Every Single Thing I Know About Social Media (The General)

by Brenna Holeman


Ah, social media. It seems like such an ingrained part of our lives now doesn’t it? And yet I distinctly remember signing up for each account I have… and that every single time, I was so resistant to do it. It seems odd for a blogger to say that, but I really did avoid social media for as long as I possibly could. I am not really one to jump on a bandwagon; not to sound like too much of a luddite, but when a new social media platform comes out I shudder in horror, already imagining the extra work it will mean in both my personal and my working life.

It was 2007 when I first signed up for a personal account on Facebook. My boyfriend at the time already had an account, and he wanted to tag photos of us on a road trip together. I remember both the glee and the revulsion of the huge list of suggested friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in in over a decade.

“Why would I want all of these people to see photos of me?!” I said incredulously.

Fast forward ten years, and I’m now apparently more than happy to let twelve and a half thousand people (only a few of whom I’ve even met in person) see tons of photos of me.

Similarly, in 2012, a friend of mine convinced me to get Twitter.

“Ugh,” I remember saying to her. “It just seems like yet another thing to waste time with.”

Around the same time, I joined Instagram, and I distinctly remember thinking that “I’ll never become like that guy I know from university who moved to New York and now posts photos of his morning coffee and street art from his neighbourhood.” Whoops, Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

I’ve long talked about how I was totally clueless about the blogging industry until summer of 2013, when I went to my first travel blogging conference in Toronto. I honestly had no idea that travel blogging was such a huge industry even though I’d already been blogging for ten years, and furthermore, as much as I hated to admit it, stats and numbers and likes and comments and followers and shares actually had weight in this industry. Although I had had social media accounts for my blog for about a year, I hadn’t bothered to take them seriously, only posting when I felt like it and/or when I had something to say or share.

But over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time on social media. A lot. And – despite once being the kind of girl that only owned a Polaroid camera, claimed music just sounds so much better on vinyl, man, and stubbornly corrected a prof on how many Rs are in ‘riot grrrl’ (yeah, I was super annoying*) – I’ve found that over the years I actually really like certain aspects of social media. How could I not? It allows me to connect to people, it brings me information, it inspires me, and it helps me get my blog posts out there. But I also feel that social media is a double-edged sword, and I hate it almost as much as I love it. I know. On Facebook our relationship would be, “It’s Complicated.”


Social media can sometimes feel like pulling teeth, amirite? (in Marrakesh, Morocco)

In 2015, I wrote a post called Every Single Thing I Know About Travel Blogging, because I get a few emails every so often about that exact topic. Well, this time I thought I’d tackle every single thing I know about social media, because I was absolutely flooded with emails about… no. I’m lying. I rarely receive emails about social media, but I was in a writing mood. If you’re not a blogger, this post will either be a) dull as dishwater or b) a peek at what goes on behind the scenes. Perhaps it will be both.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Well, I’m sure this person has great authority on social media and is an incredibly important influencer, otherwise she wouldn’t write this article.” Well… also no. Across my social media channels, I have just over 30,000 followers, which – don’t get me wrong, I am humbled and honoured that so many people have chosen to follow along – but is no match for some of the superstars of Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on. Those numbers put me solidly in the ‘micro-influencer’ group (for the record, I feel weird typing that sentence), which means that I am approached on a daily basis by companies, advertisers, collaborators, and so on, though not yet offered the huge bucks or sponsorship (so no detox tea ads for me yet).


Speaking about blogging at Traverse 2016

I do, however, get lots of offers for smaller partnerships, and am usually asked to join a few press trips per month. I’m not saying this to brag, only to highlight that you don’t need millions of followers to start to gain traction in this industry. I also call bullshit on a lot of the so-called social media gurus and courses that promise that you’ll gain tens of thousands of followers in a few months by following their tips and tricks. The fact is, becoming a huge social media influencer is hard. You know what they say – if it was easy, everyone would do it.

One other factor that can be added to my social media resume is my day job. I regularly check out travel blogs from around the world to find bloggers we might want to work with. I have had to study certain people’s blogs and social media to figure out if they have genuine followings, if they’d be a good fit for our brand, and so on. Some might call that light stalking, I call it a paycheque. I’ve also spoken about social media at various companies and conferences, including City University London, Expedia, Traverse, and Unruly, so I have a vague notion of what I’m doing (cue the crickets chirping in the background).

If you’re already following this blog, you know that I don’t allow sponsored or guest content on the blog, nor do I have any banner or sidebar advertising, although I will occasionally work with tourism boards or travel companies. As for social media, I have yet to allow any form of sponsored or advertorial content to appear on it (meaning what you see is what you get, and you probably won’t see a photo where I’m pretending the photo is about something else – the book I’m reading, the coffee I’m drinking, anything to distract you from the fact that I’m actually peddling the watch that is on my wrist with a subtle #spon in the comments). That’s not to say I won’t do it one day, but not right now.


Social media can also feel like a big obstacle to climb… (in Lamanai, Belize)

Anyway, enough griping – back to those benefits of social media. I see a lot of my blog traffic coming in from social media, almost exclusively from Facebook and Pinterest (versus Twitter and Instagram). Not only that, as mentioned, it’s an absolutely fabulous way to connect with the people who are actually reading your stuff, and who actually – hopefully – care enough to comment, like, retweet, share, etc. While I used to scoff at social media, I understand its value now (but also understand that it comes with a few very big caveats).

