Social Media Strategy: Juila Chesky On Producing Real-Time Content for Brands

March 11, 2019

By David Walker

Photographer Julia Chesky thinks like a client about social media. A 2008 graduate of Parsons School of Design, she initially worked as a social media director for several companies and brands. At the same time, she developed her photographic style, shooting for herself and posting the images to her own social media feeds. For the past several years, she has worked as a freelance social media producer, shooting photos and videos for the social feeds of various brands.

“I really enjoy telling stories that play out in my head and live and die on a camera roll for most people. My work ends up translating well on social platforms overall, and that’s why clients hire me,” Chesky says.

Those clients include Samsung, Dick Clark Productions, T-Mobile, Nars Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and Alice + Olivia, to name a few. Chesky worked as a freelance social media producer for Dick Clark Productions at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards. One of the sponsors was T-Mobile, and Chesky made connections with Conill, the LA-based digital agency that handles social media campaigns for T-Mobile, Toyota, and others. Conill hires her four or five times a year to shoot ephemeral social media content—using DSLRs as well as cellphones—at various sponsored events.


“She has incredible expertise. She became a master in Snapchat, so we’re often tapping Julia to do Snap stories and Instagram Stories” for Conill clients, says Andy Nelson, SVP/director of social media at Conill. “We hired Julia last year for 20 days total to shoot every single Instagram Story from a brand’s sponsored music festivals in the United States.”

This past December, fashion brand Alice + Olivia held a launch party for a new line of clothing featuring Keith Haring’s designs. They hired Chesky to cover the event, and post videos and photos on A+O social feeds during the party. Clients often post lengthy slideshows of such events, but Chesky wanted to take a different approach: “I didn’t want this to be a 70-image click-through story that people lose interest in.” So she shot video, and put together a series of 15 social posts, each made up of video clips under ten seconds in length. Chesky used InShot, the video and photo editing app, to assemble the videos on the fly. The final videos consisted of a few short clips, combined “to make a more dynamic story” that people might be inclined to sit and watch “instead of skipping, skipping, skipping” through separate Instagram Story elements, she explains.

Chesky ended up specializing in social media because it satisfies her need to document spontaneously—and compulsively. She started a Tumblr in 2009, and still updates it with images of her life in New York City. She embraced Snapchat after it launched in 2011, and credits that platform with training her eye and her instincts. She continues to post on Snapchat every day— “just pictures from my phone without any thought…whatever weird observation, crazy outfit, chic outfit, building, puddle, dog, shoe, fake handbag….It’s really about the process of taking a picture to remember something a little longer, or to share in hopes someone else will find it interesting or inspiring.”


Chesky also uses Instagram, although she’s less enthusiastic about that platform. “I can’t be as spontaneous with Instagram Stories,” she explains, noting that she’s also an Android user. “Maybe it’s the user interface, maybe it’s the camera response. When I do use Instagram I generally just update from my camera roll. With Snapchat it’s very aggressively live.”

But since launching its Stories feature, Instagram has been eclipsing Snapchat. And Chesky’s clients are hiring her to shoot and post images to their Instagram feeds. Often, they call on her to document “activations,” the attention-getting marketing events that can be either stand-alone (like the aforementioned Alice + Olivia event) or held on the sidelines of entertainment events and festivals.

“When clients [sponsor] these high-octane events like Coachella and Lollapalooza, they [hire] me because I can deliver instantaneous results,” Chesky says. They’re looking for editorial-like images that aren’t “overthought,” Chesky explains. “They’re so used to a production of 20 people. And I show up with a cellphone and I’m like, OK, here’s 30 shots. And everyone looks at me like: How did you get it so fast? And it’s already live.”

At a day-long activation, clients may ask Chesky to shoot stills and video to produce several stories, she explains. The creative conversation is around conveying the experience to consumers. “Clients will say, ‘Here’s the idea, go find what you can, and if you find something better, go with that.”

At the Coachella festival in 2017 for instance, Chesky proposed a series of social media posts for T-Mobile: portraits of concert-goers, combined with POV video clips showing their concert experiences. “The clients loved the idea. We were able to do it on the fly, ” Chesky says. Because she didn’t have a media pass, Chesky couldn’t shoot with a DSLR, so she shot portraits with her smartphone. For the POV video clips, she provided Snapchat Spectacles to the portrait subjects.

Whatever the assignment, Chesky says, “The goal is to entertain, the goal is to show a unique point of view, the goal is to do something that’s just a little different. At least that’s been my personal goal, thankfully aligning with my clients’ goals, which are mostly the same.” 

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