Suzi is the face behind Gurl Gone Green, a clean living, clean eating, and clean beauty blog. Suzi was one of my very first Instagram friends, so I feel like we’ve been on our Instagram journey together, even though we are in different niches. It was fun to talk face-to-face (well, kinda) about how she has grown her Instagram account from literally nothing, to almost 40k engaged followers!
A transcript is below, but has been edited for clarity and brevity (we were chatty!)
Molly: Can you tell us a little bit about how your blog got started?
Suzi: It started for me when my mom got me a book for Christmas called No More Dirty Looks. It changed my thinking and really made me want to tell everyone about what they were using on their skin. Gurl Gone Green is all clean beauty, clean eating, and clean living.
I’d already been eating clean. My brother had already gotten us on more of a clean eating track. But as far as my products and what I was using to clean my house and put on my body, that hadn’t really transferred over.
As I continued on my green journey, I remember people starting to
ask me what products I was using. So I started my blog in 2013. I remember posting randomly, but I wasn’t consistent. My Instagram wasn’t consistent at all, like once every month. After my daughter turned six months, in January of 2015 I committed to really blogging consistently. This is my passion. I do it anyway.
Molly: Why did you choose Instagram? Why were you drawn to it as opposed to other social media platforms?
Suzi: I was drawn to it just because it’s visual. I’m a cosmetologist, and so I think visually. I always loved it for just personal use, and so I thought why not translate that over into a business model? It would work well for showing products in a good light and making them pretty. It was really natural for me.
I tried to do Twitter and I couldn’t. I have a Twitter account and I never do anything. It’s just not a platform I love. I remember you said, just go with one platform and really go hard at it and love it instead of trying to do all of these things at once. I tried to do everything at once, and then I just realized I didn’t love it. Instagram was my baby and I just went with it.
Molly: I do say that a lot, to start with one platform and just hit it hard. After you get that under your belt, you can branch out. You’ve definitely got your flow going with Instagram and you’re doing really well with it, but you have started to segue out into other platforms, most lately YouTube. Just tell us a little bit about that.
Suzi: YouTube is a great traffic driver to your blog. I had always wanted to do YouTube. I started doing videos in the summer of 2015. I have these videos that are just horrible. I’m kind of a perfectionist, but at the same time sometimes I just go with things. I’ve learned you just have to because otherwise you’ll have a video sitting there forever and never post it.
It’s such a different medium. YouTube allows for a whole new level of learning and you get a different audience. There’s so much more you can do with beauty products. You can show pictures (on Instagram), but sometimes you can’t show someone how to put it on, or how to use it. That’s what YouTube is great for.
Molly: You find that you have different audiences on Instagram and YouTube, and you serve different content to them. How much of your YouTube content, maybe not exactly, but YouTube-type content ends up in your Instagram stories now that there are Stories? Do you find that there’s crossover there? How are you using Stories?
Suzi: Yeah, I love Stories. I love them because I feel like Instagram is your polished accou
nt where people see the perfectionism, and then Stories is like real life, grit, dirtiness. You can see the person for who they are and get in their world. People love that. It’s also really nice because sometimes I don’t want to post about all these products all the time because I can mention them in my Stories. It’s a post within Instagram, but it’s not taking over my feed, if that makes sense.
Molly: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I don’t know if I’ve actually identified that before, but Stories help you get over the frequency issue with Instagram, because with Instagram, people are really sensitive about how often you’re in their feed. Instagram is getting really saturated. I think it’s 600,000 users now or something, so Stories really do help you overcome that challenge with frequency. You can share so many things.
Growing Instagram from Nothing
Molly: Let’s talk about how you grew your account in the beginning. First of all, was it a personal account first or did you start with a dedicated Gurl Gone Green account?
Suzi: I started with a dedicated Gurl Gone Green account. I have a separate personal account.
Molly: How did you primarily grow your account in the beginning? You are well over 30,000 followers now, but you started from nothing, just like anyone else.
Suzi: For me, it was just being consistent. I literally told myself, “Okay, I’m going to post every single day.” Then I would even post twice a day in the very beginning. Maybe that’s good or bad, I don’t know now, because I feel like Instagram is so different than when I started.
I would post in the morning and then at night, and then I would just always try to engage with other accounts, really make comments. I would always try to bring some sort of value. I remember you saying that and I had read online, “how am I helping someone? Am I sharing new information?”
