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“I knew I could use my skills to make a lasting impact” with Ming Zhao & AJ Cartas

I knew I could use my skills to make a lasting impact and being involved in politics or working with startups who have products/services that make the lives of people easier, I know this is my calling. At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance […]

I knew I could use my skills to make a lasting impact and being involved in politics or working with startups who have products/services that make the lives of people easier, I know this is my calling.


At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep and preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving leaders and influencers who are practicing their own philosophies about how to maintain their wellbeing.

As a part of our series about “Social Media Influencers Share Their Top Self Care, Wellness, and Beauty Tips, I had the pleasure of interviewing AJ Cartas.

AJ Cartas had over 1 million followers by the end of 2015 when he started creating content on Instagram in 2013. He dropped out his third year of college and moved to Silicon Valley. He eventually became the Director of Social Media for Bytedance and Director of Influencer Marketing for Calm before he launched his third agency, Syzygy Social, that offers social media and influencer marketing services. In 2019, AJ published his book, Startups and Downs.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory of how you came upon this career path and to where you are today?

Istarted creating content on social media in 2013 and by the end of 2015, I had over 1 million total followers. After realizing I can make a career out of this, I dropped out of my third year of college and moved to Silicon Valley.

I used my social media as a resume to land my first few clients and eventually led influencer marketing and social media for a small company. I ran one of the biggest YouTube campaigns in 2016 and was headhunted by Bytedance, a $78 billion company that owns Tik Tok.

As Director of Social Media, I ran social media and influencer campaigns in the North American regions as well as launching Bytedance’s first offline event in the U.S.

I was also the Director of Influencer Marketing for Calm and utilized meme marketing to launch hundreds of campaigns.

Now, I established my own social media agency and work with brands to help them with their social media, community management, and influencer marketing.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Iwould say my mom.

Even though she gave me the ultimatum of either choosing her path of studying nursing in college or do my own thing, it helped me become the person who I am now. Someone who’s independent.

This ultimatum pushed me beyond my boundaries and forced me to face my fears. The fear of failing. The fear of being a failure. I realized that failing is not always a bad thing, especially if you have the mindset that you just found a way that a certain method doesn’t work. It pushed me to be unorthodox and to always experiment.

Once you get comfortable in any position, you may lose out on certain rewards if you don’t try to improve.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Iwouldn’t say it was a mistake but during the biggest YouTube campaign I launched back in 2016, I stumbled upon the skeptic community.

The skeptic community is a group of people who discusses conspiracy theories and whatnot. The product I was marketing was similar to Reddit but anonymous. What made it unique was it used artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to determine “bad” posts.

If the A.I. determined it was a “bad” post, then it would automatically hide it.

The skeptics thought this was a tool that was being groomed to censor people online and implement it on Google due to the fact that the company’s CEO was an ex-Googler.

The skeptic community created numerous videos about the app and its spew theories as well as taking a deep-dive into the history of the CEO, a colleague, as well as myself!

The key takeaway from this is that anything you say on the internet can be misconstrued and may backfire, which made me more careful with what I say online about anything.

As an influencer, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

Ascliche as it sounds, don’t give up on your dreams. If you’re passionate about something, it will happen. Whether that’s directly or indirectly.

I didn’t strive to be an “influencer,” I strived in creating quality content to keep my followers engaged. To me, that was an outlet because I didn’t have a choice after being forced to go to a private, Christian high school. My ability to express myself was suppressed and I just let it out.

I didn’t gain followers just to be “famous.” I knew it was a stepping stone for me. Fast-forward 5 years later, I’m working on political campaigns. I’m now the Digital Director for Ted Terry who’s running for Super 6 Commission for DeKalb County in Georgia.

You may know him from Season 2, Episode 6 of Queer Eye.

I knew I could use my skills to make a lasting impact and being involved in politics or working with startups who have products/services that make the lives of people easier, I know this is my calling.

Can you share with our readers some of your strategies you’ve used to build an engaged, loyal, and large online community?

Ican speak of two strategies that you can implement right now in your overall Instagram marketing to keep an engaged audience.

$1.80 Strategy

This strategy was famously coined by Gary Vaynerchuk.

What you do is you find the top 10 relevant hashtags and you comment on the top 9 posts. The important part here is that you need to leave something thoughtful and relevant so it doesn’t come off as ingenuine and spammy. Yes, this is a long-term commitment and you may not see the results right away, but I’ve done this for clients and this has grown their organic social! If you don’t have time to do this, you know who you can reach out to. 😉

Hashtag optimizations (10–10–10 Rule)

With Instagram, you have the ability to add up to 30 hashtags. Every post you create, you need to have at least a minimum of 11 hashtags to make sure you have maximum impact.

What the 10–10–10 rule entails is that you implement a hashtag strategy where you have the first 10 hashtags being low-traffic (20k-100k posts), then the next 10 hashtags being medium-traffic (100k-1m) and the next set of hashtags being high-traffic (1m+ posts). The strategy is to ladder it up so that when your post is determined “great content” by Instagram’s algorithm, you move up to the higher hashtags.

You are a busy person with a demanding schedule, can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that help your body thrive? (Kindly share a story or an example for each.)

The first one, I would say working out. I believe being in a good state of mind requires physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual care.

The second one would be eating right. Just like working out, you need to be cognizant of the food that you eat. If you’re eating a lot of junk, you’re going to feel like junk. Of course, you can have a cheat meal here and there. I’m not saying to go on a pure clean diet because everyone is different.

You need to find out your own workout routine and diet that makes you feel better than how you did before.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind or heart to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

Yes! I got into meditation over a year ago when I joined the Calm team and it really does help me in stressful situations.

Not only does meditation help with my mind, but also breathing. Conveniently, Calm has this feature in the app where it helps you with breath work to help calm you down or relieve stress.

Can you share 3 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

This is a good question because beautiful is a subjective word. Personally, This is what I do to feel beautiful

Being in shape

I don’t do this for anyone else, but for myself. Growing up, I was thin and I looked unhealthy. Now, I have the ability to change that and I’ve been throughout my 4-year fitness journey.

Dressing to the occasion

I personally like dressing up and prefer attending formal events because it means that people are formal for a reason. I love networking and especially with people who are doing something to help society such as environmentalism or social justice.

Do you have a story about the strangest, most bizarre or funniest wellness treatment that you’ve ever experienced?

The most bizarre I’ve ever had was cupping. I don’t do a lot of “wellness treatments” but I do remember cupping one time and it just felt weird. It looks like you had a giant octopus’s tentacle behind your back.

As an influencer, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Can I amplify an existing movement? If so, I would amplify the progressive movement. I want to help elect more candidates in all levels of government (local, state, federal) to ensure that every American is covered under Medicare For All as well as ensuring that we take care of the only planet we have by pushing the Green New Deal.

Of course, there are more such as reforming the criminal justice system, the immigration system, etc. but one step at a time.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll run for office one day.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Iwould say Ashton Kutcher! I think he’s an admirable individual who had a great transition from entertainment to business. I believe he would make a great mentor and friend overall. Not to mention he’s one of my celebrity crushes (Trevor Noah being the other).

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Instagram or my Twitter.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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