When Jess Miller started blogging in 2010, she hadn’t set out to become a teen social media star, but when she happened upon the Tumblr username ‘Pizza’ – a single word with universal appeal, she found herself racking up followers faster than she could generate posts. Soon, brands wanted access to her audience of more than one million and she was making $10,000 per week. That was until Tumblr shut her account down without warning. Here the Deakin Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Commerce student shares what she learned from her time in the blogging spotlight.
When Jess started blogging, she was just having fun like most teens, putting off her homework and chatting to like-minded people. She wasn’t operating under the name Pizza, but as she moved from posting fashion pictures and started publishing ‘funny stuff’ she decided to re-brand. ‘It’s really hard to get a one-word username,’ she says. When Jess discovered that Pizza was available, she promptly ditched the account IWantMyFairyTaleEnding, which had attracted more than 93,000 followers. When she transferred over to Pizza, aged 15, Jess developed a clear strategy, posting pizza-related content and funny observations.
In 2014, Ellen DeGeneres ordered 20 large pizzas to the Oscars. Jess jumped on the opportunity, simply stating ‘did u guys see me at the Oscars.’ It was reblogged by young adult author John Green. But, she admits that as her fan base tipped over the million-follower mark, she began to find a self-consciousness that hadn’t been there before. ‘As I got more followers I’d think ‘are people going to like this’?’ Jess says. ‘It had never really hit me how many people were following. If it was 100 people I wouldn’t be fussed, but I realised I could offend someone,’ she adds. Jess ultimately decided she needed to be herself. She’d inevitably irritate some people, while delighting others. Her advice to aspiring bloggers is: ‘blog about whatever you want to blog about. There’ll be people who like what you do.’
'It had never really hit me how many people were following. If it was 100 people I wouldn’t be fussed, but I realised I could offend someone.'
Deakin University student
‘Advertising companies were contacting me,’ Jess says, recalling the peak of her success. At this point, aged 16, she realised she might be out of her depth. ‘I didn’t know who to ask about it – Mum had no idea,’ she adds. After some trial and error, she tried Google AdSense. It didn’t take long for her to monetise her blog and become the envy of her friends who were flipping burgers for cash like regular teens. Generating thousands while sitting in class might seem too good to be true – and it was. A company selling diet pills had approached Jess with a request to plant ads on her page – she accepted the cash and published the ads on her blog, unaware that this was against Tumblr’s policy.
Because the ads breached Tumblr’s policy; Tumblr administrators removed Pizza while Jess slept. She woke up to text messages and calls from friends telling her the blog had disappeared. ‘It was the biggest shock, I hadn’t seen it coming,’ Jess recalls. But her Mum offered little sympathy. She simply said, ‘bad luck, you’re going to school.’ With that, Jess switched her focus back to finishing her final year and getting into university. ‘Now I have a job at a movie theatre, popping popcorn and ripping tickets,’ she says. The Pizza URL is still there, gifs spin where the infamous content once lived. And although she’s temporarily retired from blogging, Jess still plans to build a career in social media. But first, she’ll enjoy her offline life.
Interested in learning the fine art of building a social media following? Check out Deakin’s Bachelor of Communications (Digital Media).
Subscribe for a regular dose of technology, innovation, culture and personal development.