I decided to divide everything I have to say into two posts, because I am both a masochist and a sadist. First, in this post, I’ll talk about some general tips (more like opinions, if I’m honest) about social media that will hopefully apply to all channels in some form or another, although it’s important to note that each social media platform has its own value and use as well as its own audience, though they do overlap. In the post that will follow next week, I’ll outline some specific tips regarding the social media platforms I use the most. For the sake of the length of these posts (and our collective sanity) I am not mentioning YouTube or Vimeo at all, because I am not a vlogger, and video is so huge that it would require its own post by someone much more qualified (though I will mention Facebook live videos in the post about specifics).

So. Buckle up, get a cup of tea (or something stronger, Lord knows if I could I would), and here we go… every single thing I know about social media. I’d reckon that most of what I’m about to say here will resonate better if you already have some social media channels set up and use them regularly, but newbie bloggers will hopefully get something out of this as well (a migraine doesn’t count).

Brenna in London

Cowboy boots in London… that’s me

General notes on social media:

1. Be yourself. When I wrote about everything I know about travel blogging, the number point I wrote was “just do whatever the hell you want”. While I don’t necessarily recommend that exact same thing with social media – more on that in a minute – I do recommend that you figure out exactly what you’re hoping to get from social media, and to carve your own path so that you can be happily, proudly, unequivocally you. As I said in the post on blogging, “At the end of the day, you’re going to be the one writing and editing and posting and promoting and responding and if you’re not happy with it, or trying to mimic or conform to what you believe you should be doing, you’re not going to want to do any of it. Don’t get caught up in what you think you should be doing.”

Social media – especially Instagram, I find – is often easily replicated. That means you might see similar posts by different people time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of it, too – I’m not the first person to take this photo, for example – but it’s important to try to infuse as much of your own personality and creativity into all of your social media posts. Why? Firstly, so that you don’t go absolutely bonkers trying to be an imitation of someone else. Secondly, because anyone who wants to follow along is going to be doing so because of you and your unique perspective on the world.

Take, for example, one of my lifelong crushes** and an all-round amazing human being, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (no, I am not being sarcastic in my introduction and yes, I am so, so, SO excited I finally get to mention The Rock on this blog). In this fantastic interview about his career, he talks about a time he tried to look and act like the other popular celebrities at the time by covering his tattoos and not talking about his wrestling past.

“And then it hit me: I’m not being authentic,” he said. “I’m really not being me. I like going to the gym. I like driving my pickup truck and maybe I don’t want to live in Hollywood. Maybe I want to live in Florida in the country. Maybe I don’t want to wear a suit. I love wrestling and I love going back and being with the fans even if I don’t wrestle anymore. I’m that guy.”

Moral of the story? If you’re The Rock, don’t try to be George Clooney. People are going to follow you because they like your tattoos, or your wrestling past, or your penchant for pickup trucks. Nobody wants to see a feed full of Clooney cloneys (I couldn’t resist, sorry)… they want to see creativity and variety. So follow my dreamboat Dwayne’s advice and be as authentic as you possibly can.

Brenna in Colombia

Maybe if I put in enough bright, colourful photos you’ll be able to get through this post just a little bit easier… (in Guatapé, Colombia)

2. Similarly… be personal, and be honest. 

OK, this may not apply to everyone, but I’m imagining if you’re a blogger, you already write about yourself in some way, or let your personality shine a little bit. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with curating an image for yourself, or censoring yourself – believe it or not, despite everything I write in these posts, I actually only share a small percentage of my life online – it’s important to let at least a little bit of your personality come through in your social media posts. Otherwise, wouldn’t potential followers just turn to a major brand or company, one that writes everything in the third person?

If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re political, be political. As remarked time and time again (on this blog and elsewhere), people are going to follow you because you’re YOU. Start pumping out really generic stuff, stuff that could be written by anyone, and people will quickly lose interest. You’ll notice that when big bloggers start hiring assistants to help with their social media, they usually continue to maintain their own Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Why? They’re usually much more personal platforms (as opposed to Pinterest or Twitter). It’s really hard to replicate someone’s voice, opinions, sense of humour, etc. Someone who’s amazing at putting her personality into each blog and social media post is Gloria from The Blog Abroad – she always has me in stitches.

Another point – if you’re putting your personality out there, you better be able to back what you’re putting online. If you decide to take on sponsored or advertorial content, it’s imperative to be honest about it in the caption (or, at the very least, in the comments).

Just a quick note: I’d obviously be careful giving out too much personal information. I don’t even talk about hotels or hostels I’m in until I’ve left them. You never know who’s following along.

3. Which leads us to… be social. 

As I wrote in that post about blogging, on each social media channel I’m active on, “I try to create a dialogue, and share other things I enjoyed or questioned or felt inspired by. OK, I still totally just throw up a random photo of a hot dog and call it a day sometimes, but I attempt to frequently ask questions and get involved. What’s the point, otherwise? Aren’t the channels there to interact with people?” I encourage comments and conversation, and I try to respond to every single comment I get on every platform. Combined with answering the emails I get through the blog, this takes up a lot of my time each week (on average, one to two hours a day), but I think it’s a necessary part of running a blog and/or a business. If someone takes the time to comment, then responding is the courteous thing to do; not only that, I WANT to engage with the people who follow along, otherwise it would feel like I’m just yelling into an abyss. I’d argue that writing back also encourages further comments; if I see a post with a lot of comments but the author isn’t responding to anyone, I’m definitely less likely to leave another comment myself. And remember, these social media channels want you to be as active as possible. The more you engage, the more they’ll reward you with likes and comments. I know, it’s like some twisted psychological experiment AND IT’S WORKING.

Brenna in Margate

1000 smiles per hour… these days, it’s more like 1000 automated comments on Instagram per hour (in Margate, England)

4. …But know when to turn off your phone. 

