Meet Kristina Popova: a Bulgarian model-turned-digital maven who, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, transformed adversity into opportunity. From the heart of Europe to the bustling avenues of California, Popova’s story is a testament to the transformative power of digital connection and the enduring spirit of creativity.
“I’m delighted to share my journey with you,” Kristina began with a bright expression. “My roots are in Bulgaria, but the past decade saw me making my home in the United States. However, a recent family emergency brought me back to Europe. Now, with aspirations of expanding worldwide, I’ve decided to commence this new chapter right here in Bulgaria.”
She remarked, “Everything took a sharp turn at the outset of 2020.” Having relocated from Florida to California to chase her modeling and acting dreams, life had other plans. “By January 2020, I had a pivotal moment. Then March rolled in, marking the onset of the global pandemic. The repercussions were immediate; I found myself without a home, a job, or a clear path ahead. The situation was daunting, especially being an immigrant without family nearby.”
But as the pandemic forced the world indoors, the digital sphere thrived, offering numerous individuals a new way to connect, create, and even earn. It was within this environment that Kristina spotted a glimmer of hope. “Despite being relatively inactive on platforms like Instagram, a fortuitous invitation from a user of the Bigo livestreaming app changed everything,” she shared.
Bigo, an international livestreaming platform, was a beacon for Kristina during her most challenging times. “I recognized an avenue to showcase my talents. From singing to discussing global issues, I was engaging with an international audience. They showed their appreciation through virtual gifts, which translated to real dollars. It wasn’t much, but it was a start and more so, it was something I grew to love.”
Furthermore, the platform introduced Kristina to a community she had yet to tap into. “Despite being relatively new to California and living a mere 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Bigo brought me closer to other creators and artists in the region. The connections I made were invaluable,” she said with a hint of nostalgia.
As the world gradually began to reopen, Kristina’s newfound digital expertise transitioned seamlessly into the physical realm. “With things returning to a semblance of normalcy, I plunged into networking, attending photoshoots and events. The goal? To elevate my digital presence, especially on platforms like Instagram.”
Like many creators today, Kristina turned to resources available online to sharpen her skills. “Thank YouTube for being a treasure trove of information. The platform equipped me with insights into the ever-elusive algorithms and introduced me to creators who were where I aspired to be,” she expressed with gratitude.
Breaking through as a content creator
Recalling her first significant breakthrough, Kristina shared, “It was a photo shoot set against the iconic backdrop of California’s beaches. You know, those mesmerizing vistas we’ve all admired in films? The experience was as real as it was cinematic. I collaborated with a talented photographer. We both needed each other – I needed to be captured, and he needed a subject.”
Yet, it wasn’t merely the picturesque setting that made her content resonate. “Back then,” Kristina confessed, “I battled insecurities about my body. So, to pose in a bikini, amidst the vast expanse of the beach, was monumental for me.” This vulnerability, this act of embracing oneself, undoubtedly echoed with her followers. “I firmly believe that our energy is palpable in the content we put out. If you’re authentic and passionate, it transcends the screen.”
In discussing her content’s evolution, Kristina emphasized the thoughtful intention behind each post. “There’s an overwhelming influx of information, especially for someone like me who’s always eager to learn. But authenticity is non-negotiable,” she expressed. Whether it’s skincare, fashion, or even legal marijuana in California, Kristina’s approach is consistent: “I have to believe in what I’m promoting. When I share a product or a service, it’s because I genuinely value it.”
She expounded on her ethos, explaining, “It’s not just about promotion; it’s about providing a genuine recommendation. If someone, based on my suggestion, tries a product, I want them to have a stellar experience.”
This organic blend of sincerity and enthusiasm is perhaps why Kristina’s content resonates deeply with her audience. As she rightly pointed out, “If you’re not genuine, it’s evident. But when you’re authentically passionate about what you endorse, that too, unmistakably shines through.”
Building Confidence as a Content Creator
“Today’s digital age constantly feeds us a barrage of ‘norms’ and ‘expectations’, dictating how we should appear or conduct ourselves. Yet, the truth remains—our lives aren’t to be tailored to meet external standards. We’re here to carve our own narrative. Authenticity, in this regard, is paramount.”
This quest for authenticity, however, isn’t straightforward, as she acknowledges. “In the backdrop of ever-changing trends and the clamor for relevance, preserving one’s genuine self becomes a formidable challenge. Yet, that’s where mental and emotional fortitude come into play.”
