Voices & Visions: Terri Nakamura

Terri Nakamura is a social media strategist, graphic designer, writer and author of the upcoming book “Blogging on Instagram” which was successfully fundraised on IndieGoGo and is being published by New Degree Press. Terri was named by Business Insider as one of the top women in technology on Twitter, she is also a Verizon brand partner and co-owner of Alki Surf Shop in Seattle.

Avery: Grateful to Terri for taking the time to do this interview. I know she is a very busy person, so I’m glad the time worked out. We’ve been following Terri for a long time, so I’m glad I got the chance to meet her “In-Person”, if you can call a Zoom meeting that. Terri is not an artist so to speak, but she is still very much a creative individual. As always, I hope you find something interesting or valuable in these conversations that you can take home with you.

This is a transcription of the original video interview.

-Tell us your story.
When I graduated from college, there were no jobs, the Boeing bus just happened which was a really bad time in Seattle, so I just created my own job by starting a business. So I’ve had my graphic design practice for about forty years in Seattle, I still do freelance work and consulting with people, but I actually had an office and people working for me, and it really was some of the most gratifying time in my life. Being able to be in charge of your own destiny and creating your own work, and doing work that you love. So I was a graphic designer primarily.

Then sometime in the early 2000s when social media emerged, one of my clients told me about Twitter and said I really needed to check it out. And I fell in love with it, that was around 2008. As an early adopter, that really gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people, cause the whole social media world was a lot smaller than, so you could actually meet a lot of people easily, now it’s vast and there are so many of them, you’re like a grain of sand. But back in the day there was this common bonding among all of the people who said; “Hey what is this? Let’s check it out!” That was kind of the beginning for me on social media, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn were the three things I did really early on.

LinkedIn was an invitation only app at the time, sort of like Clubhouse, where you had to be invited. They were really strongly wording that you should only invite people to LinkedIn if you could vouch for them, and now it’s like social media, complete strangers are connecting there. For many years I just resisted that cause I thought; “Well I don’t know you, you could be an Axe murderer for all I know.” But then I started to realize I’m probably friends with people like that on Twitter, so why am I treating this so differently? And then when Instagram came along I fell in love with it, it was the best.

-Why do you love Instagram?
One of the reasons Instagram is really special to me, is because as a graphic designer and art director, I worked with so many professional photographers over the years, and you would be behind the photographer, directing what would be happening in a shot, and if you would want lighting to change, or positions of things, maybe there’s something that’s glistening that shouldn’t be, just fixing a myriad of things. But never being the person to take pictures.

Being behind the person taking the pictures for so many decades, Instagram was like an opportunity for me to shoot my own pictures and put them out there, and that was kind of thrilling in a way. Because I always loved photography but was never particularly great at it. It was just so awesome to be able to take a picture and see it there, like; “Wow, I took that picture, isn’t that amazing.” That’s really what captured my attention. I didn’t really use it properly for the first eight years. I don’t think I even put captions on a lot of my pictures, and I didn’t go through and like a bunch of stuff, and I wasn’t following a lot of people. I was just kind of there for my own edification, and while I was asleep at the wheel, all these other entrepreneurial people went; “Hey, I can build up my audience to a hundred thousand people!” And do all this other stuff. I didn’t really understand it at all, I just thought it was for sharing and meeting people. I didn’t realize there was this whole gamificaion that had been happening on the platform. Consequently my following isn’t that big, but I really feel connected to a lot of the people I’m following, and I think that’s unusual, because I think people are really just in it for the numbers and not the relationships, and I’m in it for the relationships.

-We’ve made a lot of great friendships on Instagram, including you!
Right, and that’s the kind of magic that happens there in a more gratifying way than on other social channels. So over time you start having conversations with these people and you really do get to know them. Like; “What happened last week when you were doing X?” So you have this sense about peoples lives. That’s pretty special. And it doesn’t just have to be in the U.S, it could be someone in Singapore or someone in South Africa. And it seems it just supersedes time-zones and languages and all this other stuff and makes it pretty amazing.

-Tell us about your new book: Blogging on Instagram
Blogging on Instagram began after I left a corporate job, so I think it happened when I quite the job one day and said something about it on Instagram, and people started responding to me like; “oh my god, what happened?” and that was the first inkling that anybody was reading anything I was posting, I had no idea. And it led to more extended captions, and I found through the extended captions there was a hugely increased amount of engagement that was happening. And it really surprised me. I realized after doing this, and doing some experimenting over the course of a couple years that it was an incredible opportunity for someone who wants to be blogging. I’ve had three blogs over the years, and would beg people to go look at these things and leave comments and likes and stuff. But your audience is twenty-four-seven on Instagram. It’s like no matter when you post someone is going to see it immediately and respond to it whether commenting or liking. I felt like with a little bit of effort it would be possible for anybody to take that platform and use it for a blogging platform. So it was a sort of disruptive idea to take a visual place and turn it into a writing place. So that’s where it started, and I wanted to tell other people, so that was the catalyst for writing the book.

