Ep 22: Creating a Instagram community to 1 million followers with Brooke Robinson of Goodtype

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Today’s guest, Brooke Robinson, founder and curator extraordinaire of Goodtype, will be taking us through what growing an instagram-based community account has looked like, how this took shape from atop her bike, and what the power of the written word can do in spanning nations and oceans in connecting us as people.

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What would your advice be to those who want to start their own community account but feel like the space is already too saturated?

There’s something for everyone. If you’re going into the game with the mindset of “it’s too saturated”, then that’s pretty much the headspace you’ll be operating from. And if all you’re looking to do is gain followers without having thought out what you’re really about, then I’d say you’re going into it for the wrong reasons. 

To start a community account you have to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Purpose is the driving force behind the “why” and “how” of your account and how this is going to resonate with people.

No two accounts are going to be exactly the same, posting the exact same contact, at the exact same time

I really look at creating a safe space for creatives and, whomever really, is drawn to the Goodtype account.

Exactly. You can clearly see the difference between the accounts who are just looking to leverage content as a means to gain traction, and those who have something to say. Curated community accounts aren’t sustainable long-term and soon fizzle out, because people see that you’re just riding off of the backs of others’ content.

I mean, you can really see how the Goodtype account has expanded in such a way that’s made traveling and connecting in real-time with fellow creatives an integral part of what is, essentially, a business now. Landing a publishing deal with Rizzoli, alongside various other projects, are all just facets of what running this account, and growing this community has brought to fruition.

I recently collaborated with Austin-based artist Mark Caneso in creating a limited edition Goodtype t-shirt to raise funds for Flatwater Foundation and the 5 day 100km stand-up paddling fundraiser I will be undertaking through the waterways of Iceland this summer. 100% of the proceeds will be going towards Flatwater Foundation in providing mental-health support for those individuals and families who are coping with cancer.

These are all just a few examples of what’s possible when you’ve got purpose and vision. Who would have that a curated instagram account would lead to a book deal, or the opportunity in which I’d get the chance to fundraise in such a way!?

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So would you say Goodtype is your full-time jam? What do your days look like?

My time is divided between Goodtype and being my girlfriend’s design assistant in running her clothing company, Aviator Nation. This could look like opening a new retail space to painting murals. Right now we’re going nationwide with the aim of opening five new retail spaces by 2020. To put it simply, the majority of my time is spent creating.

What’s your primary source of income?

Aviator Nation is the most consistent, whereas Goodtype, although it does serve as a revenue stream, you’re never really sure when the next paycheck’s going to come in, or in what form that may present itself.

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What’s it like working with your partner?

Just like in every partnership, it can be challenging, but we evolve and grow from, and with, each other. To be able to do the work that you love in life alongside your partner is incredibly rewarding. 

We’re both stubborn, but I’ll credit her for being the one to admit when I am right, whereas I am not so good at doing that! We really know how to work with the other in being aware of where that person’s at in the moment, and how to navigate that.

I am working with my partner right now, and he was in the position of being in a job that he hated. It had gotten to the point where, physically, it was making him sick. So I gave him an ultimatum, you can work for me, or keep going, but it’s starting to affect our relationship and the people around you. And we’ve been together for 7 years, and right now is the happiest we’ve ever been.

Sure, there can be tension when you’re working in such close proximity to the person you’re romantically involved with, but to be able to be to connect in this way is, as you said, extremely rewarding.

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Ok, taking it back to Goodtype. What year did you start it?

In 2013. I’d really say that’s the year we saw a rise in hand lettering within the Instagram-sphere. Timing was definitely on my side.

I was a graphic designer for a clothing retailer called Tyler’s. Loved the company, loved my coworkers, my boss, but sitting at a desk from 8-5 everyday was making me antsy and I was ready for a change.

At the time, I was a part of a social bike-riding group through which I met this girl who wanted to bike down to the West Coast during the summer and asked if I wanted to join. I put my notice in at work and went for it.

I treated that trip as my time to bring about that “light-bulb” moment. Being out in the world and interacting with cities and smaller towns in this way opened my eyes up to the different forms of lettering, logotypes, and typography that was present in urban spaces. As a graphic designer I’d always tried to incorporate typography into my work, but didn’t really have a grasp on the full potential this art form encompassed. 

On the train back to Austin from Los Angeles, I immediately took to Instagram in the hopes of establishing more of an understanding of what this medium was all about. Low and behold I came across the hashtag “Typography”, and my world just opened up. For about a year, all I did was take screenshots of all these incredible artists. Needless to say, I maxed out my phone’s memory, and that’s when I was really faced with idea of taking all the content I’d racked up, and curate it in a way that actually credited the artist; because a lot of people weren’t sourcing their curations properly.

That was actually Goodtype’s initial slogan, “giving credit where credit is due”. We hit 10,000 followers within the first 3 months and it just snowballed from there. 

Back before DM’s were a thing, I’d have full-on conversations in the comments section, and this really brought my attention to this need for lettering prompts. That’s what brought around “Goodtype Tuesday” in 2014. 

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So would you say it was Goodtype Tuesday that brought it to the next level?

