Big Picture. When you post on social media, are you looking to entertain, educate, inspire, or convert people? If you are not sure, I recommend you simply highlight that sentence above and read the thousands of articles offered about it! Pinterest is my go-to when it comes to getting my head organized. Visualizing is key.

We often use the term “Influencers” to describe people with significant social media followings on platforms like Instagram, Twitter TikTok, Youtube, LinkedIn and Facebook. Influencers have become today’s media titans, sought after for everything from product placements to timely trends. What’s the difference between influence and impact?

Fans and followers? Sizzle versus staying power?

In this interview series, called, “How To Cultivate Community In A Click to Connect World” we are talking to influencers about how they define success and what we all need to discover about the true nature of influence. As a part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley M Lands.

Ashley Lands has positioned her brand and network to be a premier resource for Luxury Brands thanks to the following of more than 100,000 loyal Followers and Blog Subscribers. Lands has been featured in Vogue Magazine, appeared on MTV, and has been interviewed by dozens of other notable publications throughout her career. Today, she spends a lot of time at home in New York City growing her Digital Marketing Agency — Stuff Oui Love.

Thank you for making time to visit with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. How did you discover your career path and what got you to where you are today?

Having majored in Broadcasting and Journalism, I’ve always been intrigued by stories. However, my career trajectory brought me into contact with Fashion, and allowed me to experience the world of modeling. It was always the creative direction of a photoshoot that really appealed to me. I loved that aspect of the business. In my mind, I always envisioned building a business where I could develop artistic photoshoots and tell stories for brands. I can remember watching MadMen and thinking, “I would love to do that.”.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?

I’d give anything if someone had yelled at me on the subway five years ago, “PICK A NICHE!” When it comes to influencers and content creators choosing a specific niche and becoming a top-paid expert in that field — the data is overwhelming. But what is a niche? ‘Fashion,’ is a ridiculously broad term. A fashion blogger who focuses on eco-friendly brands, is much more defined. You can niche anything, including a vibe or an “aesthetic” as everyone likes to say. ‘Preppy’ is an aesthetic, so is ‘Goth’. Either of these can be niched down into an art form. It’s just a matter of discovering your truest self and making that your thing!

We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?

I do my best to share resources on how to buy quality items (of all kinds) used, thrifted, and refurbished. I also like to share local vendors that sell new quality items at a reasonable price. I am actively attempting to disseminate my manifesto. Here it goes… don’t collect junk in your life. Don’t spend your whole life allowing toxic relationships to suck your joy, and don’t fill your whole apartment with items that will break in six months. The goal here is understanding quality. In the age of consumerism, you’re being told (sold) that if you’re on a budget, you can only afford the cheapest items on the market. This is simply not the truth. I believe that we can all do better together if we focus on avoiding particle board and polyester blend (that last part there is going to be inscribed in the leaflet for my manifesto, in case you were wondering).

Many of our readers are influencers as well. Others have tried and have yet to succeed. What words of advice would you offer to aspiring influencers, knowing what you know now?

1. Take control of all media going across your platforms.
For me this meant learning Photoshop and Lightroom so I could edit both content shot for me, and material I shot myself. Today, 95% of the images featured on my blog and Instagram have been edited by me professionally. Having that skillset allows me to create and express myself in the way I want to. So remember to invest in your skillsets!

2. Diversify your Platforms (the places you share your content) 
After launching my website in 2014, I began blogging in 2018. Having a website with a blog space has allowed me to collect emails over the past six years. This has proven to be extremely beneficial in the area of paid collaboration. Some businesses still value one email subscriber over 100 followers. Keeping that in mind, it is very important to have multiple places to share the content you are creating.

3. Be Picky 
This is SO important. I turn down 80–90% of the collaboration offers I receive in my inbox. Remember what I said earlier? “Don’t collect junk your life.”
I’m not calling anyone brands “junk”, different people have different values and likes. But, in my opinion, supporting products in which I have no interest would be the pinnacle of collecting junk in my life. I want to get behind things, to fall in love with the people and things in my life. My company’s name is a pun, but it’s pronounced Stuff We Love. That in essence is my mission statement. I am truly sharing the stuff I love with my followers and those around me.

Success is often a matter of perspective. I’ve always resonated with Henry David Thoreau’s quote: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” How do you see success — or define success — for yourself now?

