Responsible for managing the social media strategy for top international brands including Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliott – Michelle Halpern was working in what some may consider the ‘dream job’. But it wasn’t her dream. In February 2016, Michelle left the corporate world to become a freelance social media marketing and brand consultant before also turning her focus on founding and growing digital platform – Live Like It’s The Weekend.
With a tagline of: “Let’s stop waiting for the weekend and start living like it’s already here!” Michelle began on her path of inspiring others to explore different corners of the world via her blog and Instagram.
Exactly two years later and with camera in hand and a bucket list of countries under her sleeve, we decided to track Michelle down to find out exactly what goes into the making of a travel influencer – covering everything from editing and photography tips to tricks for growing an Instagram account.
Are your photos mostly spontaneous or are they planned out?
I would say they’re a mix of both! When I’m traveling, I definitely spend time location scouting and shoot particular locations based on prior research I’ve done and what I think makes the most sense for my brand. But then of course there’s always incredible new spots to be discovered and I love finding spontaneous locations that I wasn’t expecting to shoot – those are the best!
Do you plan your Instagram feed and what you will post next?
Absolutely! I use a service called Planoly to upload all of my edited photos ahead of time so that I can organise them based on the flow of my feed I like most aesthetically. I’m constantly toying with this. Other factors that might go into planning when I post certain photos are if I have a correlating blog post going live and want to promote it through Instagram or if I have sponsored brand photos that I need to post.
Do you take your own pics?
If I’m not in them, then all of the shots are taken by me. When I’m in my pictures, it’s usually a friend or fellow blogger taking the photo, but 99% of the time I’m finding the location, setting up the frame, changing my manual settings, and explaining my vision to the person clicking the button – so in my opinion, those are also taken by me… but I guess it depends on your perspective!
iPhone or camera pics?
A mix of both! I would say 90% of my Instagram shots are taken on my DSLR, but occasionally I won’t have it on me or my iPhone will come out with a surprisingly awesome image and I’ll post that!
What camera do you use?
I recently upgraded to a Sony A7rII and I’m loving it.
Untouched images or edited?
Always edited, however, I don’t love an overly edited look so I try to keep my saturation and colours as close to what I saw in real life as possible while still boosting the photo with a little something special.
How do you edit your photos?
I edit all of my images in a professional editing software called Adobe Lightroom. Occasionally I will use Photoshop, but only if I need to remove something from the photo that is too complex for Lightroom to handle (like trash on a street etc). My editing strategy is always changing (I can never decide what I like!), but right now I’m liking bumps of exposure and bringing the highlights and shadows down. I’m also playing a lot with grain lately and working with my blue and green tones more.
How long does it typically take for you to work on a post for Instagram?
Oh gosh, probably quite a while – though I’ve never timed it since I work on bits and pieces of each post at different times! Editing each photo could take 5 minutes or it could take an hour depending on how much work the image needs. My time has been cut down quite a bit though since I started creating my own pre-sets and using those as an editing base. Usually I don’t spend more than 20 minutes on a caption depending on if it’s a more thoughtful, lengthy caption or a quick quote.
Insta-story or simple posting?
How often do you spend on Instagram per day?
I don’t even want to know.
Do you think Instagram has helped you grow your own brand / image / business and why?
Yes and no. While most brands that I work with have found me through Instagram and want to collaborate through that platform, I don’t think anyone should assume that just because you’re growing your Instagram that other channels like your website traffic will grow at the same rate. Yes, Instagram is a great way for people to immediately get an understanding of my brand and niche, but my goal in 2018 is to focus much more heavily on my owned channels like my website and email list. I believe that’s a much smarter business strategy if you’re looking to be successful in this business in the long run!
Did your Instagram start out as a hobby and flourish or was it always established for brand / business purposes?
I had my Instagram from back when the platform first came out, but I cleaned it up and started to post more travel photos on it after I quit my job back in 2016 and went on a 1-year trip to 14 different countries. I knew I eventually wanted to try to make my brand and blog a business, but I didn’t get more serious about treating it as such until this past year. I just tried to have fun with it in the beginning!
Have you noticed what type of content your followers respond to the best?
I much prefer to be behind the lens, but to my dismay – people seem to like the photos best that I’m actually in. Haha, oh well! Guess I’m going to have to get used to it!
What is your top tip for creating original and creative content?
I think just to move around and test. Sometimes we can get an idea in our heads about what we want visually, but then we discover a much better angle or way to tell the story when we’re actually out there shooting it. I think just being open to adjusting your perspective and moving around physically (backing up, getting in close, bending down or tilting your camera at a different angle etc) can make a huge difference in capturing your subject in a fresh way.
Top tips for growing on Instagram?
I have a lot of thoughts on this, so buckle up! First and foremost you’ve got to have great photos (unless you’re already a celebrity or recognisable brand). If your photo quality is subpar you’ll have a hard time growing on Instagram, period. But if you’ve already nailed the photos and still aren’t seeing great results, here are my tips:
- Consistency and advocating for yourself are probably the most important. By consistency, I mean both in posting regularly so people come to expect new content from you each day and start to develop a pattern of checking your feed AND consistency in your images so that you’re telling a cohesive brand story that people can relate to or find inspiration in.
- When it comes to advocating for yourself, identify top brands and publications you want to collaborate with and don’t be afraid to engage with them consistently and reach out to them! I’ve been a guest judge on @Passionpassport’s weekly Instagram challenges, have been featured on Afar’s instagram and in their online magazine, and have done an IG takeover with @LonelyPlanet all because I reached out and put my name out there.
- On top of all that, interacting with other influencers, utilising the right hashtags, tagging re-post accounts in your photos and harnessing a community through engaging captions, asking questions, and giving back to them with giveaways and shoutouts are all additional ways to grow.
If you use these strategies consistently over time and are creating inspirational content then you will surely grow, but it happens at a different rate for everyone.
One last note and something I also plan on focusing more on in 2018: focus on giving rather than receiving. It’s easy to get caught up in the number on our follower account and the competition of what other people are doing and why we’re not seeing the same results. That mindset can get very egocentric very fast and only serves to frustrate and spread negative energy both within ourselves and to others. Instead, I suggest focusing on how you can be of more service and provide more inspiration to your followers. What skill can you teach them? What can you help them realise about their own dreams? What can you do to support their journey? If you focus more on giving rather than receiving, you will feel better in the long run and people will gravitate towards your energy. <3