Have you ever followed someone on social media and been lowkey obsessed with how their life is just so visually aesthetic all the time? That pretty much sums up my feelings toward Kate Gilliam (@kateheartscake) and her Instagram. I was thrilled when she readily agreed to a coffee date to chat about her journalism background, prior internships and jobs, and of course, her role as a social media specialist at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. Spoiler: her life actually is just as cool as it looks on Instagram.
GET TO KNOW KATE GILLIAM
Q: Before we dive into your role of social media with Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, can you talk about what else you have on your plate professionally?
A: I’m currently working full-time in real estate appraisal, and before that I was working in publishing for a medical science publisher called Elsevier out in Maryland Heights. Although it is completely different from anything I’ve done before it uses a lot of the same skills like attention to detail, being proactive, being inquisitive, being flexible, things like that. It sounded really interesting and around January I’ll have been doing it for two years.
Q: So you like it then, even though it’s not a traditional communication-related role?
A: I do! It is much more challenging than I thought. As a journalism major, my brain leans more toward the artistic side and not as much the math side which I struggle with a lot. I’d rather be more challenged though instead of not challenged enough.
CHOOSING A CAREER PATH IN THE COMMUNICATION SPHERE
Q: Since you mentioned it, what were some of the primary reasons for choosing journalism?
A: I always liked writing but I wasn’t sure at the time what I would do with an English degree, other than teach. I like talking to people too. While I was in journalism school at Mizzou my interests morphed into the design aspect of things. My mom is a freelance illustrator and has been all my life, so I also had a visual interest in design from her. I majored specifically in magazine design for journalism because I gravitated more toward the layout and how you tell a story visually and use the content to dictate your design.
I think that’s also why I’m so interested in social media, particularly Instagram above all the others. I mean Twitter is whatever for me. I see it more as a vehicle for information.
Q: Do you feel like you have unlimited opportunities because you chose this type of career path?
A: I think communication skills affect everything. I would tell anyone to avoid looking at any opportunity as something they’re not qualified for. You’ve got to figure out to sell yourself as long as you’re not setting yourself up for failure by getting in way over your head. I really do think people need to do more thinking outside the box about potential careers or opportunities, or even volunteer positions that could lead somewhere in your spare time.
It can be overwhelming and I think sometimes people see where they are and where they want to be, and get lost in between. That doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve started over before at entry level and I think you can always change things up if that’s what you want to do.
Q: If you could do things over again, would you still have chosen journalism as a career path?
A: Oh yeah. I feel like all of your experiences bring you to where you are, and that you need to take what you’ve learned and figure out how they make you an asset anywhere.
LIFE AFTER GRADUATION, THE VALUE OF INTERNSHIPS & BEING A WORKING WOMAN
Q: Where were you career-wise after graduation?
A: After graduation I interned at Sauce Magazine, before Feast was around, so it was forever ago. Over the summer I was an editorial intern and then I became a columnist. During my internship there used to be a column called Secret Ingredient where they would talk to unsung figures in the restaurant industry. While I was interning that summer, the person doing that column left and I was like, “Well I can just keep doing this!” So, I became a columnist for that and then a freelance writer for them as well. I was also interning with Louie Magazine.
Q: I remember Louie! I don’t think they’re still around though, are they?
A: No, they’re not. If you went to high school here you probably know what Louie is, but basically it was for high school students and they had a teen staff of writers, photographers, event coordinators, and I was the editor-in-chief and art director for them. I would organize all the content, plan it, schedule it, but the kids would write most of it and then I would design the issue.
Q: Looking back on those experiences, how valuable do you think your internships were for you?
A: That’s the number one thing I would encourage for kids to do when I was at Louie! I was always telling them, “You need to have actual internship experience after you graduate or you won’t get a job. You’ll have to do your internships after you’ve graduated.”
Q: What was next for you career-wise?
A: Well I did take a break and worked at The Container Store for a while, but that’s not on my LinkedIn. Louie was actually on its way to folding so I left and it was the year that The Container Store came to St. Louis. I was actually writing a back to school article and I was using that store as an example of how to prepare and I decided to just work there for a little while.
Q: How did you go about finding your next challenge?
