Searching for Ikea inspiration? Wondering how to re-do your wardrobe on a budget? Looking to improve your business?
Sheridan alumni are experts on all sorts of topics – and they’re sharing their insights through podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs, and a number of other online platforms.
Journalist Amanda Weldon (’16), Business Hall of Fame inductee Scott Stratten (’00) and interior designer Kristen McGowan (’16) are among the alumni who’ve channelled their passions into online platforms, and are reaching a broader audience using the skills they honed at Sheridan.
Read the stories of these alumni below, whose hustle and entrepreneurial vision has enabled them to build their own brands and have their voices heard:
THE MARKETING EXPERT
Website: unmarketing.com | Podcast: UnMarketing | Twitter: @unmarketing
Books: UnBranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption, UnMarketing: Everything has Changed & Nothing Is Different, QR Codes Kill Kittens, The Book of Business, The UnMarketing Book
Scott Stratten has been an influencer since before the term became part of the everyday marketer’s lexicon.
The President of UnMarketing, and an inductee of Sheridan’s Business Hall of Fame, Stratten was one of the first individuals to plug into the power of social networking. Named one of the top five social media influencers in the world on Forbes.com in 2012, he has over 177,000 Twitter follows, and his viral marketing videos have been viewed over 60-million times.
Stratten was formerly a music industry marketer, national sales training manager and a professor at Sheridan. As the founder of UnMarketing, he ran his “UnAgency” for nearly a decade before focusing on speaking at events for companies such as PepsiCo and Cirque du Soleil.
“I don’t call myself an influencer,” says Stratten. “People call me one, and I don’t mind it. If an influencer is someone who helps inspire, educate, or get people to do something that helps them or their brand, then so be it. It’s my job.”
These days, Stratten spends less time online, and more time influencing people face-to-face. He’s a coveted conference speaker, offering audiences his insights into viral, social and authentic marketing. Marketing buffs who can’t see Stratten on stage can hear his observations through he and his wife Alison’s popular podcast, UnMarketing or read about them in one of the six books they’ve written together.
Stratten says the last time he participated in a social influencer campaign was back in 2010 – what he calls the heyday of Twitter. But, he says, he never sought out companies to work with. “It was more about me building a brand that revolved around marketing and branding, and companies wanting a piece of that,” he explains. “I never had a formal sit-down saying I wanted to be influential – it was all about me saying that I had an opinion, and I wanted to build a platform and an audience.”
Back then, Stratten was still building his platform. His first best-selling book, UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging had yet to be released, and he had the luxury of time when it came to creating new content.
“I tweet a lot less….I put out a lot less content,” says Stratten, who talks at between 60 to 70 conferences a year. “The UnMarketing brand and our career is more about getting on stages and conferences now than reviewing the next teeth-whitening product.”
Whether someone is looking to build a following on social media or an audience for a podcast, Stratten emphasizes the importance of quality, transparency and, most importantly, putting in the work. Some people, he says, want to be an influencer before setting up their platform – but that’s not how it works. You have to find your niche, whether it be a geographical viewpoint, or a love of shoes or cars – something where you can build focus make yourself an authority.
“Being influential on a topic is being an expert on a topic,” he says. “We’re always looking at results versus work, and that work is the research and content creation. When we’re looking at a topic for the podcast, everything that comes into my world is about that topic – I’m reading about it, talking about it, listening to other podcasts about it, watching videos about it – and that’s all because if you’re an expert on something, you have influence on it.”
THE INTERIOR DESIGNER
DIY maven Kristen McGowan has built a brand based around providing practical and fun interior design tips and tricks.
With over 352,000 YouTube subscribers, viewers of McGowan’s videos follow her as she thrifts, decorates, bakes and declutters. The 25-year-old’s bubbly personality shines through in each video, and she takes pride in creating content that’s relatable to her audience, giving them advice that’s easy to follow.
“My demographic is primarily females ages 24 to 36, who I assume are homeowners or renters…people that live on their own and want to know how to set their homes up in easy, affordable ways,” says McGowan. “And that’s what I like to do. I don’t live a super fancy life and I like finding cost-effective ways to decorate, so why not share them?”