I would also pay attention to cues that my audience would give me about the content they liked. Then I would post more content like that. I found beauty did really well for me. It’s natural for me anyways, but that was my niche in the beginning. Then I branched out into baby stuff and clean living and even food.
I’ve done a lot of giveaways too, which helped a lot. There were times when I didn’t do as many giveaways, because I just had done too many in a row. Now I do them, but I’m not doing them as much as I was in the past. I don’t count on them as much to grow my audience.
Using Giveaways to Grow Your Account
Molly: Did you depend on or use giveaways a lot in the very beginning to grow your audience, or did you wait till your account grew a little bit more? How did you balance that out?
Suzi: I did them more in the beginning. I really wanted to do them more because I wanted to grow my following. Some of the giveaways would just be products I provided. I just would think of random little things. It wasn’t a crazy amount of money out of my pocket, but just like a lipstick that was $20 or so. I think you have to be willing to invest in your business if you want to grow. Or I would go in $10 with, say, five other bloggers, and then offer a $50 gift card or something. I remember doing one of those. That was my first big giveaway. I remember going from 500 to almost 900 in two days.
Molly: When it comes to giveaways now, are you approaching brands, or do they approach you, or both?
Suzi: It really depends on what I’m doing. I don’t necessarily do it for followers as much now as for overall buzz of my blog. If I have something that I’m really excited about, then I’ll do a really big giveaway because I want to create that excitement. It gets a lot more likes and it gets a lot more attention.
I have a baby guide coming out Friday, so I approached companies that I included in the guide and asked them to participate. I have a ton of different companies donating for this one huge green baby giveaway.
Other times when I post stuff it’s because companies are asking me to host a giveaway. They want to reach their target audience. It just depends.
Molly: When you do a giveaway, you talked about the buzz around it and how you don’t really do it as much to grow your following, but it does create a positive frenzy around your account for a few days? Do you find, now, with the algorithm in place, or know from looking at your analytics, if it helps boost your reach and engagement in the time period after?
Suzi: For sure, it does. Especially now with the Instagram algorithm, when you have more likes, then you’re pushed up. If someone tags one of their friends, then they’re seeing my posts, so I’m going to get more reach from them if they tell someone else. I definitely like to do giveaways every so often, just because it creates excitement.
Molly: I think that touches on something that’s a challenge for a lot of shop owners on Instagram that do giveaways. They’ll often see a drop off after a giveaway, but it sounds like you don’t really see a lot of that. It’s just kind of all on the up and up for you when you do a giveaway.
Suzi: Yeah. I’ve heard a lot of people say that. I’ve done Christmas giveaways with a lot of bloggers, those type of things where you’re following a ton of people and it’s out of control. I don’t even really love doing those, but I think just the simple ones, where you require someone to follow an account or whatever doesn’t have as much of a crazy drop off.
Molly: You’re in a unique position where you are offering a lot of value to people through your blog. Even if someone doesn’t win a particular item they still are getting constant, new product reviews or other guides that you put out. The requirement is to follow you and follow the brand. If they’re only going to pick on person to keep following after the giveaway, it’s probably going to be you, just because you have that extra value.
Choosing a Theme for Your Instagram
Molly: Earlier you mentioned consistency. You’ve said that a couple of times now. What are your tips for producing content and how do you stay so consistent? Your feed is really beautiful. When I see a picture, I instantly know it’s you. You definitely have your style nailed down. How do you do that? That’s something people struggle with a lot.
Suzi: You have to do what you like. I like light and bright, and I want to say positive. That translates over into my feed. I don’t try to make things super complicated. You can get apps that make your life so much easier. For pictures, I love VSCO for editing. I use the same filter every time so it looks consistent, and then I know how I can add brightness or make it more clear. Once you start using them, you’ll get it
down, and practice makes perfect.
Then I think just picking, for example, quotes. I do the same background each time so it’s consistent. I just have to put the quote in there. I don’t have to think about another, different background.
As far as planning out my Instagram content, every Sunday I plan out my week on Instagram.
Tuesdays I always do a quote, so it makes it easy. Wednesday and Friday I always have new content. Monday I might have something like a giveaway or a podcast or something different. Then I know Thursdays, Saturday and Sunday are my free days. It could be anything from maybe a new product, to I’m going out to eat and I’m posting a picture of food. Sometimes I try to put in a picture of my family or my kids to keep it personal a little bit.
