113% follower growth overnight: A day in the life of a 1930s Social Media Story.

On November 7th, 2017, the number of people following @TheEstelleBurke and her #1930sSocialMediaStory grew 113%.

That morning, she had about 325 followers. At 3:00 that afternoon, it was 460. 7:00 that evening? Around 600. The next morning, it was around 780. In just — OMG! — one day, she gained about 450 more followers. One week later, Estelle had 909 (+149%).

I was in shock. Teared up even. And I felt completely validated because on that November day around 10:30 I felt just so gross and so false in my mission to get Estelle’s story to the world, I decided to reject completely one of the main Social Media brand-building rules: Follow fewer people than who follow you.

I’ll get to the decision in a second, but first, for the people who don’t know Estelle and the project, here’s some background: In 1998, I found approximately one thousand photos (ranging from the ’30s to the ’80s) in an antique store. Pouring over them on the floor of my apartment later that day, one thing was clear to me: This was a collection of photos a woman named Estelle had accumulated over a lifetime. And what a life! This woman danced around the world, would never miss an opportunity to hit the water, and kept company with some very adventurous women.

I spent so much time trying to figure out how to get the volumes of photos of her in front of as many eyeballs as possible — whether it be in my own home, in a found photo show, or some kind of craft or greeting card project. Then I had a book idea and mentioned it to my friend, and former creative director, Mason Poe, who said, “Capps, this is an Instagram story.” A light bulb went off.

Of course! But…I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years and just never got into social media as a platform.

But a few “oh for heaven’s sake, just do it” thoughts popped in my head: 1) do you want to be a dinosaur?, 2) just dabbling in it isn’t really enough to fully understand it, and 3) you may not specialize in social, but it behooves you to learn, so chop-chop, get a move on. Besides, it’ll be fun testing tags, timing, and other variables it’ll take to go from zero followers to, hopefully a thousand. Truth be told though: I want her in front of millions, but you’ve got to start somewhere I guess. Just before I jumped in, Mason had another bit of guidance: “Capps, I know you…no paid search.”

And this is where I blush a bit. He knows that when I’m jazzed about an idea, I go whole hog. I put a substantial amount of my savings into a baby shower game I invented called Pin the Baby on the Vajayjay (yeah, I know…) without doing enough research, and, well, I sold 11 of the 2,000 well-designed games I had printed up. #FlopButHeyGreatLearning Opportunity

Even without his reminder that I need to take deep breaths and shred my credit card when it comes to my projects, I wanted the world to find Estelle naturally. The right hash tags (#VintageGlamour anyone?) could be Estelle’s way of extending her hand to the right people, but their shaking her hand back with shares and word of mouth, well, that’s what I want for her: Success built on organic growth. I like the words “groundswell” and “natural” and “enthusiastic fans” when I imagine what terms I’d use when looking back on the success of this process.

But anyway, back to my decision. I was in my doctor’s waiting room copy/pasting/following a list of dancers’ Instagram handles supplied by a dancer friend. She thought they may be interested and, the theory is that following people is a good way to introduce yourself. But what if they didn’t follow Estelle back? I just unfollow them? That seems icky. After the 15th random person, I started feeling gross. Just gross. Down to my marrow, I knew that it was trickery.

It’d been done to Estelle and me. A touring author claimed to love the “whole 1930sSocialMediaStory thing” and promptly followed Estelle and my author account. We exchanged several correspondents and yadda, yadda, keep in touch. Then he unfollowed us both. Like, in less than four days, y’all. That shit pisses me off. So, no, I wasn’t going to do that and certainly sweet Estelle wouldn’t either.

I’d been true to my mission at first, which, I think helped me attract Dita Von Teese and a guest blog post for, and subsequent publicity from, Rachel LaCour’s Save Family Photos. Those two events catapulted Estelle from 125 followers to a little over 325.

I thought, “If I’m supposed to be writing AS Estelle not just FOR her, then how would this joyful woman born in the early 1900s do social?” Well I know EXACTLY what she’d do. I have enough evidence to support my theory that she was a kind and fun-loving social butterfly who adored her friends and loved to surround herself with them.

So I went straight to two early followers who liked everything Estelle — an Oslo Pin-Up Queen (she’d since unfollowed) and a Londoner Drag Queen (who also unfollowed). Yep, Estelle would absolutely follow them, and, really, anyone who followed her. Except bots of course. And those weird salesy feeds — 50% off your next bucket o’ chicken! — you know the ones.

I followed everyone who followed her, even requested access to private accounts. I looked at every feed of every person who followed Estelle and tapped the hearts on images I knew she’d like — dresses, hats, shoes (all the glittery things!), water (ocean, lake, pool), bathing suits, tomfoolery, girlfriend bonding time—even commented on some of them.

I understand that influencers and entertainers and even my favorite George Washington account (“President Washington follows no one” — a line that is pure brilliance, you have to admit) but that’s not Estelle.

Estelle is not a brand.

And just when I was called back to the doctor, I made the decision: Stay true to Estelle’s spirit. When I got home to take a nap (thanks migraine), Estelle still had about 325 followers. While I was snoozing, @Lydia1940s decided to follow Estelle. And that’s when the line on the followers chart headed straight into the ether — practically at a 90-degree angle.

#Swoon

Yep, correlation is not causation. But it feels like proof nonetheless. #SoThere

So thank you Dita, Rachel, and Lydia. Your powerful index fingers turned the blue follow button on Instagram into rays of pure sunshine for Estelle.

Thanks to you for helping Estelle break free of the stuffy cardboard boxes so she can breathe, dance around, and throw on her favorite bathing suits to hit the nearest beach. Or pool. Doesn’t matter, as long as there is water…‘cuz that’s my girl!