Going offline is SO important. I get it… we’re all really busy, and it’s easy to get caught up in constantly checking for notifications and comments. I try to compartmentalise my social media time, however, and spend an hour in the evening going back and reviewing all of my posts for the day, responding back to people and scheduling further posts all in one whack. Otherwise, if I was constantly on social media, I think my brain would explode, or I might turn into one of those people who says “oh-em-gee” out loud.

This is a huge reason why I am not on Snapchat, and have no desire to be. I get it – it’s a popular platform right now, it’s good for creating an online identity/brand, it allows you to be closer to your followers/readers, and you can finally, FINALLY send all those dick pics in peace, knowing they’ll be deleted within 24 hours. But holy smokes, with the blog and Facebook and email and Twitter and Instagram, I’m already online for a minimum of two hours a day. And may I remind you that I have, like, a job? That I’m not a full-time blogger? That I do not want to be some Howard Hughes recluse, saving my urine in mason jars and never seeing my friends? The thought of adding yet another social media platform to deal with – not to mention the fact that it has to be live and/or of the moment – makes me want to run screaming into the night. When I travel, when I’m out living, I don’t want to have to worry about snapping every single thing. I don’t want to have to worry about my phone at all, in fact. While this means I’ll probably never get to the “huge famous blogger/social media influencer” level (some of those people are on their phones all the damn time, I swear), I’d rather keep my sanity and look up once in a while than become addicted to an online world.

And yes, I know that there are people who love Snapchat and who are very, very good at it, and that it can be a very valuable tool for a blog or a business. I’m simply trying to point out that you have to pick your battles, choose the platforms you’re best at, and make sure you prioritise time that’s away from your phone/social media, because you need to actually experience life with your own eyes and ears in order to be open, honest, and creative. Which leads me to the next point.


I am the only person in the world to stand on a cliff and do this pose, obviously (at Machu Picchu, Peru)

5. Be creative. The thing with social media is this – for the most part, it is looked at for only a few seconds, and then forgotten (well, not all the time). Let’s face it, most of us scroll through our phones pretty quickly, with only something really interesting making us stop and look, whether that’s a great photo or a captivating headline. While this is really frustrating news, it also means that you can afford to be as inventive and as creative as you want on social media. In fact, I’d encourage you to take some risks. I ALWAYS notice a difference when I take some risks on this blog and online. The more honest, open, and the more ME I am, the better the response. Whenever I put up something a bit more generic, the response is much, much lower.

Let’s face it, which of these blog posts are you more likely to click: Things to Do in Lovere or My Month Without Alcohol… and Men? The same goes for social media. For sure, we can keep posting photos of our coffee cups, but it’s good to shake things up and try something new. I’m not saying to go for shock and horror, but making people stop and actually engage with your content is the ultimate goal, and that can only be done by being unique, being experimental, and being creative.

6. Figure out who your audience is. 

Similarly, listen to your audience. When I post the really personal stuff, I get a lot of people writing to say that they relate. And who are those people? For the most part, young women in their 20s and 30s who also prioritise travel, who like to read, and who are probably more left-leaning and/or liberal. So yeah… people like me. At the end of the day, I’m still going to write whatever the damn hell I want on this blog and on my social media, but I often think about what I’m posting in regards to the people reading it. I really like articles on solo travel, so I can bet that the people following my Facebook page will, too. The more you get to know who your audience is, the better you can reach out to them and connect with them. Companies and tourist boards will also want to know your demographics before they work with you.

Brenna in Bangkok

I’m running out of captions (in Bangkok, Thailand)

7. Don’t overdo it, and don’t repeat yourself.

I see a lot of bloggers who put the same content on multiple platforms – so the same photo goes on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all with the same caption. And I totally get that, because you have different audiences on different channels, and it’s really time-consuming to keep producing different content. I personally try to shake it up, though, and try never to duplicate myself (though I do link my Facebook page to my Twitter, so it feeds through). I’ll use the same photo, perhaps, but change the caption, or maybe I’ll post them on different channels on different days. Sometimes less is more… I don’t feel a need to post every single second on every single platform (this may be another reason I don’t have more followers than I do, but I have books to read and friends to laugh with and chocolate to eat and seemingly endless episodes of Forensic Files to watch).

The only social media platform I would feel comfortable regularly scheduling or automating is Twitter, and I think that duplicating a few tweets isn’t so bad, because it’s such a rapidly moving platform (with your tweets sometimes disappearing from someone’s feed in mere minutes). Again, I will talk about all of these techniques in the second part to this post, and about the specifics of each platform.

And I’ll admit it, I’m really not into when someone has too many selfies on their social media. Listen, I don’t mind a selfie once in a while, especially if you’re travelling and there’s something cool in the background, or the reason you’re posting that selfie makes sense. That being said, I don’t care how good-looking you are… if you repeatedly put selfies up on your social media with no meaning behind them other than to look pretty, I’m probably going to unfollow. I know that sounds really harsh, but unless I know you personally, it’s a really big turn-off for me, and I’m certain it is for some others. Again, I’m not saying to not put that great selfie of you with the Eiffel Tower; Oneika writes a fabulous article defending selfies that I totally agree with. But if your feed is filled with mirror selfies of you doing duckface, I can’t help it, I’m not going to be into it. But hey! Remember point number one? You do you.


