Writer and photographer Talun Zeitoun’s eponymous blog is one that we can all learn something from. As online storytellers we all know how important it is to have a distinct voice in terms of both personal style and branding, and Talun is an expert at just that. His style is always recognizable, setting him apart from other menswear bloggers, and his editorial content, covering fashion shows, fitness and travel, highlights just how much impact gorgeous visuals can have on the quality of a blog.
On top of blogging, Talun is a freelance digital marketing consultant and a co-founder of SOTAH, a hair care line designed by his mother and celebrity hairstylist, Janet Zeitoun. In our interview today, we discuss how to find your own voice in our ever-changing industry and how digital storytelling is changing and evolving.
When and why did you start your blog?
I started my (newly eponymous) blog in September 2013 because I wanted to share my viewpoint on menswear and personal style that I couldn't find anywhere in the blogosphere. I also started it for personal reasons. To be honest, at the time, I was very soft spoken and lacked a ton of confidence. I came out as gay only 2 years prior having just moved to New York City; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life; I kept jumping job and after job; I didn’t like myself in pictures (glorious was the day when I actually liked a photo). So I started the blog to house my creativity and my love for fashion with a byproduct that forces me to be in pictures and ultimately love who I am. I treat my blog like a canvas, where I can paint my ideas with style and stand behind my own voice.
We often discuss branding here at IFB, and I noticed your blog went through a name change from The Rebel Cavalier to your name. Why did you make that change and do you have any advice for rebranding?
I learned something recently from my mentor in the consulting sector of my work: a brand needs to have a “why”. With a solid answer to why you exist, success is inevitable; otherwise, belly flop over and over and over again. Finding that “why” isn’t easy, though — millions of brands struggle with it and end up being a follower rather than a leader. With The Rebel Cavalier, while I liked the name, I couldn’t relate to it anymore. I felt like I was dressing someone else rather than myself and that confusion led to styling that simply wasn’t me (you know those cringe-worthy posts you look back on? Yeah… those.). So I changed it to my name. For one, the fact that Talun (and the spelling of Talun vs. talon, a relatively common English word) is a unique name helps for search purposes in Google and social networks like Instagram. So that’s a plus. Also, the goal of my content is to portray a projection of my mind. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a brand name for a blog, but just make sure you love the name, that you can wholeheartedly relate to it, and understand exactly why it exists.
Is there any big mistake you made in your early days of blogging? What would you do differently?
Probably saying “yes” to any and every inquiry or collaboration. I’ve said “yes” to brands that I simply couldn’t relate with because it felt like it gave my blog purpose when not much was happening with it. Regardless of whether the brand paid or not, it wasn’t worth my time to generate content surrounding something I wasn’t enthusiastic about at the core for the sake of saying “I worked with brand X.” I don't like to regret, and I don't, but if we're to do it differently, I would have spent more time focusing on brands that were in my closet at the time or of recent purchases to sooner solidify my style.
What keeps you motivated when you feel burnt out?
I see burnout is a temporary phase and it’s important to let it ride out rather than feeling frustrated you’re burnt out (nature of us go-getters, but I find it only makes burnout worse). It’s something that’s telling your body to relax and you really need to listen to it. So, in doing so, I tend to take an extended break and consider some much valuable “me” time. This can be anything from a short trip to upstate New York; some time home in LA for a long weekend; a night in over a movie; or a day away from technology visiting a museum, enjoying a new restaurant, and walking around the city (ideally without technology).
Which social media platform drives the most traffic back to your blog?
Is your blog still your #1 effort, or is a social media channel becoming more important nowadays?
My blog will always be my hub. It’s the only platform that can be treated like a complete blank canvas, virtually a place to tell my full story however I want without the confines of a square or a 4:5 ratio or a 6 second filtered video clip. While I firmly believe certain social media channels are more important like Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube; putting 100% of your efforts into a platform that you have 0 control over — especially one that’s feed-based — doesn’t make sense (“algorithm change” has been the phrase of the century, hasn’t it?). Regardless of social media channels, video content has prevailed and I think that form of content is more important regardless of the blog platform or social media channel. Working on it myself.
What do you find is the best way to monetize a blog nowadays? Sponsored posts, advertising, or something else?
