By Laurel Nelson, contributing writer with Salon Today
Social media influencers are making their mark on the beauty world, one photo at a time. Masters of multi-tasking, these savvy stylists are setting trends, seeing clients and promoting products all in one seemingly effortless Instagram post.
But effortless, it isn’t. Behind the scenes, these influencers are educating and seeking their own advanced education to stay ahead of trends, honing their photography skills and experimenting with products—in addition to maintaining a busy clientele.
We asked Insta-stars Sara Pestella, David Anders Palmira, Amanda Laura Lewis, Chelle Neff and Tatum Neill to share the stories behind their social media success and how they continue to build followers.
Q: WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER?
SARA PESTELLA, STYLIST
“I created an Instagram account so I could see my growth daily and go back to visually see what I could do for a better end-result.”
DAVID ANDERS PALMIRA, STYLIST
“My first five years I loved my job. I loved doing hair. I had a balanced life. But that balance wasn’t taking me to the next level.
“Hair became my passion and my life. Social media is a job—at best it can be your hobby. And when hair is truly your passion, social media will become a lot easier. Eighty percent of hairdressers view hair as their career or job. They might like what they do but it’s not truly their passion. So when they try to work social media, it becomes a second job—that’s where the disconnect is now on social media.
“When hair is truly your passion, social media will become a lot easier.”
– David Anders Palmira
AMANDA LAURA LEWIS
“A long time ago I recognized that social media is a great platform for connecting and sharing with other hairdressers. When I met Gerard Scarpaci (educator and creator of Hairbrained) over MySpace, he became an inspiration and still inspires me every day.
“Working with the Aveda Global Artistic team at shows or events backstage also had an impact on me. I would see Ian Michael Black and Janell Geason engaging in healthy competition over their FB page followers (before Instagram blew up), and thought if they were doing it, I should, and can, too.”
CHELLE NEFF, OWNER
“I’ve always had a passion for social media—I even met my husband on Twitter! To have free advertising for your business and the potential to reach millions of people at your fingertips is amazing. I started following a local influencer here in Austin (@dtkaustin), who has more than 100k followers. I was so inspired by her Instagram that I reached out and asked her to have coffee. She happily met with me and gave me so many helpful tips.”
TATUM NEILL, STYLIST, EDUCATOR, PLATFORM ARTIST
“I didn’t decide to be an influencer; I decided to build a community of like-minded hairdressers. I narrowed my focus and kept a critical eye on each post. People just chose to follow because they liked the aesthetic.”
Q: HOW DID YOU BUILD YOUR FOLLOWING?
PESTELLA: “Consistency and being positive. Ninety percent of my followers are females, and they can relate to inspiring, ‘go- getter’ kind of quotes. If I’m not posting my work, I’m posting something I think my followers can relate to, like chasing dreams. People want to feed their minds with positive.
PALMIRA: “Build up your page first—have at least 100 pictures of hair that you’ve done before worrying about building a following. Then put your Instagram handle on your business card and give three to every guest. Get people excited to see your work and the picture of their hair that you will be posting.
“I give three cards to every guest, every time. If they have some already, then I’ll ask them to just leave them at their next destination—yoga, the train, etc. The best way to build your business is to find people who aren’t necessarily looking for you already.”
“I embraced hashtags and utilized them to attract and place my pictures where they would be seen.”
– Amanda Laura Lewis
LEWIS: “Building a following takes time, and timing is everything. I created my first Instagram account early on, and it was private for the first three to six months (when Instagram was just food pics and filters). But I am a very visual person and preferred looking at Instagram to Facebook rants, so I started sharing where I was and connecting with other hairdressers I knew or had met at education events.
“I spend a lot of time attending education and industry events, so I’m always connecting with other hairdressers—Instagram was perfect for that. I embraced hashtags and utilized them to attract and place my pictures where they would be seen. Being aware of trends and knowing what people want to see is all part of it.
“But partnering with accounts with larger followings and agencies/shoots for credits was where it really started taking off. The first time a post went viral, I woke up that morning to 3,000 extra followers. Once you get the ball rolling, it’s hard to slow it down.
“You have to put work out there for people to see it—some of my pictures that gained the most attention weren’t overproduced at all, and they weren’t necessarily shots I would have thought would create waves.
“I created a piece as part of my prep for an Aveda fundraiser for clean water and posted it before I went to bed as a preview for the event the next day. I woke up to 12,000 notifications on my account because it had been reposted by multiple industry accounts, including media outlets.
NEFF: “First I went through an online training program from Hilary Rushford. It seriously changed the game for me. I also have attended a few social media classes specifically for the salon industry. And as I mentioned above, I met with a local influencer for coffee and picked her brain.
“You have to be thirsty for knowledge and take lots of notes and read any online articles you can find. I have lists upon lists in my phone that helped me develop my social media habits. And that’s what also helped me curate my own social media class, Betty Bootcamp.”
NEILL: “Like, comment and follow. Also, showcase other artists’ work. I make the page about others and not myself. I almost never repost my own work and I try to keep the attention on other artists and promoting my brand. My success is built off the success of others.”
“You have to be thirsty for knowledge and take lots of notes and read any online articles you can find.”
– Chelle Neff
Q: DO YOU USE INSTAGRAM TO GAIN NEW CLIENTS?
PESTELLA: “My new clients find me mostly on Instagram if not they are referred by existing clients. They find me through hashtags or just by scrolling on the ‘explore’page.
