Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Ilana Wiles, Producer of Mommy Shorts Blog
What does it mean to be an ‘online influencer’? Ilana Wiles left a career producing TV commercials for brands like Oreo and Diet Coke to become a leading mommy blogger and content creation expert. She will share her perspective on what makes for great content, why some material will go viral, and how to cultivate an authentic voice that will resonate online.
How did you go from ad executive to Mommy blogger?
I started my blog in 2009, when “influencers” and “mommy bloggers” didn’t really exist yet. Clients at agencies were talking about mommy bloggers, but they weren’t taking them seriously as an industry. I had my first kid, and then got laid off. My experience was solely in advertising – not digital – and I thought that mommy blogging would help me move into a digital direction.
No one took me seriously at first! I thought that this would eventually tie into a better job in advertising. Then, advertising went in a totally different direction, towards social media – which I was in. In the early days, it was all about convincing brands that my audience was valuable. Now it’s come full-circle, and brands and agencies have full departments for influencer outreach.
How did you find your voice? Did it come naturally? How do you maintain authenticity?
My voice is natural, but it took some development. I wanted the writing to be edgy, New York, cool. I was always trying to be entertaining. Then, as I kept going with it, I wasn’t this edgy, cool person. It was a little forced. I came back from that a little bit, and became mushier and savvier. It settled in an authentic place – I want to talk about parenting in a real way. The ups and the downs, the things that are funny and not funny. A lot of people were attracted to the blog because I wasn’t too extreme. I maintained that audience by not being controversial. It’s changed recently as everyone has gotten more involved in politics. But I don’t make judgments about parenting decisions. I’m muddling along, and I’m interested in what other people have to say.
You said you noticed that you were sounding inauthentic. What was the moment you decided to change course?
There wasn’t an a-ha moment. When you start to have an online presence, you have to do that every day. If it’s not really who you are, it’s going to be hard to maintain multiple social channels and blogs.
In this politically charged atmosphere, it can be hard to express your perspective. How have you navigated that issue?
For so long, politics was considered a forbidden topic. No parenting blog would go there. In recent years, it became such a part of the general discourse. It felt dishonest to not bring it up, because it was such a large part of my life and I wanted to talk about it. If it alienated certain people, that was okay with me. I also think that one of the interesting things about being an influencer right now in the lifestyle space, you have a varied group of people who follow you. People who follow political blogs all feel the same way. But because of my audience, I feel like I have the chance to influence people and make them think, because I’m not a political blogger.
Privacy is a big political topic right now. What do you do to protect the privacy of your kids, friends, and family while maintaining authenticity?
I wasn’t thinking about that as much as I started, when my daughter was 9 months old. If I had kids now, would I have done the same thing? Would I have shown their faces? I do think that kids are going to put themselves online at 13 years old, and they’re going to post embarrassing things of their own. As my kids have gotten older, I think much more about what I share. This is a record of our lives, but I’m not going to share anything that would be embarrassing to them later on.
I want to talk about your experience as an influencer. One thing everyone in this room is thinking about is – how would they partner with someone like you. What steps do you take to make sure you’re aligned with a company pitching something to you?
There are two ways I work with a brand. First, it has to be a brand that I use, or a brand that I like. I do research on everything – I can’t just Google the name of your company, I also have to Google the name of your company + scandal. There are companies who reach out to me and want to change their public perception. Whether the public perception is true or not, it doesn’t matter – it will still affect me. We’ve started working into the contract: “If something comes up, and people start asking questions, the brand has to start responding and actively engaging in the comments section.”
What are the steps someone would take to work with you?
Influencers with my size audience get tons of pitches a day. If I get a promising pitch, I pass them on to my brand manager, and she works out the details. If I get 25 pitches a day, there are probably 2 that I am passing on to my manager. I’ve learned how to weed out pitches – I know how to weed them out. If the first line says “Hey Ilana – I’ve been a fan for a long time and I work with X,” I’m pretty likely to open it. I don’t open emails that are clearly mass sends that start with “Hey mommy blogger” or “It’s summer, and we know it’s hot…” The first line matters more than the subject.
What is the next step after they make it through your inbox?
Luckily, my brand manager handles this process. She figures out the budget, how large the campaign is, what the contract will specifically entail. She will usually figure out the budget and a package that will meet their needs. Sometimes a brand comes to work with me, and I love the brand, but they want me to do something that is inconsistent with my channels. Sometimes I turn things down not because I don’t like the brand, but because I don’t like the creative. I used to make my own paid content, and now brands have their own departments to create content. I don’t enjoy these nearly as much as making my own creative. Brands and agencies are starting to realize that influencers know how to create content that resonates with their audiences. I ask my clients – what do they want to do? And then I suggest what I think would work best based on the budget that they have and what I can bring to the table.
Are there any overall tips for a good pitch that you haven’t already mentioned?
If it’s a big influencer, and you want to work with them, do a deep dive on their profiles and figure out what they’re about. I can’t tell you how many times people have reached out and messed up my daughter’s name. Just as I’m going to research your company, I would hope that you would research me a little bit.