-For a visual platform like Instagram it has a large word count compared to Twitter
It was 140 characters and then they boosted it to 280 and I felt that was the death of the platform because people just used it to spam more people, by adding more people to a tweet, that’s not the kind of content you want to consume. 

But it’s gratifying to have a place to write, and I did some testing, we’ve all been trained about SEO, and how it’s important to have things repeat, getting a mailing list, and making sure you cultivate an audience, but you don’t really need to do this on Instagram. And if you do have a blog, and I still do (on life support), Instagram is a great jumping off point for beginners and for directing people to your blog who are interested enough in what you are saying. So I know for a fact that you can get that kind of completion of an objective on Instagram that everyone wishes for with a blog property. It just seems like the best of both worlds.

-Did you use any of your Instagram posts as examples in your book?
There are a few of my posts in there that I use as examples for different kinds of content for accomplishing different things, but it basically breaks things down into how would you want to blog? Would it be as a diary? A Journal? Op-Ed? Poetry? It could be all kinds of things, it’s really up to you to decide what kind of verbal expression you would like to share with people. So the book offers frameworks for those different approaches. Some people may have been writing for a long time but they are not visual at all, like they don’t have a visual bone in their body. So I address how people get around that on Instagram, if you’re not good with your camera phone, there are a lot of ways you can still have a compelling image to go with whatever your post is, it could be a quote, a stock photo, so I include a lot of those kind of resources for people who aren’t visual, but at the same time I really encourage people to start shooting pictures, I’m sure you’ve noticed when following someone new and there pictures aren’t that great, but over time they get better and better until they’re good! I think it is just like anything, if we do something long enough, we get a feel for it, we observe what other people are doing and we go; “Oh, I can try that!” And then it gradually leads to better and better imagery, and it’s really fun! I think there’s something for everyone in this book no matter what there level of artistic abilities, or whether or not you’ve written anything beyond school papers.

The way that I began writing this book, a professor by the name of Eric Coster contacted me on LinkedIn, and noticed that I liked writing, and asked me if I’d ever consider writing a book. And I said actually; “Yes!” because the year before I started collecting some of the essays I wrote on Instagram and compiling them into a collection, with a frame work on how to do this. The book moved away far from my own writing, and more about How-To. So when he contacted me, I signed up for this class, and it was an amazing experience for me because it teaches authors how to be authors, like what are the things that are important when your writing a book for it to be interesting to somebody, and how to organize it. And it’s free to take this course, but the bottom line is, after your done, and you want to get it published, then there are costs associated with publishing a book. You need an editorial team, a production team, a marketing team, you need all these people to complete and get your book to market, and that’s what New Degree Press, the publisher who partners with Creators Institute provide. But they don’t do that for free, thus the Indiegogo campaign. The campaign raises the money necessary to make all of those functions happen. And it’s been an incredible and valuable learning experience going through this process because I studied digital marketing for two years and got a degree recently like last year. But this hands-on experience of really being in the trenches has been an amazing learning experience, and I feel anyone who has a book in them, would really benefit from investigating the path that I’m taking through this hybrid publisher.

-What advice do you have for crowdfunding on IndieGogo?
If you are an individual who has an idea or product that you want to put on Indiegogo, you have to do a  lot of studying and observation of what other people are doing to get an inkling of what to do yourself. Through my publisher, they have an idea on how to do every single thing on the campaign, leading up to the campaign, throughout and afterwards. I think a lot of people I know have been blown away, like; “How did this all come together?” And it really is due to the advice I received from the marketing team through New Degree Press. And there are people coaching me too, I have different coaches and editors available to me. If you need therapy, you can contact someone. And sometimes you do feel like you just need to talk about stuff, and it’s nice to know there are people around to walk you through your insecurities and anxieties, and all the things that can go wrong or have gone wrong. They’ve helped hundreds of authors get there books published, they’ve really had a lot of experience to see what works and what doesn’t work. So I’m a beneficiary of all of there trial and error.

-How much money did you raise?
I actually raised more than six, and at the eleventh hour some people came through and really pushed it over. Also not even through IndieGogog, some contributed outside of IndieGogo by sending physical checks.

So now I’m going to be able to make a contribution to a designate “Rolling Dog Farm” which is an animal sanctuary on the East Coast. They provide homes for terminally ill, tragically ill, injured, unadoptable dogs. The people who started it are actually former clients of mine when I used to work at boeing I used to do a magazine for boeing every month, and they gave up there corporate jobs to go do this! And I thought that they were just amazing, I admire them so much, just for walking away from very high paying jobs to pursue this. So I wanted to be able to support them and I’m happy that I will be able to share some of the proceeds from the funds that I raised.

