I finally wanted to share everything with you guys from my growth on BrandTravels. From the Instagram bots and the pressure of getting followers to the absolute obsession of creating interesting content and appearing authentic.
I always say to my close friends today that the ONLY thing I regret in my life so far was not creating an online platform dedicated to fashion. Back in Grade 11, I used to share my outfits online and my friends totally digged it! I wondered what would my life be right now if I would have continued sharing my outfits back then. But since I can’t go back in time, there is no need to dwell over this regret. Instead, I want to share it all with you. Here goes nothing!
Way before I created BrandTravels, I had a personal Instagram account, @sharonbrand, and I absolutely loved sharing my outfits, the place I visited, and some artsy and grungy quotes. My personal Instagram was my online portfolio and my place of refuge after a long high school day.
I have always been into the Arts and my paintings, drawings, and inspiration would go right online! I was creating hand-made animations and was totally obsessed with everything Disney related. Apart from Simba and Stitch, my other passion was fashion.
After finishing my degree in Montreal, I moved to Israel for three long years. I say long but they went by in a blink of an eye. In Israel, I started sharing more outfits, more places to visit, and of course, food!
I took the wild decision to create an Instagram account called @brandtravels to share my travel adventures publicly. Back then, I was obsessed with all of the travels I have done. I have travelled since I am a little girl, and it isn’t something I take advantage of! I am so thankful my family was able to take me out in the world. It opened my eyes to new cultures, I met new people, I socialized, I took all of it in. I was obsessed with taking pictures, keeping journals and my flight tickets, buying souvenirs, but I never actually did something with all of it.
I knew I wanted to deep down.
And so, on May 28th 2016, I created @brandtravels. At first, I wanted the concept to be “3 pictures 1 place”. So basically 3 pictures of Rome, 3 pictures of Paris, 3 pictures of Israel. Since Instagram is aligned with 3 pictures in a row, it looked SO good! I edited the pictures on VSCO, added a short and meaningless caption, some hashtags, and started posting the pictures.
I didn’t care about the likes and the followers. At this point, I just wanted to have some content on and so, I kept and kept posting any travel pictures I found on my laptop.
After having the Instagram created, I knew I needed to purchase @brandtravels as a domain name. I wanted to have more than a social network, but also a website! Having a bit of experience with WordPress, I created an account, purchased www.brandtravel.com, and started working on my website. The website was 100% travel related. I was posting about the best restaurants to go to, the museum I’ve seen, the cool streets of Italy, Spain, Greece, and more!
I still remember that night like it was yesterday. I was sitting on my bed thinking, “I should get a domain name now!” I litteraly opened my computer and purchased it. The next day, I flew to Montreal for 10 days and I was working on it every. single. day. The website wasn’t public because I wanted to have a bit of content before putting it online! After writing 20 blog posts, I published it! It was a success!
I then flew back to Israel since I had gotten a job as an intern for a marketing company for the summer.
I can proudly say I left Israel without a website, and came back with one!
Around September, my web designer, who was a friend from class which I didn’t know worked in web designing, approached me and told me he wants to work on my website to make it better. After A LOT of Skype sessions, we built something that was better, stronger, and more professional. I said goodbye to WordPress.com and hello to WordPress.org.
It always amazes me that some people just believe in you and don’t ask anything in exchange. If you’re reading this web designer, thanks for all of the hard work, time, and energy you put in for my website. Because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have a place to publish this now!
For the first time ever, I was approached my fellows Instagrammer and added to these Instagram groups for bloggers. If you guys want a clearer explanation of these groups: you are added with about 10 other bloggers and share your posts in it to get more engagement. The point is to engage by liking and commenting on the other’s pictures/videos. I did this for a while. I was new at it all. So i tried it all. It was fun at first, and then very time consuming. Not only that but my pictures had comments that were kind of forced upon. Maybe these people didn’t want to comment on my posts, but they did either way, cause that’s what the group is all about!
I was working day, night, afternoons, days, weeks, and months on BrandTravels. I was obsessed. I loved taking pictures, I loved engaging, I loved writing good captions and inspiring my followers. The following grew slowly but surely also. I hit 1K. Then 2K. Then 3K.
I was still posting travel related content and also never actually posting anything real-time. I was sharing my Switzerland trip when I was actually in Israel. My Vienna trip when I was in Paris. And Paris when I was in Amsterdam and so on. I didn’t want people to know where I was and what I was doing on the moment. I still wanted my privacy. It’s funny because some classmates in Israel were sometimes shocked to see me at school. They said, “wait, you’re not in Switzerland?” This happened so many times, I’m lucky my following still trusts me. I swear I’m not a fraud guys! Just a student that wanted to do her own thing.
My parents were also very against me starting a blog. My mom especially (sorry mom) told me it isn’t a good idea to show everything to everyone. And she was right, now that I see it with perspective. But I don’t regret what I post, what I have posted and what I show. I love what I do and it brought me to where I am today. I never ever had or have the feeling of posting something just to prove something to someone. I truly truly LOVE taking pictures and keeping this kind of online journal – it’s beyond my control!
