“If you want something, go after it. You have nothing to lose.” With such an ambitious attitude, it is easy to see why 29-year-old Stephanie Miller became SELF Magazine’s—and Condé Nast Publication’s—first ever Social Media Editor. This Northwestern alumna didn’t just land her dream gig by chance, she made it happen. After graduating college, Stephanie worked at a real estate PR firm while accepting freelance writing opportunities at various Chicago publications and creating her own wine and spirits blog. Through that, she cultivated her social media skills and became Social Media Strategist for Chicago-based PR agency Ketchum. Years of learning what it takes to integrate branding and social media eventually led her to SELF Magazine as their Social Media Editor. At the magazine, this gorgeous gal has proven she is good at what she does—after just 12 months at SELF, she doubled the magazine’s Twitter and Facebook followers and has made the magazine a Pinterest powerhouse.
Life isn’t just about social media for Stephanie. On any given day, she is training for half-marathons, century bike rides, or triathlons. She takes “practice what you preach” to a whole new level and clearly, that is working out well for her. Stephanie’s go-getter mentality and talent as a social media maven make her someone young women can look up to. Today, she shares her journey to SELF and gives us advice on how to get to where you want to be.
Full Name: Stephanie Paige Miller
Current Title/Company: Social Media Editor, SELF Magazine, Condé Nast Publications
Educational Background: Northwestern University/ B.S. Radio/TV/Film, School of Communications
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it? I worked at a small, boutique real estate PR firm in Chicago. I was only there for a couple of months. Your first job is just that – a first job. Not your last. Don’t stress if it’s not what you want to do or where you see yourself. Use it to get some experience and figure out what you like and don’t like. The best takeaway from my first job? I became a pro at booking meetings for senior leadership and our clients. I was also a meticulously organized Excel spreadsheet keeper. Sounds basic, but those admin skills set me apart when I started my next job. In addition to the boutique agency, I was a freelance writer for several Chicago pubs including the Daily Herald and Chicago Magazine. I was also the Drink Editor for Chicago SCENE – a role that snowballed into a strong writing career outside of my PR day job. When CheekyChicago.com launched in 2010, I joined their team of writers, contributing monthly wine & spirit content.
You’ve established a successful career in social media. What was your first introduction to it? When did it hit you that you could do this for a living? When I joined Ketchum Chicago, a global PR agency, in 2007, social and digital best practices were part of our offering but it was nowhere near where it is today. I was an Assistant Account Executive within the Brand Practice working with CPG companies. I specialized in online media relations—working with bloggers and counseling brands on emerging digital trends, from mobile to social media. I still have an “FYI” client email that I sent when Twitter launched. It outlined ways to leverage the micro-blogging platform. The #1 tip I shared? Use it as a listening tool. That best practice holds true today.
Upon graduating college, you began writing for various print and online publications (Chicago SCENE Magazine, CheekyChicago, etc). What was your goal in pursuing writing? Were you still figuring out what you wanted for your career? I used the summer after I graduated from Northwestern to job hunt (while living at home) and figure out what I wanted to do. To all recent grads: I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so don’t stress! I sent a blind email to the publisher of Chicago SCENE, shared writing samples and told him I’d pen any content they needed. I was hungry and up for anything. They were on the hunt for a drink writer. Sold. Another tip: If you want something, go after it. Don’t be shy. You have nothing to lose. Writing gave me a competitive edge when interviewing at Ketchum (I was able to share insight from journalist’s POV) and it paved the path for my journalism experience locally and nationally. I started writing for CheekyChicago.com when it first launched (Editor-In-Chief Erica Bethe Levin became one of my very best friends) and I fell deeply in love with Chicago’s food & wine scene.
At Ketchum were you brought on initially to work as the Social Media Strategist? If so, how did you market yourself for this role? Were there specific courses/projects from college that made you a more attractive candidate? In a cluttered (but talented) agency, I needed a niche, a specialty, a unique talent that I could own and help focus and define my career. Social media was a natural fit given my personal life. I had since launched a popular wine & spirits blog to complement my Drink Editor role and used social media to build my personal brand and strengthen my writing. It also became a daily ask from clients. Brands sought counsel on how to incorporate social media into integrated marketing strategies, and more importantly, challenged us measuring success.
You left Chicago for New York to continue working for Ketchum. Have you found that working in social media in Chicago versus Manhattan to be different? What are the advantages (and disadvantages if applicable) to living in one city over the other? There’s a lot of early adoption in New York. It’s home to an exceptionally concentrated mass of demanding people who are hunting for the next best thing: an app to make their life easier or a new social fashion community to up their street style game. New York and Chicago both have strong incubator programs: from Made in NY to Chicago’s 1871.
