The Social Elite Share How to Elevate Your Online Status

Every industry has its standout players. Not everyone can be an NBA basketball star, for example, but sometimes those guys make it look so effortless and easy, someone may think to themselves, “Hey, why couldn’t I do that, too?” This is the beauty of social media—you don’t need incredible physical strength or an insane America’s Got Talent ability to succeed. (This is also the beauty of the beauty industry, so to speak, where nearly anyone with enough drive, determination and spirit can make it as far as they want to go.) But as much as social media is leveling the playing field, that doesn’t mean just  throwing a bunch of pictures up on your page will garner you thousands of likes. Again, it may look easy, but it requires talent, skill, determination and authenticity.
We talk to seven social media giants whose collective reach touches more than 1.75 million followers. Sam Villa, Tracey Cunningham, Tabatha Coffey, George Papanikolas, Anh Co Tran, Johnny Ramirez and Guido Palau sat down with us and offered their insight into how they got to where they are, how they continue to engage their audience and how they make it look so effortless while being true to themselves.

What first inspired you to post?

Tran: I started out in fashion and I’ve always been really into how patterns and designs are constructed, which carried over into my haircutting. This is what still inspires me to this day.

Cunningham: It’s fun! I like sharing my client photos, color formulas and shots of wherever I may be visiting around the globe.

Ramirez: It started nine years ago when I made a $100 bet with co-workers that they wouldn’t be able to find a blog that focused on hair only. No one could find one. So, I created my own hair-only blog and found I could reach a wider audience by putting my photos online.

Villa: It’s all about sharing—post, share, post, share. You can develop an attitude that show you want to help people, share with people. With social media it’s a huge audience, so there’s a lot more at stake.

Guido: I think it’s just a necessity in today’s world. You have to have your own voice and social media is a great expression of who you are. It becomes a visual record that represents you. I felt that it would show an important side of my work.

What’s your most memorable post?

Villa: Peter Hantz had a trick where, if he wanted to cut hair on an angle on the front of the face he would twist the hair—just give it one full twist and cut it. So I made a video where I take a triangle of hair, twist it and cut it so that when I let go, it goes into a perfectly arched fringe. We posted this and it went viral with more than a million views. That one little clip put us on the map! People are looking for little tidbits—simple things they can do.

Ramirez: When I first started my blog nine years ago, there were 10 pictures showing my Lived In Color technique that went viral. Everyone collected them and took them to their hairdresser for inspiration. They were so widely circulated, that if I were to drag them out from the bottom of my queue and repost them, not many people would recognize them as mine—they would think I was copying someone.

Guido: I quite like the posts when I’ve done cuts backstage and then taken the photo myself, as opposed to having a photographer. It feels very fresh and new. I can take the shot and post it in an hour. I respond to the immediacy of that. There’s a photo of the model Cat McNeil whose hair I cut backstage at the Alexander Wang fall 2017 show that I especially like.

Guido Palau’s Instagram features a lot of high-end images, just like the runways he works on. This post of model Cat McNeil’s new chop he did backstage at the Alexander Wang A/W 2018 show received 7,666 likes and is one of his personal favorites.

Sam Villa posts a ton of education on his Instagram page, but he also does a great job of celebrating fellow stylists, like this regram from @michellehair, which got 5,897 likes.

Anh Co Tran’s Instagram posts tend to showcase his cutting chops, so to speak, as evidenced by this post featuring model Margaux Brooke, which garnered 3,077 likes.

Tracey Cunningham’s posts are featuring more and more videos and slideshows. This post of Emma Stone has received 29,290 views so far.

Tabatha Coffey posts a lot of inspirational and personal images on her Instagram page. But this meme, with 4,615 likes, sums up her personality and wit.

Johnny Ramirez’s blondes are front and center on his Instagram page, and this one of his assistant Andrea Peterman garnered 3,345 likes.

George Papanikolas’ Instagram page blends inspiration and celebrity, which is perfectly captured in this post of him with Hailey Baldwin at Coachella, drawing 2,504 likes.

How do you maintain a healthy social media presence?

Papanikolas: Do beautiful, gorgeous hair! If it’s something different and it’s something that stands out, you’re accessible to the entire world. You can’t fake that.

Cunningham: Whenever I have 30 minutes to spare (which is rare!), I log onto social media to respond to comments from followers and check out other friends’ and clients’ posts. Or, I may send a quick SnapChat out to my followers. Also, I get very creative when it comes to leveraging my captions. This approach has garnered me a lot of followers.

Guido: Everyone has their own way. I’m selective about how and when I post. It isn’t necessary every day or every week, it’s when the mood takes me. I’ve created a style of portraiture on Instagram that has become a kind of reference library. But I don’t overthink it. Sometimes a post I love doesn’t get the response I’d expect and other times a post I don’t think will get a big response, does. So I don’t really know what clicks with people all of the time. I don’t worry about it—don’t want it to get competitive, which social media can, and then it turns into a sort of pressure. It’s just a side of my job.

Villa: Stay aware of which posts are trending in your feed and pay attention to hashtags—reposting relevant ones to stay current and attract new followers. Look at magazines, runways, award shows and the celebrity world, so you can stay current. That’s what will attract and hold followers. Create content that relevant to your followers and creates engagement. After that, it’s about consistency.

Tran: I continue to be inspired by art and nature, and that keeps my content fresh. Whenever I get a day off I try and occupy my time with these things to help me recharge.

Ramirez: My advice to other salon professionals is to open as many online and social media accounts as possible: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, websites, etc. You can connect all your accounts and post three pictures a day to all of them at once. Content is everything, so having the ability to flood the internet with your photos in as many ways as possible is very valuable.

What should salon pros know before making a big social media move?

Villa: You’re going to grab a certain following based on what you say and the language you use in your posts. Make sure you know your goal. For instance, do you want to be famous, or do you want to help people? You can still be you but you have to be aware of how the way you speak is received by others.

Guido: Try to find your own voice and style, something that expresses who you are. I don’t include pictures of myself but you might decide to do that. I like direct, concise messages, which may be “all braids” or “colors,” but mine is a very curated feed because I have access to a lot of imagery. I think you just start out one way and ultimately your natural voice comes through.

Ramirez: I have a lot of respect for social media because it can either make you or break you. It’s so fast now, which I love, but you have to be careful. Once you post a photo, it’s out there for good and you don’t want to risk something coming back to haunt you 10 years from now. Take your time and don’t just post something to fill up your feed. As for me, I only want to post things that I love, things that inspire me.

Tran: My best advice would be to stay original and true to yourself. Freedom of expression is a beautiful thing and social media allows you to exercise that.


… is simple, sharable and compelling.”
 – Sam Villa

… features transformations — people love to see before and after photos.”
– Johnny Ramirez

… is relatable and approachable.”
 – Anh Co Tran

… makes sure that clients keep coming back.”
– Tabatha Coffey

… allows you to explore your creative boundaries.”
– George Papanikolas

… is spontaneous and real.”
– Tracey Cunningham

… is personal and great to you.”
– Guido Palau

Model Cat McNeil glides down the Alexander Wang runway after receiving a fresh cut backstage from Guido.

“Look at magazines, runways, award shows and the celebrity world, so you can stay current.”
—Sam Villa, Redken Global Artistic Ambassador

Many thanks to our sponsors Redken, Pureology, Matrix, L’Oreal Professionnel, Baxter of California, Level Loyalty and Salon Centric for making this Digital Supplement possible.

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