Slowly but surely, my content was less edited with VSCO but with Instagram filters only. I wanted to keep my pictures unfiltered and just add more saturation and a pop of color on my feed. I was very inspired by @somethingnavy who is my ultimate favorite blogger. She was posting her pictures without any filters on. So I thought I should do the same thing!
Living in Israel, a country filled with colors everywhere, made it easy for me. I took pictures of fruits, coffee, veggie bowls and everything in between. I was so obsessed with making my feed pretty. It was an addiction and I still can’t figure out if it was a good or bad one.
I also added more pictures of myself. It wasn’t the ocean, the beach, the mountains, and the city anymore. BrandTravels had a face. My face. I added pictures of my family, my friends, me holding a drink, me eating, me at the Shuk Hacarmel. This is when I realized that people react more when they see a face behind the pictures. This didn’t really shock me to be honest. Why would a picture of palm tree get more engagement than a picture of me?
By then, as sad as it sounds, I was starting to care about the numbers I was getting. I kept looking at the number of likes, the comments, the inbox messages, the views on my stories. No matter the number though, I just continued what I loved doing most.
When BrandTravels turned one year, I made an awesome post and received so much love. As much as we can say social media sucks, when a moment of celebration is online, the positive messages we can receive can be the most uplifting thing in the world. At school, over texts, over the phone, and online, I received so much positive energy and the motivation to continue what I was doing. People were loving it and I wanted to bring even more to the table.
This is when things took a turn for me.
Last year, I was in my third and last year in Israel of studying my BA. I also worked part time but a lot of times. I was balancing school, work, my blog, my social life and myself and boy, was it a struggle. As hard as it was, and by hard I mean I got sick so many times during the year, I was exhausted, I woke up at 5 to go to work and slept around 2AM to work on my blog. I was online non-stop and it was EXHAUSTING. I still loved it but it did get tiring.
It was the first time EVER that when I got home from work, I couldn’t have my eyes on my phone screen whatsoever. I was getting nauseous just starting at my screen. When messages would pop up, I would answer cause I hate leaving people hanging but it really wasn’t something I was excited to do – sorry not sorry. I was even putting my phone on airplane mode to sleep to literally not get disturbed at all.
I was also in Instagram groups, just like the first ever ones I got into but these were two groups of 80 something bloggers on Telegram. These groups were so time consuming I can’t believe I even wasted my time, and energy on these. I mean, it kind of is pathetic that every morning and night, I took out my phone to like, comment, on 80 something blogger’s posts and they would do the same. My pictures got an extremely high amount of likes and comments, and it made me happy.
Those groups had a “boss” that would check everyone’s Instagram to make sure everybody commented on each picture. If you didn’t, you got kicked out! I would say I feel bad for that “boss” but being part of those groups makes me such as pathetic.
Worst than that, I was approached by some Instagram accounts (that were total scam and are now deleted accounts) asking to repost my pictures. I wish I knew they were scams beforehand. These were huge fashion accounts with over millions of followers and I had to pay to be reposted. They asked for 50$ the picture. I sent them the money on PayPal. Several times. After I paid, the pictures was posted, and I received maybe 500 followers the second after. At first, I was like oh my god, I’m getting to 6K, I’m getting to 7K. 8K. But after 9K and 10K, I realized that it’s impossible so many users are actually following me from these pictures, that honestly had nothing TOO special!
Picture this: PayPal sent. Pictures posted. 2 seconds later, 500 followers more on Instagram.
Curious about all this, I checked my followers one night and I was devastated. They were all ghost followers. I think more than half of my followers were fake.
At the same time, I was posting a lot of Israel related content in parallel to my work, which made me lose a bit of followers but that’s another story! It’s embarrassing to be honest. I’m supposed to be authentic, work hard, engage organically and instead, I had a completely fake set of followers that were fake.
What I forgot to mention is that by now, I was specifically leaning towards fashion, lifestyle, and food. I had forgotten about the travels, but keeping my vision the same: my adventures.
The reason I say I was in a bad state back then is that I was literally so obsessed with my Instagram and blog, that every time I didn’t see what I wanted to see, I was disappointed. Having 500 views on my stories, which was a relatively low number for me, put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. It did make me work more in a way. But the sad truth is that social media had this effect on me!
I also wasn’t so happy with the unfiltered pictures and that’s when I discovered Lightroom, an editing application that is more professional than any other. I was having fun with the filters and I wanted my feed to be more pink. And so, the pink trend started! I did everything pink! It was soothing to see, cute to look at, but my followers found it a bit too girly.
After seeing different filters on other bloggers, I discovered After-light and Filter-loop which are filters you can add to make your pictures more vintage and grainy. I was obsessed (and still am). My pictures were honestly so sick (not throwing flowers at myself). I woke up excited to get dressed and shoot or just find something interesting to post about. Adding those grainy filters made the picture kind of different form what other bloggers were posting.