My definition of success is finding people with whom I can grow. I love creating art and telling digital stories. Today more than ever. Quality brands are my focus. In the end, it is about finding the right people who are passionate about what we do and want to join us on our journey.

The ultimate success, in my opinion, is being able to create what you imagine in life, love, and business. I try to remember that whatever I imagine, I have the tenacity to go out and make it happen. As a 20-something moving to New York, you will encounter a variety of real-life situations. Unstable high rent prices, taxes, food, and everything else. Looking back, I’m still amazed at what I’ve accomplished. But I saw it all in my head before embarking on the journey. In my opinion, seeing your dreams come true is the most beautiful thing you can experience….the ultimate success.

What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?

It’s all about priorities for me. Making time for family (blood and chosen), remembering that health is one of the most valuable commodities on the planet, and attempting to import more knowledge than I export. Those are the real deals. The rest is just “buy the shoes, read the book, remember who you are.”

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

I have a chronic illness. It truly altered the way I approached every aspect of my life. For me, learning about ‘energy conservation’ has been a huge help. It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think. In practice, you might take the elevator instead of the stairs, sit in silence in the back of a cab instead of scrolling on your phone, and lay your clothes out before going to bed instead of waking up in a state of chaos. When you put all of that together, you have this kind of fun balance.

I’m going to try a few of your tips, and I’m hopeful our readers will, too. Now it’s time for the big reveal — the moment our readers have been anticipating. What are your “five strategies to cultivate a large & engaged social media community?’ Please share a story or example for each.

Okay, so here we go..

#1: Pick a niche. 
“Finding a niche” was a slow progression for me as I did not originally understand the importance of it. I say this because I’d like to inspire others to do the exact opposite! My career has taken me to a variety of exciting places. I’ve worked in Fashion Modeling, Hosting, Performing, Acting, as well as Travel Blogging. I brought my Instagram along for the ride. As a result, I received collaboration proposals with everything from Haute Couture fashion houses, to tire companies, dance shoe brands, suitcase companies, and many others. Why? I didn’t have a defined message on my Instagram because I never considered that Instagram collaborations could be a viable business opportunity. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to sit down and think about what I wanted to do with all of these social media platforms. I found the answer I was looking for in F Scott Fitzgerald’s work, particularly The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night. Fitzgerald had a fantastic way of describing the world. You feel as if you are a part of something stunning and royal, both romantic and illustrious. I knew that was what I wanted to start doing. To plan out photoshoots that encompassed all of that emotion and be able to share those stories. This gave me my niche. From the vintage fashion brand to the opulent hotel built in the Era Of Gatsby, these are the brands that love our content and want to partner with us now. The benefit of finding my niche has focused my collaborations.

#2 Each platform individually, or together? 
Nobody talks about it, but you CAN have a completely different strategy for each social media platform and be successful on all of them. The word ‘strategy’ is crucial here. In 2021 I made the decision that I really wanted to give back. To share my social media know-how and assist others who are just getting started! I use Instagram as a ‘digital art gallery’ however, it didn’t feel like a good fit for education, so I initiated Tiktok! On my Tiktok account I share basic day-to-day social media tips. In less than one year over 28,000 people have joined my page (@ashleymlands). On the Tiktok platform my strategy, visuals, and posting style are a million times different than Instagram. Despite this, both platforms work for me! On the subject of styles when it comes to my Instagram and blog, I like to refer to them as ‘complementary platforms.’ I try to make my blog a larger extension of my Instagram presence. This is effective for me. Experiment with this to find a flow that works best for you. Do you work as a chef? I’m confident a blog and Pinterest would be fantastic for you! Playing around on all platforms will help you see what and where things can easily complement one another!

#3. Big Picture

When you post on social media, are you looking to entertain, educate, inspire, or convert people? If you are not sure, I recommend you simply highlight that sentence above and read the thousands of articles offered about it! Pinterest is my go-to when it comes to getting my head organized. Visualizing is key. Every job I book, I am creating a ‘board’ that lays out the visuals I want to create. If you’re there to educate, pull pins with the best content on the internet and get an idea of what it would look like if you put your own spin on it all. If you’re there to covert (which typically points to sales) go find your biggest competitor and deconstruct every single ad campaign they have ever created. What are they doing that you’re missing, and how can you achieve this for yourself? Understanding not only the ‘style’ of your content but the purpose will allow you to walk yourself into your next step. Which is…

