Aimee Song on Building a Brand Beyond the Instagram Feed
Success stories

Aimee Song on Building a Brand Beyond the Instagram Feed

“If you really stay true to yourself, you’re going to find your audience. You’re going to find somebody who resonates with you, and you’ll start building something that you’re proud of.” — Aimee Song (6:25)

Who is Aimee Song?

Aimee Song is an influencer, fashion designer, blogger, author, and entrepreneur. Since launching her blog, Song of Style, in 2008, she has become an international influencer with over 5 million followers. She is a member of the Forbes 30 under 30, and was featured by The Business of Fashion as one of the 500 people shaping the fashion industry. 

Whether she’s being snapped on the streets at Paris Fashion Week or sharing her outfit of the day from dreamy locales, you’ve surely seen her inspiring style all over Instagram. Aimee has partnered with major brands from Chloe, La Mer to Volvo, and is also a bestselling author. Her book, Capture Your Style, was on The New York Times best-seller list with her follow-up, Aimee Song: World of Style published in 2018. Her brand is an influencer’s dream. 

Listen in as Aimee shares tips on building brands that last, and growing a meaningful social media presence.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On beginnings

What led you to start a blog?

I started my blog in San Francisco in 2008. I was studying interior architecture. I just wanted to make friends online, and also share my favorite designs and decors. It started as an interior design blog which evolved into a fashion blog because I was always interested in fashion. 

I was already taking narcissistic photos of myself, and sharing them on MySpace and Facebook. I felt somewhat embarrassed because my friends would always make fun of me for taking selfies in the dressing room. I was like, I’m just going to do this on my blog since this is mine. It was supposed to be more secretive—none of my friends knew. Eventually, over time, I started gaining a following.

At what point did your dreams of doing interior design full-time stop? Do you still get to feed that creativity in yourself?

When I was 17 right out of high school, my dad went through bankruptcy. I really wanted to go to Art Center [College of Design] and study industrial design but I could no longer afford the tuition. I had to go out into the real world and get a real job. My first full-time job was as a receptionist at a construction company. As a receptionist, all I did was clean and get them coffee. I would also show the showroom to whoever came into the construction company. I had a lot of time looking online, and I discovered this interior designer named Kelly Wearstler—that’s how I fell in love with interior design. 

After I saved up some money later, I went to college when I turned 21. That’s when I started my blog. I didn’t pursue blogging full-time even though I could have earlier on. I didn’t do that because I still worked at the architecture firm, and I loved interior design. I think that differentiated myself from other bloggers because I could have sustained myself from blogging full-time. I already had a huge following, and I was making enough money. But because I kept on blogging as a passion and worked at the architecture firm, I felt like people resonated with me more. I don’t necessarily miss it because I’m renovating my house, and I still get inspiration. I don’t have to deal with clients or construction workers always looking down on you. 

On being an influencer 

Do you think it’s possible to still get a large following if you’re just starting out now?

That’s one of the questions I get asked the most: how do I grow a following? I think if you’re trying to become like me or somebody that’s already out there, it’s going to be impossible. Unfortunately, there’s only one Aimee Song. But, if you find your unique voice, and stay authentic, it will resonate with people. The funny thing is, when I was growing up, I kept on comparing myself to other girls. It’s a daily struggle. Even now, when I go through Instagram, I look at Instagram models and I’m like, ‘I want to do my makeup like this. I want fuller lips. Should I get fillers?’ And then I’m like, ‘No, this is wrong.’ I start losing who I am, and I want to tell you that we all look so different. If you really stay true to yourself, you’re going to find your audience that resonates with you, and you’ll start building something that you’re proud of.

Do you think Instagram is a necessity at this point?

I think it’s super crucial. Technology has changed, and we’re all doing things digitally. Whether you have a clothing line, a standalone shop, a food business, or whatever, you want to go where the consumers are. If you don’t adapt to what’s going on right now, you’re going to stay behind. I think it’s crucial to adapt and go where the consumers are. 

How much has blogging and influencing changed since you started? What was it like during the early days vs now?

The biggest change is that it became a career. As bloggers and influencers, we all have a platform. We no longer need to look at magazines and the media to determine how a woman should dress. There isn’t one single definition of beauty. We’re no longer in the day and age where we’re ruled by the media—we’re ruled by real people and influencers.

On protecting yourself in brand deals

Were you ever swindled by a brand? Was there ever a deal that went awry?

Have contracts and be smart about them. I think that being a woman, especially an Asian woman, it’s hard to speak up because we’re a bit more submissive in our culture. I’m not, but we don’t really talk back to people. I’m so used to that. Coming from a construction and interior design background, men rule that world. I haven’t spoken up for myself a lot of times. 

