From a college professor without a brand to a digital influencer paving the way for current and future educators.
Ai Addyson shares her entrepreneur journey that started with a student’s paper. Over the years she has grown her brand, gaining thousands of followers across her social media platforms, been featured on dozens of podcasts, became an Entrepreneur and Thrive contributor, and has crafted her lectures to become more of value to her students. But it doesn’t end there. This digital power house is in a constant growth mode covering all the right movers and shakers.
I caught up with Ai in between her teaching, weekly Facebook Live show, content creation, and raising two boys all the way around the world from South Korea.
Here’s the scoop:
Classroom Without Walls
The U.S. and South East Asia
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In March 2015, I received my first wake-up call as a college professor teaching public relations and communication courses. I read in a student’s paper that he had never heard of Pinterest and my teaching was too theory-based. The comment hurt SO MUCH, but it also helped me identify a gap in my teaching. I was not training my students to have the necessary digital skills to succeed in an increasingly digitized work environment.
Since that day, I decided to radically change how I approach social media and to train myself to become a savvy digital media professional, NOT just an academic who talks a lot. My social media journey started with Twitter. At the time, I had about 300 random Twitter followers. I had no community, no brand, and no online presence.
Fast forward to today, I have grown my followers organically from 300 to 10.2K. On other platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, my audience has also grown significantly. Most importantly, I now have a brand and a community that trusts me and engages with my content.
When did the entrepreneur light bulb go off?
In 2016, I went full in with digital storytelling on Blab and Snapchat. It was the first time that I discovered the power of sharing our stories and how we could build a community and inspire change because of the stories that we created. As my online brand and influence continued to grow, I also realized how much becoming a practitioner has improved my role as a college professor. I had tons of real-life stories to back up my formerly dry and theoretical lectures, and most amazingly, I developed a waiting list of practitioners who wanted to chat with my students. It was only a year before this point that I struggled with finding guest speakers to chat with my communication students. What a change!
My increased online activity helped me connect and discover lots of amazing entrepreneurs and podcasts. I got featured on Mark Scfaeffer’s The Tao of Twitter andI interviewed Seth Godin for my weekly Facebook live interview, and I got featured on dozens of podcast interviews.
Just like how so many entrepreneurs have inspired me, I want to inspire others by creating quality content on a regular basis. I even started to love Mondays, which wasn’t something that I could relate to back then. Today, as an emerging entrepreneur, I can truly say that I love what I do and I cannot wait for Monday every single week.
What advice would you give other women wanting to start a biz?
- Don’t be your own barrier to success. Stop doubting yourself and unfriend those who doubt you. As we evolve, we have to evolve our network too! As the saying goes, our network is our net worth. Choose your network wisely.
- Never stop learning. I am a perpetual student; I love learning. Regardless of what field you are in, it is important to understand the overall environment that your business is operating in. For example, what is trending? What are some of the classic books that you have to read? Who are the movers and shakers in your industry? Cultivate relationships with them. Know your craft and make efforts to improve yourself daily.
How do you bring goodness to the world?
I love inspiring others, that’s my calling. I inspire others by creating content via various digital media platforms, as well as my role as a college professor.
None of us are able to achieve success without some adversity along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
In October 2017, shortly after I started my entrepreneurial pursuit and gained some traction, something unfortunate happened. I lost a friendship, and I felt hurt, confused, and devastated. It made me start to question and doubt myself more than ever.
Maybe I was not meant to be an entrepreneur.
Maybe I made others hate or dislike me.
Maybe I was not good enough to do this.
Two dear friends picked me up. I will never forget how they listened to me crying over Skype and repeating the same storyline over and over again. I feel forever grateful for the support from Deirdre Breakenridge and Zala Bricelj.
Five Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience?
- Choose your network wisely. I never understand why women would trash other women. I am a female entrepreneur and I am also a woman of color. It means the world to me that I support other women who are doing good work and bringing positive changes to our society. I make an effort to connect with those who believe in me yet push me to go further in life. Always remember that your network is your net worth.
- Never stop learning. Education doesn’t have to stop once school is over. In fact, true learning happens after formal education ends. Invest time in reading books, listening to podcasts, watching live-streaming interviews, reading blogs, and attending online and/or offline conferences and events. Invest in yourself before you invest in anything else.
