By Lee Musho
Rochelle Bilow, the former Director of Social Media for Cooking Light and Bon Appétit, joined Baked for a talk full of advice for the aspiring media mogul. She is now a yoga teacher, freelance writer, and social media consultant living in Syracuse, with 19K followers on Instagram. If you missed it, here are her tips:
How to stand out:
You’re all creative. I’m sure you’re all great writers, and there’s a lot of that in the world. I’m not saying that to discourage you, I want you to understand the business. Because as much as I hate to say it, digital publishing is a hustle and it’s a business. It needs money and it needs help and if you can show your future employer that you have a great idea for monetizing social media, that you understand and are aware that Facebook is having algorithm problems but you have a plan for getting traffic back, those are ways that you can truly stand out because a lot of people can write a funny caption.
Your personal social media:
Yes, employers are looking at them, I can tell you that explicitly. We’re all looking at your social media bios and pages. But not for the reasons you think, if you’re doing drugs or drinking. I remember when I was in high school and everyone was like, “Make sure your social media is very polished and professional.” We’re looking at your social media bios because that’s what we grew up with, right?
What’s the fastest way to get to know someone? Go to their Facebook. Go to their Instagram. Facebook will tell you a lot, but their Instagram bio or feed will tell you more. It’s just the easiest way to know who someone really is. And also I can definitely tell you, for a voicey brand, for someone who has a strong viewpoint or is very charismatic or has a very strong hold on their market, for example, Bon Appétit, we would check out people’s Instagrams to make sure that their aesthetic matched Bon Appétit’s. If they’re posting poorly lit, 3/4 angle food shots, we were like, I don’t know if its gonna work, we want that overhead shot.
How to grow your own Instagram:
Align yourself with larger brands to the best of your ability by using hashtags of brands you want to emulate. For example, if it’s a healthy cooking page, Cooking Light’s hashtag #thenewhealthy would be an awesome hashtag to put on your pictures and the editor at Cooking Light would see it and potentially re-gram it.
Getting started as a freelance writer for a digital publication:
As you’re getting started, pitching digital publications is one of the best ways to go. Send them the full monty. Give them your article idea, your proposed word count, a couple headline examples, give them the plan of how you’re going to get art for this or what that art will look like.
The worst email that you could ever send a digital editor is, Hi, here’s my resume. I’ve written for this person, this person, I went to this college, I’d love to write for you, let me know if anything comes up! Delete. Because I already have freelancers who are feeding me ideas. If you are excited about a story and you want to write it, tell them that, don’t expect them to do the work and find you because I can tell you that every person who has ever pitched with that tactic has had a 0 percent success rate. That said, every freelancer who comes out with a strong game plan is a pleasure to work with and has been a repeat on the roster.
Personalizing your resume:
Anything that is a basic skill that anyone has, you can leave it off your resume. You know Microsoft Office, so does everyone else. If you have a skill that other people don’t have, include that. If you know InDesign, use that, but explain how you know it, how you’ve used it before, it’s proving you have that knowledge. Also just have a little bit of fun with it. You don’t have to be quirky or weird, but if you had an experience studying abroad in Italy and it really spoke to you and it was the best damn experience of your life, write about that, show your editor that you’re a multidimensional person.
How can you convey that you’re passionate about a brand?
First of all prove that you’re a loyal follower. Rather than saying “I love your Instagram feed,” maybe throw in a reference to a story that they did three months ago. That really, to me, stands out. It shows you’re the real deal, and you’ve been a reader for a while. Or even if you aren’t, you’ve done your homework. You don’t have to be stalkerish about it, but definitely show that you have an intimate knowledge of that brand.
The more personality you can add, the better. At the end of the day, you’re a person, not a piece of paper. If you can really make your personality shine on that piece of paper or make a little joke in your cover letter or just saying something that will make them crack a smile, that definitely helps.
Ask specific questions. Most people in the industry would love to give advice and talk about their career, but it can be so overwhelming to have someone say to you, would you just tell me about your career or give me some advice? I find that specific parameters are really helpful. What’s something you wish you had known when applying for jobs, or what is the number one thing you’re looking for in your position now?
What’s something that you didn’t expect when you started working at Bon Appétit?
I never expected all the free stuff. I would go away for a weekend and come back, Monday or Tuesday, and I’d have 17 packages of random food on my desk. So that was bizarre. I gave my father a thousand dollar bottle of cognac one year that was gifted to me. That’s a job perk. That’s something I never expected. I always thought it was nose to the grindstone, just straight journalism work. But that said, why am I getting all this free stuff? Clever PR people who want their stuff to be written about. It’s all part of the game.
Social media is always on. How did you take a breather?
Here’s the short answer: I quit and now I’m a yoga teacher. *laughs* I will say this, the slippery slope is that you have to be relatively on all the time for social media and for digital which is one thing, but its another thing to like, at 10 pm, do a last check-in for all of our social feeds, and then I’m going to go over to my feed and spend a half an hour there. I think it can be really helpful to have two devices, having your work phone and your personal phone, so after you do your work stuff you set it down and not fall headfirst into Instagram for two hours.
That’s the biggest challenge of working in social media, we’re all already addicted to our smartphones, and this is just one more thing making it harder. I tried to schedule out everything in advance that I could, every Thursday and Friday were a mad dash to the finish, so on the weekend I could have a weekend and truly be there and trust that everything was going to go live and I’d be fine. It’s also super helpful to ask for help so you’re not the one doing it all, and then every once in awhile, turn your phone off for 14 hours and don’t look at it, just don’t, whatever happened has happened and you can deal with it tomorrow but sometimes we just need detoxes, and for me, that was always the most helpful. At Cooking Light I’d turn my phone off at 9 pm and turn it back on at 7 am and like well, the internet exploded and that sucks but I needed sleep. But you definitely need to let it go sometimes.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in food media?
Honestly, I think it’s finding a voice that’s different. We’ve reached the saturation point with recipes, every recipe now is just a riff on something that’s already been done before, and since all of these food publications are trying to do the same thing with social media, it can start to feel like, what video am I watching? Finding that strong viewpoint that is confident and actually unique is the hardest part, while still meeting that corporate goal.
When your story means something to someone. That’s why working in social media is so fun for all of the stresses and all of the challenges. If you work in social media, yes you have to deal with the trolls, but you also get to read the comments of someone who says, That was the best thing I read all week, or I’ve made this recipe every Christmas for 17 years. And I truly believe food brings people together more than anything else on this earth and so helping give that to people is amazing, such a good feeling.