PALMIRA: “Hashtags are for people searching—if someone finds you under a hashtag it’s because they went looking under that hashtag for a specific reason.
“I personally think geo-tagging is the best tool. It’s where you add your location to the post. I love geo-tagging restaurants and bars. It allows random people to find my page without looking for it. They might be at the restaurant and want to look at the food, and then see a random hair picture—it stands out.
“I recently moved from Florida to Boston. I had to build a clientele from scratch. I geo-tagged Boston restaurants in every post for six months before I moved. The result: I just finished my first year at my new salon and I was the top producer in the salon. Taking home six figures as a hairdresser is a dream, and with passion, Instagram and my business card marketing, I accomplished it my first year in a new city.”
LEWIS: “I do get new clients via Instagram, but because I don’t work behind the chair full time anymore, I give these clients away to other hairdressers I work with or via Instagram as well.
I tell students and hairdressers who aren’t using social media that they’re missing the boat. For a modern-day guest, a referral is not enough anymore.
“Now, when guests are referred to me, they call the salon and ask for my Instagram account so they can see my work—it happens all the time!”
NEFF: “Yes! New clients find us by searching certain hashtags we use on each photo. We also geo-tag the photo with different spots around Austin, so if someone searches photos in an area, ours will pop up.
“I believe a good amount of people go to our website first and click on one of our service providers who then has their own personal Instagram link at the bottom of their bio. As we all know, it’s an instant online portfolio! From there, they can decide if they like the work or not.”
NEILL: “I advise stylists to think local, not global. People obsess with being insta-famous and it’s just not likely. Be relevant in your own community and use social media to drive business into your salon. Use digital media to create tangible relationships.”
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE HASHTAGS?
PESTELLA: “I have a hashtag notebook to keep track and help other stylists who are starting out be successful. The key is to hashtag like you are the client searching—not the stylist.
“Often, stylists will hashtag the color line or products used, which helps get recognized in some areas, but if you want new clients, hashtag as if you were searching for a service provider. Examples: #blondespecialist #balayage #livedinblonde #destinhairstylist
“Believe it or not, clients know the terminology, so ‘#livedinblonde has been my most successful hashtag.”
“Use digital media to create tangible relationships.”
– Tatum Neill
PALMIRA: “Use 30 hashtags (the maximum) every post! Mix them up—some local, some post-related, some feature pages. All 30 hashtags are equally important.”
LEWIS: “My favorite, most influential hashtags are the ones that are searched the most. I use my hashtags to tell a story about the picture and try to split them up for who I want to see the picture and the audience I want to attract. You only get 30 maximum per post, so use them wisely.
NEFF: “I keep a running list in the notes section of my phone. From there, I can copy and paste it relative to each photo. It’s really hard to track which ones get the most traction. Some of my go-to hashtags are #btcpics #modernsalon #americansalon #hairbyurbanbetty #beautylaunchpad. I love to use the website hashtagify.me.”
NEILL: “#elevatehair #mulletmonday #bobgoals”
Q: WHAT ARE THREE TIPS YOU’D GIVE AN INSTAGRAM NEWBIE?
PESTELLA: “Be authentic, be yourself and be positive. You never want to lose yourself in the midst of the chaos.
“Be consistent in your posting and post at least one time a day. Even when you are not working, post something that goes with your feed and your aesthetic
“Find your esthetic and do not compromise. Followers need to see consistency in your talent and in your feed before they reach out to make an appointment. If you post something that isn’t your best work or maybe it is and it’s just dark when you take a picture, DO NOT post.
“Don’t forget to always take a picture. Your clients pay you for doing their hair. That payment is not lasting value. We spend that on living. Taking a picture is lasting value because it brings more clients your way that want that hair. I can’t tell you how many clients I got off one head of hair I post.”
PALMIRA: “Post variety—show many different looks. Don’t post a picture of your guest as they sit in your chair, and make your picture look as professional as possible.
“Instagram is so saturated with hairdressers now that you need to stand out. We used to stand out with a ring light and a clean background, but that’s already overdone. I strive to create professional images to get people’s attention as they scroll through posts of hundreds of similar images.”
LEWIS: “First, set up your account with a professional name that is easy to find and describes your account. It’s hard to find accounts with crazy names or search if it starts with a ‘_’ or a ‘-.‘
“You want to make it easy to put your best work out there for people to see—don’t worry about editing or filters, just make the hair amazing and show a variety of your work so you can attract a variety of guests.
“Some of my best posts weren’t necessarily photos I thought would take off. Just put it out there with good intention.
“Be authentic, be yourself and be positive. You never want to lose yourself in the midst of the chaos.”
– Sara Pestella
“Don’t compare your work to other stylists’ by looking at the numbers. Just do you and continue to grow and get better, and don’t let negative comments bring you down. Interact and engage in a positive manner and it will all come back to you.”
NEFF: “First: Be consistent and post often. I post three times per day on my business account. I would tell anyone that wants to keep an audience engaged to post at least once a day and three times if you have enough content.
“Second: Have a theme. Ours is circles and squares. Make sure your page has similar colors, borders, or backgrounds on each photo so your page has a cohesive look.
“Lastly, keep your personal page and your business page separate. All your hair photos and related beauty content should be on the business and your brunch/baby/pet photos should be on your personal.”
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR TAKING A PHOTO THAT WILL INSPIRE?
NEILL: “Pay attention to the light and how it is reflecting off your model. Take a picture of the model, not the hair.”