Weed and Empathy: The Women Behind @CommentsByCelebs

Entrepreneurs Emma Diamond and Julie Kramer discuss how bong rips and success can in fact coexist.
Weed And Empathy: The Women Behind @CommentsByCelebs
Courtesy of Comments By Celebs

When I dialed into the conference line with Emma Diamond and Julie Kramer—the youthful brains behind the popular Instagram and podcast “Comments By Celebs”—I was skeptical. How could the creators of such a wildly successful social media account be concerned with anything other than social media? It was thus a pleasant surprise when our ensuing conversation demonstrated that a business based on celebrity discourse can be thoughtfully executed with empathy, and that Emma and Julie’s decision to fuel their platform with such positive ethos shows an extraordinary understanding of what it means to be human.

How did Comments By Celebs evolve from a text group between friends at Syracuse University to the account it is today?

Emma Diamond: Julie and I became friendly at Syracuse when she was a sophomore and I was a senior. We became close and bonded over our mutual fascination with the world of the Kardashians. Our relationship built itself at the same time the business built itself. When I asked her to run the account with me, I wasn’t choosing my best friend. It was more we connected on a pop culture and humor level, really nothing to do with our personal relationship.

It’s been said your account has helped humanize celebrities. Did go into things with that intent or was that a byproduct of the account’s creation?

Emma Diamond: We did expect that to be a natural byproduct of the account and it’s something we wanted to happen. The reason that we started [the account] in the first place was because we felt we were witnessing these celebrities being humanized, and we wanted to share the experience we were having as spectators with a larger audience. The magnitude in which the [account humanized celebrities] is something we did not expect.

Julie Kramer: We ourselves always humanized celebrities on our own level, and I think we always expected when we started the account that we would bring a level of our own awareness and our own thoughts of celebrities to it. We didn’t fully expect other people to reciprocate the way they have and I think it’s been one of the best byproducts of the account.

Emma Diamond: Also, being able to have our podcast has really allowed us to connect with [celebrities] in a different way. It’s one thing to see them commenting, but when we have celebrities on the podcast, we treat them more like co-hosts. It’s not usually an interview—unless it’s a bonus episode—and is more them talking about celebrity news like the rest of us. That’s something we’d like to expand on more, how the humanizing effect takes place in person.

There are challenges within all entrepreneurial endeavors. What are some of the entrepreneurial challenges CBC has faced?

Emma Diamond: We really have had less struggles than a lot of other people starting out because I think we capitalized on the [Instagram] algorithm at a really good time. The biggest challenge has been getting the word out. If you have any interest in pop culture, once you follow the account, you’ll like it. But getting [the account] to a lot of people’s eyes isn’t always the easiest thing. On more of a business level, we have been specific with the brand partnerships that we choose—and we like doing things that way—but dealing with brands is a little more challenging because there’s so much that goes into explaining how we do the partnership. We won’t deal with any sort of ad if it’s not in the form of a comment. Getting people to wrap their heads around how that works—on the front end—can be a little bit challenging.

Julie Kramer: Something also really important to understand about the struggles of starting a business is that we never intended this to be a business. When people set out to do something and they have all the stress of—“We have to start making money immediately”—we didn’t really have that in the beginning because we were at both school doing this on the side. [Our success] almost happened by accident. I think a lot of the stresses people have when they’re just starting out have a lot to do with figuring out how to sustain the business and make it an actual business. For us, it was an accident how things became a business.

At one point did you realize [the account] could be your full-time job?

Emma Diamond: I was at Columbia finishing my first year of graduate school and Julie was still at Syracuse about to graduate. What happened was, our followers were really starting to grow. We got mentioned a couple of times on “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” and from that we saw a real growth spurt. We realized, “We have something here,” that people really liked the content, and that’s when we knew we had to hit the ground running. Around April 2018, Julie deferred applying to grad schools, I deferred my second year of graduate school, and we made the conscious decision to turn this into a real thing.

How has the process of working remotely helped the business and your relationship?

Emma Diamond: It’s been great because there’s such a level of freedom. Both Julie and I knew we were never the type of people to work in a traditional office. I know people sometimes fear that working remotely can hinder their productivity, but for us, I think it’s what helps us the most.

From a relationship standpoint, I’m not sure if it’s because we’re not with each other all the time, but we literally never get sick of each other.

Julie Kramer: For our relationship, maybe it’s like how Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband didn’t live together for the first year and how they have an amazing marriage they say. I don’t know if [seeing each other regularly] would necessarily matter, but productivity wise, we never have an issue. When you have something that you both care about so much, neither of us want to be lazy or take advantage of the fact that we’re not in a traditional office. Because it’s our baby, it doesn’t matter where we are, we’d be working equally as hard.

What’s the vision for the company and brand moving forward?

