Get interactive with your stories. Show your followers you’re invested in them by running polls, letting them ask you questions, or other interactive options. This sets the tone that the sharing goes both ways and they can help influence your journey, too. For example, I asked my followers how I should make my coffee in a van since coffee packets weren’t cutting it anymore. I ended up getting lots of unique answers–I learned what a Vietnamese coffee maker was, an aeropress, a pour-over…I ultimately chose the pour-over thanks to 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 this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Hilary Bird.
Hilary Bird is a van life influencer and blogger who runs the site, www.greenvango.com. She took to the road after burning out in corporate life and realizing she had unfulfilled personal goals to achieve. She has spent the last two years building out an old campervan, traveling the country and working remotely, while sharing budget ways to start van life on her website.
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?
They say life’s best changes come at your lowest points–that’s what I experienced. I was seven years into a digital marketing career and felt zero passion, drive or interest in what I was doing. I was stuck in a pattern of fleeting relationships, and I generally felt unfulfilled. After developing anxiety attacks, I knew I needed to make a change to my lifestyle because I wasn’t going to “be a victim” of my own life.
As I approached my 29th birthday I took a hard look at what my personal goals were. They included traveling, working remotely and being my own boss. Van life struck me immediately because it fit the bill in every way. I’m not a huge risk taker, but I trusted my gut and quit my job (without another lined up), booked a one-way flight to Canada to pick up an old van for sale, and packed up my things. Almost two years later, I’m overwhelmingly proud to say that I’ve completely built out a campervan, started my own LLC (with clients), and get to travel and choose my work schedule.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?
Oh man, how do I choose just one?! The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to protect my time. A huge reason I wanted to move into the van was to escape the pressures and distractions of society. I wanted to give myself the solitude to figure out what a happy and meaningful life looked like to me. I’d spent so many years just letting life happen to me that it was hard to distinguish between what I really wanted for myself, versus what I thought I should want. Being in a van by myself, camping solo night after night, definitely gave me that space.
But I want to clarify that protecting your time doesn’t mean just cutting out your friends, family or communities and saying “no” all the time. Protecting your time is about making sure that things you do say yes to, are in fact helping you achieve goals or making you feel happy and fulfilled. For example, if building a stronger family connection is a goal, then going out to breakfast with your parents every week is a good use of time. If building your own company is a goal, then maybe taking on extra side gig work isn’t a good use of time. It’s about being stable in your decisions, rather than reactive to circumstances thrown at you.
We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?
I occasionally post the glamorous, quintessential “#vanlife” photos on my Instagram, but I also post the bad, the ugly and the funny. Because the reality is that van life IS glamorous sometimes, but a lot of the time, it’s extremely dirty and challenging! People need to see all angles of your life so they can relate, because that’s what makes them feel like they know you and CARE about your journey.
I think of “influence” as someone who may buy a product they see featured in an Instagram post of a life they want for themselves. But I think of “impact” as someone who wakes up in the morning feeling deflated, but then remembering an Instagram post that made them feel inspired to keep pushing, which ultimately helps them get out of bed and make moves. That’s the kind of impact I aim for. When people respond to my Instagram stories or posts with laughter, or relatability or comments of feeling inspired, it makes sharing so worth it.
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?
Don’t overthink it. Because being an influencer is in a sense, a full-time job. And the more it feels like a job, the harder it will be to keep up with. So don’t obsess over having professional-level Instagram photos or novel-long captions that are cliche or generic. Just be yourself–document YOU. Use social media as a documenting tool so people get to really know a deeper side of you.
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 has shifted since starting van life almost two years ago. At the beginning, I measured success by how much my social account was growing. I felt like there was this inner voice in me dying to yell out to the world, “HEY! I’M HERE!”. And a big reason I took to social media was to help me exercise that voice. To be honest, I used to judge influencers and figure they all must secretly be really insecure to need external validation or “likes”. So in a twisted way, I wanted to force myself to break that limiting mindset by doing it myself, even though it was really uncomfortable at first. I’m so, so grateful I did. I learned so much about myself and have a less judgmental outlook on life, now.
Now, growing my Instagram following isn’t how I measure success. I already feel successful because every morning I wake up without the anxiety I once had. In a general sense, my success is maintaining my health, close relationships, and staying committed to my long-term goals. In a business sense, my goal is building out my website so it becomes a full, passive-income site. I want more financial freedom and to continue to inspire van life enthusiasts to try out the lifestyle.
What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?
First, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about figuring out who or what does matter most. Don’t get trapped in the “should” mindset of thinking you should make certain people or things a priority simply because they’d want you to. Don’t let guilt or fear of others’ judgement hold you back.