Kristina’s personal toolkit for mental resilience is both eclectic and enriching. She expounded, “Meditation has been pivotal for me, a practice I deeply embraced during the throes of the pandemic. It’s an oasis of calm, a reprieve from the relentless noise. Journaling, too, emerged as a newfound refuge. It allows introspection, a means to navigate and process the whirlwind of emotions one encounters.”
The world of influencing isn’t just about curating content; it’s also about the creator’s ability to protect and project their authentic selves. Particularly for someone like Kristina, who often dabbles in evocative photoshoots, this means maintaining unyielding boundaries. “Strong boundaries aren’t tangible barricades; they’re energetic constructs. They stem from an internal sanctuary, a haven one crafts within oneself,” she reflected.
Kristina highlighted another challenging aspect of her profession: the incessant nature of digital engagement. “The digital realm doesn’t clock out. With a phone perpetually at arm’s length, be it responding to messages across time zones or strategizing the next post—it can be overwhelming. But that’s where one needs to prioritize ‘me time’. Seeking solitude, reconnecting with nature, or simply grounding oneself can recalibrate and rejuvenate.”
Drawing the Line and Defining Empowerment in a Digital World
As both an influencer and model, Kristina remains deeply cognizant of the challenges and pressures the industry exerts, especially on women. Yet, her voice remains unwavering, advocating for personal boundaries and the transformative power of empowerment.
On navigating the murky waters of the modeling and influencer sectors, Kristina emphasizes, “The industry, at its core, often perceives us as mere products, quantifiable entities ready to be leveraged. But one must always remember—following one’s heart and intuition is paramount. The allure of high-profile collaborations or supposedly golden opportunities can be compelling. Yet, it’s vital to assess alignments in energy and intent. I’ll say it candidly—even if someone as revered as Jesus were to pitch a collaboration, if the energy doesn’t resonate, I wouldn’t hesitate to decline.”
This emphasis on energy isn’t just a personal predilection for Kristina; it’s foundational to her brand and ethos. “It’s not just about content creation; it’s about the intention and vibrancy behind it. A photograph or video might have impeccable aesthetics, but if it lacks genuine energy, it becomes hollow,” she notes.
But what truly sets Kristina apart is her unwavering commitment to empowerment. While her platforms often showcase fashion-forward content, her dedication to motivation and upliftment remains palpable. “For me, content creation isn’t merely about showcasing trends; it’s a platform to inspire and elevate. Every post, every story carries with it the potential to touch a life, to infuse someone’s day with a dose of positivity. And when someone reaches out, sharing how a simple quote or narrative brightened their day or instilled resilience in them—that’s the real reward,” Kristina reflects.
Embracing Authenticity and Trusting the Journey as a Digital Creator
“Indeed, the digital sphere teems with tutorials, advice on algorithms, and proven strategies. Yet, without a core anchored in authenticity and passion, success will remain fleeting, and more importantly, unfulfilling,” Kristina asserts.
Drawing from her personal experience, she reflects, “When embarking on this journey, the societal paradigm can be oppressive, often urging us to swim against the tide, to conform to pre-defined molds. For a significant part of my life, I found myself battling those currents, hindered by self-imposed barriers stemming from perceived imperfections. But realizations come in ebbs and flows, and for me, the revelation was that surrendering to the flow, embracing opportunities, and pursuing passions could open doors I never even knew existed.”
She emphasizes the transformative power of self-acceptance, “Each of us is a tapestry of perceived imperfections, but it’s vital to remember that these very attributes make us unique. Our distinct voices, experiences, and energies are not just personal traits—they’re gifts. And every gift, when shared with authenticity, has the potential to resonate, inspire, and make an impact.”
Navigating the digital world isn’t without its challenges. Kristina acknowledges the struggles of facing external judgments, especially in a medium as open as social media. “It’s almost a rite of passage to don various masks, to contort ourselves based on others’ expectations. But these superficial layers, rather than offering protection, often lead to isolation,” she shares, recounting times she felt alone despite being surrounded by countless online engagements.
However, she remains optimistic about the digital landscape, viewing it as a frontier of limitless opportunities. “Social media has democratized the creative world. Once, connections, geographical locations, and gatekeepers defined success. Today, all that’s needed is a message, a passion, and the courage to share it. The right audience, those who resonate with your message, will inevitably find you.”
