Have a Consistent Content Schedule: This is something many find difficult, but having a consistent schedule is important. Every platform is different with what’s considered optimal posting. I know the expectations for a platform like Instagram are unattainable for most, and I would never encourage someone to try to create and post that much content, unless they have a team working with them.

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 our series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Dowling.

Cheryl Dowling is the founder of The IVF Warrior, a fertility health and wellness platform connecting people from all over the world who are navigating different paths to parenthood. On The IVF Warrior she provides support, resources, and empowerment across multiple platforms, using her expertise and experiences. She also works as a freelance social and digital marketing specialist, helping health and wellness brands build strong online social media platforms.

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?

Since a young age, I’ve always been a creative, curious person. My passion for reading and learning really opened my mind to the endless possibilities in life. One of my biggest struggles as a kid was deciding what to do when I grew up. There were so many things that fascinated me, how could I ever pick just one job to do forever? I went from wanting to be an illustrator, writer, lawyer, doctor, marketer, to a counselor. My first job as a young teen was in the restaurant industry, and I eventually worked my way up to a general manager position by the age of 18. I feel like during this time I was able to learn so many skills from multitasking, problem resolution, managing a team, and really stepping outside of my comfort zone.

I think having a curious mind has allowed me to learn an abundance of skills throughout my life. I always performed well in school because learning genuinely interests me. Which is why I studied many things during my postsecondary school years, from marketing, HR Management, and counseling. When I decided to “officially” graduate and start my career, I landed a position as a women’s addiction and mental health counselor. Focusing my career of women’s health and wellness wasn’t what I originally envisioned, but I fell into it, and the industry was incredibly eye-opening. It shaped who I am today.

After working as a counselor, I took the leap into the digital space. I started as a food blogger, which allowed me to learn the basics of blogging and social media using an industry I was very comfortable in already — food. My work was shared by large platforms, and I enjoyed dipping my toes into the digital space, gaining confidence as a creator, and learning some lessons along the way.

While struggling with many health issues and then embarking on an emotional and isolating fertility journey, my current platform was born. I recognized while navigating my path to parenthood, that support and resources for those experiencing fertility issues was fairly non-existent. I started sharing my story and other stories, as well as providing information for those trying to conceive or dealing with different health struggles while trying to grow their family. The past 3 years have been so busy, fulfilling, chaotic, and magical in countless ways. Being able to connect with people, while providing hope, support, and resources, is very rewarding.

The path to where I am today hasn’t been linear, it’s been a rollercoaster involving a lot of self-reflection, ups, downs, and hard lessons along the way. But, in ways I now have the privilege of combining many of my past career interests into one job. Something not many know is how many “hats” someone in a position like mine might wear. It’s not just writing content and snapping pictures, its building genuine relationships, negotiating contracts, interviewing, graphic design, website development, and so much more. In my case, it’s also providing a lot of support, researching the latest medical information for women’s fertility health and wellness, networking with industry experts and brands, and constantly brainstorming ideas.

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

A digital creator is an entrepreneur. Making a mental shift and recognizing that I’m an entrepreneur, and treating my platform like a “brand” rather than “personal”, has allowed me to create an appropriate business strategy, content strategy, and online presence. I think when someone realizes they’re a brand rather than “just” a social media page, that’s when a shift happens. It’s allowed me to build and grow relationships as a professional, as well as grow a reputation as an expert.

This is something many don’t understand, but it’s true. You’re growing, building, and selling a brand. That brand is you. Once you have a clear brand strategy, everything makes more sense; to you, to your followers, and to brands. Leaning into being an entrepreneur is so important. It’s the difference between posting random content, to having a clear mission and message. You’re able to narrow in on what you’re passionate about, what you want to attain as a brand, and how you want to achieve it.