A: The whole time I was at The Container Store I was contributing to Girls with Dreams so there wasn’t a gap in my actual field. If you were to look at my resume, there weren’t any breaks in my professional field and that’s something that was very important to me. I didn’t want to be asked what I was doing for three years and only have retail as an answer.
I ended up finding a job at Elsevier as an editorial assistant. It was an entry level position. It was a pay cut too because The Container Store did pay really well, but just recognizing the potential for that position was key.
Q: I think sometimes people in this industry forget to consider potential for growth with companies, but it sounds like you did your homework on that one?
A: Yes, absolutely. I was promoted every year I was with Elsevier. Potential to grow is important.
Q: What type of projects were you working on with Elsevier as an editorial assistant?
A: I started on the print side, working with textbooks and things like that, and then joined a team working with simulations. Elsevier does these web-based simulations for nurses, taking them through things they’ll experience in real life.
My team reworked a nursing product to make it appropriate for medical assistant students, from an inpatient environment to an outpatient environment. The web-based simulation started at the front desk with paperwork and scheduling, then exam room documentation, and then coding and billing after the patient has left. We worked with subject matter experts that were medical assistants, or professors who had been medical assistants. They could tell us how a certain screen was supposed to look, what options a drop down menu needed to include and what forms looked like.
Q: As someone that didn’t have a medical expert background, how difficult was it for you to take your skills and apply it to an area you weren’t super familiar with?
A: That actually wasn’t difficult at all because of the workflow of working for a publisher in general. All of the material came from our authors or subject matter experts, so they would tell us what the content needed to be and then we would reshape it into a format for a student to easily understand.
Q: From your perspective, if a college student is looking at a position they’re not 100% qualified for, should they still apply for it?
A: I would always say even if you see a position that seems overwhelming or that you think you might not be fully qualified for, just apply anyway. Absolutely apply. I do feel – and this is going to get a bit political – that women tend to hit that obstacle and they need to overcome it. I guess it’s a little bit of faking it ‘til you make it but obviously don’t lie and say you’re an expert and show up on your first day knowing nothing.
THE LIFE OF A SOCIAL MEDIA SPECIALIST AT URBAN CHESTNUT BREWING COMPANY
Q: Let’s get into your current role with Urban Chestnut. How did you end up becoming a social media specialist for them?
A: While I was at Elsevier I decided to get a part-time job just for fun. That’s what Urban Chestnut started out being for me. My first job ever was bussing. The first time I ever visited the Grove location it was super busy and I saw the bussers and thought it looked really easy and – yeah, I just applied!
Q: Just for fun?
A: Yes! Plus you feel kind of detached if you have a 9-5 desk job so I was also looking for some involvement in the community as well. What better neighborhood to do that in than the Grove? I actually approached them about contributing to social media. Traditionally the path you take is moving up to a shift manager or something, but that just wasn’t possible for me.
Q: How does social media scheduling work at Urban Chestnut?
A: We have a full-time person in the office. He does more of the Facebook and Twitter posts, and any of the really, really good photography you might see. He does our video stuff too. We do all have a shared calendar with yearly, monthly, weekly and daily content. We use Hootsuite as well. All of the content is first approved, then we plan it in Hootsuite and it gets sent out.
Q: What are your thoughts on using Hootsuite for scheduled content?
A: I think there was some worry at first because there’s always that concern about a disconnect with genuine content tone. I believe social media is a lot of following what’s currently happening, so we didn’t want scheduled content to take away some of that voice, and thankfully it hasn’t. We can edit the scheduled posts too if something suddenly happens in the community which is really important.
Q: As far as analyzing and monitoring content, how does that process work?
A: Joe, the full-time social media guy, handles most of that. It is something we watch but I don’t think we really pay for any services. We’ve actually been approached by a lot of services even offering to follow and unfollow people for us or selling followers which I think is the most obnoxious practice in social media. We just want to grow our audience organically and be dictated by our content. If people like what we put out there, they’ll probably follow us.
Q: Have you noticed any trends on what seems to engage Urban Chestnut’s followers the most?
A: Any pictures with animals get tons of likes, especially dogs. We do use a moderate amount of hashtags, but not hashtags just to use hashtags. We use relevant ones specific to the content we’re posting.
