Two local social media influencers recently shared their online expertise during a workshop with business students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Meteorologist Malika Dudley and animal advocate Lauren Nickerson conducted a Digital Media Influencer workshop for students to hear first-hand what it’s like to gain a social media following, the opportunities that come with it, and how to use social media platforms to give back to the community.
“You can use social media to help you shine and grow as an individual,” says Nickerson. “Celebrate who you are and give back to others.”
The workshop was sponsored through a collaborative effort between UH Alumni Relations and the UH Hilo College of Business and Economics. Dudley, the daughter of retired UH Hilo Professor of Marine Science Walter Dudley, graduated from UH Mānoa in 2004 with a bachelor of arts in speech and a bachelor of arts in French. Nickerson received her bachelor of arts in Spanish from UH Mānoa in 2006. For sharing their experiences with the UH Hilo business students, Dudley and Nickerson each received recognition as Alumni Professor for a Day courtesy of UH Alumni Relations.
Dudley, Miss Hawaii 2005 and now chief meteorologist for online local news outlets Maui Now and Big Island Now, is a well known local media presence, having started her career with KGMB9 television news in 2007. While at KGMB9, she was nominated for two Emmy Awards and won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Journalism Award for her reporting on Hawai‘i’s tsunami damage in 2011.
Dudley has a large social media following with more than 26,000 followers on Instagram and also runs a blog called Life’s Swell. She gained her following through posting her hand-made jewelry, giving advice, sharing stories about motherhood, and updating followers with information during the eruption last year.
In her talk, Dudley encouraged the students to remain authentic and build a social media presence with the intention to inspire others and pass along a positive message.
“I want students to think about how they influence people and why they’re influencing people,” Dudley explains. “I want them to know that if they do become influencers or if they want to start on that journey to building their brand – whether it’s of them as a person or something that they’re passionate about, that they make the world a better place with it, that people come to their page and leave feeling better and not worse.”
Nickerson also focused on authenticity. Her social media presence is through her Instagram account dedicated to life with Pearl, the blind and deaf dog she adopted in 2010 from Hawai‘i Island Humane Society.
Since creating the account in October of 2016, Nickerson has gained over 47,000 followers. She was inspired to make the account to share Pearl’s story and educate people about caring for a dog with special needs. She shows her followers how Pearl leads a very healthy and happy life.
“We use our platform to educate, advocate, and give back,” says Nickerson. “We encourage others to get involved in their local community and visit their local animal shelter.”
Through her platform, Nickerson has advocated and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Hawaiʻi Island Humane Society as well as other organizations.
Helen Tien, a UH Hilo instructor of marketing and management, says Lauren is “a great example of how to use social media for a positive impact on the community and beyond. She has stayed true to her beliefs and been able to spread her message even when she partners with international brands.”
Nickerson says that being genuine with her followers and sharing Pearl’s story is the best way to navigate through the ups and downs of social media.
“We don’t have a specific brand, we are just true to ourselves,” she explains. “Social media has allowed me to express my true self, share my simple life with my good dogs, and by doing that, I realized that people enjoyed it. Our brand is good, honest, fun.”
Students’ takeaway: Being authentic is key to being successful
After listening to Nickerson and Dudley’s talks, the students took away the lesson of authenticity as the key to becoming a successful influencer.
“I was surprised by the fact that neither Lauren nor Malika used social media with the intent of becoming Insta-famous, but rather to share their stories and help the community,” says Koa Kubera, a double major in marketing and management. “People were naturally drawn to their lives because of the unique messages they shared online. The biggest take-away for me was that being real and authentic is key to being successful as a social media influencer. If the content you are putting out into the world is fabricated or staged, people will see right through it. They can see the difference between someone who is doing it for more likes or followers, and someone who is genuinely providing content because it’s something they are passionate about.”
Business administration major Alicia Rodriguez came to the workshop wanting to know more about how influencers use their platforms: “What brought me to this workshop was my wanting to understand how these influencers are incorporating their everyday lives to create a following, and using their followers to collaborate with brands.” Rodriguez learned that having a large platform on digital media can bring many opportunities, such as working with brands and getting sponsored by businesses, but it also comes with social responsibility in giving followers the right message.
“My biggest takeaway from this workshop is that if I want to pursue a career in becoming a digital media influencer, to do it because I love it, to think about how I want my followers to feel when they leave my page based on the content I share,” she explains. “Always remember to be a good person because you will experience negativity when you gain a following, but it is your attitude toward it, whether you will let it affect you or not. I can heavily apply this to my future career because in business when your intentions are good and you remain to be a good and kind person, you will learn to empower others as Lauren and Malika have done in order to help them take responsibility for their own happiness and success.”
Students also left the workshop with the message that connecting with followers through social media provides opportunities to give back to the community, support a cause, and inspire personal growth.
“I hope our followers see the beauty in celebrating everyday life and overcoming adversity,” says Nickerson. “Pearl is happy every day and we strive to make every day the best day ever for her in our own little ways. I hope our followers can appreciate the small things in their own lives and feel inspired to give back to others.”