When it comes to what makes people laugh, there’s only a handful of people and things we can all agree are universally hilarious. Luvvie Ajayi may be one of those select few.
Her blog Awesomely Luvvie is a must-read for pop-culture junkies / anyone who loves a good laugh. Before Black Twitter started taking fools to task, there was Luvvie writing hilarious blog post after blog post against parents who name their kids “stupidly” and, most recently, the blatantly racist Deadline Hollywood writer upset over the rise in “ethnic casting.”
Luvvie does more than make us laugh, though. She’s incredibly insightful, too, as seen in her essay that put into words the anger we all felt after Ferguson. A digital strategist almost as long as she’s been a blogger (12 years), Luvvie recently launched Awesomely Techie to share her insights on all things digital for freelancers, entrepreneurs, or anyone who wants to step their tech game up. She’s also dedicated herself to HIV/AIDS education through her nonprofit Red Pump Project, now in its sixth year, and has plans to write a book and do more public speaking.
Since the 29-year-old has such a way with words, you may be surprised that she didn’t set out to be a humor writer. “I’ve always gotten positive reinforcement about my writing,” she tells mater mea, “but I didn’t even consider it as a career.”
Luvvie tells us how she went from being a psych major on her way to grad school to becoming the voice behind the “best humor blog EVER,” and shares the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Did you always know you wanted to be in online media and social media or was that something that you fell into?
I fell into it. My college degree is in psychology, so this is all kind of by accident. I started blogging in 2003. This was out of peer pressure to do it because my friends all had blogs. They were like, “You should get one, too.”
When I graduated from college, I basically started writing less about myself and my boring college life in undergrad and just started talking about my opinions on pop culture and randomness. My blog took off from there.
You started your blog in 2003. What took you off of the path to Luvvie Ajayi, psychologist?
I graduated from college; I had a marketing internship and I loved it. I was doing that and blogging at the same time. I think I just went with the flow of the universe.
My marketing work has always focused around digital. I’ve typically been the person that introduces the organizations that I work for to social media. When I ended up getting laid off in 2010 from my job in the nonprofit space, I basically just moved what I was doing for our clients to doing it for myself [and] for personal clients. I was already doing and teaching social media strategies professionally, so I [thought], I can actually do this as a consulting business.
How did you go about getting your first clients?
I was my first client. Everything that I’ve done—everything that I teach—I’ve done for myself first. People understand that I come with receipts.
I was helping friends out, then they would tell somebody else, and word of mouth really got around for me. My clients would [say], “Oh, I know somebody that can help you with that.”
How did you find your blogging voice?
My blogging voice is me. It’s my voice in real life. It’s how I speak. One of the best things people tell me is, “When I read your blog, I hear your voice.” I basically approach blogging as if I’m speaking to thousands of my best friends. It’s more conversational. I don’t want it to be something that sounds like I’m speaking at them instead of with them. Yeah, it’s my personality. It’s the way I approach life in general.
How have you gone about building your brand?
My blog really started taking off around 2008, and for sure 2009 was the turning point. I started paying more attention; before I wasn’t really into checking my traffic and I just thought people I actually knew were reading my blog. But people would comment—people I’ve never heard of—and I was like, Wow, I’m actually reaching other people.
Then in 2009 I won the Black Web Blog award [for] most popular humor blog, which really shocked me. I was nominated, but I didn’t think my blog was popular. I started paying more attention. That’s when I started writing more and people started responding.
What advice would you have for someone who looks to you and wants to have similar success with their blog?
I am not necessarily the best writer. I don’t necessarily think I am the funniest. I think I am where I am today because I was the one that stuck with it. I’ve been very consistent. A lot of people [who] started at the same time I did stopped blogging. So that consistency… It’s just seen results for me.
My integrity has always been a top value for me. If it doesn’t fit well with me or if it doesn’t align with my beliefs, I’m not doing it. People notice that; I’m not the person who’s willing to do anything just because money comes with it. My audience trusts me because of that.
In that vein, what are some personal branding tips you think every woman should know?
Your brand is basically what people expect of you. It’s what they are saying when you are not in the room. Whatever it is you want people to know you [for], whatever it is you want them to consider your signature, you just have to do it regularly. It needs to be done enough to where people can then learn to associate you with it.
So for example, I love the color red. That’s my favorite color, it’s my signature color. People associate me with the color red now. Not only do I have a nonprofit called the Red Pump Project, but red is on every one of my online properties. I wear a lot of red, too. So even something as simple as, say, a color can still be tied socially to you if people can associate that with you enough.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to be a self-employed entrepreneur?
One month you might get a big check, [but] you might be waiting another three months to get your next one. So making sure that you as a business person always operate as a business; that you are not overspending [but] saving the money that you have so when the tide is low and [you’re] still waiting on invoices to be paid, you’re not starving and eating ramen noodles.
How did you get involved in HIV/AIDS awareness work?
When I was in college I did a project on HIV/AIDS. I was doing research on it and I starting seeing the stats. I didn’t know it was that bad because people didn’t put it out front. People didn’t talk about HIV/AIDS. So when I started doing more research and finding out how it was affecting [our] communities, I was shocked.
So I decided to do the project and make it like an awareness show [to] talk about HIV/AIDS. In the process I met somebody who told me she had 20 cousins who were living with her grandmother in Malawi, Africa because they were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. That, for me, put a personal touch on it. Since then its been at my forefront.
I worked for a black AIDS nonprofit in Chicago. I wanted to do something around HIV/AIDS and red shoes. I approached a friend of mine who had a friend who had just told her that she was HIV positive. From this conversation we decided we should do something. National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was coming up; that’s March 10 every year. So [in 2009] we sent emails to our blogger friends [saying], “No matter what it is you typically talk about, can you dedicate your blog post to talk about HIV and post a picture of yourself?” And on March 10, 135 bloggers ended up doing this.
Red Pumps became a national nonprofit organization. We still do the Rock the Red Pump campaign, [which encourages women around the world to wear red shoes to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS]. But we also do events in five different communities around the country. Throughout the year we do workshops [and] education. We bring people into spaces that feel comfortable to them, and then we talk about HIV there. We have a fashion show; that’s one of our biggest shows of the year. And we honor a woman who is committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. So, the red shoes are a great conversation starter and once we get people’s attention we talk about this issue.
Where do you feel like you fit into this renaissance of black women’s voices in media?
Oh my goodness! I love all the black women who are creating such dope art right now, like dope TV, dope books. I’m loving it. I stand on their shoulders. They’re inspiring. They are leading by example. So, like Issa Rae. She inspired me because she created what she did not see. She literally became the change that she wanted to see. That pushes me forward. And I’m like, “Okay. If I don’t see it, I got to write it.”
What has been your biggest moment as an entrepreneur?
Maybe when Shonda Rhimes followed me on Twitter. I was like, “Oh my God, Shonda followed me!”
What do you love most about your work?
I love that I’m reaching people. That pushes me forward because sometimes you’re working in a vacuum [and] sometimes you might not feel like your work is getting anywhere. But I love the feedback I’ve been getting, when people tell me that I made their day or I made them smile while they are in the waiting room with their mom who has cancer. So, you know, just bringing joy and making people laugh.