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

The majority of the work I do on my platform is me trying to make the world a better place. Every week I show up sharing my experiences, both good and bad, so others feel less alone, so awareness is spread and stigmas are broken down. I also offer support and truly try to empower others navigating some of life’s heaviest battles in regards to mental health and fertility. I regularly share resources and have been able to provide a few fertility grants to couples in need. In my heart, I’ve always wanted to make a difference, spread kindness, and support others struggling. My passion for mental health and fertility health have been able to miraculously collide, and I feel like The IVF Warrior’s mission and work both support this.

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?

In the beginning stages of being an influencer, many suffer from imposter syndrome, or simply don’t have a clear focus, this can end up showing on someone’s platform. First, show up confidently, you’re worthy of pursuing this as much as the next person. Secondly, don’t get caught up trying to be like everyone else.

I think it’s important to treat this industry like any other business and come up with a business strategy, branding, and content strategy. The people who make a difference and grow an authentic following, aren’t trying to be like everyone else. They’re growing a brand that represents their values and mission. I believe this shows in someone’s content. You must tap into what you’re passionate about. You also have to remember that typically, success doesn’t happen overnight. Most influencers will tell you it took them years to get to where they are today. You’ll have good months and bad months, just don’t let the bad months keep you down. It’s OK to take breaks when you need them and come back to it once you’re feeling inspired again too.

Also, growing a brand takes time, dedication, and hard work. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. I tell other influencers and clients this reality because I never want someone to have unrealistic expectations, and think this is a quick way to make money or become famous.

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?

Success does look and feel different for everyone. I initially thought that success would mean reaching millions of people every month or making a specific amount of money, but I’ve realized for me, it’s about feeling like I’m making a difference. It’s not in the likes, it’s in the comments, emails and dm’s I receive from others sharing their story and thanking me for what I do. To me, that’s success… knowing that I’m making a difference.

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

There’s no denying that social media is a demanding job. It never closes, never stops. It’s available 24/7 at our fingertips. Being able to prioritize and set boundaries both professionally and personally, is essential.

I see it too often. So many don’t know when to take a break, how to reduce screentime or set healthy boundaries with technology. This is a hard boundary to realize and set, and it’s something I have to continuously work at in order to make room for the things that matter most in my personal life.

Likewise, having clear priorities and boundaries within your work day is equally important. When I was starting out, I had more flexibility and time to say yes to additional commitments. As you grow, this time and flexibility shifts. The reality is, you can’t work 24/7. So, despite social media working around the clock, you can’t. You eventually get to a point where you can’t say yes to everyone and everything that comes your way.

So, for me, strategies I use to focus on what matters most are having clear boundaries and priorities, staying organized, reducing technology use during off hours, and regularly checking in with myself and my brand. Checking in can look like, “What do I need today/right now?” or “Does this serve a purpose to my brand?”.

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

Something I realized fairly quickly was how many hats anyone working in this space wears. As I mentioned, it’s not just writing captions and snapping pictures, it’s so many things. Often, you’re managing all of your brands different roles throughout a single day. It can feel stressful and overwhelming for anyone starting out, and even for those who are more seasoned. After some hard lessons along the way, I definitely manage stress differently now.

I’ve learned that despite wanting to, one person can’t do it all. It’s OK to say no to opportunities that aren’t aligned with your current strategy, mission, or priorities. It’s OK to take a day (or two) off each week, just like everyone else. It’s important to slow down and make time for what matters most. Burnout is real.

I’ve established many personal boundaries including a no phone policy during specific times. Unplugging for a few hours per day helps tremendously. I’ve made it a rule to focus on sharing content during weekdays only, and I take Sundays off completely and treat it as a self-care day. Unplugging allows me to focus on the little things, rest, and feel more energized and creative going into a new week.

Setting boundaries and practicing self-care are essential for anyone who’s a creator or working in social media. I hear too often of others burning out because they feel like they need to be “on” 24/7, but I highly suggest to anyone in this space to set boundaries early on.

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.