By then, I had quit all of the Instagram groups I was in on Telegram. It was the biggest relief of all time. I also stopped sending my money to all accounts that asked to be reposted. Finally, I went through my followers and I had to manually delete them. One by one. People asked me what happened to my 10K. At first, I didn’t know what to really answer. Now that I’ve made peace with what actually happened, I proudly say I had tons of fake followers.
I think I didn’t know what to say because I thought it was embarrassing? But it wasn’t. I was just a stupid amateur blogger who didn’t know better and tried something because I was curious. And now I know. Now I have perspective on the good and the bad aspects of blogging.
In May 2018, I celebrated two years of BrandTravels. Still going with the grainy filters. It looked cool!
In August, I moved to New York City after finishing my BA in Israel. This time, being in the #1 fashion capital, I dropped food, lifestyle, and travel pictures and focused on fashion. It made me so happy. When I was in Grade 11, I woke up, got dressed and took mirror selfies of my outfits. I had black vintage creepers, burgundy jeans, and a simple cropped top. I went back to mirror selfies this year and it was such a delight.
I was still considering myself a blogger and people were still asking me where should they eat, where should they go, what should they see. I think it’s crazy that the public can find so much trust in a blogger. It is such an interesting psychology to reflect on. Won’t bore you with that now don’t worry guys.
What I forgot to mention is that by then, I was on full mode for collaborations. I was emailing brands every single minute of the day and sending messages on Instagram everywhere. I bought books on Influencers and how the industry worked and I was going at it one hundred percent. I didn’t want to let this one go! In Israel, receiving products was practically impossible due to shipping. In NYC, people were begging to send me products.
Almost everyday, I received packages after packages. It was clothes, food, beauty products, home decor items, and everything in between. I was loooooving it. It made me so happy. I was sharing the whole process on my stories.
I considered myself a legitimate fashion blogger living in New York City.
Meanwhile, I was enrolled at Parsons and taking the most interesting classes. In one of them, we spoke about the blogging industry. And that was it for me. The end of my blogging career literally.
THIS. WAS. IT.
I had an epiphany. A realization. Sharon Brand, what are you doing!? You don’t want to be a blogger! You want to be a writer! Yes, you love fashion, but you don’t want to promote fashion brands! You want to write about fashion! You want to aspire others with your style by writing about it but not by promoting beauty products.
I got home that night and honestly freaked out! I wrote on my Instagram story that I am taking a step back from collaborations. I disappointed many brands by not posting what I promised. I declined payments I was supposed to receive and also finished some collaborations but much later than promised. I even got a platform to send me tons of items that I never needed up posting about. What a disappointment, I thought at first. But deep down, I didn’t care. I realized how unhappy this whole blogging thing was making me… because it wasn’t what I truly wanted to do!
What do I want to do you ask? I want to write, I want to inspire people, I want to create content, take pictures, edit them, caption them, feel the positive energy from my loyal followers without having a pressure of looking at numbers, at followers, at likes, at comments. Who cares if I have 50 followers or 10K? The end result is the same.
And so I went with my guts! I purchased filters from one of my favorite bloggers and edited my outfit , day to day adventure pictures in the city of my dreams. I posted and posted and created such a beautiful feed which I am totally obsessed with. If you look at my Instagram right now, it is full of sharpened pictures full of colors, glitters, outfit inspirations, and captions I truly think of.
The biggest change was the handle name switch from @brandtravels to @sharonbrand which was a HUGE deal for me. More than a year ago, I wanted to do that. I felt like everything I was doing was a waste of time and when I was actually considering dropping everything, one of my close friends told me not to do it! She said: “you’re Sharon yes, but you have BrandTravels and it’s yours”. She was right! And maybe if I had switched the handles back then, I wouldn’t have got where I got today.
Switching handles really did something for me, as weird as it sounds. I felt more like myself. How can a name on Instagram change someone like this?! Social media is pretty crazy let me tell all of you. But this is it! I am Sharon Brand, founder of BrandTravels.com. I love my website, I love my Instagram, but stepping back from being a blogger and coming in as a fashion journalist and writer is my path.
What will come next? I have absolutely no idea. But I can tell you guys two things.
- When you have the feeling, deep inside you, in your guts, that you want to change something, it could be creating a page, changing careers, traveling somewhere, whatever it is… just go for it! My only regret is not starting my page before, because I know that the world I would be living in today would be a totally different life than I am living now! But I started it. And I have come so far! I kept pushing it because I thought that it was way too late. But the time I wasted thinking this is just frustrating.
- Do what makes you happy. And don’t forget what makes you happy. I often lost track of my vision while getting lost in things that do not matter. Don’t compare yourself to others. Stop looking at the numbers. Don’t put the pressure on yourself. Leave the stress out. Do it for the fun! Do it because it is what makes you happy!
The past two years of were a mixture of ugly, pretty, lows and highs. A mixture of incredible positive messages but also of hateful and racist comments. A mixture of sadness over numbers but of not caring anymore. A mixture of taking the most gorgeous pictures and times of me deleting tons of them. But overall, it has been a time of growth, a time of learning, and most of all, a time of adventure.
There is one thing I am so excited to tell you guys: If I did and FELT all of that in the past two years, I am so excited for what is to come next.