From working with Disney to social media fame and a successful modeling career – Sonya Ni’Cole Millen has done it all. Her multifaceted skillset and determination have allowed her to grow her timeless personal brand and career in more ways than one.
In this interview, we’ll be discussing Sonya’s experience in the entertainment industry, and how she’s leveraged social media to build a thriving career for herself in the fast-paced digital age.
Meet The Talented Artist Who Navigated The Rise Of Social Media And Built A Successful Personal Brand: Sonya Ni’Cole Millen
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we get started, our readers would love to know a little bit more about your background.
I started my journey in the entertainment industry at a young age working in different fields such as modeling, acting, and singing. It was an incredible experience to land my first professional job in New York City with Disney, specifically for the Disney project called “The Cheetah Girls.” As one of the faces on the bottles and book covers, it was truly gratifying to witness the project evolve into a successful movie and franchise in the following years. Being part of the initial stages was both humbling and rewarding.
Working with Disney opened doors for me, and I seized the opportunity to pursue vocal lessons in North Jersey while exploring diverse opportunities to showcase my singing talents. I had the privilege of sharing these experiences with my twin sister, as we frequently performed together.
My sister and I discovered our passion for music through singing in church. At around six years old, we began vocal lessons, initially traveling throughout the tri-state area to perform at a variety of events, including birthday parties, and weddings. Our style is heavily influenced by the Supremes and Motown sound.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in this line of work?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career is the industry’s growing emphasis on social media presence and engagement. Nowadays, auditions often require a certain number of followers and active social media involvement. Struggling with social media can hinder job opportunities, as having fewer followers may lead to being overlooked. It’s disheartening to witness talented actresses lose roles to others with larger followings. Transitioning from an era where social media wasn’t a factor to its current importance has been difficult.
Balancing self-management, talent development, and maintaining an active online presence is demanding but necessary. Adapting to industry changes and effectively leveraging social media are integral to building a successful career.
How did your big break align with the rise of social media as a crucial marketing tool in Los Angeles?
When I arrived in LA at 16, social media wasn’t as influential as it is now. One of my earliest breakthroughs was a Got Milk campaign that flooded platforms like Facebook and MySpace. The campaign reached a global audience through various internet outlets.
My sister and I filmed commercials, appeared in print ads for Vogue and other magazines, and experienced worldwide recognition as part of the campaign’s fictitious rock band. This marked our entry into the social media landscape and highlighted its potential.
What’s been your proudest moment as an influencer or music artist, and how have you made a difference in your community through your skills?
Just before the pandemic hit, my sister and I had the incredible opportunity to open for legendary groups like the Temptations and Spinners, as well as perform at the Aretha Franklin tribute. Our social media presence played a significant role in securing these performances, as promoters and booking agents looked at our websites and social media metrics to gauge our ability to draw audiences. Opening for the iconic acts we grew up admiring was a true honor!
How did social media influence your career during the pandemic? Were you able to replace the income you’d normally earn from live gigs?
The pandemic shifted everything online, leading to virtual auditions becoming the norm. Being able to audition from home simplified the process and offered unprecedented convenience for initial interviews. Even when temporarily away from LA, virtual auditions allowed me to continue pursuing opportunities and return if I booked a job. The internet and social media became lifelines, sustaining my career and connecting me with brands, acting gigs, and modeling opportunities.
What do you think sets your personal brand apart from other creators, models, musicians, and actresses?
What sets my personal brand apart from my competitors is its timeless and classic essence. People have compared my style to iconic artists like Diana Ross or Donna Summer, and I take great pride in that. I embrace the best of both worlds, seamlessly striving to combine elements of the past with the present internet era.
I also offer multiple artistic disciplines simultaneously, such as music, acting, and modeling. I try to give each of these pursuits equal dedication, recognizing that they can complement and enhance one another.
Are there any social media strategies that you’ve implemented successfully?