Emma Diamond: We’re definitely looking to expand into video content, but not with [Julie and I] being the on-camera talent. Rather, we’re more interested in producer roles. We’ll continue to grow the podcast, maybe into different podcast formats. We’ve both fallen in love with audio—it’s our dream come true—and we feel we connect really well with the audience through that medium, so it’s something we’d like to lean into more. For niche accounts, there’s almost no limit on how many [you can have], so that’s something we’d like to look into expanding because there’s such a dedicated audience for such specific groups.

Longer term, I totally see [CBC]—in addition to being a media company—also having some sort of a creative agency. I think throughout the process we’ve really understood how to work with brands and if there’s one skill we’ve gathered both from this business and also being social media enthusiasts it’s that we have our finger on the pulse of what works, what people are considering funny, and what’s trending, which is really important in advertisers’ eyes.

Are the brands seeking you out?

Emma Diamond: I’d say it’s a probably a fifty-fifty split in terms of inbound and outbound. We target brands who perform really well on social [medial] and who really get it. When people ask, “What do you look for in a brand?”, the best way we know how to describe it is, “We look for brands that get it,” meaning, they understand what is going to work on social media. They’re not trying too hard, they have a distinct voice, and they are willing to give us a little bit of creative control in terms of knowing that we understand our audience.

Sometimes there are brands where we’re like, “We know we can make magic with you,” and other times we get inbound interest, and that’s always exciting. So it’s definitely a mix.

And how long did it take to lock in the unique voice of CBC?

Emma Diamond: If I go back to the very beginning of the account, we’ve always had the same principles of “positivity, wit, lightheartedness, and no shade or negativity.” The biggest shift in voice is that we sometimes take things from more of a news-making or news-breaking angle, but in terms of our affect, it’s the same as it was when we started.

Julie Kramer: What’s funny now is that because we have the podcast and people are hearing our voices through audio, we’ll see comments on certain Instagram posts and captions where people will guess which one of us wrote the caption, or they’ll say, “Oh my god, I read this in Emma’s voice.” If anything, our voice has become more recognizable to other people and more understood by other people, but [the voice itself] has been the same since the very first post.

What steps are you taking with that voice to normalize the stigma surrounding cannabis?

Emma Diamond: We are not your typical account. We do not consider ourselves influencers and try to remain as behind the scenes as possible. However, when you have a podcast or a [public] account, you have to make the conscious decision of whether or not you’re going to disclose the fact that you smoke weed. We just made the decision early on that it wasn’t a question, it’s a big part of who we are, it’s not something we feel ashamed of, it’s not something that has limited our productivity or our ability to be successful or forward thinking. We made the very conscious decision that we were going to be super open about it. Just by doing that, hopefully it can be destigmatizing because people can see the things we’ve been able to accomplish while being very open about our love for marijuana.

What’s interesting is that now there’s an opportunity to monetize that love in the sense of brand partnerships. There are a lot of strategic brand partnerships we could be doing—and will be doing—with marijuana companies that incorporate pop-culture and love for weed into one.

With cannabis brands, is it the same fifty-fifty for inbound/outbound inquiries?

Emma Diamond: Probably a little bit more inbound, but mostly fifty-fifty. If we have a brand of edibles or a company that we really like, we’ll just reach out and they’re typically happy to provide us with their product as sort of a “win-win.” In terms of higher-level partnerships, such as a podcast series sponsored by a company, those aren’t discussions we’ve gotten into yet, but internally, that’s something we’re really excited about and would be willing to do.

Everyone on this call is a big Lowell Farms enthusiast. What is it about Lowell that makes them so amazing?

Emma Diamond: I love their packaging. I genuinely like the quality of the product, but I also like the presentation. There’s something about their box of pre-rolls that just makes me happy. I like how easy it is, how sleek it is. I love how the joints are rolled. When it comes to flower, that’s my brand.

Julie Kramer: We keep their pre-rolls in a box in Emma’s apartment.

Emma Diamond: They also sent us their CBD joints, which I never thought I’d be into. I smoke weed to get high. I like the feeling of being high. So I thought, “What’s the point of CBD? Is it really that relaxing? Will I really be relaxed without having the high?” I tried it, and I have to say, I find myself waking up a lot more well-rested after smoking CBD joints before bed.

What are your favorite strains?

Emma Diamond: The “Lucid Sativa.” In general, I always prefer satva. It’s so energizing. I don’t feel groggy [the next day] and just want to come up with amazing ideas and talk about life.

Does smoking aid your creativity?

Julie Kramer: We use it as a “reward system” at the end of the day.

Emma Diamond: We’re not productive stoners. We’re not the type to “wake and bake,” that’s just not us. I like being fully clear-headed. We would never be high for a podcast or anything because it just doesn’t work for us. More power to you for the people who can.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing like getting super stoned. Sending that last email and being like, “Let’s get ripped.”