#4 Collaborate
It’s called ‘social media’. In the 17th century, English poet John Donne famously stated that “no man is an island.” That is especially true in the realm of social media. Understanding the value of collaboration and incorporating it with a distinct and unified front when it comes to your posting style and values may be the missing component! So, what exactly is a collaboration? Let us begin with the unavoidable: You must seek out people who are experts in your field. This can include two influencers collaborating on a photoshoot, a brand hiring an influencer, or a brand hosting a giveaway alongside another brand. If you sell handmade ethical clothing with a focus on fair-trade and quality, mass-produced products with no values are probably not the best giveaway partners for you. You should look for a brand that sells handbags of the same quality and value as your clothing! Because their audience will enjoy both of your products, and vice versa!

#5 Pricing your Services

If you have a brand Photoshoot happening with multiple looks, these are some things I recommend thinking about:
We research the brands we are going to work with, their styles, and the styles of their competitors. We then present the brand with a mood-board depicting how that shoot concept could look. If they like the presentation, we’ll start gathering outfits. Wardrobe can be complex; will you need to buy anything specific? Is it necessary to find a stylist who will bring their own designer pieces? Then there’s the question of location… will the shoot be outside? If that is the case, we may require weather days that the team has to be available for. Do we need a permit if it’s inside? If we don’t have a permit, do we have a backup location if we are asked to leave? If video is to be included, we may need to bring in a videographer. Keep in mind that not all photographers are videographers. To achieve true quality, you may require both. Then you’ll need the client’s products. Is it being shipped to you? Is it necessary for them to drop it off and then pick it up? All of that preparation takes place before the actual shooting ever begins. If you’re an influencer and you’re the subject of the shoot, you need to make time for hair and makeup prior to the shoot. Do you have a makeup kit and the products required to get yourself camera ready? Following the shooting, the edits must be completed. Photoshop states this about the time it takes to edit images: “For professionally retouched portraits, the editing time taken per photo would be 1.5 hours. For a batch of 10 photos, that would require at least 10 hours when edited non-stop.” After the editing is done, you will need to schedule the posts across the agreed-upon platforms. Prior to posting, you must conduct hashtag research for each post and have the brand approve collaboration features. Once you post, you need to engage with your audience and reply to comments. All of these factors contribute to photoshoots and collaborations. Break it down hour by hour, take into account each person you need to work with on the project, each expense, and then price accordingly.

If you’re like me — and the many content creators who entered this business because they love art and advertising and want to create something truly incredible that people will remember, you’re probably not charging enough.

What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?

Understanding your fan- base is crucial. Instagram poll has (and continues to be) my greatest tool. People genuinely love to share about themselves! Allowing my followers to share their own opinions by weekly voting gives me so many wonderful insights. Not only can I tell fashion brands that my followers voted 89% silk over cotton, but I can also tell you the style of cars they like, the style of clothes, and the artwork they enjoy. What a cool thing to know! I do my absolute best to create space where we all get to enjoy the stuff ‘oui’ love.

As an influencer, you are, by definition, a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My objective is to inspire people to see the beauty within each day. Perhaps we’ll go for a ‘digital stroll’ through New York City, and end up at a quaint little cafe. Or we could be enjoying the intricacies of a Galia Lahav handcrafted gown. As well as creating content, I frequently remind my followers of the importance of a good book. After all, even if we are reading from the comfort of our own living room, books encourage us to explore new places and broaden our horizons. It is also my hope that I will be able to motivate future generations to remember their grandmothers’ favorite music. To me, life is the most magical when you remember to savor the romance of the past and present. And to remember that even when it’s raining, that is when Paris smells the sweetest.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He, she or they might just see this. 🙂

A fellow New Yorker — Fran Lebowitz. I watched her documentary with Martin Scorsese and she said something I will never forget. She said, “I don’t have a cellphone”. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was fantasizing about a life with no phone! After three days of contemplation I came up with the term ‘self-sustained Influence’. Fran Lebowitz has enough contacts, press, substance (and PR agents) to maintain her influence without having to log on to the internet every day. Her home phone rings, and there’s her agent to tell her that she has a speaking engagement waiting. There’s no need for Fran to tell us how delightful her morning latte was to remind us that she’s still alive. I really want to sit down and ask her how she pulled this off…

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

I’d love that! Links to all my Content, Articles, Services, and more can be found at the landing page of: My Instagram, Tiktok, and LinkedIn can also be found: @ashleymlands.

Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!