I’m about to get grumpy about stuff, just FYI (in La Paz, Bolivia)

8. Do not buy followers or likes. I get it. It is so, so, so tempting to just pay twenty bucks and get 100 new followers (or 1000, or 10,000. I actually don’t know how much spambot accounts cost). I have seen many, many accounts of people I follow suddenly spike in numbers, jumping from a few thousand to tens of thousands in a matter of weeks. And guess what? While they may, at first glance, have the numbers, their engagement will most likely be HORRIBLE. Think thirty thousand followers on Instagram with a hundred likes per photo. I’m not saying that everyone who has those kind of numbers has bought their followers – Instagram is getting notoriously weird with its algorithms, not to mention those who have been “featured” only to see fifty thousand new followers, forty-five thousand of them who have new accounts and become inactive after a week – but it is certainly a red flag. Same goes for buying likes – all a company has to do is look at which profiles are actually liking your posts, and you’re screwed. A company would rather have 100 solid, organic likes from real people who might actually listen to what you’re saying than 10,000 spambot likes that mean absolutely fucking nothing.

I’ve written a lot more on engagement and numbers in the second post on specifics, especially under the Facebook and Instagram headings, so check that one out when it comes up next week for more on engagement and what it means.

9. Do not do the follow/unfollow game. Again, this is so tempting. This is especially common on Instagram and Twitter, and I see it ALL THE DAMN TIME on my accounts. Newbie travel bloggers (or established travel bloggers, this tactic is used across the board) follow me, delete me, and follow me again the next day… over and over and over again. I only notice because I see the same names popping up in my “new followers” feeds. Quite frankly, if I recognise the name a few times, I block them.

And again, I get it. If you follow, let’s say, 500 people in a day, I’d wager about 20% will follow you back (I recently started following back all travel bloggers on Twitter). But because it looks far better if you’re being followed by many more than you’re following – all of this is kind of like high school, isn’t it? – the next day, you go and unfollow all of them, regardless of whether they followed you back or not. UGH. And UGH again.

So what do I recommend? Follow accounts you ACTUALLY LIKE. Then, if you want to get some new followers, sure, add as many people as you’d like. I see nothing wrong with the “follow” part of this game. However, unfollowing someone the next day, regardless of whether they follow you back or not… well the whole thing takes a lot of time, and also doesn’t translate very well or garner a very good name for you in the industry. If you follow someone, they don’t follow you back, and you decide to unfollow them a few days later, fair enough. Just don’t be that guy who keeps doing it, or who dupes people into following you only to unfollow them straight away.

10. Do not automate comments or likes***. There are apps and websites out there that allow you to automate likes and/or comments, especially on Instagram. And… AGAIN… I understand the appeal of such programs, because you can gain a lot of traction in a short period of time (at a price, of course). Remember what I said about how these platforms reward engagement? I understand why it’s tempting to automate your engagement, then. So, perhaps you set your app so that it likes any photo with a certain hashtag attached. Or perhaps you get it to comment a bunch of the praying hand emoji, or “great pic!”. Easy, right?

The problem with all of this is… yep, leading back to my first points… it’s not authentic. At all. And most people can see right through it. Think about it, how often do you see a comment that says, “Cool pic!”, click on that account, and then follow that person? Never (at least, I don’t). What about if a person wrote, “This is really amazing – I’ve always dreamed of going to Kazakhstan. You’ve really captured what it’s like to be there, thanks for sharing.” Much more likely to click, right? Or at least to remember their name or account?

You also want to be careful with those automated comments… I’ve seen people write, “Awesome! :)” on photos of concentration camps, or “So cool!” when someone discussed his grandmother’s death in the caption. My advice, for any social media platform? Be proud to have your name behind every comment you make. It’s better to comment authentically on fifteen posts than have a robot comment some lame-ass “Nice!” on five hundred.

It’s a slow game, for sure, and it’s difficult to stay patient when you see other accounts rocketing up with numbers, but I would personally rather know that I built my social media followings as organically as possible. I wouldn’t feel honest otherwise, especially if a company or tourism board wanted me to represent them. My Facebook page, for example, has above average engagement and numbers for a travel blog… but that took me four years to build. It takes time, like all good things in life (except a Big Mac, good God they’re so good).


Be careful about getting a big head on social media… I know, you’re groaning (in Medellin, Colombia)

11. Use hashtags correctly. Each platform, if it requires or uses hashtags, will need different ones. I’ve been guilty of putting a ton of hashtags on some of my Instagram photos (always in the comments below, or with room between the caption and the hashtags, if that makes sense). However, I’m not sure that it’s always the best tactic, and I think that choosing only a handful of really effective, specific hashtags is the best way to go. Using a ton of hashtags also looks pretty… desperate (which I am from time to time, but let’s not dwell on it). When you’re in a new location, for example, play around with the search function on both Twitter and Instagram to find some suitable hashtags. Also, keep in mind that you can still find things on Twitter without hashtags being used, much like any other search function on a blog or a search engine. I absolutely never see hashtags used on Facebook effectively, so I don’t even worry about them there. More on this in the post to come.

12Do not rely solely on social media. I’m a firm believer that each social media platform is a bubble, and that those bubbles can burst at any time. While I don’t see a lot of the big ones bursting anytime soon – for example, I don’t see any of them going the way of Vine, which no longer exists, in the next couple of years – it is possible that the money that’s currently available for social media influencers may start to dwindle, as more and more companies are wary of what they’re actually getting out of paying the big bucks (the ROI, or return of interest, if you will).

While a few people are making major dollars off of social media, especially Instagram, I believe that the average blogger should try to set up various revenue streams. Constantly chasing sponsorship on social media can be tiring, and it can also – through algorithms, or a lack of investors – dry up in certain months. It’s much better to think about supporting yourself through a variety of means, which is what a lot of bloggers do; think affiliates, freelance writing, brand ambassadorship, consultation, creating a product or book, and so on.