Are there any horror stories of bad pitches that have gone through?
We’ve gotten really good at identifying what the good opportunities are. The sooner you have that budget discussion, the better. There’s no use in wasting anyone’s time if they are expecting me to work for free. Every once in a while, a fellow influencer will let me know if there is a scam going around. Influencers really operate on their own islands and are very secretive about what they get paid. At least in the parenting world, I don’t know a lot of people who are similar to me that I can talk to.
Not everyone likes the term “mommy blogger.” How do you feel about it? Are there other terms that should be used?
My blog is called MommyShorts, so I don’t mind it. “Parenting blogger” is the preferred term now, I think, especially as there are more dad bloggers. The other discussion is “influencer” vs. “content creator.” When people call me a blogger, that feels wrong. That’s such a small piece of the puzzle now, since Instagram is such a big part of everything. Everyone hates the word “influencer” because there are negative connotations. “Content creators” is vague because it could also refer to people who are creating content without an audience for a brand in-house. Influencers are unique in that they have the audience and are creating the content.
How can people verify the reality of an influencer?
Look at the engagement beneath a post. People posting a heart emoji aren’t deeply engaging with the content. Look for people who are responding in a way that seems authentic. If you look at my Instagram, the comments underneath are filled with engaged people who know my life and are writing real things.
Do you track your own metrics? Do you pay attention to your engagement rate or anything else?
I am a pure creative, so I don’t like to get bogged down in technical stuff. With every brand we work with, however, we deliver a full report of all impressions and engagement. I’m not getting so much into the weeds of what I should post. I am thinking about what posts will make me consistent and happy. I think it’s been harder, as there are more and more people on Instagram, it gets harder and harder to build your audience. One thing I’m really focused on this year is engaging people who are already following me, instead of attracting new followers.
Can you talk about your multiple Instagram handles, and any tips you have on the nuts and bolts side?
I have four handles, and I didn’t start them all at once. First was MommyShorts, and next was Average Parent Problems, which is a meme account. That was where I could share funny photos and quotes. That is now much bigger than my original account. However, I think my original account is more valuable, because brands want to work with actual people. MommyShortsSquad is a place for me to talk about all the things I care about, outside of my immediate family. This is a good place to talk about politics, issues that are important, or other human interest causes. If your accounts have a similar following, they feed into each other. It’s a way to keep my content fresh, and not destroy my brand on a specific account.
What other platforms are you using right now?
Instagram is the platform that I enjoy creating for the most. I enjoy Instagram, and that’s also the place where most brands are right now. If I’m looking to monetize my work, Instagram is the place to be – and having 4 accounts helps with that as well.
Coming from advertising, I’ve always loved the combo of image + writing. There’s a trend towards really long form captions, so it’s almost like blog posts under each of my photos. I like that I’m able to create different tones for each account.
Do you have any tips for organizations that are looking to engage their audences online?
Be consistent. I put content out every single day on every one of those accounts. Using Instagram Stories is huge – it’s such an opportunity to get your audience engaged. To me, it’s like putting a face behind the brand. The people who have large followings on YouTube have die-hard fans, and I think that’s because of video. Video makes people feel like they know you, and that’s the opportunity that Instagram Stories provides.
What are the things you do to find creativity and inspire yourself?
Things happen every single day to me or my kids, so I don’t have an issue posting to MommyShorts regularly. On a day when you can’t come up with your own original content, share someone else’s original content. Instagram actually rewards sharing. For a while, I was creating all my own memes for Average Parent Problems. I realized that the other parenting meme accounts were sharing each other’s content, so they were growing together. Then I started working with the other meme accounts. I was thinking of them as competitors, but that’s not the case. Everyone is working together, so it doesn’t hurt you to work together. If you read a book that you really like, you want to find another book like it. Think of it that way.
How do you keep your community positive when there is a lot of shame out there?
A big part of my platform is no judgment, no shame. I cultivated this community of people who were very nonjudgmental right from the beginning. I’m very lucky — 99.9% of my comments are people being supportive and lovely. I think I’ve carved out this really nice place online, partially because of what I’ve put out there. With the Remarkably Average Parents Facebook Groups, I have really great moderators who keep the community kind and on track.
Have you been approached by brands to do a petition drive?
I’ve worked with brands for their charitable initiatives. I’ve never been approached by someone who wants to promote their petition. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that, but it’s more been brands with initiatives. I just did something with JetBlue about a reading initiative they have. I did something with Northwestern Mutual about a childhood cancer initiative that they have.
How do you continuously come out with new content?
I’ve always been a storyteller. Even when I was a little kid, I was thinking on my way to the bus stop what story I could tell on the way there that would make the other kids laugh. One of the things I love the most is going through at the end of the day and deciding what to post. For instance, I just went to visit my daughter’s sleepaway camp. We did this whole tree course, and I asked my mom to take video. And she did the worst, worst job of filming. When I first looked at that, I thought “This is awful, I can’t believe she didn’t capture it.” And then I realized that it was actually hilarious. Look at what you have and reframe it.