Interview with Matriarch founder Ria Kalsi

*content warning: death threats, low self esteem, body image*

RAZZ writer Amber Hogan speaks to Ria Kalsi, founder of online platform Matriarch, defined as “the platform that strives to create change, empower and build human connection”. Ria talks about the benefits and challenges of using social media, online trends and dealing with negativity. 

What made you decide to use social media as your platform for Matriarch? Specifically, why Instagram?

I think a lot of what we do with Matriarch and where I started was feeling like there was this really strong narrative, especially in mainstream media, that social media was a really dangerous and unhealthy place. In some cases that’s absolutely true, but I don’t think that that’s the whole story, and it doesn’t need to be that way. I think to me, it was a sense of, okay, why are we just complaining about how bad it is, why not do something about it? I’m not saying I can change the whole of social media, but I can have a go at creating a safer, more welcoming place in some way, shape or form.

So that was part of it – and also logically, social media is powerful, it works, It’s easy, and it’s what I was familiar with. It fits my generation whilst traditional media, like print, wasn’t something that crossed my mind. It was also a matter of accessibility. It was easy for people to see what I was doing and to get on with it. There’s just so much opportunity for creators to do different things; whether you’re involved in design, creating video-based content or writing, there’s such a huge range of what you could do.

Would you say using social media helped you create better content for your demographic than if you were on a blog or in print? 

So, we are a blog – we actually started as one! At the start I used WordPress, and Instagram wasn’t the main platform, instead it was a way to let people know what I was doing. Originally it was just a tool to shout things out. However, that has changed pretty dramatically, and the blog is now our website and it hosts all of our resources, whilst Instagram is the more interactive side of things. I started off solely blogging and was blogging every other day, but soon (before my teammates arrived) I was only writing one or two blog posts a month, so I explored Instagram more as a platform.

I found that actually I really enjoyed creating different kinds of content outside of the blog format. As a naturally creative person, it gave me the opportunity to be creative, and I realised pretty quickly that not all topics that I wanted to discuss worked in a blog format. That’s why a few months ago, we started the podcast, because some things are just inherently more conversational.

Does being hosted on a social media platform pose a challenge when it comes to navigating feedback? For example, do you find your content style is influenced by likes and reposts? 

Yeah, of course. If anyone is a creator online and they tell you they don’t look at likes then they’re probably lying. Especially when I started during the first year, and even when it was just me a month ago, it was something always in the back of my mind. [Feedback] influences the kind of content we make in terms of finding out what is attracting people, because I would say all of our content – each piece – has an important message for someone, but it doesn’t mean it’ll always be received well, or that the intention will come through. So, we have to listen to our feedback and respond to our audience, because otherwise you’re being a bit mindless and maybe taking that input for granted.

At the end of the day, I started Matriarch because I myself had something I wanted to talk about, whereas now it’s a lot less like that, and more about what can I do to help, teach and provide content for others. And if you’re not listening to them, then what are you doing? But I wouldn’t say it has a hold on us, it’s not the be all and end all. There are certain types of content that simply don’t perform well, but just because it’s not getting hundreds of likes whilst something else is, doesn’t mean that those likes are any less important. Each like is a person, so it’s doing its job, it’s not about that.

Image Source: Bye, Love Island // Matriarch

Your feed is really vibrant and colourful! It’s one of the first things I noticed! Do you think online trends have an impact on your style choices in creating specifically online media?  

I’ve definitely considered that. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have a style, I just think things that are colourful and bright look nice. At the end of the day, Instagram is an aesthetic platform, so it’s about what looks nice. If you look at a feed, you will spend more time on what looks good to you and what’s interesting.

A large part of me in the last year or so has really settled with the fact that the gravity and the actual content of our work is worth so much more than how it looks. The balance is difficult though, because of course you don’t want to undervalue your work – you want it to gain as much traction as possible. But for us, aesthetic trends are more about consistency. What’s great now is that as a team of six people with different creative minds, we have different styles, so we’re getting a real mix of stuff and I think that’s more interesting than just one person creating alone.