Similarly, while social media can be a great way to drive traffic to your blog, making sure that you have a few SEO-friendly articles so that people find you via organic search is always a good thing. This blog has about four blog posts out of 700 that are optimised, so I am the worst person in the world to be recommending this, but again, it’s not a good idea to rely on one thing thing when it comes to travel blogging, no matter how well it may be going at the moment.


My umbrella really doesn’t match that wall. Is anyone still reading these? (in Buenos Aires, Argentina)

13. There is room for everyone. You might look at blogs that have been around for ages and think, “I will never get those numbers”. I mean, I think it all the time, especially when I am feeling bad about getting messed around by social media algorithms (more on that in the follow-up post). And what has worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future, so a lot of established bloggers lucked out in early days by being some of the pioneers of travel blogging and social media.

But I believe it was Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt who said that the blogging world is much like the restaurant world. Think about how often you see new restaurants, especially in big cities. Sure, some of them don’t make it and close after a year, but some of them go on to become hugely successful. Just because there’s already five restaurants in your neighbourhood, does that mean nobody should ever open up a restaurant again? I think about a few newer bloggers who have totally smashed it recently, even though they haven’t been around for all that long compared to some of the others in the industry – Nicola of Polkadot Passport, Lloyd and Yaya of Hand Luggage Only, and Silvia of Heart My Backpack all come to mind. You’ll notice, however, that all of those people have still been around for a couple of years at least, because all of this (blogging, social media, growing an audience, etc) takes time and hard work, as it should. A quick fix or an instant launch to fame rarely ends well. If you’re new, know that it will take months, if not years, to start to see the real pay-offs from your work.

In the end, I think that gaining a lot of numbers on social media has to do with creating good content, but also with knowing your audience, knowing when/what to post, and, quite frankly, having a bit of luck with algorithms, shares, mentions, connections, etc. Unfortunately, some of this stuff is out of our control, and as much as a lot of the bigger influences may deny it (it’s always the ones with the highest numbers that say, “It’s all about creating great content”, whereas I firmly believe in the importance of acknowledging luck and timing). Not all of us are going to be the biggest, brightest stars on social media, but that’s OK. There’s a lot to be said for the micro-influencer right now – many companies want to work with people who have smaller but very engaged audiences – and it’s important to always remember point number fourteen. Yeah. That point right below.


You gotta love what you do (in Popayan, Colombia)


At the end of the day, don’t chase the numbers. Don’t obsess over the stats. Don’t compare yourself to every single blogger out there. Do it because you love it, because it excites you. Blog and post on social media because you genuinely enjoy it, and because it genuinely brings you happiness. I love Facebook but suck at pretty much every other social media platform, so I focus my energy and time there, not platforms I find tedious to use (*cough* Twitter *cough*).

There are literally thousands of courses and websites that will tell you to do this and do that and spend this many hours and automate this and comment this many times and promise, like, REALLY PROMISE YOU GUYS, that you can become a huge successful social media influencer too, and guess what? It might work, it might not. And of course, OF COURSE, if you are trying to grow your blog and your business, you’re going to have to put in hours on social media. But what I’m trying to point out is that you have to have some fun doing it; it’s the only way you’ll stay sane. Trust me. If you do it because you love it, and you genuinely have fun while you do it, others will pick up on those good vibes. All the automated comments and scheduled tweets in the world cannot replace honesty, personality, and relatability. Spellcheck is telling me that relatability is not a word, but you can suck it spellcheck, I’ve written over 6,000 words about social media and I’m exhausted.


So there you have it. Are you still reading? Are you alive? You deserve an award (or at the very least, another glass of wine). Perhaps this post was a bit all over the place, perhaps you’re thinking, “There’s ten minutes of my life I can never get back”, or perhaps you took a few tips away from it… either way, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments! Please keep in mind that I will be posting more specific thoughts on social media platforms next week (for example, how to get started, what works on Facebook vs. Twitter, or what to do if Instagram’s algorithms make you want to drown your sorrows in a bottle of whiskey (answer: drink more)).

Further reading:

Every Single Thing I Know About Travel Blogging (at the bottom of that piece I share a lot of links as well)

Social Media 101 (Jodi from Legal Nomads has SO much great advice)

Confessions of a disillusioned social strategist (really interesting piece on Digiday about how social media is changing how brands work)

How well do you know your influencers? (this should be required reading for all brands looking to work with influencers. I’ve linked to part one there, which is about Facebook, but part two, about Instagram, is just as good. I love that Hecktic Media aren’t afraid to say what everyone else is thinking/wondering… that a lot of what you see on social media, i.e. the numbers and the likes, is absolute smoke and mirrors)

Amazing! This social media manager just described her job without setting herself on fire (a pretty hilarious piece from Reductress, which is a satirical site for women)

Want to follow me on social media and/or tear everything I’ve just said to shreds? Here’s my Facebook page, here’s my Instagram account, here’s my Pinterest, and here’s my Twitter feed.

Brenna with cookie

You deserve a giant cookie if you’ve made it this far

How do you use social media? Do you agree with anything I’ve said here? Disagree?

*If you’re thinking, “You’re still super annoying,” I won’t disagree with you. 

**Other crushes include James Marsden (so underrated), Matthias Schoenaerts (have you seen him work a hay bale as Mr. Oak?!), Trevor Noah (that accent… that wit… that smile), John Cho (another actor that’s seriously underrated), Peter Quinn (as in, the character from Homeland, but not the actor playing him, if that makes sense), Kate McKinnon (funniest person on Earth), and more recently, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., perhaps better known as Ice Cube’s son (something I did not predict before 2015). Also, Jake Gyllenhaal, because… it’s Jake Gyllenhaal. Duh. 