  1. Create Engaging Content That’s Right for Your Brand: Sounds simple enough, right? Content creation can feel tough. Whether you focus more on image and video creation or writing captions, knowing your audience is essential. You could write the most amazing content and your videos could be worthy of awards, but like anything in life, if you’re not “selling” to the right audience, your work won’t perform well. Something to keep in mind with content creation is, how well do you know your audience? What does your audience want to see? Yes, know your demographics, but you need to know more than that. What are they actually interested in? What draws them in? Narrow that down and talk about these issues or topics. Taking advantage of trending awareness days, weeks, months, as well as national days, can give you content to work with and be beneficial for growing your following too. Another thing to keep in mind is strategize where you’re sharing different types of content. For example, I see a lot of new or small accounts share certain posts that would’ve been more beneficial to post in stories (or Vice Versa). Stories are a great place to share random parts of your day, meals, behind the scenes, polls, links, and truly let your following learn more about you or your brand. It’s a great place to gain trust and let people into your life more, but this content may not support your brand’s main content strategy. An example would be, a food creator wouldn’t likely share clothing try-ons within their main feed, but in stories it makes sense. Just be mindful of your overall brand message and try to be consistent. When creating content, also remember, people want to share their stories. They want to feel like they’re part of something. It’s important to try to get to know your audience, know what they care about, and how you can support them. Though your platform may be about “you”, you can’t make it all about “you”. You must give space for your followers to feel seen too. To be part of a community. Your community.
  2. Build an Authentic Community: The number of emails and dm’s I get every week asking If I’m interested in paying money to join loop giveaways, celebrity giveaways, or ghost giveaways, is insane. I urge you not to do these. I can honestly say, I have never paid a platform or agency to get me followers or participated in something that quickly bought followers. I have seen many buy into these and the results are never what they expected. Yes, their following count goes up for now, but what goes down? Their engagement and often their ideal demographics. I’ve seen people regret buying into these and have to work hard to fix it afterwards. Instead of having a community that’s genuinely interested in what you’re sharing, you end up with bot accounts, people who aren’t going to engage with your content, and people in countries that aren’t ideal for what you’re selling. As tempting as quick growth buy ins can be, realize now that growing a real following takes time. But doing it organically will be worth it. Things I do and always recommend are taking time every day to interact with your followers. If someone comments on your post, comment back to them. Comment on posts from the people you follow. Engage with accounts that you look up to, and your competitors. One way I regularly check-in and connect with my community is through story polls, quizzes, and comment boxes. I ask questions to gain insight about how my audience is feeling and what type of content they’d like to see more of. Finally, network and build relationships with people, especially when it can be mutually beneficial. Takeovers, lives, collaboration posts, and sharing other platforms posts in your stories and tagging them, can go a long way. The idea is to build a strong, organic, authentic community, not a fake one that doesn’t want to interact with your content.
  3. Have a Consistent Content Schedule: This is something many find difficult, but having a consistent schedule is important. Every platform is different with what’s considered optimal posting. I know the expectations for a platform like Instagram are unattainable for most, and I would never encourage someone to try to create and post that much content, unless they have a team working with them. The reality is, to be successful, you don’t need to stress yourself out and post every single day, but you should have a content calendar and be consistent with the time you post and how many days per week you post. There are a few reasons to follow this tip. If you have a predictable schedule, your audience knows when to look for your content. If you post at your optimal audience demographic time, your reach will be larger. And, if you have a consistent schedule, the algorithm will favor you more. For me, I regularly evaluate insights and audience demographics. Within this, you’ll get a daily breakdown of when your audience is online. It’s said that your optimal posting time is about 30 minutes before the peak usage time, I am for a 1-hour window. I also always post on weekdays, and aim to run 4–5 posts every single week. This is the strategy that helps the most with my overall brand growth.
  4. Have a Solid Optimization Strategy: Besides having a captivating graphic and caption, you need to make sure you’re using every tool available to optimize your reach. There are many tools to consider when it comes to sharing content. First, your hashtag strategy. It’s important to know the hashtag strategy for the platform you’re on and stay up-to-date, as this can change throughout the year. This includes things like how many hashtags to use per post, for each platform you’re on, and only using relevant hashtags that aren’t too small or too big. What does this mean? Search each hashtag and see what results come up. If there’s over 1 million results, or less than 100 thousand, it’s best to skip it. The reason? Using a hashtag that’s oversaturated will likely result in your content quickly being hidden within that hashtag. Using a hashtag that has a small amount of activity likely means not many people will see it. There’s a lot of potential followers who follow specific hashtags, narrow down which ones would fit your content the best, and rotate these throughout your posts. If there’s ever a trending hashtag that you want to create content for, use that too. There’s always topics, events, or random hashtags that trend, and this is also a great way to reach a new audience. This is something I regularly do, especially in stories since it’s so simple. Secondly, use a strong call-to-action (CTA) for every post. I usually take a statement from my caption or use my posts key message to create a CTA. People want to share their opinions and stories, give them a reason to want to. Create CTA’s that pull people in, but be sure to switch them up every post. I see a lot of smaller accounts rotate the same CTA’s every post or every other post. This isn’t effective and will bore your audience. Keep them interested and engaged. Finally, make sure you’re adding ALT text to your posts to help with SEO reach and captions if available.
  5. Perfect Your Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch explains to others who you are, what you do, and why you’re unique. I think most people have a hard time with a vocal or written elevator pitch because it’s hard to narrow down who we are in less than 20 seconds. An elevator pitch will be used in many ways as a creator, from pitching for collaborations and brand deals, to creating your social bios. To me, a social bio is like an elevator pitch. It has to be to the point and explain to everyone who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. This aspect is easy to overanalyze and sweat over. It’s something I struggled with for a while, but an elevator pitch will be used in many ways as a creator. I encourage you to really think about what you want your brand message to be and what topics you’re covering regularly. Your social bio needs to show why someone should follow you, and what to expect. Don’t overanalyze it and change it constantly, but make sure your bio is clear and concise. Other thoughts about your social bio are to make sure you’re utilizing your link and contact features, share highlights that represent you, and add a picture that’s clear and suitable. All of this will allow everyone to easily learn more about what you offer. Plus, using a CTA in your bio can be very helpful if you want to encourage others to take a specific action e.g., click, join, download, contact, etc.