It’s been sponsored content for both blog and Instagram channels. I’ve also had some brands contract me to product content that they’ll use for Pinterest advertising. It’s great because it’s a win-win situation: they’re raising awareness about their brand on Pinterest via the content I produced, and I’m getting the new traffic.
How is promoting your blog different from the freelance digital consulting work you’re doing? Is there any big difference in your approach to promoting your personal brand versus a company?
My blog is a business I’m passionate about, but I still need consulting to keep me on my two feet (especially living in New York City). With my freelance consulting work, I consult luxury and lifestyle brands on their social media strategy, content, and/or broader digital marketing efforts via a freelance agency I’m part of. In essence, how I promote my blog compared to how I work to promote brands/campaigns/ideas — there really shouldn’t be a difference as far as process goes. A brand is a brand, but to be honest, personal ties to a brand can sometimes get in the way of what’s ultimately best for the brand. And because my brand is a personal one, I’m way more prone to get my own self in the way; so it’s more the reason why I like to surround myself with good people who understand what I do and can offer constructive criticism about my blog. They’re essentially consultants to me in some ironic way whom I trust dearly.
Speaking of your freelance career, did it precede your blogging or did you launch into it as a result of blogging? Do you have any advice for bloggers looking to diversify their services?
My freelance career was a risk I finally took by leaving my full-time Director-level position a year I launched my blog. Like I said, I was jumping job after job and couldn’t land on anything I truly loved. That being said, the experiences on my resume were crucial to why I am where I am today. I ultimately wanted to work for myself and I’m proud to say that I’ve achieved what I set out to accomplish. Diversification is critical. Even if you don’t need to and the money’s flowing in, the reality is that looks don’t last and routine blogging efforts can get boring and outdated. The inevitable question is “what’s next?” So it’s important to always be thinking ahead and building for the next phase, while, of course, living in the moment. So my advice would be to find the facets in your blog that you love most doing (is it social media? Is it photography? Is it writing? Is it creative direction?) and offer those services to your personal and professional network. You’ll be amazed at the work and additional streams of revenue you’ll find.
How much do you think the design of your blog influences reader engagement? How did you come up with your aesthetic?
A lot. It sets the tone for the type of content presented. If a blog looks really good to a new reader in the first split second the moment they land on your site, they’ll scroll for more content with interest rather than seeing if you have something else to prove. The switch from The Rebel Cavalier to my eponymous blog actually came with a redesign that I crafted myself. For one, I was thinking with mobile in mind (you have to). Two, I wanted my readers to digest my stories without interruption. Three, I wanted to create a site that houses imagery, video and copy differently from other long-form blogs out there. I set up my blog posts like editorials with larger words and graphic treatments (I’m getting better and better at HTML/CSS) — I can get really crafty (and nerdy) when I have the time.
Do you have any advice on creating a coherent personal style in blogging? Do you curate your looks in any specific way, or is it just your personal everyday style?
Yes. Invest in the core pieces that’ll take you season-after-season. For example, two things I'm always wearing are my black tailored blazer (I've had mine for 4 years and counting and I always incorporate it into my style on a weekly basis) and my white sneakers (I clean mine immediately after wearing them to keep them fresh). These essentials have a personal style to them already (like modern, tailored, and neutral for me) that’ll transcend seasons and make coherence in style evident. Then, incorporate the patterns, prints, and cuts — elements of fashion that are a bit more seasonal and short-lived— you love. I tend to get inspired by runway looks, streetwear at the moment, or an idea in my head to help push my style forward within a realm that’s still personal and very “me” thanks to the essentials I continue to invest in.
If you could describe the look and feel of your blog in one word, what would it be?
What male and female bloggers inspire you? Who would you like to have a drink with?
I have several.
Shini Park of Park & Cube. (Like… LOVE HER.)
Margaret Zhang of Shine by Three. (I have my bets that she’ll be a VOGUE Editor-in-Chief one day, so, why not get my drink in early?)
Pelayo Diaz of Kate Loves Me. (He’s just dope.)
Kat of With Love From Kat. (She also happens to be one of my best friends, so seeing her start from scratch to building the empire of her own first-hand has been really inspiring.)