“Storytelling is so powerful for building a brand, because people want to be able to connect on a level that’s deeper than just that surface level of images in a grid. We don’t want to just like a plate of food, we want to like the person who made that food too. Social media can either be fickle and shallow, or deep and full of conversation and inspiration, and storytelling is what opens it up to that deeper level.”
Meet influencer, photographer, illustrator and graphic designer Madeleine Lumley. We picked her brains on all things Instagram, influencing, storytelling, authenticity, nailing your visual flavour and much, much more. It’s real, it’s raw – and it’s an eye-opening read.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! My name’s Maddie, I’m a 23 year old graphic designer who lives in Sydney. I’m a big fan of tea and good chats, adventures, yoga, beautiful places and interesting faces. I run an Instagram over at @madeleinelumley, where I post a whole lot of my food and random musings.
You have an impressive social media following of almost 65k. Tell us a little bit about how you built up this audience?
It all happened incredibly organically, and somewhat accidentally. I love photography, I love creating and I love curating, so it just began as a creative outlet and grew from there. A few years ago I was travelling around Europe for four months and started posting my travel pics, and I suppose a solid handful of people started digging what I was sharing. Upon returning home, I became really interested in healthy food, and shortly after I became vegan, and so my account became a reflection of that growing interest and it all grew from there.
How did you get started as an influencer, and tell us a little about when you realised that your creativity was worth something more than just products?
Well with the rise and rise of social media and its reach and impact, companies and brands obviously cottoned onto the power of the social media influencer in terms of marketing. I didn’t really seek out being an influencer, but it more just came with the territory of having a solid following on Instagram and being approached by different brands because that. It’s still such a new scene though, and I think there are still a lot of grey areas, and I definitely have little struggles with knowing how much my creativity is worth on Instagram. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media and have always been quite critical of it, and I think as a result I’ve always kept whatI do outside of Instagram and what I do on Instagram as two separate senses of creativity, two distinct personal creative identities. I feel very content in my creativity outside of Instagram, and know its worth something bigger (hence why graphic design and illustration is my chosen career!) but chuck me up on the fast-paced, ruthless world of Instagram and I’m a little more wary. Does that answer your question? Not really, but Instagram musings 4eva.
You’ve always been very open on your social media about your struggles with self-esteem and body-image. Can you talk about your experience with storytelling and why it’s so powerful for building a brand?
Social media is a many pronged fork in terms of the influence it can hold over young people and their self-perceptions. It’s so easy to get lost in the world of beautiful bikini bodies or glowing healthy salad-eating vegans or glowing fast-food eating models and curse the world and say WHY DON’T I LOOK LIKE THAT? So we can pretend our lives are peachy and we’re always healthy and we love ourselves flaws and all, and through doing so contribute to that unrealistic social media world that just makes us all feel like we’re not enough, or we can be honest and share our struggles and be real and through doing so contribute to a separate side of social media; one which opens up discussion, provides food for thought, and creates a supportive community. Storytelling is so powerful for building a brand, because people want to be able to connect on a level that’s deeper than just that surface level of images in a grid. We don’t want to just like a plate of food, we want to like the person who made that food too. Social media can either be fickle and shallow, or deep and full of conversation and inspiration, and storytelling is what opens it up to that deeper level. In saying that, I’m a relatively private person and sometimes sharing more than just my breakfast can feel like a bit of a struggle if I’m not in a great space mentally. I think it’s all about striking a balance in terms of what we share and what we withhold; and that’s the art of storytelling!
How do you go about refining your aesthetic and nailing your digital flavour? Instagram has over 800 million users—on a crazy saturated platform, what makes your content stand out from the rest?
It’s such a cliche, but on a platform of over 800 million users, the only way you’re going to get by is through authenticity. Draw inspiration from others, but then take that inspiration and go and do something uniquely you with it; people can feel your vibe, so have faith in it. If you scroll through any beautiful feed on Instagram, you can literally see their visual aesthetic getting more and more refined as time has gone by, and I think that’s a really beautiful process to witness. Finding your personal style takes time, have fun with it in the meantime!
