Content Marketing Takeaway: Essena O’Neill

Content marketing is the art and science of communicating with customers and prospects without selling directly to them. The most successful content marketers attract customers by providing relevant and valuable information in the most creative ways. I had never heard of Essena O’Neill until November 3rd, 2015. This 18-year old Australian built up her Instagram following to >500,000 fans by posting almost 2,000 nearly-perfect model-like photos of herself. With her strong following and attractive looks, she began to get more and more sponsorship opportunities; even modeling offers in the US. In the eyes of her fans, it seemed that she had it all and she was living in every girl’s dream (mine, too)!

She recently revealed that her stunning photos were staged, edited and sponsored.

The perfect images she portrayed on Instagram were not real. To explain the true story behind her beautiful photos, she has rewritten the captions of many photos on her Instagram account, then she went on and stated that these pictures “serve no real purpose other than self-promotion.” Finally, she deleted her Instagram account!

That was a bold move and generated wide media coverage and discussions. Some applauded her efforts, while some questioned her motives.

While reading related articles across media coverage, one thing that struck me hard was her relentless pursuit of creating beautiful content.

content marketing instagram example

content marketing instagram example

If you think about it, she is a one-person content marketer!

To make her content look flawless, she would spend hours, taking the same pose hundreds of times, then spend more hours editing them for various social media channels. I was like: “Wow! What dedication!” Then, I asked myself…if I have spent that kind of time and effort for all the content marketing pieces I have created (well, I know the answer to that!). She showed me what it took behind-the-scenes (aka the dark side) to do social media content marketing right to gain followers and likes:

  • You need to put into the hours and money to get your copy, design, and image right. It’s no small feat! It requires planning and execution.
  • Social media, at the end of the day, is a business just like traditional mainstream media! It needs to be treated like a business.
  • You need a team to do it right and take some pressure and workload off of you. Social media is not FREE.
By reading some of her re-captions and videos, I suspect that she didn’t have the support that she needed.

She took on content creation and promotion by herself (and her sister) for years. That’s a lot to take on as an 18-year-old. Like other teenagers, she grew up taking selfies and posting them on social media. However, she was completely focused on gaining social validation from “followers” and social approval with “likes” and “views”. She lost track of what’s real and important in her life.

She needs to rediscover herself. Although she quit Instagram, she still maintains her blog and YouTube channel. She is actively engaged on her new site,, to promote “veganism, plant-based nutrition, environmental awareness, social issues, gender equality, [and] controversial art”. She is not totally out of social media. Like everything else in life, social media has its place and needs to be used in moderation.

Although she felt her photos serve no real purpose, her dedication to her photos makes me re-evaluate what I need to put into my own content creation efforts.

Related links:

The Guardian: Social media star Essena O’Neill deletes Instagram account

Business 2 Community: Profiting Off Influence Without Selling Out: Lessons From Essena O’Neill

Teen Vogue: The Model Who Quit Instagram Opened Up About the Dangerous Ways She Dieted for Internet Approval

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