Christina Brown is the influencer that everyone needs to get to know – and fast. Why? This top digital influencer who created LoveBrownSugar, a beauty and style blog geared towards multicultural women, was recently picked by Dove to be a featured face in their 60th anniversary Beauty Bar ad campaign. She was also named a finalist in the Shorty Awards, a digital platform that highlights the best of the best on the web and social media. With 10 years of internet savvy under her belt, Christina is a definitely a force to be reckoned with when it comes to turning a blog into a profitable business. In this interview with BAUCE, the University of Pennsylvania graduate spills the deets on how she grew her blog, why big brands want to work with her, and what it takes to really make it as an influencer in today’s crowded digital space.
You studied economics at the Wharton School of Business in college but ended up starting a style and beauty blog! Where did the idea for LoveBrownSugar come from?
Christina: It’s funny. I started LoveBrownSugar as a hobby so I never thought it would snowball into this thing that I could actually take and make part of my career. It really was born out of a passion for seeing more women of color represented in the media. I felt like we had incredible stories. I knew so many women of color that are smart and beautiful and stylish and have so much going on, and I felt like we weren’t properly represented in various platforms. So that has been my overall goal with my career and my blog — making sure women of color are properly represented in the media. That’s why LoveBrownSugar was born.
You also have amassed a rich background in the fashion and entertainment industries while working on your blog. At what point where you able to start treating your blog like a business instead of a hobby.
Christina: I had LoveBrownSugar for four years before I decided to leave my job and work on it full-time. Honestly, there was a lot of risk involved at the time because blogging was still in its infancy as a full-time career; there was no guarantee that working on a blog full-time would sustain you long-term. But then I realized that with the internship and work experiences that I had, plus all those years that I built up forming relationships and educating myself on how to speak to my audience, I would be able to sustain myself in time. And that’s what helped me make the leave to work on it full-time. I knew that even in the grand scheme if my blog didn’t work out, I’ve learned so much from this experience that I could potentially bring that to a consulting experience or working full-time somewhere. So I knew I had that bit of a cushion. It took a lot of faith. I haven’t looked back since.
When you first started the site, what did you do to get out of the “cricket stage”? How did you grow the audience for your blog?
Christina: I think the key for me was consistency and also building relationships. I tell people all the time — the first blog readers were my friends from college and family members. I started to promote my stuff on Facebook and social media and only people who knew me personally knew bout my platform. But as the blog started to grow, it really became like word of mouth and so I had to be a sounding board for myself and for my brand. I spent a lot of time going out to network with other bloggers and connecting with other people on social media. I did a lot of collaborations so wherever there was an opportunity to partner with someone I did that. And at the time it wasn’t even really strategic — it was about building a community.
I knew in order for me to be successful that I had to really connect with other people and listen to them. I’ve always been really big on collaboration. And I think that’s what helped set the foundation for my site. I’ve always been very inclusive. And my audience became like catalysts for a lot of the different things I wanted to develop. I listened to [my audience], even when they were small. If they wanted to hear more hair journey stories or a review on a specific category of products, I would respond and that’s how it would organically grow. Collaborating, listening to my audience, and being my own megaphone where the biggest things I did to grow my site.
Did you have to keep your blog a secret while working a 9 to 5?
Christina: No, I never kept it a secret from anyone! [Laughs]. I started my blog while I was interning at BET and it was actually a recommendation from a co-worker there. Someone saw that I was really into social media and reading other blogs and that I was very opinionated said I should start my blog. I ended up transitioning into an editorial position at Honey magazine and that was awesome and one of my dream jobs due to my blog. They saw my experience with LoveBrownSugar and that attracted them to wanting to work with me. And every job after that was aware of my platform and tapped me to use those insights to build up there brands. I think my career path is unique because my blog helped boost me forward. I had the competitive edge of having digital media skills and knowing how to curate an online audience ad that’s essentially what I was doing in those various roles.
And to be honest, I think it’s sad that there are so many companies that are threatened by their employees and their interests in side hustles and businesses because at the end of the day, these extracurricular passions are what makes employees more well-rounded. It makes them more able to adapt in different situations. It’s the same reason why employers will send their employees to get degrees and higher education — it can only add value. The smart companies are the ones that are seeking former entrepreneurs or people that have started their own businesses — they know that added value is beneficial.
You’ve worked with big brands like Dove and Capital One to name a few. How do you attract such huge companies to sponsor you?
Christina: I’m very big on relationship-building. That’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me how do I get sponsors or how do I start to monetize. It really starts with relationships. I think some of the best opportunities that I’ve been afforded have been organically engaging with different brands and them seeing what I represent and who I am and them saying I really want to align with her because she says some of the things we really love and she already loves our product. I think if more people took that approach — where people are making organic relationship with brands and that they are already using and promoting their product — there would be more opportunities to collaborate. I think where many influencers go wrong is when they start talking to someone or a brand just because they want a sponsorship and that approach doesn’t always work.