Is it important for you to partner with businesses that align with you and your brand? Can you talk a little bit about why honesty and transparency is imperative as an influencer?
Absolutely, I only ever partner up with businesses that have similar values to me. My Instagram isn’t a business to me, it’s a personal reflection of who I am and my interests, so to promote something that I don’t believe in or something that I don’t personally feel comfortable using/eating/having doesn’t make any sense. As we discussed earlier, storytelling is incredibly powerful on social media in terms of building a brand, building a connection, starting conversations, and if you’re not being honest and transparent then that story that you’ve built up around your brand will feel inauthentic.
The new Instagram algorithms have made for some pretty testing times for creatives, how have you mitigated this?
Real talk: the Instagram algorithms suck. They really do. And they mostly suck because, as far as I can tell, there’s not a whole lot you can do about them. And as far as I’m aware, they reward content that is the same as other content, rather than encouraging creative curating and creation. I’ve mitigated this by doing a lot of work on learning to let go, by not focusing on likes or reach, and by continuing to create purely for myself. It makes me sad knowing that a lot of self-employed creatives and brands who rely on social media for exposure have suffered so much, but here’s hoping it’ll all flip around at some point.
You’ve recently finished a graphic design degree—how much does your Instagram act as a catalyst for your success in attracting business?
Yep, I’m a self-employed freelance graphic designer, illustrator, photographer and all round creative, which I’ve been doing all year since finishing uni at the end of last year (you can see my work here). While a number of jobs that I’ve been working on over the course of the year have happened organically and because of real world connections, Instagram has definitely been instrumental in attracting quite a few of the clients that I’ve worked with. Its such a powerful tool in terms of reaching out to wider audiences and sharing your style and work, but I don’t actually use my Instagram as a platform for sharing my design work. But I probably should. But this is the curse of the algorithm, because if I did, it would probably reach about a fraction of the people that a smoothie bowl would. Alas!
Tell us a few of your favourite collaborations, and a few incredible opportunities that have arisen from your platform to date.
I’m an ambassador for The Source Bulk Foods, who are one of my favourite businesses that I get to consistently work with. They’re waste-free, plastic-free bulk wholefoods stores all around Australia, and they’re all about working towards a zero-waste, more sustainable future and I couldn’t love that more. Collaborating with the Asia Collective whilst I was in Bali was pretty amazing too; they organised a bunch of amazing luxury accommodation for me and partner and we stayed in some pretty amazing places that we definitely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford!
You’ve recently spoken about your love-hate relationship with social media—can you talk a little more about this? How do you balance the downfalls and the drawbacks with the positives and opportunities the platform presents?
Yeah I don’t hide the fact that I often struggle with social media and its role in our society. As we discussed earlier, it’s very easy to lose yourself in the over saturated world of content, posts, other people’s lives. But at the end of the day, it’s all about how you use it and your personal attitude towards it; you’re the only one who can take responsibility for you! There are so many positives to Instagram, so I guess it’s just about focusing on and appreciating those. And it’s definitely important to know when to just switch off and give yourself a break (which should be more regularly than not).
Social media can be a bit of a time and energy suck, and for those of us who are tangled deep in it day after day, it can be a bit mentally draining. How do you manage balance, when you always have a device that connects you to your work within arm’s reach?
This is a constant WIP for me too but as I said before, it’s so important to know when to switch off and give yourself a break, and also to remember that you take responsibility for you! We get to choose every day, multiple times a day, how we’re going to live our lives, what energy we’re going to give out and take back, and taking responsibility for those choices is paramount. When it comes down to it, your mental health, your physical health, and your zest for life are the most important things and keeping that in mind and not allowing technology to get in the way of that is the best way to maintain balance.
Can you leave us with your favourite, inspiring, earth-shaking, soul-nourishing quote that any creative can look to for inspiration in a creative pickle?
“And so I choose love. I choose to feel. I choose to remain open and to allow light inside, to let life inside, to accept that I am a dynamic being and I am here to grow... Just be. That’s the lesson, I think. Just be, now, all is good. You’ll know when you have to swim. And how wonderful that you’ll know how to.”