Armed with a camera and standing on her granite kitchen countertop, wellness and nutrition blogger Michelle Hoover hovers over her latest masterpiece to get the perfect shot.
Hoover has reached over a million people with her autoimmune protocol, Whole30 and Paleo recipes via her blog, UnboundWellness.com. Her recipes are a labor of love, but they are also created out of necessity. At 17 years old, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid.
Hashimoto's affects 14 million people in the United States alone, and women are 7 times more likely to have Hashimoto's than men. Because of this, Hoover thought she would be able to find online communities tailored to living with Hashimoto's and other autoimmune diseases. Instead, she found nothing.
Photo by Justin James
“I just felt so isolated. I felt like nobody in the world could relate to me," says Hoover. “I knew that all these women had this problem, I just didn't know where to find them."
After years of dealing with aversive symptoms, she decided it was time for a lifestyle change, and created her blog to document the process. Now a multi-faceted media brand, Hoover has been able to share her story while creating the online community she once sought after.
A diagnosis doesn't automatically initiate behavior changes. An answer to her mystery symptoms of fainting, heart palpitations and weight fluctuation came when she was 17, but Hoover did not start taking her health seriously until she was 23.
Hoover was afraid that making lifestyle changes revolving around her autoimmune disease would drastically alter the way she was living. As a young woman, she wanted to remain independent while continuing to eat the foods she grew up loving. “I knew that diet was highly correlated with autoimmune disease, but I just never wanted to commit because I love food so much," says Hoover. “I was afraid of giving up gluten and giving up dairy because I was so set in my mind that I could not live a life that was fun and spontaneous and social if I wasn't able to walk into a party and eat pizza."
Her turning point came when she was faced with the threat of emergency surgery. Years of constant inflammation was wearing her body down, so she decided to do whatever she could to experience a full life. “That shift in mindset is what really helped me to be able to experience better health, that's what led me to start my blog," she says.
Unbound Wellness came to life in 2015. At first, it was a doubt-filled personal hobby that mirrored the limited mindset Hoover experienced when she was first diagnosed with Hashimoto's.
Her doubts started to shed nine months in, when she created a post about weight gain, a Hashimoto's symptom that challenges many women with the condition. “It wasn't until I saw hundreds of people sharing on commenting on it that I thought, my story does mean something to people and I can contribute something valuable to the conversation, even if I'm not the only person who has gone through this," says Hoover.
“I think nailing down your brand and making it really personal no matter what you're doing is key. Your customers are people, and people relate to a story." Photo by Karla Janneth
Around the same time, she created a recipe that now has over 111K shares on Facebook and Pinterest: Healing turmeric AIP balls. “The concept of making healing food fun and easy and being real, I saw those things really resonating with people. I started to run with it.
At my core, that's what I really wanted to do, I just didn't know anyone wanted to hear it."
Today, Hoover's recipes and blog posts garner over 2.6M monthly viewers on Pinterest. But more than that, she engages with her community in a way that inspires them to heal themselves through food.
“You need to have that core of a personal brand and constantly keep your eyes and ears on what is working and what you can improve on," says Hoover. “I always ask myself, how can I serve people in a way that is easy for people to consume?"
To scale her brand, Hoover launched other business initiatives outside the traditional blog outlet. She became a certified nutritional consultant and saw clients one-on-one, wrote an e-book and began a nutrition podcast. “I feel like to make in in this online content world, you can't depend on just one platform," she says. “If you want to build a brand where people really connect with you, you have to meet them on multiple levels."
Hoover says it wasn't until the second year of Unbound Wellness that she realized she could make a full-time salary from it. She was already doing sponsored posts from smaller brands who sought her out, but wasn't taking Unbound Wellness to its full potential.
“I decided that I was getting enough traffic to where I can seek out sponsorship opportunities and work with premium ad networks," says Hoover. “Once I started seeing those numbers I thought, oh, I can actually do this."
There are a lot of steps that need to be taken to captivate an audience and turn it into a monetization strategy. For Hoover, that has involved staying true to her niche of serving the autoimmune community and putting herself at the forefront. It has also meant being proactive about brand relations.
Hoover is about to launch a second e-book and hoping to expand it into group coaching. She is also coaching other nutritional therapy practitioners and bloggers about developing and expanding their business.
Some advice for those getting serious about the blogging business: It takes time to get noticed. Time and creativity, especially within the food and nutrition space, says Hoover.
“You have to get crazy creative. Which is hard. I was nightshade free for months and months, so I figured out how to make a nightshade free marinara sauce. I just made a recipe today on zucchini enchiladas. There's always a way."
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.