In November of 2011, you joined SELF Magazine as their first Social Media Editor—and the first person to hold this title within Condé Nast. How did this opportunity come about? What was it like to be interviewed for a job that had virtually never been done before? I wanted this job before it was a reality. I knew that if I could ever combine my two roles (writing plus digital strategy) I would want to be a Social Media Editor for a magazine or web site. Interviewing for a newly created position was actually an advantage because I was able to help shape what my role would be. I’ve been at SELF for a year and half now and my responsibilities continue to shift based on emerging social trends and the demands of publishing.
As the first in your position, we’d assume much of your first year was “learn as you go.” Were you ready for it? Ever have any self-doubt about making the wrong decision? How did you overcome those moments? The first day I started at SELF, my web director left for four months of maternity absence. Not only was it a new job for me and the first of it’s kind within the magazine, I also reported into a temp director with modest historical knowledge of the brand. To say that it was the Wild Wild West is an understatement. The first order of business was to launch SELF’s first social dieting community on Facebook. The first six months were very entrepreneurial, with no major guidance and a lot of “go with your gut” instinct. I attribute much of my first year success to the formal structure of working at a large agency. I’d encourage anyone embarking on the beginning of their career to consider an agency for a couple of years.
After just one year with SELF, you doubled Facebook and Twitter followers of the magazine and maintained Pinterest as the #3 source of referral traffic to the website. What an accomplishment! What were the key factors in getting this done? Pinterest is now the #1 source of social traffic referral to Self.com. It was a sleeping giant and we now have strategies in place to maintain the strong unique visitors and page views that it drives. Social media is at the core of what we do at Self.com. By design, all of our content (both original and pulled from in-book) is sharable, tweetable, and intended to be a conversation starter.
You’re tasked with managing SELF’s nine social media properties (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tout, Google+, Tumblr, Foursquare, Foodily). What’s the key to staying on top of it all? Do you focus your time on where you get the biggest return, or treat them all equally? Each channel employs a unique strategy so we’re able to see the most return on investment. We have scheduled content being shared across all platforms at key moments in time (for example, our Google+ followers are most engaged at 10am) and an editorial calendar that takes into account how content performs differently across all channels (our Facebook followers love superfoods and fitness content while our Twitter followers are more receptive to trending news). We recently on-boarded with Adobe Social to help measure quantitative and qualitative social data.
What advice would you give to girls hoping to follow in your career footsteps? What does it take to get a foot in the door in this industry? Consider roundabout entry points to your dream gig. Want to be a writer but finding it difficult to break into a legacy print property? Writing and journalism is no longer just a pen to paper industry. Look for brand and writing opportunities on e-commerce sites like Gilt Group or Birchbox. Or try the start-up route and identify mobile news apps such as Circa. If you want to manage social media for a brand or news property, make sure that your personal brand has a strong online presence. No one will hire a community manager who has a poor social footprint.
Where do you see digital media going in the next five years? What should we be keeping our eyes out for? Any favorite sources for staying on top of trends? Mobile will continue to grow. A solid source of industry trends is Mary Meeker’s annual report. I referenced this condensed version of her 120 slide PPT. I pen a monthly column for FOLIO on B2B and B2C digital trends for publishers. But the best ideas come from cross-category outlets. Fast Company is a personal fave.
What is a typical day like for you (if there is one)? Every morning our Self.com web team has a prompt 10am news meeting to discuss the headlines, what we’ll be covering on FLASH, our blog, and what’s hot and trending on social that day. I’ll plan the day’s editorial content before seguing into other strategy work or on-going campaigns. I am usually training for something—whether it’s a half marathon, a century bike ride, or a Triathlon, so 90% of my days involve something active.
What would you say are the greatest challenges of working in social media? The greatest rewards? The greatest challenge is integrating social media into the fabric of a legacy brand and a traditional print magazine. The greatest reward? Immediate gratification. You post a picture, you tweet, you share on Instagram and Vine, and a sense of validation occurs. The likes, the shares, and the comments pour in. It’s addicting. You try to out-do yourself every time. How can I make this better? How can I get 900 likes next time? How many new Instagram followers can I amass in one week? Then, I look to draw parallels between our engagement metrics and how that impacted our share of voice within the women’s lifestyle/health/fitness space.
With the world of social media constantly evolving, what does that mean for you and other social media editors? How do you see your role changing? I predict the end of the Social Media Editor in the next few years and the rise of Emerging Media Groups within newsrooms. The Wall Street Journal is a great example of brands and news organizations doing it right from a structural perspective. It’s 2013. Every editor and writer should know how to leverage social media to not only build their personal brand, but also for story sources; editors and writers should build public or private Twitter lists as listening tools and have a basic understanding of social storytelling.
Best moment of your career so far? Honestly, when I got the call from Condé Nast with a job offer. This was exactly what I wanted to do. Also, receiving a 30-under-30 award within the publishing industry my first year into the job and being invited to join Northwestern University’s Council of 100, as one of it’s youngest members.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? Be patient. It took me a year to find my way to SELF. And, never turn down an interview. It will keep you sharp. You’ll have your elevator pitch down and you’ll become well versed in the biz landscape.