There was this one case where I was working with a clothing company. They hired me as a model and stylist. I flew myself out to LA, and we did a whole video shoot. Initially, when I went back and forth with the brand, I was going to get paid, although not very much. When the campaign went out, I followed up with them to get paid, and they said, ‘No, we promoted you. We put you on a 2 million newsletter subscriber list.’ I kept on thinking to myself, ‘I guess that makes sense. That was free exposure for me, and I’m working with this big brand.’ I kind of accepted their response. 

When I think about it now, it’s unacceptable. I put so much time and work into it. If they saw me as a real business, they would have paid me. But because they saw me as a naive blogger, they took advantage of that. Now, I’m much more careful of it; if I’m working with a brand, we always have a contract. Thankfully, I have a great agency and management company that does that for me. But in the beginning, I did that myself.

On Aimee’s mission statement

You say that your mission statement for Song of Style is to inspire and connect with people all around the world through photography, beauty and passionswhether it’s food, lifestyle, or fashion. Can you explain why having a mission statement for your social media is important?

The reason mission statements are so important is because a lot of times, when we’re in our careers, we forget why we started. We get jaded by everything that’s going around. It’s a great way to remember why we started what we’re doing, remember our passion, and help us stay focused on achieving our goals. 

What tips would you have for someone who wants to have a beautiful social media grid? 

I’ve had Instagram for about seven years. When I wrote this book three to four years ago, I was very into photography. I was very into aesthetics and beautiful images. I think I’m guilty of doing the avocado toast photos with your hand, and coffee—a lot of meaningless photos. I’m guilty of it because I feel like I’m part of the problem sometimes. Back then, I would think about what my feed would look like. I had to have this perfect feed where everything has to go with each other. 

I’m kind of past that point where I am constantly thinking about what my feed looks like. Now, I just think about the individual photos. Is this a photo that I want to share with the world? I care about what these photos or videos I’m taking mean to me at that moment, more so than what my feed looks like.

On Instagram 

Do you still think of the grid of nine or 12 like you used to?

Technically, if you think about it, the grid is your first impression on somebody nowadays. So without having to speak and click on the individual photos, somebody’s going to check on your profile and see what your grid looks like. It’s about what you want to say. Do you want that to be a pleasing photo? Or do you want it to be different so that somebody can discover you and be interested in you? 

What works on Instagram stories?

I love Instagram stories because I feel like it’s a moment to be more real. As we all say, Instagram is the highlight reel of one’s life. Instagram stories help you be less filtered. It’s just a moment for you to be more raw.

What Instagram accounts are you loving right now?

I like any account that has meaning. I love it when fashion bloggers talk about what’s going on in the world; there are so many crazy things happening outside of our bubble. I love the account called @attn, and @girlboss, obviously. I like @britandco—they feature different celebrities and talk about great messages. I also follow different photographers. I love discovering non-famous people as well. Because I have this platform, I love sharing people with smaller audiences with my followers. Whenever they leave a comment, once a month, I gather 10 different accounts from all around the world including different body types, different races, different backgrounds, and I showcase their accounts. 

On what’s next to come

I’m kind of chilling and enjoying the moment. Since I was little, I always think about what’s next? What didI want to be when I grew up? What’s my five-year plan? Because I’m always chasing that, I felt like I couldn’t relax and enjoy what’s happening in my life at the moment. Right now, I’m trying to enjoy being present, spending time with my friends, my family, and then thinking about what to eat next.

On giving yourself patience

How do you keep her head up high no matter the circumstance, and no matter if results aren’t showing up?

I think you have to have patience. The toughest part with social media is you see everybody’s successes. Everybody is just showing whatever good is happening in their life—you never see the actual struggle. You have to remember, everything takes time. Everybody’s journey is different. It seems like it’s so easy to think that everything happens immediately, but it doesn’t. 

On finding the right team

If you were starting your business today with what you know now, what would you do differently?

Hiring the right people. For so long, I refused outside help because I felt like that was being inauthentic. I thought I had to edit my own photos, blog, and manage it myself. I thought I shouldn’t have a team because I’m not a celebrity. But now, to run my business efficiently, I have to hire people that are smarter than me, and people who have the same vision so we can build something stronger and better. That way, I also have a quality of life.

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Follow Aimee on Instagram at @songofstyle and @aimeesong

Watch Aimee’s interview on Girlboss’s youtube channel, here.

Follow Girlboss on Instagram at @girlboss.