Your readers can tell when your doing something because its a paid opportunity versus something very organic. I’ve been able to work with big brands that don’t do style and beauty. LoveBrownSugar is a style and beauty platform, but it’s also lifestyle blog because I talk about the things that are important to me. So one of those things for example is me being a mom; I branched off and started my BabyBrownSugar platform and I also started a mompreneur diary series where I talk about some of the things I go through as a working mom trying to balance my business and my daughter. Capital One took notice of that organic work I was doing and said hey, we have these amazing working moms in our organization and we want you to interview them and ask them about what they go through as working moms of color. Typically, Capital One is a brand I wouldn’t work with naturally on my style and beauty platform. But the stories they were sharing with me felt applicable to many people in my audience. Not every one is a mom but some are thinking about it and they want to know how to navigate through entrepreneurship and motherhood. It’s about having a unique voice, telling a specific story and building organic relationships. There are so many opportunities and possibilities with brands to work with when you start there.
Is there ever work that you turn down? Like do you tell yourself, “this isn’t for me” even if it comes with a huge paycheck?
Christina: Oh yeah, plenty! I got to a point where I decided I need to be more discerning about what opportunities I accept and what partnerships I do. I never want my message to be diluted. I never want my story to feel inauthentic. I also know that my audience trusts me and that’s so important to me! I don’t want my audience to feel like I’m doing something because I’m getting paid for it. There’s a ton of brands that reach out asking to collaborate. 75% of them I say no to because I know it’s not going to resonate with me or my audience or the direction that I’m taking my brand in. It’s definitely hard because there are opportunities that are paaaid, but you can’t say yes to everything if your trying to be strategic about who you are and your story. Like, I’m not going to accept money from a tobacco company! There are some brands and companies that I just refuse to work with.
On the flip side, there are definitely brands that don’t fit into style and beauty, but I do think my readers can appreciate. Sometimes I will also take on opportunities because I know it will bring on opportunities for other people as a result of me doing it. Sometimes I’ll work with these companies and I’m the only brown girl in the room; that makes a difference because that means if I do an incredible job and they see that I’m able to tell my authentic story and bring a new audience to their platform, then that will open them up to wanting to work with other brown faces. It creates an opportunity for more diversity and for more unique faces to be represented.
Okay, Christina, let’s get real. Let’s say we want to become influencers. How much could we expect to earn? What do influencers typically get paid?
Christina: So the range is so diverse that it’s truly a difficult question to answer. There are some influencers that have a few more followers than me and might make 10x as much as I do! Or there could be someone that represents themselves that makes significantly less then someone with a manager because they don’t understand their worth. The range is very vast. When I first got started some of the brands that I worked with and opportunities that I had probably should have paid me more for what I was doing, but I didn’t know that at the time. There is so much secrecy about how much people are making and I had the pleasure of having friends and influencers in my community that were open about how much they got paid for things. So that’s how I started to gauge opportunities. If this person has this certain number of followers, and they talk about xyz subjects and they create high-quality content — this is what I think I should charge.
There are people who make anywhere from $60 a post to $5,000 a post, depending on how much influence they have. And this is the thing — some YouTubers for example get more views a month then a major magazine! Just based off the millions of followers that they have and how engaged their audience is. There are a lot of brands that are shifting over from investing in traditional media and re-investing in digital and social media influencers, YouTubers and bloggers, so there is more potential now to get paid a lot more. It’s very important for a new influencer to just talk to people; just ask someone how much could you potentially make? What’s your particular rate card? Use that as your guide.
I would also take into account how much work you’re doing if at your normal job to get paid “X” amount of money for an 8-hour day. If you are doing similar work for your blog then you shouldn’t charge less than that amount for a brand or a sponsor that you’re working with. You have to be persistent about asking and not undervaluing your worth to these brands.
Knowing your worth is so important. How does one determine that?
Christina: People shouldn’t get caught up in numbers. Brands go wrong when they just look at how many followers a person has. There’s a difference between popularity and influence. Someone could be popular and have tons of followers on social media, but that doesn’t mean they are they influential in a certain topic. For example, I’m big on diversity, self-esteem and representation in media and those are areas that I’m an expert on and I have strong influence on because that’s what I talk about consistently. Someone else might want to connect with a brand that focuses on those things. They may have tons of followers, but if only 2% of your following cares about those topics then that specific person is not influential in those topics. So people should really consider being influential in certain areas and having an expertise instead of just being popular and having all these followers. Ask yourself: who talks to you? Who follows you? What are the quality of the conversations that you have. That and your engagement is going to be what a brand uses to determine whether or not they want to work with you. It’s not just a numbers game anymore.
Christina, thanks for sharing all this amazing advice! We have one more questions for you: what do you wear and how do you style yourself when you want to look like a BAUCE?
Christina: So that’s a good question! When I want to feel like a BAUCE, I aim for a pantsuit. I love a good pantsuit. Or a little black dress because I feel like it makes you feel confident. Black is so slimming and there’s so much power in black. Those are the two things I’d aim for. A little black dress or a cool coordinated pantsuit. And when it comes to makeup I aim for a red lip when I want to be taken seriously. If I’m going into a meeting, I slap on a classic red lip with some mascara so my lashes are popping! And as for my hair, it depends on my mood. I might have a protective style in or my fro out, depending on how I feel that day. A well-tailored outfit and a red lip are my two BAUCE must-haves.