To grow my social media following, I’ve used several strategies. Initially, Instagram was the most successful platform for me as it focused on pictures, but with the emergence of TikTok, I realized its potential for reaching a wider audience. Despite having fewer followers on TikTok, I’ve received more brand collab requests and partnership opportunities through the platform.
To make the most of TikTok, I try to strike a balance between following trends and staying true to my own style. I discovered that being myself on TikTok resonated with the platform culture and allowed me to connect with wider audiences.
The key strategy I would emphasize is to get out there, try different platforms, and be consistent in your efforts to attract new followers.
What type of content generates the most engagement on social media for your brand?
TikTok has been the clear winner! Its algorithmic reach and ability to quickly connect with a vast audience have been instrumental. TikTok’s format, coupled with its focus on authenticity, has allowed me to experiment and showcase different aspects of my personality.
Can you tell us about your experience as a TikTok shop host and its impact on your income?
Being a TikTok shop host is one of my main income sources, along with brand partnerships. It reminds me of QVC! With my background in acting and modeling, I feel confident engaging with the audience and creating an energetic atmosphere. Connecting with people and effectively conveying product value is crucial. Despite trolls and criticism, I’ve learned from stage performances that not everyone will love your work.
Can you discuss the impact of TikTok shop on e-commerce and its growth potential?
TikTok shop has revolutionized e-commerce and holds tremendous growth potential. The platform’s reach and the increasing trend of online shopping became evident during the pandemic. Many brands solely rely on online sales, tapping into the vast audience scrolling through their phones.
TikTok shop allows creators to promote products directly, leveraging their engaging personalities. Similar to hosts on TV shopping networks, creators with good personalities will be able to sell products tailored to their audience’s interests. The future of TikTok shops and e-commerce is promising as online shopping becomes the norm.
Do you have any advice for creators or artists looking to grow their social media accounts?
Regardless of your genre or field, there is a lane for you on social media.
What do you think has been the biggest factor in your success as a micro-influencer?
Taking initiative and actively pursuing opportunities. Instead of waiting for gigs or brands to approach me, I proactively reach out by sending emails, writing cover letters, and pitching my ideas. I learned from past experiences that relying on others to handle tasks I could do myself often led to disappointment. As a result, I became my own agent and manager, confidently representing myself and my brand.
This proactive approach has been crucial in establishing myself as a micro-influencer and achieving success in the industry.
How do you stay creative and motivated when it comes to creating content for your social media accounts?
I focus on understanding my purpose and reminding myself why I’m in this field. Even during slow periods or when I lack ideas, I meditate and work on positive self-talk.
Having fun is crucial to maintaining motivation, as it prevents the content creation process from feeling like a job. I remind myself of the joy and freedom that comes with creating content for brands and the opportunities it presents.
Do you keep an eye on social media trends and use them as inspiration for your content?
I try to keep a close eye on current trends. I understand the importance of incorporating trends while maintaining my authenticity. Even a simple video can be transformed into something remarkable through creative editing techniques like trending voiceovers.
In the early stages of my social media journey, I researched and observed what successful content creators were doing, particularly in TV and fashion. I learned from their techniques and adapted them to my own style.
What new projects are you working on and what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I’m excited to be working on my own beauty line, with a particular focus on lipsticks. Even when I’m not wearing a full face of makeup, I love to put on a beautiful shade of lipstick. Eventually, I plan to expand into beauty and skincare products as well.
Alongside this project, I continue to collaborate with fashion brands and work on partnerships as a creator.
Where can our readers find you?
Romilly A. Glenton is a Spain-based writer with a deep passion for the influencer economy and creator space. Her writings offer insightful perspectives on digital trends and the evolving landscape of social media influencers. Living in the heart of Spain, Romilly's work is infused with a unique blend of traditional cultural insights and modern digital developments. She skillfully dissects viral trends and influencer marketing strategies, making complex topics accessible and engaging. Her articles are not just informative, but a reflection of her own journey through the rapidly changing digital world. When she's not writing, Romilly enjoys exploring Spain's rich culture, drawing inspiration for her insightful pieces.