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

This comes down to following a lot of the tips I’ve mentioned, but truly getting to know your audience, commenting back to my community on my posts, and answering as many dm’s as possible. Networking with other experts and creators by building real, meaningful relationships. Taking time in the day to engage with the people I follow, and the people who follow me. Listening to my audiences needs and wants, and trying to cater to those. Overall, treating everyone as a person or friend, being appreciative of their support, and working hard to better serve them in any way I can.

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.

I think that’s what makes my platform unique. I started with a goal to make a positive impact, to support people and raise awareness about issues that matter. Growth and success followed that. My mission was to help women affected by fertility and mental health issues. I’ve now realized that this is just the beginning. There is so much more work to be done. 1 in 6 face fertility issues, 1 in 5 experience a mental health issue, and these numbers are growing. I’d love to inspire a larger movement. Being able to eventually reach a much larger audience and help more people, would be incredible. I have a lot of ideas on how I’d love to expand my platform by offering more, educating more, and providing more support.

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. 🙂

There are so many truly inspiring people in business that I look up to. Reese Witherspoon is someone I would love to sit down with. She seems like such a kind, funny, down-to-earth person who’s been so successful with everything she’s accomplished. From acting to running her clothing company and building a nearly billion-dollar media brand, I think we could all learn a thing or two from her. Plus, her advocacy work and mission to empower women is incredibly inspiring and something I focus a lot of my work on too.

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

You can find me on Instagram @the.ivf.warrior My brand The IVF Warrior is also on Facebook and The IVF Warrior website. I’d love to be able to connect with more of you there!

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