In terms of getting ripped, what is it about bongs you like so much?

Emma Diamond: I think it’s the best thing for your buck. One rip from a bong can get me stoned and I like the rush.

Julie Kramer: I like the social aspect of it, similar to passing a joint around. I enjoy sitting with friends and having [a bong passed around] be a component of the experience. There’s a social ritual to it that’s very “That 70’s Show”-esque.

Have any ideas for the business ever come up during these gatherings, even though that’s not the focus of the gatherings?

Julie Kramer: It’s like how you come up with your best ideas in the shower. Once your brain is not thinking about something and is not focused on it, the ideas start to come.

Emma Diamond: I feel our best ideas come from sitting on the couch in my apartment, whether smoking, eating an edible or sometimes being sober. 

Non-weed related, some of our ideas are born out of a pop-culture event. For example, when the whole Jordyn Woods / Tristan Thompson thing happened, we had the idea to do an emergency podcast. We then flushed it out into a five-part emergency series called “Jordyn Gate,” which was responsible for the largest growth of our podcast ever. [The idea for the emergency podcast] was a reaction to a pop culture event that we were all experiencing together.

You had the idea and you took the action. For a lot of people, they might have ideas but fail to act on them.

Julie Kramer: We talk about this a lot. It’s kind of the beauty of being your own boss. When we have an idea, we don’t need to run it by anybody. There have been times where we’ve had an idea and have been like, “Can we do that?” Yeah, of course we can. We’re the only ones who have to give us permission. That’s given us an immense amount of creative freedom to be able to take these little ideas we have when we’re sitting in Emma’s apartment—or when we’re in our remote locations texting—and do something about it.

Emma Diamond: I was never raised with the idea of failure being scary. For a lot of people, their biggest fear is failure. I was raised with the idea that if something doesn’t work out, you’re on to the next thing. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and you’re on to it. The idea of something not working doesn’t carry the same fear that it carries for a lot of people because I view things as a learning experience as opposed to a failure.

You can use failure to push you away from where you’re trying to go, or use it as gas to get to that next step.

Emma Diamond: Failure as a term is so off because not working out isn’t failing, it’s just not working out. It’s okay if something doesn’t work out, but it doesn’t mean it was a failure. There are things that are failures but something that’s not living up to the expectations you dreamed up doesn’t make it a failure, it just means it wasn’t as good as you wanted it to be. And that’s okay.

We’ve gotten good at being super resilient and taking things as they come. We’re really lucky that we can decide what we want to lean into on any given day. Having that creative freedom is the biggest blessing. I know for a fact this business would not be what it is if we had to run things by other people. Sometimes we take risks that I don’t think other people would.

Having that autonomy allows you to trust and lean into your own instincts.

Emma Diamond: The only higher up is our moral compass. We want to feel good about what we’re putting out.

Julie Kramer: I also think there’s no one else who could possibly understand and know our followers and what they want, what they like and what they’re looking for better than us.

What’s helped you get to that deep level of understanding of your followers needs and wants?

Julie Kramer: We pay attention really well. The community we’ve built is really amazing for sending us content, but it’s also really amazing for giving us feedback.

Emma Diamond: People feel like our DMs are a place to voice their unfiltered views on celebrities. And even if we don’t do anything with that information, we still have that knowledge and can pick up trends. This is the stuff that I think truly differentiates us: we try to gauge followers’ responses to different celebrities that we’re posting so that if we have a really good celebrity comment, but we’ve been posting that particular celebrity a lot lately, the last thing we want is for people to get sick of them. Technically [posting the comment] doesn’t really affect us, but we take extra steps to make sure that celebrities are being received in the way they would want to be. We’ll space out comments—even if there are a couple of good ones [by the same celebrity] because we know people’s tendencies are to get sick of things when they’re overly saturated. We take steps to curate our feed in a way that isn’t bothersome.

Julie Kramer: I think we also have a responsibility to diversify ourselves as well because if we’re calling ourselves “Comments By Celebs,” we’re basically saying, “This is what a celebrity is,” so it’s on us to make sure we’re showing not just one type of celebrity who comments a lot, but a mix of what people want to see.

Whereas other companies would probably just pump out “content.”

Emma Diamond: We are very compassionate, empathetic people, so it’s not like we’re some corporation running this account. We are two women who care about people. Everything we do is through the lens of human connection, empathy and compassion. Of course there’s a desire to be news-making, news-breaking and viral, absolutely. I almost can’t blame other publications who have to reach a certain quota or who have to put out “clickbait,” but we never, ever sacrifice our values, and that is something that makes us different.

Follow @commentsbycelebs and check out https://www.commentsbycelebs.com/for other celeb-driven content

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