*** I’m stating a lot of these “DO NOT” kind of things like I’m God listing the Ten Commandments. Obviously, if you want to do them, go ahead. I’m just trying to point out that the long game will lead to much better overall results than the short game, and will gain you more trust and respect in the community.


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Anahit January 10, 2017 - 10:58 pm

These photo captions are killing me ???? I had no idea people could buy followers or automate comments…suddenly a lot of instagram is starting to make sense.

Brenna Holeman January 10, 2017 - 11:05 pm

Oh yeah, big time. It’s a huge part of Instagram now, sadly. 🙁

Cindy January 10, 2017 - 11:57 pm

I absolutely agree with every point you made. I absolutely hate the follow and unfollow game on Instagram and I’ve made it my mission to have fun with my social media and treat it as a personal diary of sorts. I love your authenticity and you offer really useful and genuine advise.

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 12:01 am

Aw, thank you very much, Cindy! I agree, it’s imperative to have fun with social media, otherwise it will just feel like a chore. 🙂

Esther Bichachi January 11, 2017 - 12:40 am

Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been following your blog for about 4 years and it’s your personality that makes your posts stand out. I recently started my own blog, and well, everything you said is true. It’s so frustrating trying to find your social media groove, especially when I wasn’t very active to begin with. (Yes, screw the Follow/Unfollow game. What’s the deal with that anyway? It really does feel like high school!) To be honest, I find people who don’t insert their personality into their content end up being quite forgettable. Thanks for being so honest and for writing such interesting posts. I always look forward to them and can’t wait to hear what you have to say next week.

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:48 pm

Aw, thank you so much for all of your kind words, Esther! And thank you so much for following along for four years… wow!! That’s awesome that you are starting your own blog, I wish you the best of luck… but more than that, I wish that you have tons and tons of fun doing it! 😀

Victoria January 11, 2017 - 2:11 am

As a newbie travel blogger, I think about engagement vs. number of followers a lot. I see some people with 1k twitter followers but they have SO MUCH engagement, whereas others with 10k followers only get a few likes and retweets.
Maybe a good post for the future would be on how to build an engaged audience. It might just be because I’m new, but it feels like people are rather reluctant to engage, which can be frustrating.
Thanks for this post, I’m looking forward to the next one!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:49 pm

Thanks for your input, Victoria! Yes, in my next post on social media I’m going to delve into engagement. I might even write one about blogging engagement if there is interest. 🙂

LC January 11, 2017 - 4:27 am

I had about ten posters of Jake Gyllenhaal on my wall as a teen (and sat through Prince of Persia at the movies – that’s dedication) and my goodness, James Marsden’s cheekbones (and yes, acting ability good. Also).

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 2:00 pm

Ha ha!! I could never make it through Prince of Persia… that is indeed dedication. And I know, Marsden is such a dreamboat…

Jolene January 11, 2017 - 5:00 am

I truly loved the encouragements along the way!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 2:00 pm

Ha ha, thanks Jolene!

Megan | Red Around The World January 11, 2017 - 7:14 am

I love this! The follow/unfollow is the worst! I joined a bunch of blogging groups on Facebook recently and a ton of them have that. Like, I don’t want to follow a mom blog for you to follow me back. I don’t want to read about kid stuff and they probably don’t want to read about staying in hostels. I would much rather have engaged followers that enjoy what I do. I really enjoy the way you do things!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:50 pm

Yep, those groups are notorious for it. It also doesn’t really make sense, because a company doesn’t care if a bunch of other bloggers are the only ones reading your posts/commenting/engaging… they want people who are actually going to buy the products/take the trip!

Thanks a lot for your comment, Megan!

Rhiannon January 11, 2017 - 8:10 am

Such a helpful and in depth look at social media! It’s sad that a lot of Instagram is about buying followers. I’m a somewhat newbie Travel & Lifestyle blogger, and spend a lot of time working on my Instagram account and gaining genuine followers. I’m a big engager when it comes to that sort of thing! So it’s pretty frustrating that people just buy their stats! I love your writing style, you have so much personality! Definitely inspires me to write longer blog posts. Thanks so much!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:51 pm

Thank you so much, Rhiannon – so glad that you liked the post! And yes, I used to be scared about writing longer posts – I’ve been told time again not to go over 500 words – but each of my posts in the last two months has been over 1,000 words (some, like this one, actually 6,500) and yep, people still read them. 🙂

Stacy January 11, 2017 - 9:42 am

I have been blogging for years, but I am so bad at the social media game. Mostly a time thing (I just am not willing to spend all my free time on my computer/phone) but also because I have a tendency to compare myself to strangers on the Internet and then get depressed. Life is just too short for that, so I need to limit my time on social media. I will never, ever hit it big as a blogger (or most likely even as a “microinfluencer”) but I’ve made peace with that. I focus more on my freelance writing, since a love of writing is why I got into this to begin with.

As always, I appreciate your insights in this post, and I’m looking forward to part two. And I do really appreciate that you take the time to reply to comments!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:57 pm

Thank you so much, Stacy – so glad that you enjoyed the post! And of course I respond, if people take the time to write to me, it’s only the polite thing to do. I hate when bloggers don’t respond to comments.