Picture your long-term dream achievement. Then break up the steps to getting there in day-by-day chunks. Once you figure that out, you simply make those things or people a priority.
When I wake up in the morning, my first question is: what can I do today that will make me feel like it was good, productive day by the time I go to bed? Sometimes, one task may take a whole day. But if that task is part of a main goal, then that’s what I focus on. I’ve also learned that sitting at my desk all day, working on my website, is productive and all–but I do need to move! So I’ll do a short workout or make a meal. The difference from me a few years ago though, is that I actually get back to work within a reasonable amount of time. I used to let myself get distracted for hours and find I’d lost a whole day.
How do you reduce or mitigate stress?
I don’t worry about what I can’t control. Over the last couple of years it’s like I’ve developed a switch in my brain that I simply flip. When I find my mind wandering, I just redirect my focus.
I think what makes managing stress a lot easier is when you have a personal project that you’re genuinely excited to work on. It’s really easy to get lost in negativity or other people’s opinions when you don’t feel like you’re working towards something of your own. Starting my own website and learning all about affiliate marketing, and building my brand, has been so exciting and what keeps my mind focused.
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. Branch outside of Instagram to help grow your Instagram following. I’ve had my biggest waves of new Instagram followers through other platforms. I’ve used free tools like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to get media mentions from big outlets (KAYAK, Mashable, Forbes). I’ve also reached out to influencers in my industry through their website’s contact page to see if they allow guest post contributors. Usually, they do. Once I write a blog post sharing my own van life story, it’s usually shared on their own Instagram pages. Not only do I get new followers that are genuinely interested in my journey, but I make a new influencer connection, too.
2. Share your failures as much as your wins. Not only are failures more interesting, but they make you more relatable. If you’re trying to inspire others, then help show them the path to success–not just the picture-perfect results that seem out of reach (and probably have the opposite effect of motivating them). I typically receive more comments on posts where I’m making fun of myself for a silly thing I did, versus a “picture perfect” post that sort of doesn’t offer a conversation starter. The most people can comment on those are, “pretty!” “great views” or generic stuff that doesn’t feel very meaningful.
3. Get interactive with your stories. Show your followers you’re invested in them by running polls, letting them ask you questions, or other interactive options. This sets the tone that the sharing goes both ways and they can help influence your journey, too. For example, I asked my followers how I should make my coffee in a van since coffee packets weren’t cutting it anymore. I ended up getting lots of unique answers–I learned what a Vietnamese coffee maker was, an aeropress, a pour-over…I ultimately chose the pour-over thanks to them!
4. Tag feature pages and use a range of hashtags. I HATED using hashtags when I first started posting because it felt like I was screaming to the world, “like my picture!”. Then I realized I was just being insecure about owning my goal of growing my following. Using hashtags and tagging accounts that do features has helped me get exposure many, many times. If there’s a specific account you want to be featured on, then do a little studying on what sort of content they share. Frame your next photo based off of their “vibe”, while still staying true to yourself. And don’t give up. Keep tagging because it can take months for a feature to come through, sometimes.
5. Ask yourself, “If I saw stumbled on this post, would it catch my interest?” It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re in the thick of it. Or (like me) get stuck in analysis-paralysis overthinking what to share. Multiple times, I’ve messaged close friends and just said, “WHICH ONE?” and sent a few photo options I was considering posting. I trust their feedback, and feel good knowing I have an outside opinion. Don’t hesitate to ask for outside input from a trusted source.
What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?
Even when I feel like I have nothing to share, or I’m in a house instead of the van, I still keep my social posts coming. I might slow down a bit, but I want my followers to see all aspects of my life. I treat them like I’d treat a good friend. Lean on them. Continue asking for their input. They want to feel needed, and be genuine about it. Because the reality is that THEIR input matters the MOST anyways, if you’re trying to build your following. I always, always respond to comments, messages and sometimes even share someone else’s post if it really inspires me. I also follow hashtags that I use, and like or comment on content from community members I haven’t connected with before.
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.
It’d somehow be tied to strengthening family bonds–especially the bond between parents and their kids. I think so many of us turn to external factors like social media to attempt healing deep-seated insecurities or wounds that began at home. But if we instead went back to the sources that helped shape who we are to understand how we became that way, instead of looking outside of that, I think all of us would feel more stable and connected. Because no matter how many followers I have or how many times I’ve messaged with each one, they can never replace family.
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. 🙂
Meryl Streep! She is timeless, iconic, and represents my definition of a strong and adaptable woman. My childhood dream was to be an actress. I took acting classes, did school plays and made TONS of home videos. But I’m so fascinated at how actors can essentially channel another (non-existent) person–never mind with lots of cameras and people watching them. That level of empathy is sky-high.
What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?
Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!