By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
They are known to impart knowledge, views, and perspective over carefully cultivated niches within their respective realms of industry. Known as social media influencers, these individuals leverage creative content for paying contracts with businesses big and small that want to gain access to their audiences and curated platforms. Their organic reach and authenticity can garner interest and paid sponsorships, ambassadorships, and income for high-profile content creators. These social media mavens understand the game: algorithms, reach, consistency, quality, and, most importantly, how to grab your attention and keep it.
The Magic City is home to several social media influencers, and the Birmingham Times recently sat with a few.
Ashlei Marsh Gamble, also known as the Pretty Hippie, got her start on YouTube with a simple tutorial: “8 Ways to Style Your Starter Locs,” which would become one of her most-watched videos, garnering more than 96,000 views. But societal views on female grooming standards almost got in the way, and she second-guessed uploading the video.
“After I edited [the video], I realized I had not shaved my armpits,” she said. “I was so nervous about putting the video out because the society we live in today tends to point out all flaws, so I just knew the video would be a target for disaster.”
Nonetheless, Gamble’s inner voice told her to upload the video.
“I heard a voice inside my head say, ‘If you don’t do it now, you never will,’ so I decided to put the video out. I made a little joke in the commentary about my unshaved armpits to lighten the situation, kind of a defense mechanism,” she said. “If I had not put that video out, Pretty Hippie wouldn’t have blown up to be what it is today.”
Source Of Light
Thus, Pretty Hippie was born. In 2017 at the age of 26, Gamble went full force with her platform after the birth of her son, Solar, with husband Tevin.
Pretty Hippie is a representation of Gamble and spiritual awakening. She chose the name so other hippie (a description derived from the 1960s counterculture youth movement that embraced alternative lifestyles) black women around the world could easily identify.
“Old friends would refer to me as a hippie and say things like, ‘Oh you’re a hippie now?’ Instead of looking at it from a negative standpoint, I just kind of took that and ran with it,” she said.
Gamble defines her niche as an expert on loc maintenance and alternative spirituality. Her following also considers her to be a source of light on the sometimes negative and dark web.
After amassing more than 94,700 followers on Instagram and 18,400 subscribers on YouTube, Gamble has increased the ability to spread her light.
“I help people feel bold and beautiful through every stage of their loc journey,” she said. “I also enlighten people spiritually with positive and uplifting quotes on Instagram and through videos on YouTube.”
Some of her favorite quotes: “What you put out into the universe, you will get back—positive or negative.” “Consistency is the key to success. Keep going and your atmosphere will align with your wants and desires.” “Take care of your mind, body, and spirit.”
Gamble said, “I am known for being a ball of light on the internet. … People always tell me how my aura shines through my pictures or how my vibe resonates with their spirits through my videos. My locs also play a major role in my influence. They are what started my whole platform. People like the uniqueness and fullness of my locs.”
Helping People Heal
For the Calera resident, being an influencer means helping people heal through their own personal struggles and making a testimony out of them.
“To me, it’s not about how many followers you have, but how you inspire your followers to be better individuals on a daily basis,” Gamble said.
Asked if she considers herself a social media maven, she said: “Only to a certain extent. I have so much further to go and new social media levels to reach. I have mastered the concept of analytics and algorithms, and I use these strategies to grow my platforms. Being a social media maven means actually having a purpose to inspire, uplift, help people, and connect with people who follow you [because you’re] a source of positivity in their lives.”
To grow a following, one must strategize, cultivate a niche, and study algorithms and analytics, the Woodlawn High School grad said. The use of hashtags (#) rendered her quick growth on Instagram. Some of Gamble’s hashtags: #PrettyHippieLocs, #Dreadlocks, #Naturalhairstyles, #Hippie, #Spiritual.
“Once I started vlogging and blogging about my locs and using hashtags in my niche [area], my page grew rather quickly on Instagram,” she said. “YouTube is more a slower growth for me. … You just have to know how to post, what to post, and when to post.”
Gamble’s advice to others seeking to expand their social media presence: “Study analytics and algorithms, pick a niche, and create a theme. Don’t be random with your posts; always strategize and have a sole purpose for each post you create, [whether that’s] a YouTube video or Instagram photo. People that have a liking for your niche will gravitate toward you after they see your post pop up in their feeds a few times. Use hashtags in your videos and photos. If you don’t add hashtags in your photos, people won’t be able to find your page.”
Also, Gamble said it’s important to have patience with the growth rate because it doesn’t happen overnight: “It takes a while to build a genuine following.”
Asked what separates her from other influencers, she said, “my ability to connect with my followers on a spiritual level.”
“I get DMs [direct messages] from people seeking help in their personal and business lives. I’ve gotten messages from people wanting to take their own lives, but a simple conversation and the feeling of someone caring about them stopped the act. My role is an emotional roller coaster sometimes, but it’s well worth seeing people mentally happy, healthy, and free.”
Gamble has worked with several brands, including Alya Skin, Ancient Cosmetics, Teami Blends, Sunset Properties, and Muddy Body. Her most notable brand is the affordable fashion line Shein, and she’s excited to start a new brand venture “with cEVAd, the new CBD product line from [“Real Housewives of Atlanta” cast member] Eva Marcille—“It focuses on skin care and overall health and wellness, which is right up my alley,” Gamble said.
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