Navigating Algorithms while Staying Authentic
For influencers and content creators like Kristina, one of the most persistent challenges is striking a balance between what the ever-evolving algorithms want and staying true to their authentic selves. “Decoding the digital labyrinth of algorithms is akin to deciphering a constantly shifting cipher. Each platform, be it Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube, comes with its own set of preferences. And while it may seem like catering to these invisible rules is paramount for success, it often comes at the cost of authenticity,” Kristina observes.
She elaborates on the trials she faces: “I often find myself caught in this quagmire. Posting something that I believe aligns with the platform’s guidelines, only to be flagged or even penalized. It feels like trying to appease a capricious entity.”
Despite these challenges, Kristina believes in the power of research. “The digital landscape is malleable, constantly evolving. To remain afloat and relevant, I delve deep into research. I closely follow insiders from these platforms who shed light on the ever-changing preferences of algorithms. This gives me a semblance of understanding, a guidepost to navigate these treacherous waters.”
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. “Each platform has its nuances. While TikTok seems to have an insatiable appetite for content, valuing quantity, Instagram leans more towards quality. Then there’s YouTube, an entirely different beast altogether,” she notes.
Kristina’s strategy is a blend of informed decisions and intuition. “I continuously educate myself, stay updated with trends, and adapt. But while the technicalities are essential, I never let them overshadow my core essence. My content is a reflection of my beliefs, experiences, and messages I want to share with the world. Sometimes, this means taking risks, going against the grain, and facing the unpredictable nature of algorithms.”
Kristina knows this isn’t easy however, she explains, “It’s undeniable—the pressure is tangible. Every platform, from TikTok to Instagram, seems to have its unwritten code—a template, if you will. Conforming to it can often seem like the easiest path to visibility and success.”
While acknowledging the lure of trending topics, Kristina emphasizes the importance of personal connection to the content. “Yes, I might sometimes use a trending song or dance on TikTok, but it has to resonate with me. There has to be a genuine affinity. I refuse to merely emulate, to be a puppet dancing to the tunes of algorithms. There must be a spark, a personal touch.”
Drawing an evocative analogy, she likens her journey to climbing a mountain. “There are two paths: one well-trodden, easily navigable, promising a swift ascent; and the other, rugged, challenging, and less traversed. I always choose the latter. The satisfaction of forging my own trail, of confronting and overcoming challenges my way—it’s incomparable. It’s not just about reaching the summit, but how you reach it.”
In a world where digital platforms come with sets of unspoken rules and expectations, Kristina champions the cause of individuality. “While it’s essential to be aware of the ‘rules’ of these platforms, it’s equally crucial not to let them dictate your essence. These guidelines should be tools, not chains. They can guide, but shouldn’t confine.”
Learning and Growing as a Content Creator and Avoiding Shortcuts
“The allure of growth agencies is undeniable,” admits Kristina. “When you’re starting out, and someone approaches you with a promise to amplify your reach organically, the temptation is hard to resist.”
For those unfamiliar, growth agencies are entities that pledge to enhance one’s online presence, usually via follower increments. However, Kristina cautions, not all of them deliver what they promise. She recalls, “In the beginning, I believed that partnering with these agencies would offer guidance. Instead, I found myself trapped in a cycle of insincere growth. I invested substantial amounts, especially challenging as a college student, only to later discover a surge of bot followers.”
Her experience is a stark reminder of the pitfalls lurking in the digital shadows. Kristina’s account is not a standalone tale. Many creators, in their pursuit of rapid growth, fall victim to agencies deploying automated systems to boost numbers. While the initial spike might seem enticing, the underlying reality is a fragile foundation built on inauthentic engagements.
Kristina emphasizes the meaning of true organic growth, “It’s when you genuinely put out content and allow genuine interactions to flow to you. No software, no systems, just authentic human engagement.”
In the age where metrics are a predominant measure of success, Kristina’s narrative is a significant reminder of the transient nature of inauthentic growth. “Instagram conducts routine clean-ups, removing inactive accounts. While one may witness a dip in followers due to this, it’s minor compared to the plummet you’ll experience once you stop funding these agencies.”
Furthermore, even if these agencies tout ‘real’ followers, the sustainability of such engagements remains dubious. “Can anyone guarantee that once I stop financing an agency, those followers will stick around? The essence of genuine interaction isn’t built on transactions but connections,” Kristina explains.
In the vastness of the creator economy, one’s success isn’t solely tethered to numbers. At its core, it’s about forging lasting bonds with an audience that resonates with the creator’s authenticity.
Kristina encapsulates this sentiment perfectly, “It’s about cultivating an audience that’s eagerly awaiting your next move, genuinely interested in your journey. And that, in its truest sense, is organic.”
