next level in 2019.

Here are some of the gems she left us with:

1. Network & Get to Know the Key Players in your Field

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Just because you're building a business or career with limited face to face interactions doesn't mean networking isn't a huge part of building your personal brand. Knowing who's who in your field will be able to get your product (or yourself) in front of the right people. From my own personal experience, developing a personal brand online has helped me connect with PR companies that I have been able to build relationships with as a professional writer. Whether I need products for an article or expert quotes, having a Rolodex of contacts has been a game-changer.

According to Brittany, here's what you need to be doing during the first quarter of the year:

"Figure out what kind of brands you want to work with. Who are the key people that you will need to talk to [in order] to work with those brands and how are you going to get to those people. You want to be featured in Cosmo in the the travel section? Great. Who is the travel editor? Look her up on LinkedIn. Do you have a mutual friend? Did she go to your college? You [have] to start doing the legwork now so you can get to a point where you can introduce yourself. You have a story to tell her and a reason why she should cover you [or your business]. That [will] take your career to the next level."

2. Stop Worrying About What Everyone Else is Doing

When you see people gaining success on social media, it's easy to fall into a rut of comparison. You may even feel the need to do what other people are doing in hopes of getting ahead. According to Brittany, this is the last thing that you want to do. When you're developing your own personal brand online, don't use what other people are doing as a blueprint – that's not your brand. Do what feels right for your brand or as a Brittany shared with us:

"[Ask yourself] 'What's your story?' It's never good to just do what everybody else is doing because they got that angle covered and they're going to do it better than you. So you have to figure out what is your angle."

3. People No Longer Buy Products, They Buy into People

Think of some of your favorite influencers out there who have started their own business or have collabed with a brand to create a product. Chances are, regardless if the product is something that fulfills a need that you have, you'll support it because of the influencer attached to it. Just think of Fenty Beauty. Even with Rihanna not being significantly influential in the beauty industry prior to building her own brand, she did have influence as a celebrity and was able to leverage that. Fenty Beauty instantly became a household name that often sells out. You can buy any makeup but you choose to buy Fenty Beauty because you support Rihanna and what Rihanna stands for (as a personal brand).

People also are hooked on the behind the scenes stuff. How many times have you seen popular brands on social media showing you the process behind developing a new product? Each time, it makes you more excited because you feel like a personal connection because the brand allows you to be a part of the process. According to Brittany, this is a part of your story that will separate you from other brands out there.

"All of these newer brands that are popping up, people are looking at the founders and they know the founders' story. We're in an age of nosy, everybody likes knowing your business. So if you're making a product, we want to know the story behind the product. For example, if you makes clothes, people want to see you in the garment district looking for fabrics. If you make food, they want to see you at the farmer's market."

"People want to know the story behind the things that they're buying. You've got to be able to tell that story because that will really be the difference."

4. You Don’t Need a Ton of Money to Build a Personal Brand or Create Amazing Content

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When people are first starting out as aspiring influencers and business owners, they feel the need to dish out tons of money on equipment to create content. From a professional camera to booking locations for photoshoots, according to Brittany, these are unnecessary expenses that you can easily forego, especially in the beginning.

"I think the first thing people need to realize is that you don't have to create all of your content. You don't have to shoot in these exotic locations. You know people want to be influenced but that doesn't necessarily mean it's by your photos. People are also influenced by captions. Depending on what your subject matter is, the photo may not even be that important. You can also curate with other people's content. If you look at the biggest people on Instagram, some don't create any of their content and have tons of followers. Look at the success of Huffington Post for years they didn't write any of their content. They're curators."

5. Start with Small Goals

It's easy to look at your favorite brands and influencers posting exceptional content day in and out and think you need to post 5 times a day to get to their level. Pump your brakes. It's best to start out slow and find your groove instead of becoming overly ambitious.

"It's just like going to the gym. You didn't go to the gym all [last year] and you tell yourself I'm going to go everyday. Good luck doing that. You're going to go [the] first few days, go too hard and then you're going to be out of commission the rest of the week. It's the same thing with posting online. Get started by posting two really good posts a week [then increase from there]. You want to start off small and just get into a routine."

6. Stay Consistent and Develop Good Habits When No One is Looking

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We've all heard the phrase, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." This can sometimes be true when building a brand but in all honesty honing your skills is the only true way to get ahead. Brands aren't going to pay Mediocre Mary to create content for them and people aren't gong to buy from Slacking Sally. You need to be consistent and put in the work.

"You want to develop your good habits when no one is looking because the minute you have eyes on you, if you make a mistake your audience will call you out on it."

7. Remember: Social Media Isn't Reality

With every one and every brand posting these perfect feeds, it's easy to get caught up in comparison. Brittany keeps it really real with us, sharing why comparing your life to anything you see online is the LAST thing you should do:

"You might think you know what somebody else is doing. [Your favorite influencer] got all these great clothes but she hasn't paid student loans in six months. Like you don't know what people's stories really are. Everybody is struggling. Celebrities are getting their homes foreclosed and losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Social media is really just rose-colored glasses. In general, a lot of people are only sharing the really good stuff that happened to them. So you can't compare yourself because you don't know what else is happening when this picture is not being taken. You can only be in a competition with yourself."

On your journey to building your personal brand and business in 2019, remember these major keys from the expert herself, Brittany Hennessy. You should also check out her bestselling book Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand In The Age Of Social Media to get all the knowledge and actionable steps you need to slay your business goals in 2019.

Featured image courtesy of Brittany Hennessy

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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