And yeah, I totally get that – it’s so easy to compare yourself to others. In fact, I’ll be talking about comparing yourself in the next post, and how it can be good sometimes but mostly bad. We’re all on our own paths in this crazy blogging world, and we can’t all be good at everything! 🙂

Emily Ray January 11, 2017 - 10:51 am

Personally, I think you’re rocking Facebook at the moment – your updates always get me stopping for a read, because I know they’re going to be thoughtful, considered and witty! And can I also take this moment to say WTH IS UP WITH THE FOLLOW/UNFOLLOW GAME, how can anyone have enough time/energy to do that. /end rant

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:54 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Emily! I do enjoy my Facebook page, which is why I think it’s more engaged than my other social media platforms. And I know… WHAT IS UP INDEED?! I hate it, ha ha. 🙂

Emily January 11, 2017 - 10:57 am

As both a new blogger and aiming for a career in digital marketing when I graduate in the summer (eeekkk, that sounds so scary!) this post was really useful.
It definitely takes time and persistence to build an engaged audience, but I would much rather work hard at it and earn my followers than buying followers and likes from a spam account!

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:55 pm

I totally agree, Emily! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post, and good with your awesome career! 🙂

Kate January 11, 2017 - 11:39 am

Wow – what a fantastic and fulsome post! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:52 pm

Thank you so much, Kate! Really glad that you enjoyed it.

Sarah January 11, 2017 - 12:14 pm

Thanks so much for this post – I just decided to “social media-itize” my blog last week (created insta and twitter) and the follow/unfollow game is REAL. In one week I’ve had the same users re-follow me about 5-10 times.

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:52 pm

Oh yeah, it’s endless. I hate it! Other than that, though, social media can be so much fun and can help out your blog so much. 😀

Lindsey January 11, 2017 - 5:38 pm

This a fantastic post. As a fairly new blogger, in the beginning I was always so focused on getting new followers, and I could actually feel myself feeling frustrated that I wasn’t being myself. This post was a great reminder that being myself and saying what I want to say based on my experiences is the most important thing about my writing, despite how few followers I may have right now. I may never have very many followers, but I enjoy writing. Thank you for such a great reminder, and thanks for some of these tips. I had no idea people could actually buy comments and likes. That’s absolutely crazy to me.

Brenna Holeman January 11, 2017 - 5:54 pm

Yep – I have driven myself crazy in the past with the follower thing, at least on Instagram. For a long time I was actually losing followers a day, and I didn’t get it. Then I just decided to not care as much, have a good time, and relax about it… I still don’t get as many followers as I’d like, but at least I no longer stress about it!

So glad you liked the post, all the best with your writing!! 🙂

Danny January 11, 2017 - 10:46 pm

Thanks so much for letting us have a glimpse behind the curtain! As a reader, I definitely support your claim that being honest, relatable and authentic is a big draw to your blog. Also, it says a lot when you take the time to respond to every single comment. So, hat’s off to you! 🙂

By the way, what’s your opinion on automatic direct messages… for instance, on Twitter or Pinterest? I realize this may be an unpopular opinion, but those things annoy the heck out of me! I mean, I assume that if you’re already on Twitter, then you definitely have accounts on other social media sites and don’t need a flashy in-your-face message. But maybe that’s just me.

Brenna Holeman January 12, 2017 - 1:34 am

Thank you so much, Danny, I really appreciate all of your words of support!

I’ll be addressing automated messages in the next post, but I can tell you right now… I don’t like them AT ALL. They just seem like spam to me. I can tell you that I have never once clicked on any other links/gone on to immediately follow that person on another channel because of those messages, so I think they’re a complete waste of time. Most people I’ve spoken to in the industry hate them as well!

Reni - Swiss Nomads January 12, 2017 - 2:44 am

Thank you very much for sharing your experience and tips how to use social media.
I like the part of being yourself and honest to the readers. I think that’s the key thing being authentic.

Brenna Holeman January 12, 2017 - 9:24 am

I think so, too… it’s SO important! I’m really glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

Lucy January 12, 2017 - 4:02 pm

Fabulous post. And, funnily enough, despite preaching to you about the virtues of Snapchat….I’m not anymore either. I stick with the two platforms I love, and skip the rest which has made life a lot simpler and way more authentic too.

L x

Brenna Holeman January 13, 2017 - 3:15 pm

I agree – makes life so much simpler and it also makes it a lot more fun. 😉 Thank you for your comment, Lucy! x

Zen January 12, 2017 - 7:44 pm

Ok give me the glass of wine ; )
You were spot on. ‘Young women in their 20s’ ‘who also prioritise travel’ ‘who like to read ‘and who are probably more left-leaning.’

I would totally respond to all my comments if I had any : P So yeah would love to read a ‘how to get started’ sort of post. I get the thing you mentioned, getting 10 new followers every week who then un-follow me a week later, clearly hunting for a follow. So bloody frustrating. There I go thinking ‘hey, someone likes me!’. Social media can be so unsociable, honestly.

Brenna Holeman January 13, 2017 - 3:16 pm

I’ll try to cover as much as I can in the next post! 🙂 Totally agree, social media can actually be very unsocial, in that so much of it is automated/bought these days. Thanks for your comment, Zen!

Elina January 13, 2017 - 12:45 pm

I’ve been getting loads of these automated comments on Instagram lately and I didn’t even realise they were automated… Just thought they were trying to get my attention with the least effort possible. So turns out there’s even less effort involved than I thought 😀 I never bother even acknowledging those comments, like what would I even say? Thanks for posting three flame emojis under a picture of a door, I’m so honoured??

Similarly I agree with engagement on posts, 99% of the time I don’t comment if I see that the blogger doesn’t usually respond to them. Your blog is one of my favourites because you actually take time to reply to everyone and say something meaningful back 🙂

Looking forward to the second part!

Brenna Holeman January 13, 2017 - 3:18 pm

Ha ha yep, there is so little effort involved… I get so many praising hands and stars and hearts these days that I’m really careful to always write something personal whenever I leave a comment just so people know I’m authentic!

