I am so excited to bring you this interview with Irene Kim (Chronicle Books’ very own Instagram wizard). Irene's official title is Visual Content Coordinator. We sat down over coffee, got pretty hyped on caffeine, and she spilled everything she knows about Instagram. I can’t thank her enough for taking the time out of her busy day to sit down and chat. I learned a lot and I hope you do too.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started at Chronicle Books?
My name is Irene Kim. I am a recent graduate of Berkeley. I came to Chronicle because the brand really stuck out to me. I wasn’t necessarily interested in pursuing a career in publishing, but I noticed how Chronicle Books was so good at branding itself.
Have you heard the phrase “When I picked up the book, I wasn’t surprised to see it was a Chronicle book?” It’s so true and that’s something that is unique about Chronicle. In other publishing houses, I wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book, know the publisher and be excited about it. That’s why Chronicle Books had this special effect on me. So I decided to apply for the marketing assistant position, and got it. I am now the Visual Content Coordinator and am excited to be handling more content and strategy.
The marketing assistant position didn’t initially entail me doing any social media. I was building my own portfolio on the side and working on my own personal Instagram. It was a creative project for me. At work, people started to notice that I had a lot of followers on Instagram, and they asked me how I was doing it. They also started noticing there was some strategy to the way I saw Instagram and its ability to be a powerful tool for brand building.
About three months ago, my boss asked me how I would feel about handling Chronicles’ Instagram. I was like “Oh, I would love to.” It was really exciting to get the reigns and really think about all the possibilities within the Instagram channel.
People use the word community a lot with Instagram, and I think it’s really true. It connects people, which is why I was really excited to become the Chronicle Books Instagram manager. It’s always funny when I meet people and they are like “Oh, now I know the face behind Chronicles’ Instagram.” That aspect is really cool. Chronicle Books has a distinct personality, and I get to fit my personality into that.
You have a very strong personal brand on Instagram. How did you build that up?
I think that I am very visually and aesthetically orientated. When I see something beautiful I am like “Oh, I really like that. I want to take a picture of that in this way.”
Instagram was started with the idea of showing what its users are doing in the moment--an instant purpose. But I don’t approach it that way. For me, I took more of a territorial stance with my Instagram and thought of it as an entire theme. Visually, I paid attention to how all the photos looked together, and how each photo looked on my account as a whole.
I asked myself, “How do I curate my life in little snippets or little squares?” I am not trying to be a fake personality online, but it’s definitely a curated portrayal of my life. People often say to me, “Oh, I feel like your life is so beautiful.” I definitely try and integrate beauty into my life, but valuing beauty, seeing it, and putting it all in one place is the stance that I take with my personal account. It’s definitely not an accurate portrayal of my 24/7 life.
In January (2014) Instagram suggested me as a user to follow. That’s when the waves of followers came and is part of the reason I have so many. I had about two thousand followers before that happened.
I also use specific hashtags from brands that I really admire.
One example is Everlane that used #whereitravel that previous summer. I was traveling a lot so I used that hashtag. It was a cool way to connect with different people and use Instagram as a way to connect with people across the world, not just to see what my friends are doing. All of my photos are edited in VSCO Cam, a phone app. I am very consistent with my edits and the quality of photos that go onto my feed. I always search for the best natural light, and all of my photos are taken with my iPhone. I am too lazy to do the whole DSLR thing and put it on my phone. I don’t even know how people do it.
How does your personal style feed into Chronicle Books’ style?
I definitely have brought the same curatorial stance onto the feed. I am really excited about Chronicle Books’ Instagram right now because there are a lot of things we are trying out for the first time. One of them is really encouraging user generated content by promoting the hashtag #chroniclecrush, which is simply a photo of Chronicle Books’ products tagged with the hashtag so that we may feature it on our channel.
Another example is #thisismybookstore, which I started a couple of months ago. I am really excited about this hashtag because it’s not specific to the Chronicle Books brand, but it helps us champion indie bookstores. We really love indie bookstores, and we want to encourage people to really go out and explore local bookstores.
Tell me a little bit about Chronicle Books’ Instagram strategy?
Our community manager said, “We hope that books will take over the Internet.” We are dealing with this dichotomy of an increasing digital world, but we are selling a very physical product. We really believe in the tactile experience of books. People who also believe in that experience are our kindred spirits. We are really trying to translate that onto our social media.
Our tagline is, “Inspired by the magic of books.” We want to make sure that message spreads across every channel. We want to be interacting with other important brands, companies and authors that are online. We want to establish ourselves as this task keeper voice in an increasingly world of visual stimulation and try to make content that is valuable, worth your time and funny. We have a lot of aspects to our brand and our personality is really versatile. We can be really funny and snarky, but we can also be honest and real. I really like that. It feels human and multifaceted, and we translate that to our social media.
What are some of your best Instagram tips?
I think it depends on what you are trying to shoot, but I will say always opt for great natural light. I think that sometimes we don’t need to be as filter heavy, and less is more. Natural light acts as its own filter, and it’s what our eyes are used to seeing, so we are drawn to it.
For me, I really like to make sure that a photo feels right. There needs to be balance. I try to make it look natural, but I also edit placement so that it feels right. It’s hard for me to describe how I style photos. It’s just something I play around with and know when it’s right.
Another thing I think about a lot is how both the photo and the caption work together. It needs to be an overall experience, and that’s something that I think about. This is really important for Chronicle Books' Instagram. When we publish books, we think about words a lot and like to craft them carefully, so we translate that to our captions on Instagram.
On my personal feed, there are chunks that have similar colors or are playing with an idea. Sometimes certain things stand out to me, and right now I am really inspired by neutral palettes. You will see a lot of greys, beiges and whites. I don’t constrict myself to a palette, though. What if I see this really beautiful red thing and I want to take a picture of it?
It’s tricky. I think your feed can be curated, but you also want flexibility. You want your feed to be human. As people, we are constantly changing and being inspired by new things, and I want my feed to reflect that. Offering variation is important to me.
Another tip: In general, you never know what’s going to happen with social media. Some days, random things trend and we need to make room to do posts about it. We always have the attitude of “OK let’s do it!” And we always keep that can-do attitude. Allowing for spontaneity and flexibility is something that we do a lot. We are really scrappy, and it’s an all hands on deck type of thing.
Lastly, Don’t be afraid to engage on social media. My tendencies are to be more of the onlooker. On Instagram, I tend to just like photos and not really comment. Being able to be on the other end and have certain people comment on my photos is really nice. People ask me questions and it’s so nice to engage and make new connections. That’s something that I am still getting used to, but I really appreciate it when people don’t just keep relationships on the Internet in this abstract space, but bring a real life interaction. Like what we are doing right now. I now know the face behind your feed, and it’s not just @iteratesocial, but it’s Elizabeth. Instagram friends can be real-life friends.
Who are some of your favorite brands to follow on Instagram?
A brand I really enjoy on Instagram is @artifactuprising. They have really beautiful photos, and I really appreciate what they do. They know how to have the right balance of visual inspiration, but also promote products. That’s a balance that I am trying to figure out, too. I also enjoy @Everlane because I love how they are teasing their new products coming out right now, and I like to study what they are doing.