Molly: Some people think that that seems a little too cookie cutter, but we have to remember that people that are thumbing through their Instagram feed, they’re not paying such close attention to you that they’re like, “Hey, she posted a quote last Tuesday too!” And you’ve made yours into kind of a feature, where it’s like #TuesdayTuneup. People are expecting it.
I think people worry a lot about being repetitive, but it doesn’t come across that way. People have so many other things to think about, what you’re posting and when is not top of mind.
Molly: Your photos, are you using your phone?
Suzi: Yeah, I use my phone. That’s all I use, really. Occasionally I might use my better camera. I always tell myself I need to start using it, but the iPhone is so great.
Molly: You have some good flat lay skills. When you’re doing products, everything always looks so nice. Do you have a box of props that you use, or you just walk around your house like, “Oh, I’ll use this today.” How do you decide what goes in your photo?
Suzi: Yeah, I have these backdrops I have, that are like mini backdrops. I think they’re called mini backdrops. You can buy them online.
Molly: So, we can all go Google “mini backdrops.”
Suzi: Yes! I have a box of props and things that I’ve used, but I also just use plants around my house or I’ll go outside and we have different fresh flowers or grass or whatever it is. Some people do a lot of props. I don’t really like that for my own feed.
Molly: What I’m hearing you say over and over is just to keep it simple and sane. There’s just no reason to get all crazy. I think people get caught up in the details and they forget that just showing up every day and being dependable can take you really far.
Suzi: It makes your life so much easier, because then your whole Instagram feed is consistent and it looks similar, versus, like you said, my photo when you see it versus a lot of people, they do so many different pictures that are so intricate, but then it’s like you don’t even know if it’s theirs the next time you see it because it’s so busy. There’s so much going on.
Molly: One last thing I wanted to touch on, and then I’ll just let you give us your parting advice, is your account, even when you don’t have a giveaway going on, you just get tons of engagement. You get tons of comments. I think, for a lot of the accounts that I manage, and just a lot of the people that I talk to regularly about Instagram, a lot of people have seen reduced engagement. Not so much, maybe, in likes, because the bots have ensured that we all get lots of likes, but people are seeing a lot fewer comments. What do you think the key is for you to getting lots of comments every day?
Suzi: I would say, like I said before, responding to people. When they comment on your picture, I respond back to them, even if it’s just a heart or a high-five or whatever, just so people know, “Hey, I see you.” Then also responding to direct messages. I get tons more now, obviously, with Stories. I have had so many people say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t think you’d respond.”
I really, truly care about the people that are commenting and want to know and have questions. I might not get to it that day, but I always end up getting to it. It’s why I do what I do. I think if you genuinely show that you care and you’re responding, that goes a long way. People are like, “Oh.” It has that little relationship starting with you where they’re like, “Oh yeah, I remember, Suzi from Gurl Gone Green, she told me this.” Then maybe they’re telling their friend, or they’re more likely to respond next time because you responded to them. I think that’s just huge, for sure. I feel like they know you and you’re just one of them and not some far-off person that they can’t talk to.
Molly: Is there anything else that you could share or add or?
Suzi: Take good photos. Always be learning. If you look at the very beginning of my account, it was horrible. Don’t be afraid to put a bad photo out there. It might be bad, but just keep going until they get better. They will get better. You’ll learn. Go to an account that you really like and just copy them for a while until you find your own rhythm and flair. I think that’s a big deal, or ask them what they use. People are more willing to give them information than you think.
Molly: To be good at Instagram I think one of the most important skills someone can have is just being willing to take the time to look and watch what other people are doing and note what jumps out at them. Just keep adjusting, because as you mentioned a little earlier, Instagram’s changed a lot in the last two years. It was very different two years ago when I started on it. You just really have to stick with it and just keep learning and adjusting and trying new things, and taking advantage of the things that Instagram’s giving us, like Stories and Live and all that stuff.
Suzi: If you go into it thinking, “I’m just going to stay the same,” then it’s not going to be good for you, because you have to learn to be flexible and change. Sometimes the changes can seem negative, but I you just have to keep rolling with it and think, “Okay, how can I make this a positive? How can I use this to my benefit to reach more people in the end?”
Find Suzi Online
Molly Marshall teaches small business owners and online entrepreneurs how to systematically and simply grow a profitable online presence through social media. Get your FREE 2018 Instagram Strategy Guide now!