And thank you so much for saying that, Elina, it’s really nice to know that people appreciate the responses. It’s one of my favourite parts about blogging! 😀

Suneé January 15, 2017 - 10:32 am

This has been a very helpful post, thanks. I’ve been following along for quite some time reading via my Feedly feedreader, which isn’t really conducive to leaving comments, but I really enjoy your blog very much and I’m going to try and implement all your tips to grow the following for my blog as well this year. PS: I’m dying to find out how your month without alcohol and men is going!

Brenna Holeman January 15, 2017 - 11:23 am

Thank you so much for your comment, Suneé! I will post the second instalment of the social media advice soon. And you’re in luck, ha ha… there’s a new update on the blog today! 😉

Alicia January 16, 2017 - 6:03 am

thanks so much for this ! 🙂

Brenna Holeman January 16, 2017 - 10:03 am

I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

Bea @ Our Wanders January 18, 2017 - 4:38 pm

A very long and very good summary, and the best part for me: yeeeee, I’m not the only one who wishes that Snapchat wouldn’t exist. 😀 I know it’s a new platform and now is the best chance to establish a follower base there and btw I’m already late with that… 😀 But even the thought of being online constantly horrifies me.
But being serious: as a newbie blogger I find this post very encouraging. I’m so disappointed when I see automated likes and comments and get messages that I should buy followers… it’s just so not the point of social (right?) media. It makes me want to run away from the whole thing sometimes… Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I really look forward to the upcoming part!

Brenna Holeman January 20, 2017 - 2:54 am

I’m so glad that you found the post useful, Bea! I agree, it’s not the point of social media, but people will always want to take shortcuts and game the system, unfortunately. Best of luck with your new blog! 😀

Bea @ Our Wanders January 20, 2017 - 10:59 am

Thanks so much 🙂

Lily January 20, 2017 - 10:22 pm

Thank you for this post! Not only was it solid advice, I’m pretty new at instagram and it solved the mystery of what all these random accounts are up to with the random likes and follows! I’d thought they were just manually going through and systematically liking things to get attention, somehow this is even worse! And I hate the follow/unfollow game because sometimes I like the random accounts that follow me, but then I have to unfollow when they do because I’m just that petty and hate that game (especially since I still have double digit followers, it seems especially rude of them to make me think I’m actually getting people’s attention!).

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:27 pm

Glad you liked the post, Lily! I’ve just written one all about Instagram if you’d like to take a look 🙂

Nicole January 21, 2017 - 1:24 am

Thanks so much for this post! I’m just starting to get into blogging, and sometimes it can seem so overwhelming. Your points are helpful and realistic, and greatly appreciated!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:13 pm

Aw, glad you enjoyed the post, Nicole! Wishing you the best of luck 😀

Lorna March 16, 2017 - 3:59 pm

I am starting my new carrer as a community manager, thank you for sharing this info!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:13 pm

Awesome, good luck, Lorna! 🙂

Nicola April 5, 2017 - 5:54 pm

Just come across your blog and now I’m hooked. I love your style of writing and to a fairly new and very small (make that very very very small) blogger this post has been incredibly helpful. Also I read all of the captions and each one made me laugh. Off to read some more now! 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 6, 2017 - 12:54 am

Aw, thanks a lot, Nicola! I hope you’ll stick around 😀

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2017 - 1:27 am

Aw, thank you very much, Nicola! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

Gillian Crosby September 12, 2017 - 10:33 am

Just starting out as a blogger and this is truly one of the most helpful things I have read!! Social media is such a maze but I am feeling inspired now – off to go and teach myself about SEO and how to do it… and also how Pinterest works exactly, cause I have never figured that one out.

ps. How AMAZING was our boy James Marsden in Westworld? 10/10 babe

Theresa September 12, 2017 - 5:44 pm

Thanks for this. I’m pretty new to this game and every little bit helps. I have all the SM accounts and it’s a VERY slow process but things are generally going in an upward direction. I hate the follow/unfollow stuff too. I find the apps that allow you to see who has unfollowed you (Instagram and Twitter) are quite handy for weeding these types out.

Thomas September 13, 2017 - 4:27 pm

Hey Brenna,

Really good article and it was perfect with a red wine (syrah + grenache) from the South of France. I agree on the fact to be ourselves behind the screen of our computer. It’s the best way to be constant.

I’m a big fan of Pinterest for the blog travel strategy. You should have a look. I know, you will have less time to drink beers with your friends, but life is unfair when you’re a blogger.

Thx again for your point of view

Tchin Tchin!

Greta November 19, 2017 - 6:04 am

This is like the go-to guide for social media for travellers and bloggers like me. I get most of my traffic from my Instagram account – mostly because I have a photographer friend of mine who clicks amazing snaps and helps me with my blog. It’s interesting to know that Facebook ads can target specific people in specific geography – I didn’t know that. Will try it as soon as I optimise my FB page. It hardly has a few hundred likes. Thanks.

Emma April 8, 2018 - 6:00 pm

So many awesome points here! Thank you so much for writing this and validating what many of us are trying to do. I love the fact that you have such an authentic following. Your writing makes me try to write better posts! Keep up the awesome work – you’re inspiring people x

Brenna Holeman April 11, 2018 - 4:46 am

Aw, thank you so much, Emma! That’s so kind of you. I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

Tristan October 24, 2021 - 11:20 pm

Hi Brenna !
Very interesting article !
I personnaly started a Dopamin Diet recently, in the way that I avoid any fake reaction provoked by screens or any other things that is created by humankind. Like Drug addicts, people that spend too much time on screens get depressed end isolated in real life. Just too moch emotional reactions on Social medias.

So I really rencourage people to have a break of social medias, just for a week to try. It frees the mind !!


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