I’d say it was a variety of things. Again, the timing, Goodtype Tuesday, but also just crediting and tagging the artists. Around 2015 is when I started to receive a lot of requests for a book. At the time, I hadn’t really seen any coffee-table books that were just straight up lettering art, so I thought why not!? I launched a kickstarter, and we were at around 250,000 followers at the time.

All the while, it was just this mix of engaging with the community, really seeing that we had something good going, that there was a demand for this, and continuing to create safe spaces around this medium.

Dealing with the algorithm change was a tough moment, and it really forced me to stop looking at real-time engagement as this immediate reflection of Goodtype’s value in terms of what it was bringing to the community.

A way in which I’ve done this is to collaborate with artists from across the world in allowing Instagram takeovers through which we’re only further sharing stories, knowledge, and deepening that connection.

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So paying less attention to the numbers and likes, and more so on what is doing well. What patterns are you currently seeing that are yielding the best performance?

Any time Goodtype Tuesday does a giveaway, or when a popular artist does an account takeover.

Given that you’ve logged close to 7 years as the sole coordinator of the account, what other pieces of advice do you find integral when looking to start something like this?

Study your engagement. Again, ask yourself why you’re doing this, and stick to it. Another thing I do is to plan my engagement at least 3-6 months in advance. That’s not to say I am reaching out to artists and asking them to guest curate several months on down the road because not everyone knows what they’re doing that far along, plus life happens; but I’ll pencil it in for myself to reach out to them then. 

And don’t get too hung up on on other people’s content. Your voice is your voice, so stay the course in which you feel most aligned with.

So what platform/app do you use to schedule your content?

In true caveman style, I use google drive. I list everything out, I talk to myself in notes; I just need a blank slate. Plus I change the account’s password every week since we do do so many guest takeovers. Having it hooked up to an external app like Planoly just wouldn’t be ideal.

Walk me through that, because you’re having to manually upload, and obviously you want to be hitting peak times of engagement.

So depending on curator’s timezone, they have their 48-hour takeover Wednesday/Thursday. So in terms of content specificity, they’ll be hitting 3-6 posts a day, but to really make use of the stories.

Friday’s I always keep for “Follow Friday” where I give a shout out to up and coming artists. Saturday/Sunday isn’t always scheduled out, I don’t pressure myself to hit the mark everyday with a post. Monday depends on the ongoing theme of the content at the time, and then, as I mentioned before, we’ve got “Goodtype Tuesdays”.

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So when did you first start monetizing Goodtype?

Doing workshops was the first time. To this day, they’re not quite sustainable as it takes a lot of traveling, hence, a lot more time. However, I would like to get them to a point in which I don’t always have to be present at the workshops, even though I’d like to be. For now it’s just easier that I be there to help coordinate the whole setup.

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Before I forget, I also wanted to ask you about your billboard project!?

So Goodtype also facilitates partnerships between clients and potential artists. I’d say 90% of the inquiries are individuals wanting logos or tattoos. The inquiry that you’re talking about was by this billboard company, Adams and Fairway, where they reached out after seeing one of the Goodtype Tuesday campaigns where I asked the community what they’d say if they had free reign over a billboard.

That’s what caught their attention, after which they proposed the idea of actually taking some of the community’s entries and putting them up on billboards. We put together a list of 25 international artists. One of the requirements was that the artists instagram handles had to be featured as they weren’t being paid for this either, and ultimately, it was a project that ended up spanning over 700 billboards across 21 states. 

What was really cool though was that we started to see this interactivity happen between everyday people who’d come across these billboards, and then DM the artist who was, say, in Berlin, letting them know their billboard had changed their whole mood.

Pivoting a little, what have been some the biggest mistakes you’ve made so far in running the business?

I entered a partnership in which I handed over half of the company to a person whom I loved dearly, and part of that dynamic was to take some of the weight off of my own shoulders, but I didn’t really get clear on what that relationship would look like, and what it would bring to Goodtype. This is no longer the case, but I’d say by not establishing what that bigger picture would have looked like and only coming at it from the angle of what it would do for me definitely did more harm than good. It also made me realize that a big part of this decision had to do with not trusting myself, and my vision for what I wanted Goodtype to be.

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Ok, from mistakes comes growth. What are your plans for when Goodtype hits 1 million and beyond?

I have Debbie Millman scheduled in to be the guest curator for when that milestone comes about, and we’re collaborating with Field Notes on a giveaway.

Right now, I am really just focused on staying sustainable in our approach, making sure our voice is global and diverse, and keeping it a safe space in which we can come together and connect.

But there are things I definitely want to branch out into. Art licensing, and sharing artists work beyond instagram. Product has remained a tough nut to crack, and it does intimidate me a bit. The few cases in which we have run limited edition pieces didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, but this is something that I want, and do see Goodtype moving towards.

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Before we wrap up, is there anything you want to promote?

Touching back on the fundraiser with Flatwater Foundation, I’ll be heading out to Iceland in July and Goodtype t-shirts are available to help support this campaign. Aside from this, you can buy our book, “The Art of Lettering”!

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BROOKE ROBINSON

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEER

Rachel Campbell - Show Notes
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Based in Amsterdam
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