But mainly I was trying to get over the six-thousand dollar threshold because that was the point where it would allow me to publish a hard bound version of my book. And I’m really a book junkie, I love books, and I feel like it’s not real unless it’s hardbound. (Laughs) So I wanted to have that option, I wanted to get to that point, so that is what propelled me to go for the six-thousand plus that I needed to raise.

-Do you read a lot of books?
I used to read a lot more, I used to read a couple of books a month, but once I started back in college, that ended. (Laughs) Cause you have to read all these books that you don’t want to read when you’re in college. So I was reading a lot but nothing that I particularly enjoyed, except for one I snuck in there called “The Goldfinch.” It’s kind of a door stopper of a book, it’s like nine-hundred pages, which sounds like; “Forget it!” (Laughs) But it was so well written, and I studied art history when I was in college the first time, so it was interesting to me from that stand point. But just a very well-told story, and it was made into a movie which I thought was pretty good, I thought they did a good job at sticking to what was in the book. But how do they take a nine hundred page book and turn it into a movie? It’s like, mystifying to me.

So yeah I do read a lot, and I’m looking forward to the day where I can read just for pure enjoyment, I have a stack of books that’s like five or six feet high right now of things I have sitting around for me to read and just haven’t really had the chance.

Do you like to read?

-Yes I do, I like to read a lot of the classics, like Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle…
Me too! I like went through a Jane Austin phase, and I read all of her stuff. Some of those books of true classic English literature you just have to marvel at their use of the English language. No one can write like that anymore!

-I Agree! I’ve found so many new words I’ve discovered from reading older books.
Absolutely. Do you read Ebooks or do you read traditional books.

-It depends, if there is a free public domain ebook I will pick it up and read it. A lot of what I read come from free public “Little Libraries” I don’t know if you have those where you live.
Oh yeah, they’re everywhere! It’s really funny that you mentioned that, because I take the books that I know have been read and we’re not going to keep them anymore, and in the evening I will take a walk, and I’ve got these book under my arm, and putting them in these little libraries and going “Phew” got rid of a few more books! And you go back, and they’re gone! I think that’s like the ultimate recycling you know.

-Yeah I love them!
It is really cool, I love that. But if you’re reading on an Ebook one of the things I think is really handy on the Kindle at least, is to able to go; “Who is this person?” and ab able to search for it and go “Oh Okay!” Because you know, sometimes there are to many people in a book, and you kind of loose track on who you’re reading about. So I do like electronic books for that reason.

-You have a lot of social medias, how do you manage it all? Twitter, Instagram, your blogs…
I have a friend, who was an executive at the Weston for three decades, I would always marvel at all the things she was able to do at her very high level job as senior vice president, and I said; “How do you have time to help me do this?” and she said “If you want to  get something done, ask a busy person.” And at the time I thought that was an odd thing to say, but as I thought about it, it’s really true. Like when you’re busy, and you are forced to organize a lot of things, you have this capacity, sort of like a Tetris game, of taking these modules that are kind of falling down into play, and sort of twisting them so they all fit together tightly, and it actually increases your capacity to actually do more. So I would say that has been a sort of key little idea that I’ve carried around for a long time. And that’s partly how I’m able to do all the stuff that I do.

-Where do you live? (You don’t have to give your exact location!)
Well my exact address is- (Laughs) You can probably find it on Google, I live in Seattle Washington, I’m about ten minutes east from downtown, I’ve lived in the same house since 1978. Were you even born yet?

-Nope!
(Laughs) We’ve had the same phone number, it’s pretty crazy, I guess you could say we’re pretty stable people. Seattle has changed so much over the decades, now I will drive down a street and won’t even recognize where I am because there are so many new buildings, like these huge kind of caverns on  each side of the street, these multi-level houses, I guess apartments or condos or whatever they are. They’re just packed together, unrecognizable, the city has gone like bonkers. I live in a pretty traditional neighborhood and it hasn’t changed that much, but all around the neighborhood are areas that have changed vastly, and it’s because probably Amazon and Starbucks, some of the technology companies that are based here, Microsoft, you know. They have been a magnet to move here.

And the weather, probably isn’t as bad as the reputation of rain all the time, and once people move here, they go; “Huh this isn’t as bad as I thought it was!” So it’s almost like this secret gets out that it is actually an okay place to live. Where are you?

-I am in Pensacola Florida.
We couldn’t be much further a part could we? I’m in the extreme North West, and your in the South East. Pensacola, so it’s pretty much always nice there huh?

-Yeah, but we do have the occasional hurricane, that’s never fun. Otherwise it’s very nice, I like the place a lot, you got the beach, plenty of forest, but still where we live it’s bit more city like, but nature’s never far away.
Here’s a weird one for you, are you a surfer?