- Practice digital detox and self-care. As an entrepreneur and a social media practitioner, I have developed a tendency to work all the time and to be in front of my computer or cellphone a lot. Especially during the early stage of our business, we are our business, and our business is us. Approaching the end of 2017 and 2018, I felt so burned out that I couldn’t even touch my computer anymore. I felt so exhausted that my whole body ached. I promised myself to prioritize my health. After all, our health is our wealth. Schedule time to take breaks by engaging in activities that relax and recharge you such as meditation, yoga, or even taking naps.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable and never cry alone. I believe vulnerability creates connectivity. Every time that I allow myself to be vulnerable, I feel closer to my community. People relate to people and appreciate the transparency that you share. Reach out for help and communicate. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
- Learn to tell stories. Storytelling is an art and a science. Our ability to tell compelling stories is becoming increasingly important. When I started my social media, I mainly used various digital platforms to do self-promotion. Nowadays, I ask myself two questions before I post any content: How is my audience going to benefit from this piece of content? What is a clear call-to-action for this message? If I cannot answer any of these questions, I re-craft my message. Social media is far beyond a platform to show off; instead, it is a powerful tool to connect with our audience and to offer value. Meanwhile, embrace video storytelling. I have successfully grown a brand by leveraging video storytelling. Video connects people in ways that written or visual messages cannot. Send someone a video greeting message on Twitter or Instagram.
Give vlogging or Instagram stories a try if you haven’t done so already.
Maybe even host a live streaming show. I have been hosting a live streaming show for two years, and it has helped grow my brand tremendously. I have just started a YouTube channel to share stories of how I have reinvented myself as a college professor. I hope my content can inspire others to live the life that they deserve and say “no” to mediocrity.
Favorite “Life Lesson Quote” ✒️
“What cannot kill you makes you stronger.”
Oftentimes, when unfortunate things happen to us, we start to blame others or life. However, what I have learned is that the most unfortunate things are oftentimes the best things that have ever happened to me because they all have helped become a better and stronger person.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I’d LOVE to have dinner with the founder of MindValley, Vishen Lakhiani, because I love how he is transforming lives and education.
I read Vishen’s book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, and discovered a word, “unfuckwithable.” What this word means is that we become so strong ourselves, that what others say about us and how they perceive us don’t affect us anymore. I discovered Vishen and his work when I was at a low point in my life. His message inspired me to rise again.
Cancer — Here’s a look at what makes up the Cancer sign -Deeply intuitive and sentimental, when a job needs to get done, a Cancer will roll their sleeves up and finish it successfully.
Revisiting Seth Godin’s Linchpin
Where will social media be in five years ⏰
Even more content in the digital media space. This makes it even more imperative that all content creators are making an effort to share quality content that adds value instead of noise.
More video content. Video marketing is becoming more and more popular. There will be a steady increase in video content and an improvement in video quality. VR, AR, chatbots will continue to grow in popularity and sophistication.
Favorite Drink Order? ☕️
Favorite Instagram Account?
338k Followers, 304 Following, 1,357 Posts – See Instagram photos and videos from Marina Mogilko (@linguamarina)www.instagram.com
Favorite Way to Decompress?
Exercise/dance, yoga, and meditation
Women You Admire?
As a woman of color, I love connecting with other women of color who have overcome challenges and difficulties to rise to the top.
I recently discovered Marina Mogilko who is a Russian YouTube and a very successful entrepreneur. In 2015, she participated in the Silicon Valley startup acceleration program and has risen to become a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Her YouTube channel has inspired me a lot.
View Ai Addyson-Zhang, Ph.D.’s profile on LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional community. Ai has 7 jobs listed on…www.linkedin.com
What are you excited most about for 2019? Share something you want to promote or latest news/launches for your brand.
I am launching my very first digital product as an entrepreneur. It is a digital course that teaches beginning entrepreneurs to build their brands. It is a 3-C system to help people gain Clarity, Credibility, and Community. The 3-C system includes Connect, Contribute, and Create. This system summarizes everything I have learned from the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. I plan to launch this in summer 2019.
Ai Addyson’s journey as a digital entrepreneur is showing no signs of slowing down. Academics, entrepreneurs, writers, and others looking to build an online community need to embrace the same vulnerability that helped her build a genuine audience.
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