A Q&A with Lana Berry of… the internet on making a career in social media, being internet famous and having to prove that she’s a real person

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Lana Berry, who has turned being funny about sports on Twitter into a career in social media. Lana has more than 93,000 Twitter followers and has created quite a brand for herself. Here, we ask what she does, how she did it and how others can better use social media to advance their careers.

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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. Typically, we start these Q&As by asking our guests how they landed at their current job, but this isn’t a typical Q&A with a typical guest. So let’s start with something that we–and I’m sure many others–have wondered: Who is Lana Berry? What do you do exactly? And what was the path you took to get there?

“Who is Lana Berry” is probably the most common question I get and also the weirdest. I’m 30 and I’m still trying to figure out who Lana Berry is. It’s such an existential question and I’m never QUITE sure how to answer it. Basically what it boils down to I hate working for other people, so six years ago I stopped. I quit my job and started working for myself. The works has changed, and is still constantly changing, over those six years because I honestly refuse to do work I hate doing. So I really just do work that I find fun and fulfilling and that is never one thing, which is why it is so hard to explain to people what I do. I built my following on Twitter because I worked from home and was watching sports all the time. I’ve been on the Internet pretty much every day for 22 years now so it feels very homey and comfortable to me. I have now been able to leverage that following into a lot more business for myself, and a lot of different kinds of business for myself. It might get me a consulting client or someone will want to give me money for a sponsored post or offer me a job (which I never take because I am totally unemployable now). People feel more comfortable attaching a job title to others because it helps them categorize them in their minds, but I prefer to remain uncategorizable. Is that a word? No? Oh well. I’m not a writer or a consultant or a social media star or whatever you want to call me. I’m just Lana Berry.

2. Despite boasting more than 93,000 Twitter followers, there appears to be some skeptics out there who wonder if you’re even a real person! In fact, there’s an entire Twitter account called WhoIsLanaBerry.With that in mind, how often do you hear the question, “Is Lana Berry even a real person?” How do you respond to that? And why do you think that kind of doubt existed to begin with?

I used to get a lot more people wondering if I’m a real person than I do now that there is more video of me and I post more photos of myself on Instagram and I have a podcast. Of course, there was always video and photos of me on the Internet but people are inherently lazy (I am too, I don’t blame them) and the fact that a woman could be funny AND like sports is really out of some people’s realm of comprehension. It’s always been funny to me. It’s especially funny to me now. I mean I’ve been on TV! A lot of these people have met me in real life! Feeling like you have to prove that you are a real person is a very strange thing.
3. On a serious note, as someone who primarily uses the platform of social media to produce content, to what extent do you consider yourself a journalist? How about a member of the media? Does that classification matter? And do you get bothered by readers or followers who think they can provide this same kind of social-media expertise?
I definitely don’t consider myself to be a journalist or a member of the media. The people who actually ARE journalists do great work that I would never have the patience to do myself so I won’t insult them by including myself with them. I guess I COULD be considered a member of the media but not in a traditional sense. I do get credentialed sometimes but it’s usually just for the free press food and parking. I don’t get bothered by people thinking they can do what I do on social media. It’s the people who say “I could do that, it’s not that hard” and then DON’T DO ANYTHING that drives me crazy. If you can do it, then do it! I don’t say this as a challenge but I really think more people should put themselves out there on social media and create a career from it. It’s really fun! Highly recommend!

4. You recently published a couple of really cool ebooks: “Getting the Call: How to Land Your Dream Job in Sports” and “Internet Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field Regardless of Where you Start.” How did that come about? What was the process of writing books like? What has the response been like?

I really created my ebooks to help serve the people who follow me. I was getting so many emails asking how to get into sports and as someone who doesn’t actually work IN sports, just around sports, I felt like my advice wasn’t targeted enough for the jobs these people were actually wanting. (That said, I am a great general advice giver. I read a lot of personal development books so I have motivational quotes oozing out of my pores.) One of my greatest natural abilities is networking, which is really just a fancy word for “making friends in your industry”, so I decided to put all of my sports contacts to good use and have them all answer the same questions. The result was phenomenal, the ebook has such a great range of advice from all sorts of job in the sports industry. The idea for the Internet Famous ebook came from the emails I was getting from people who wanted me to consult with them but couldn’t afford my fees. I wanted to compile the nitty gritty of how I get started with my consulting clients into an ebook. It’s very short, I didn’t want any fluff, but it’s basically what I would cover in a $500 call.

