By Sara Bliss
It all started with Twitter for Dummies. It was 2010 and Suysel dePedro Cunningham and Anne Maxwell Foster decided to join forces and launch their own New York-based interior design firm, Tilton Fenwick. A few years prior, Anne and Suysel had pivoted to the design world from advertising careers. To learn the trade, they both worked as assistants to established designers—Anne for Ashley Whittaker and Suysel for Markham Roberts. While Anne and Suysel had years of design expertise between them, they had been in relatively behind-the-scenes roles. To establish themselves publicly as design experts, plus get noticed by press and potential clients, the partners understood that social media could be an incredible tool. Cue the Twitter guide.
“All the magazines were really active on Twitter at the time, regularly hosting chats with hundreds of people in our industry at once,” explains Suysel. Over time, through online conversations, comments, retweets, follows, and DM’s, they were able to get on the radar of editors, design bloggers, designers, and manufacturers who began following them back and retweeting their insights. They used the platform to create their brand identity, sharing their design point of view. It only took them a few months before they landed thousands of followers.
In order to leverage their new connections however, they needed examples of their work as Tilton Fenwick. They started by co-designing Suysel’s house in Upstate New York making it Instagram-ready with lots of color and pattern—now their signature look. It wasn’t long before one of their Twitter connections, editor Michelle Adams, reached out to ask if they could submit a few projects for possible publication. They rushed to finish Suysel’s house, take photographs, and share them with her.
Within weeks, Tilton Fenwick were chosen as designers to watch in a collaboration between Lonny and Traditional Home magazines. Anne and Suysel completed their website, launched Instagram and Facebook pages, and started a blog—just in time for the attention the award brought them. “We knew the importance of a strong digital presence, when more established designers were still shunning social media. They would comment ‘It seems like a waste of time, what is the benefit?’” says Anne. “For us it has been incredible. Social media really opened doors and opportunities for us. It is absolutely what built our business.”
The press attention led to more social media followers and lots of clients. Suysel and Anne estimate 50% of their clients find them through social media. “Even if they discover us through a referral, they immediately go to Instagram to see our work,” says Anne.
As their followers and social media presence grew, brands took note and reached out for partnerships including Duralee where they now have a popular textile line and Target which launched a Tilton Fenwick capsule collection in 2014.
They have now shifted their focus to Instagram where they have 60,000 followers and an active community of design lovers. It was on IG where they discovered hip, online manufacturers Hygge & West which recently debuted a Tilton Fenwick line of wallpapers. “We direct messaged them on Instagram and asked to show them ideas for a wallpaper line,” explains Suysel. “We asked to meet in person and presented our designs which is what closed the deal. Social media only gets you so far and then you have to connect in real life.”
Here, Tilton Fenwick share their best advice for how to build a brand on social media:
- Target the right platforms. Not all social media platforms are created equal. Twitter is more of a conversation, best for sharing industry news or topics related to your brand. Facebook is similar to Twitter but with a much older audience. As a visual brand, we have found Instagram is our sweet spot that allows us share our projects and make connections with brands, editors, and clients. The key is to find the platform that will boost your profile and connect you with your target audience.
- Build a brand voice. Make sure that the images and content that you post is consistent with style and imagery of your brand. Consider it like an advertising tool kit and keep it uniform across all platforms.
- Post frequently. Post often to create engagement with your audience. On Instagram we try to post twice a week, however we post almost daily through IG stories to stay connected with our followers.
- Post visually compelling content. Use photo editing apps like Snapped to make your feed look more coherent, polished, and professional.
- Create a unique hashtag. It offers another way for people to find and share your work. Do your research and create a totally original hashtag.
- Mix it up. On Instagram, your main feed should be a snapshot of your overall brand. Use Instagram stories to highlight other companies, talent, and things you love. Don’t forget to tag the brand, creator, and photographer to help them get more followers as well.
- Separate business and personal. Unless you are a celebrity brand that is selling your lifestyle, it is better to keep the two separate and keep the attention on your brand message.
- Connect with influencers: Follow all the influencers in your industry and develop a meaningful conversation with them online. To get on their radar, comment and like their posts. Also post about their work and tag them. You can use DM’s to make an initial connection, but be respectful and only reach out once.
- Do it yourself. We do our own social media so that it’s our voice online, it’s our voice DMing, and it is consistent when we meet in person. For a more authentic voice it is better to control your social media platforms.
- Remember, that social media can only get you so far. Nothing replaces in-person meetings. We started our conversations with our wallpaper partner Hygge & West over Instagram, but it was when we met in person that our partnership was born.
Feature Image Credit: Anne Maxwell Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham of Tilton Fenwick Brittany Ambridge
By Sara Bliss
I am the author of Take the Leap; Change Your Career, Change Your Life which features 63 people who made radical life and career changes. Follow me on Twitter & Instagram.
I write about career pivots. I’ve interviewed everyone including, CEOs, celebrities, founders, athletes, and creatives for outlets like Travel & Leisure, Yahoo, The Wall Street Journal, and in my book Take the Leap: Change Your Career, Change Your Life (Touchstone, 2018). I noticed that the most successful people didn’t follow a linear path, but often had entirely different careers and lives beforehand. It’s a reminder that for many, success happens a little later, that you absolutely can reinvent your life.