Karen Civil is arguably one of the most successful bloggers on the scene. She’s the typification of a blogger who has stepped out from the blogging lane, into better things. She’s undeniably a social influencer, and an early adopter of several social media channels that she strategically used to her advantage. She tweets, she gets a check. She posts a product on Instagram…she gets a bank transfer. The followers on her self-named handle on social platforms total in the millions, and brands know that she’s influential.
Civil faced devastating rejection early in her career. She applied to become radio personality Angie Martinez’ assistant, and got as far as the finalist level, only to be given the “Sorry, but the position went to someone else” message. Some would have told themselves that maybe this whole entertainment industry stuff is not for them, but not Karen Civil. Another radio personality Funkmaster Flex eventually picked Civil to be his assistant. In that role, Civil got to see first-hand how the music industry worked and made plenty of contacts. Next came an A&R role with hot and young company Dipset. It would seem that Civil was progressing along just fine, only to face another major road block: Dipset closed down.
Like the trooper that she is, Civil saw this as an epiphany…maybe she wasn’t meant to work for other people. She had spent so much of her time and energy on branding others…why not brand herself. Hence, was the founding of KarenCivil.com, her website. In the Fall of 2010, she launched Always Civil Enterprises, LLC, her own marketing firm. Less than a year later, Beats by Dre called on her to serve as their Social Media Manager. From there, her work ethic won her the Entertainment and Brand Manager position.
In early 2014, Civil went from employee to independent contractor with Beats By Dre, but not before helping the headphone company reach its billion-dollar sale to Apple. Oh, Karen Civil co-oversees a clothing line and produces original and exclusive content for her channel CIVIL TV. She can be heard speaking on prestigious panels at tech, music, and entrepreneurship conferences and big brands persistently seek her out to give their products and initiatives the approval.
Karen Civil is that girl who’s turned a one-woman website into a huge brand that competently competes with companies that have 300+-staffers and international branches.
Now, Gigberrists, here are the branding lessons that can be learned from studying her career….
1. Not all advice should be listened to, even if it’s well-meaning
As a high school student, Karen Civil used to tell her teachers that she was going to make a career out of the internet. One of her teachers replied that this wasn’t a career. Only goodness knows where this teacher is now—maybe lurking on her former student’s highly-trafficked social media pages? A decade later, Karen is receiving a lot of opportunities, from corporate sponsorships to endorsements. Within three years of starting her website, it was already earning six-figures and got the attention of web syndication giant MOG. Once that partnership ended, Civil dived into another one with media giant Spin Media.
2. Don’t wait for things to be given to you
From her college days at Union County College in New Jersey, the Brooklynite started on her desired path. She got a position on the campus radio station WCPE-AM to get her manicured toes wet. This was preceded by her building fan pages for groups like the Backstreet Boys, and for actor J.D. Williams of the early 2000s TV show “The Wire”. She passed out Beats by Dre headphones to her rapper contacts, impressing the brand with her ability to get them million dollars worth of exposure without spending any parts of their marketing budget.
3. Don’t be a digital sharecropper
Digital sharecropping is a term that tech analyst Nicholas Carr invented to mean putting content and commentary on a platform and not being able to share in the earnings when said platform is sold. Karen Civil decided from the beginning that she wasn’t about to allow herself a few potatoes here and there from the digital plantation. At one point, she was passing on exclusives with administrators of other blog platforms, but after much contemplation, the digital magnate decided it was time to build her own voice.
4. Put your name and face into it
Starting out, most bloggers try to hide under a pseudonym or blog name. Ms. Civil named her website KarenCivil.com and made her face a visible staple on the site. In doing so, she not only established herself as a go-to-authority on the subject she was writing about (music, specifically hip-hop), but also begun on the road to sucessful personal branding.
5. Keep going, keep hustling
When Ms. Civil started her site in the late 2000s, in spite of having worked in the radio business, she had a hard time getting her interview requests fulfilled. Her calls and emails went ignored and unanswered. Undaunted, and arming herself with persistence, she kept on consistently updating her site, and with time, her consistency and work ethic won over many. It was impossible to ignore the eponymous blogger. Her hustle spoke for itself. She has since interviewed some of the biggest names in the hip-hop Milky Way. Yeah, even those same big names who used to ignore her calls and scroll past her name on their inboxes.
6. People judge on appearances, and everything is a matter of perception
Numbers mean a lot in the social media game. Influencers and their reach are judged by them.
A blogger is perceived as being as big as connected as the individuals he or she features. Karen Civil has sought and has earned interviews with some of the biggest names in the business, eager to get promoted through her massive network. If a media personality is to be judged by the talents she interviews, then Karen Civil’s game is bigger than the industry itself: Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Durk…
Perception is everything…and knowing that Karen Civil takes control of her image through what she disseminates on social media. She lets you into her world, but she won’t overshare it.
7. Think different, act different
Whereas there were many women working behind the scenes in hip-hop blogging, very few put their government name and photos on the hip-hop sites they helmed. Civil, in essence, gave hip-hop a female face. She hired public relations firm Gilded Branding to reinforce her personal branding, and land her interview opportunities to increase her visibility. The #LiveCivil hashtag was gaining momentum on social media channels, she expanded the concept into a lifestyle and well-being site. The one-time communications major also got herself a publishing contract to publish an affirmations book, making her one of the first hip-hop bloggers to leverage her popularity into a book deal.
8. Work hard, but work wise
Karen Civil put in her 10,000 hours and then some. But she realized that at one point, she had created such a reputation for her website, that it was time to step away from her blog, but still be present within it. She brought in writers and social media specialists like Justin Tinsley, Tempest Sable and Brandon Williams on her team, while she took care of more important business.
9. On with the next goal
Best Entertainment Blogger at the BlackWebLog Awards, XXL Top Hip-Hop site, MTV Hip-Hop MVP, Source Magazine Digital 30…Ebony 100, Urban Entertainment Salute recipient…Her wall cabinet rattles with the weight of awards she’s won. But to Karen, the hustling never stops, the work ethic never wanes, and the branding track never derails.
10. Above all, stay on your brand mission
#LiveCivil is more than a hashtag to the entrepreneur. It’s her way of life. This brand mission shows through every posts on KarenCivil.com and LiveCivil.com, and through Civil’s tweets on social media. There is no ridiculing hip-hop stars, their foibles and flaws. Karen Civil is all about business, not folks’ business.
Which of these branding lessons do you feel are the most note-worthy?
Kat is the founder of Gigberry. Interested in contacting her or being featured on this blog? CLICK HERE.