5. At what point did you believe that you could turn social media into an actual career? What was the moment that convinced you?
I always knew I could turn social media into a career, I just didn’t know how I could turn MY social media into a career. So I really just plugged away, building up my social media everyday for years without knowing what I would do with it, until opportunities started pouring in. I get unexpected opportunities all the time, and each one helps me get clearer on what I want to do with the following I’ve built. From there I’m able to create opportunities that align with my goals, and that’s basically what I do everyday.

6. Your photo bomb of Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day interview seems to be heralded as your Day One genesis moment. How did all of that come about? Were you going with the intent of getting on camera? And what was that Texas A&M official saying to you at the end of the video?
I already had like 40,000 followers at that point! Maybe more, I don’t actually remember. I’ve never thought of that day as a turning point in my career except for the fact that I got like 1,000 new followers that day and trying to keep up with my mentions in a coffee shop in College Station, TX was a nightmare. I had no intention of being on camera, I was just there to cover Manziel’s pro day for SB Nation. It all started with me coming in as a scout instead of a member of the media (long story) so I never should have been behind him. When people were tweeting me that they saw my foot on camera, I started kicking my leg and Twitter was getting a big kick out of it. No pun intended, I promise. When he moved from the NFL Network set to the ESPN set 10 feet over, I managed to get directly behind him. I had no idea this would be on SportsCenter or ANYTHING, I was just trying to make my Twitter followers laugh. And the more they freaked out, the longer I kept going. Of course they ended up playing that all day on ESPN and I got a bunch of uncomfortable texts from ex-boyfriends asking about it. It was a really weird day. I don’t remember what the A&M official was saying to me, he was just desperately trying to get me off camera. I played dumb and acted like I had no idea. I’m just a woman, how would I know.

7. What are the most common mistakes you see “traditional” media members — even successful ones — making on social media? What advice would you give to journalists about how to use the platforms better?
So many media members suck at social media because they use it as a platform to promote their work instead of being social. It’s not in their comfort zone so they don’t really work at it. They should be using it as an extension of their personality. It’s about connecting with people and if you aren’t being authentic, you aren’t going to make authentic connections with people. You can smell inauthenticity and bullshit on social media from a mile away. Just be yourself and use it every single day until you get comfortable with the platform.

8. Just by perusing your social media accounts and your site, it seems like there’s a tension between you wanting to sell yourself and your services and being self-aware of how awkward that is. That’s the kind of push-pull that many journalists and people on social media constantly face — how to promote themselves without seeming like an ass while doing it. Is that how you feel? Is there a good way of doing this without feeling dirty about yourself? Should we even feel dirty about ourselves — isn’t this what Twitter is for?
The best way to not feel dirty about promoting yourself and your work is to be really, really proud of what you’ve created. Just keep the mindset of other people NEED to see what you’ve created because it’s going to help them in some way. Whether it’s something that will help their business or their education or even just helping them be entertained. It can definitely feel awkward at times, especially in social media because that is the land of self-depreciation and cynicism. The thing I have struggled with, which I am still working on, is not wanting my audience to think I have built a following JUST to sell them something. I know not everyone will want to buy what I’m selling and that’s ok. Everyone has different wants and needs. I just want to be able to sell my stuff, make a living, and still have my audience know how much I value them regardless if they buy something from me or not.

9. You love tacos about as much as anybody on planet Earth — which is saying something, considering how much we love tacos. Where can we find tacos that will blow our brains out?

Oh man, I am so hungry. My favorite taco places in LA are Guisados (get the sampler and the horchata with cold brew) and Escuela Taqueria (get the beef rib and the crispy beef and pickle AND THE GUAC!!). When I’m back in Austin I am all about breakfast tacos because California thinks they can only make breakfast burritos instead and they’re never the same. My favorite breakfast tacos on the planet are from Tamale House in Austin and they are dirt cheap. I also still get Taco Bell sometimes because I’m 12.

10. What is the most annoying part about being confused on Twitter for a former Florida State cowgirl turned WWE wrestler? Have a good story of mistaken identity you’d like to share?
I’m honestly not annoyed by it at all, I find it to be endlessly entertaining. I don’t think anyone ACTUALLY thinks I’m her, it’s just such a chore to type out WWE after Lana so I get it.

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