Hashtags are pretty unique to a social media platform! Would you say they help you find your target audience and signal the content of your articles? How do you choose which ones to use for each post?

Hashtags are a huge thing for a creative trying to build a platform. In terms of finding an audience, hashtags are a significant signpost, because you never know where your audience is coming from, and it’s definitely advantageous even if it’s never guaranteed to work. When it comes to choosing each tag, especially where the work you’re doing is more personal for whichever team member is making it, you have a much better idea of which terms to choose because it’s like putting yourself on a theme. I’ve searched for certain hashtags to find content and posts that I can relate to, or to normalise my feelings, so you get a better idea after experiencing that.

People using social media can be pretty critical and often downright cruel, so positive platforms like yours are really important for many people, I think your feedback reflects that. How do you as the content creator stay above the online hate and remain positive? 

During the summer of 2021 when we were making a lot of primarily anti-racist resources (especially this one post which kind of blew up at hundreds of thousands of likes) daily, we were getting so much traction. Some of it was saying things like ‘kill yourself’, and it came in thick and fast.

I wouldn’t say that it ever really affected me, because I was at a point in my life where I was very unhappy anyway with who I was and I was really ready to change that. I have very low confidence and self-esteem, but by jumping into this really head on, it allowed me to detach myself from being online. And I know that sounds ridiculous because I share so much of myself online and so does the team – I can’t speak for all of them but for me, I really just learned how to get away and be very clear about what was online and what is my real life.

At the end of the day, it’s because we continued making content that we have this safe positive space. The negative comments are fleeting and I wouldn’t reread something like that, whereas the positive feedback kept flowing, and focusing on that really just helped me. I also had lots of support and positivity from other people, even if it’s just people saying thank you for sharing this post. Those comments really help. Being in a team also epically helps to share the weight that comes with being online and being so open.

I would also say that one of my biggest fears when I started Matriarch was sharing my life and feelings, especially to do with content about body image and that sort of stuff; something that I’d struggled with my whole life. But I think there’s a lot to be said about just going for it. In some cases, doing things gradually is fine, but for me in that situation, I decided one day to just go for it.

I think there’s a lot to be said for just jumping in because when you’re that open, you leave very little for people to assume or attack you about. For me, I’ve always been that open and I’m more than happy to continue that because I’ve found that there’s a lot less negativity than you might expect, just because I was so transparent with things.

When you set goals for Matriarch’s online presence, do you find yourself thinking in terms of likes and follower counts, or do you have a different way of thinking?  

I’ve been asked this question so often and it sounds ridiculous but genuinely until a month ago, it all happened very organically. Which is so weird because I plan everything in my life to a T, but Matriarch really started within the space of a couple of hours! I was on the sofa and I thought ‘I kind of feel like doing this.’ So, I’ve kind of just followed that path of doing things if and when I felt like them and that’s served me well. Now that we’ve started to gain some traction I’ve started to plan a little bit more and have had a few goals in mind but even then, they weren’t number based. For me, I’ve gained so much from Matriarch personally, from my content, my self-esteem, my mental health – it was always way more about that than who was following.

In our first year, we basically didn’t grow at all, apart from the beginning influx of mainly friends and family. That didn’t really bug me that much because I was just so happy for it to be there. If that was all it was then I was happy with that. I think as time has gone on we’ve found that routine and we now have a lot more moving parts, and so you do start thinking about timing – like with the podcast, I had to plan ahead a lot. I had wanted to start it for a whole year but we didn’t have the capacity or the time, so I really planned it out more, and I actually heard from a few people that it might be good.

So it’s nice to gain traction, but I think with as many moving parts as we have (besides the Instagram), things like hitting daily goals on a resource is good, but there’s not really a definite line. It’s more about being able to engage as a team with our audience and put out content that people will benefit from. I think setting goals in terms of followers and dates makes it way less about the content itself and more about the platform, which is not what we’re about at all.

Where can our readers find Matriarch and support you and your team? 

We have our website, it’s and our Instagram is the same, @mtrrch – which is a shorthand for Matriarch – and we’re on Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

Amber Hogan

Feature Image Source: Matriarch

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