-No. (laughs) I wouldn’t mind learning, but I wouldn’t say I’m much of a surfer.
Okay, I was just curious because my husband was really obsessed with surfing. He doesn’t either. (Laughs) But he really like the surf culture, and he loves Hawaii and California.

-Actually I’m wearing a Hawaii t-shirt right now. (Shows shirt) It was a gift from my grand parents when they went to Hawaii.
That is so cool, yeah I would love to go back there, it’s been a really long time since we last visited, have you visited there?

-No. (Laughs)
Well you kind of already live in a paradise anyway.

-Yeah, I’ve pretty much have lived in Florida my entire life, we’ve traveled a bit, but again it’s mainly been in Florida.
Yeah and it’s so beautiful and tropical and sunny, it’s kinda like going to Hawaii, so why you would go all that distance- you might be disappointed, I don’t know. You already have a lot of really great stuff in Florida.

-How has the pandemic changed things for you?
In general I’ve become a recluse and I don’t see anybody, and I’m afraid to go out now. Now I’ve had my vaccinations and I’ve actually got a lunch date coming up in a couple weeks with some people I haven’t seen in 18 months. (Laughs) So I’m looking forward to it, but basically I’ve become really comfortable hunkered down at my computer like 8-10 hours a day and not seeing anybody. And even doing this call, to be honest I really hate zoom calls, like I could be sitting here if this was just a phone call, I could be eating a bowl of cereal or something and you wouldn’t know. You have to keep it together when you’re on a zoom call and that’s taxing sometimes. 

But yeah I feel like I adjusted to it pretty easily, and it’s going to be more interesting when we all merge back into normal, whatever that is.

-I think the world is changing in both good and bad ways, you can only be optimistic.
This is true, and if we don’t have hope than we’re really in bad shape right? But I’ve noticed there are more and more people getting vaccinated, and I think they’ve opened it up to like 12 years old and up. Which is really reaching down into the population. So the more people that are vaccinated I imagine will be good for suppressing the spread of covid. It’s been a really crazy year and a half, I don’t know about you Avery, I don’t think we could have ever predicted it could go on this long. Has it affected you guys a lot? Do you guys do a lot of your work outdoors?

-It hasn’t affected us too badly, we spend a lot of time outdoors in nature, we draw, we paint, we create art, but you know, you just have to keep positive about it.
Well you have five people in your “pod” right? So that’s a nice number of people to have in your social circle. I think for people who are living alone, it’s a lot harder.

-I’m definitely worried for people’s mental health, this experience has been very traumatic, and I feel people are going to need a lot of help in the future.
And this is really the first world-wide phenomenon that is affecting every single person on Earth, like at the same time. That’s really unusual, when 9-11 happened there were repercussions around the world, but it was more empathy than the actual experience of the horror of it. This is really like a science-fiction movie really.

-Who inspires you as an artist or person?
I don’t consider myself an artist the same way that you do, although when I started when I was very young, my teachers recognized my ability to draw and create art and up until the point I was in high school I really thought I would grow up to be a fine artist, until I started working for a journalist when I was in high school part-time. He told me “Terri, do not pursue this because you’ll never make any money.” And so he’s the one who urged me to go into graphic design as a profession, I’d never even heard of it. And so it was on my radar, and I started looking into it more, and I realized it was really gratifying to be able to work with illustrators and photographers and different creators and the different things I would design. So we would together create something that was great, and that was really satisfying. 

In terms of who inspires me, certainly that journalist back in the day, he changed my life basically, I could have pursued fine art, I don’t know if I would have been very good at it, I don’t know if there was anything particularly unique about what I was doing. But I was very good at solving problems, and graphic design is really about having a problem you’re trying to solve or visually communicate with other people. So it ended up being a really great thing. But the single person I most admire is my sister, she’s younger than I am, but she is such a rock, and I just feel so lucky to have a great sister, we get along wonderfully, and talk almost everyday, and I just feel lucky, like a lot of people don’t get along with their siblings, like you guys all get along which is really great, but that’s not always the case. (Laughs) So when you do get along with them it’s such a blessing. So I would say definitely my sister is up there.

-When does Blogging on Instagram release?
So the book will be published in late August and the fulfillment will start in September, and in September it will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so I’m really excited about that and it seems like such a long journey to get here, so I’m going to be happy to put it into my rear-view mirror and move on to some other crazy endeavor that causes all other kinds of anxiety and stress, but that’s my favorite mode. (Laughs)

-Thanks for the interview!
It’s been really a pleasure talking to you, after crossing paths on Instagram for years, really great to hear your voice and see your face and have a connection with you, so thanks so much for reaching out.

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Want to see more? Check out our last interview with Artist: Drake Arnold

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