Favorite Collaborations with brands
“PrettyLittleThing holds a special place in my heart,” says Kristina with a note of fondness. Renowned for its fashion-forward aesthetics and commitment to size inclusivity, PrettyLittleThing has captivated many, including Kristina. “Their dedication to diversity is commendable. As a petite woman, I appreciate that they offer sizes tailored for me.”
Her association with the brand has been multifaceted. While living in Los Angeles, Kristina was among the chosen few invited to PrettyLittleThing’s boutique downtown. This exclusive opportunity allowed her to pick items, infusing her personal style into the brand’s offerings. “These events were more than just collaborations. They were gatherings where creativity flowed seamlessly. Not only did I fall in love with the clothes and shoes, but I also connected with incredible individuals.”
With the brand having a foothold in London and Kristina’s current location in Europe, she hopes to rejuvenate this collaboration. “Different regions might have separate departments, but the brand essence remains constant. I eagerly await another chance to collaborate with PrettyLittleThing in Europe.”
Parallelly, Shein emerges as another brand close to Kristina’s heart. Widely acclaimed for its diverse range and affordable fashion, Shein has cultivated a vast following. Kristina’s association with the brand, however, transcends professional collaborations. “Every month, there’s a Shein package waiting for me. From personal purchases to collaborations, my bond with Shein is deep-rooted. Their bathing suits, in particular, are unparalleled.”
Moreover, Shein’s extensive range impresses Kristina. “It’s not just apparel. I find myself purchasing items for my home, even for my cats. The brand’s versatility is truly impressive.”
Moving Back to Europe and Her Partnership with Sintillate Talent
“Leaving the vast and bustling market of the U.S. to return to Bulgaria was indeed a challenging decision,” Kristina recalls. The differences were stark. Not only were there logistical challenges like adjusting to different time zones for posting content, but the audience’s expectations and industry standards varied drastically.
“The audience here perceives content quite differently,” she notes. The more collaborative and supportive spirit she felt among women in the U.S. was, unfortunately, sometimes lacking in Bulgaria. Instead, she encountered an atmosphere of competition, which not only diminished the joy of content creation but also affected potential brand collaborations. Moreover, collaborating with U.S. brands became logistically challenging, with shipments getting held up in customs for extended periods, throwing her content schedules off track.
Focusing on diversifying her content across platforms, she emphasizes the importance of having a niche. “It’s crucial to be precise about what you bring to each platform, allowing different facets of yourself to shine through,” she advises budding influencers. This pivot towards a more targeted approach reflects her maturity and evolving understanding of the digital realm.
In the midst of these challenges and transformations, Sintillate, an agency she recently aligned with, has emerged as a beacon of support. “Being the first and only person from Bulgaria in their agency feels special,” she says with pride. The community the agency provides offers solace in unfamiliar terrains and promises to be the launchpad for her European journey.
“Despite not being able to physically attend all events due to my location, the agency’s community remains a significant pillar of strength,” Kristina adds. With her mother living in London, she envisions more frequent trips to the UK, providing her with ample opportunities to expand her network and collaborate on new projects.
Predictions for the Future of the Creator Economy
“The appetite for travel content is insatiable right now,” Kristina observes. “There’s a burgeoning desire among audiences to vicariously explore the world through the lenses of content creators.” This sentiment resonates even more so in a post-pandemic world where many had been confined to their homes and now yearn to experience the wonders of the world, even if it’s through their screens.
According to her, the beauty of this trend lies in its inclusivity. “Not everyone is comfortable being in front of the camera or having their voice heard. But with travel content, even the most camera-shy individual can capture the beauty of a location and share it with the world,” she elaborates. It’s a form of storytelling that can be both personal and universal, allowing creators to connect with diverse audiences.
Further adding to the allure of this trend is its potential for monetization. “The UGC (User Generated Content) space is rife with opportunities for collaborations with hotels, tourist spots, and travel brands,” Kristina points out. This reciprocal relationship, where creators promote destinations and in return, often get their expenses covered, seems like a win-win. The establishments get authentic promotion while creators can indulge their wanderlust, a perfect symbiosis in the digital age.
“As I pivot towards this new direction, away from the glamor shots and towards the panoramic vistas, I realize I’ve amassed a treasure trove of travel content over the years,” Kristina shares with a hint of excitement. She encourages budding creators to be mindful of this. “Every trip you take, every moment you capture could be potential content. So, always be prepared.”