McGowan graduated from Sheridan’s Interior Design program, kick-starting her career with an internship at a design firm. Although she wasn’t focusing on her own social following at the time, she’d often make cameos in her boyfriend’s videos —a popular YouTuber in his own right. McGowan’s bright and genial personality shone through in the videos, and friends eventually convinced her to set up a channel of her own.
McGowan remembers trying to find her niche in those first few videos, posting about everything from yoga challenges to makeup routines before finding her groove with home décor and lifestyle.
“My mistake starting out was just trying to do anything to be seen… I was trying out all the YouTube trends when my major interest was is in home design and décor,” she explains. “It really took off when I made the transition to almost exclusively design and DIY. People could see that I was genuinely excited about what I was talking about, and I think it really resonates with viewers when I’m inviting them into my home. It’s very personal.”
Room makeovers prove to be big hits for McGowan – “the whole point is to show viewers that if I can do it, they can do it” — and thanks to Marie Kondo, McGowan can count on big views for her organization videos. Her most popular video at the moment features Ikea home organization ideas. The video, posted about six months ago, has over four-million views.
The strength of McGowan’s following has led her to partner with companies such as Home Depot and LG Home Appliances – brands that integrate well with her home-focused content. Eventually, she hopes to be able to develop her own line of houseware products.
“I love that I’m able to create content and build a brand for myself while using the interior design skills I learned in school,” she says.
Blog: Below the Blonde
Amanda Weldon’s mantra is simple: make your own momentum.
“If you don’t have a door in front of you, you definitely have the tools to carve one,” she says.
Weldon practices what she preaches. Her ambition has helped open several doors throughout her career. Some days, she’s up at 2:30 a.m. to host The Weather Network’s morning show. Other evenings, you can find her at Coca-Cola Coliseum, acting as the in-game host for the Toronto Marlies. When she’s not on TV, Weldon manages Below the Blonde – a personal lifestyle, beauty and travel blog.
Below the Blonde was originally conceived as a portfolio piece. While earning a double major in biology and environmental biology at McMaster University, Weldon was drawn into the world of content creation, having started a YouTube channel and radio show that covered the McMaster Marauders athletic teams. She decided to change course, starting Below the Blonde to showcase her writing, photography and content when applying to Sheridan’s Journalism – New Media program.
Over the past four years, Below the Blonde has evolved into Weldon’s personal brand. She posts two to three videos per week on her YouTube channel, focusing on lifestyle, travel, and GRWM (Get Ready With Me) beauty tutorials. Weldon sees it as her practice playground – a way to experiment with different voices and try new things. It’s also proven to be a way for Weldon to develop a new career as a brand strategist – she’s working with a few clients to help them establish their own content strategies.
“You have to start by creating solid content for your own channels, because no one’s going to hire you to create for them if you have nothing to show,” she explains. “Your blog is never going to be a money-maker from the get-go, so if that’s your only goal, don’t start. It has to be a passion project first.”
Recently, Weldon linked with Air Canada Vacations after a PR rep came across one of her travel blogs. She and a group of journalists have traveled to places such Prague and Mexico, with Weldon vlogging the entire experience for her channel. “It set my soul on fire a bit because it would be easy to assume Air Canada found me because I’m on TV with The Weather Network, but it was because they liked my brand and the content I was producing,” she explains.
In 2019, Weldon was also recruited by Platform Media Management – a social marketing agency that’s’ worked with popular blogs such as The August Diaries and Jess Undecided. Platform connects influencers with companies that are relevant to their brand, but give content creators such as Weldon the freedom to decide which partnerships make the most sense for them. “You can ruin your brand overnight by dealing with a company you don’t believe in,” says Weldon. “I’m not going to curb my authenticity.”
Part of Weldon’s authentic image is about showcasing the behind-the-scenes reality of some of her posts. She’ll use the hashtag #impostingboth to be transparent about the set up behind that perfect Instagram shot. Plus, she’ll share influencer tips on her blog with posts such as “12 Instagram Story Hacks” and a series called BYOB (Be Your Own Boss).
“Whenever I’m making blogs, I think about the person at home who’s a bit lonely or doesn’t feel like they have someone to talk to. I was that girl once,” she explains. “I’m also creating it as a memory for myself. It’s nice to have time capsules to escape back to those memories I may have otherwise forgotten.”