Q: Do you have goals in mind for social media engagement at Urban Chestnut?
A: We’re really just promoting ourselves as a supplementary tool. After we started being approached by these crazy services I did revisit with Urban Chestnut just to make sure I was understanding what their goal is for social media. I wanted to make sure we weren’t on social media just to get more followers, but we’re there to form connections with our customers and keep them in the loop on what’s going on with Urban Chestnut.
Q: Have you ever had to deal with trolling?
A: Not really, which is awesome. I’d have to attribute that to our employees because they’re really who people experience at our locations. I feel like we don’t have much trolling because we have such good employees.
We just had Oktoberfest the last weekend of September and there weren’t really any social media complaints the entire time, even though we were prepared for them since another local brewery had recently gotten some backlash for long lines at a tasting event. We’re obviously very supportive of all breweries in St. Louis, so we all recognize that it could have happened to any of us.
Q: How would you have handled social media backlash if that had happened to you guys?
A: If someone is unhappy, it’s always helpful to address the situation. If it’s a valid concern or misunderstanding you should definitely take the opportunity to address it or clarify it.
At Oktoberfest we hadn’t been prepared for how many people showed up and we ran out of our logoed steins, and then we just ran out of steins altogether. That was something we were very proactive about on social media though even leading up to the event and we were already encouraging people to bring their own steins. Someone did post about not getting a logoed stein but we responded and he was blown away and it turned into a positive experience for us because of how quickly we responded and corrected it.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA OUTSIDE OF WORK
Q: Taking a step away from Urban Chestnut’s social media, let’s focus on your personal social media for a bit. Do you have any goals in using Instagram, for instance?
A: I primarily started Instagramming a lot because I love St. Louis so much and I wanted to share what I was out doing. I don’t think there really are any rules for how frequently you should post. I’d take timing rules with a grain of salt and do what works for you or your brand. If I post more than once a day it’s because that’s what I’m living!
Q: Do you ever do belated content, like sharing pictures a few days later? Or sharing multiple posts at once during an event?
A: Sure, sometimes I do belated content but I’d say I’m more of an in the moment sharer. I used to go to pop up dinners and I’d post a picture of every dish, like with the Feast Your Eyes program at Contemporary Art Museum. It’s one of my favorite events in St. Louis. A local chef basically makes a five-course meal based on the current exhibition and it’s really cool. So I’d post every dish because I feel like part of my journalistic background is about telling a story.
People should gain a sense of where you are based on your photos, or a sense of beginning to end of what you’re doing. You could expand that approach to your day in general but I like that story feel.
Q: All of your photos seem to visually flow together – is that intentional?
A: No, I think it just happens! I guess they all have a lot of color. It’s not planned but I do stage my shots especially if I’m eating out with other Instagrammers. If I’m out with people who aren’t Instagram addicts though it’s funny because they’ll stop reaching for the food if they see me get my phone out, but I’m like, “No go ahead! I need that hand in the frame for the action shot!” I’ve started just saying, “Keep living your life!”
Q: Where do you see yourself going with social media in the future?
A: For me, it’s a fun hobby. I think if I did it full-time I wouldn’t enjoy it. I have determined about myself that I need to keep my creative pursuits in a hobby space so they can stay fun and enjoyable and they’re not my main source of income. That strips all the joy out of it for me. I like having a 9-5 office job because then I can play outside of that.
FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM
If you had to give one piece of advice for current students in a communication-related field, what would you say?
I can’t stress enough the importance of having actual experience when you graduate. Not only will it help you find a job like I said earlier, it will make you more prepared to make a good impression in that future job because you never know who people you work with know, what impression you’ll leave on them. Starting out the gate from graduation with experience under your belt is just going to accelerate your career. You might not necessarily have to have an entry level position, and if you do, you’ll quickly outgrow it and get promoted and excel. Even if experience is unpaid, do it. All of mine were unpaid. Payment is not always monetary.
If you’re now lowkey obsessed with Kate too, you can connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter. You can also see what she’s up to at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company on their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. This lovely lady also has wedding bells in her future and is on the hunt for the perfect wedding hashtag for her and her man, Eric Pogue – send her some ideas, and perhaps she’ll pour you a beer the next time you’re at the Urban Chestnut Grove location!