Above: Katy Esquivel strikes a pose at the landmark Notting Hill Bookshop in London, a crucial pitstop for the incurably romantic. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
I met Katy Esquivel in April 2016 while on a launch junket with Huawei in London. Mixed in as I normally am with journalists from Latin America, I was in a bubble of Spanish-speakers in the middle of the cradle of the English language.
Katy took pity on my situation and made it her business to translate summaries of bits of conversation and to chat with me as the group moved around. At one lunch overlooking the Thames, we were looking at each other’s photos taken on the phones distributed at the event and I saw one, shot just an hour before, with more than 50,000 likes on Instagram.
I turned to her with an arched eyebrow and asked very quietly, “What is it that you do, exactly?” Esquivel has a wildly successful and popular YouTube channel dedicated to beauty. The Peruvian fashion maven joined the service on August 05, 2011 and now commands 3,489,191 subscribers with a total of 267,676,478 views as of this posting.
WhatTheChic began four years ago, when Esquivel was 23 years old. “t was a really hard decision because I didn’t know if my channel was gonna be successful or not,” she says, “but I’m happy I took the risk.
How did you get involved with YouTube in particular and social media generally?
I started making YouTube videos as a hobby. I was a student in USA, and I wasn’t allowed to work so I had a lot of free time to invest in personal projects. I also was a very lonely and shy girl because of some bullying experiences I’d had in the past, so I decided to use the Internet as therapy to be more confident and reach out to other girls with the same problem.
It wasn’t planned at all, that’s what I like the most. I never had an intention to make a business out of this and honestly, I keep considering it a hobby, just with more responsibilities.
I had no experience related to producing digital content, and I think it is still a topic quite new to South America. Everything I learned and keep discovering is based on trial and error.
How did you decide to settle on beauty reporting from a first person perspective. Was that an intuitive decision?
Well, I think my beginning was pretty organic since I have always had a huge interest in the beauty world. Because I was the youngest and only girl in my family so I had no one to talk to about girl’s stuff. So when I started my YouTube channel I decided to talk about something that I felt comfortable with, beauty!
I wasn’t planning to become a YouTube star, I just wanted to spend my free time sharing one of my interests and trying to become someone more confident.
You seem to favour YouTube and Instagram, how did you decide to focus your online presence on those two platforms?
In my opinion, the most important aspect to consider when you work in social media, is your audience. You must be 100% attentive to what your followers comment, like and share. This is how I realised that my engagement was stronger on YouTube and Instagram than my other social media accounts.
One of the Internet’s most powerful tools or benefits that other media can’t offer is the immediate feedback. It was very helpful for me because I could know right the way if the content I posted worked out or not. The feedback led me to focus more on those two platforms.
Your audience will literally tell you what they will like to see and where. What has the experience been like for you? The experience has been unreal. If 6 years ago someone had told me I would make digital content for living, which I love, I would not believe it!
I feel so lucky working on WhatTheChic, it has given me so many amazing opportunities and allowed me to meet wonderful people all over the world. The Internet moves really fast so it’s a job that requires a lot of commitment. But it gives you a lot of exposure and makes you very relatable to your audience which is a major window to transfer to other markets, including the traditional.
Has posting to online platforms offered you any new opportunities?
Actually, right now I’m working on many proposals that involve moving my content from the digital world to the real life, These are projects that are more tangible.
Sometimes, influencers underestimate the power they have and don’t explore their work as much as they should, and I believe this happens because the majority of us didn’t start what we do with the aim of turning it into a business. So it’s really crucial to not only evolve in the digital market but also in other markets.
What would you describe as the key things you have learned from the experience so far?
I have learned that working on social media isn’t as easy at it seems because we do on our own work that companies do in huge teams. Most people underestimate my work because they still see me as the girl that makes videos in her room, and not as the owner of a successful digital content business.
On the other hand, this experience has give me the chance to improve other skills besides my creative ones. Because, even if it’s my job to come up with ideas and new content, it’s also my job to run a business that involves way more than uploading videos every week.
This interview is part of the final installment in the Journalism 2017 series of columns about the state of the Fourth Estate in T&T today.