Martha Stewart has dedicated the last 35 years of her life to helping other people lead the most beautiful, most delicious, and fullest versions of theirs: first through her best-selling cookbooks, then with various talk show appearances, an eponymous magazine, and — eventually — her own hugely successful lifestyle television show.
Over her illustrious career, she’s built a true media empire and inspired generations of like-minded food, decor, and etiquette-obsessed fans. But she’s also found an entirely new and thoroughly modern kind of fame recently: social media darling.
Stewart’s tweets have been written up by Time, Harper’s Bazaar, Adweek, and BuzzFeed; her Instagram posts are equally beloved; hers was one of the first major media lifestyle companies to produce recurring television-quality Facebook Live programs; and her online series Kitchen Conundrum recently won a prestigious James Beard Award.
“Society as a whole now, everybody wants to know what’s going on,” Stewart told BuzzFeed News of our collective social media obsession. “They want what they’re thinking about to be known by as many people as possible. It’s a very, very different society than the society in which I grew up.”
It’s a fact that Stewart struggles with but also relishes in. “Substance is very important to me. Superficiality is not terribly important to me. Just showing something for the sake of showing it — say, a new pair of shoes or a derriere décolleté — is not necessarily the important thing to me,” she said. “But privacy has become almost secondary to celebrity in a life like mine. Celebrity is a big deal nowadays. If you are a celebrity, look at the numbers: The more of a celebrity you are, the more you hang out with other celebrities, the more viewers and the more followers and the more responders you have.”
And when it comes to numbers, Stewart’s are impressive: She has 3.73 million followers on Twitter, 1.5 million on Instagram (between her personal and her brand accounts), and 2.2 million on Facebook. Stewart’s Facebook video content also received more than 68 million views last year — numbers she could only dream of when making her TV show. “And this isn’t even daily,” Stewart exclaimed. “If we did it daily, just think what the numbers would be. … What I try to do with each and every one of our Facebook Lives is teach something. It’s for information, it’s for inspiration; that’s what it’s all about for me.”
It’s clear little has changed over the last three decades in terms of people taking cues from Stewart — other than the platform from which she spouts her teachings. With that in mind, BuzzFeed News asked Stewart to lay out a few of her personal rules for being good at the internet.
One of the features Stewart cherishes most about her online experience is how quickly she gets responses. “I can get a read on a question, on a problem, on a thing we’re doing pretty quickly and that’s really what I like about it,” she said. “It’s almost instantaneous” — a fact she was quickly reminded of in June 2016 when she tweeted a seemingly innocuous question at the Daily Mail: “do you know this guy?? He says he is well known,” she wrote underneath a photo of Kardashian-family consort Jonathan Cheban. The internet quickly took notice. “We Should All Aspire to Tweet Like Martha Stewart” was the headline on Time’s online story.
“I had no idea who he was,” Stewart said with a laugh. “I didn’t know at all and he was so mad at me. But then he saw all the attention he got, so now he loves me. He calls me and he emails me. But I had no idea because I had never watched the Kardashian program … I didn’t know he was part of the coterie of people who hang out with her. Now I know — big time!”
2. Use your platform properly.
What you share is almost as important as where you share it, according to Stewart. While Twitter is good for getting answers to questions, she believes some are using it in inappropriate ways. “It’s used by the president so strangely,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a tool for that kind of information. It was so good for news breaking and for, again, taking the temperature of a conundrum or a challenge or something. I still use it for that. … Every now and then I almost forget to use Twitter because of the president, basically. But I still support Twitter.”
Stewart — who was a beta tester when Facebook was rolling out its live video platform — has fallen deeply in love with just how much it offers her, creatively speaking. “Facebook is more complete to me,” she said. “To be able to answer questions, live questions, instantaneously is very valuable.”
As for Instagram, Stewart says, “Instagram is for informing people of the kinds of things I’m up to. … It’s just incredible how much inspiration you can get across in a couple of Instagrams on a daily basis. I think of all the social media platforms, that’s the most addictive.”
Like all of us, Stewart has fallen into a rabbit hole after going online to look at one specific thing, which is why she’s fastidious about setting rules for how much time she can spend online every day. “When Twitter started, it was five minutes a day — at the most,” she revealed. “My makeup artist … she devours [Instagram]. It’s a daily ritual for her. And it’s not just daily, it’s hourly. I’m astonished.
“I put up something and I just look sometimes for research sake to see who is liking me and I can’t believe that these people have the time to do that. They should be punished,” Stewart said in jest. “They should be absolutely beaten because they shouldn’t be looking at Instagram so much.”
Even if Stewart has exceeded her recommended daily dose of Twitter, she will always make an exception when something is just too good to keep to herself. Like the Jason Derulo pop-up concert she simply had to live-tweet. “I’m at a concert, it’s a 125 degrees on the coast of the Riviera and I’m watching Jason Derulo dripping sweat; what else am I going to do?” Stewart said of her 2016 tweetstorm about the singer and his rapidly disappearing clothing. “Now Jason derulo is singing for us Quite a show It’s hot and he is shedding his clothes,” she wrote. “Down to his shirtsleeves,” she tweeted next. And then: “Jason really did shed his shirt and continued the amazing show.”
“He’s a very good performer and I was shocked at what a great dancer he was,” Stewart said looking back. “I’d never seen him perform live so it keeps me kind of interested in that kind of performance to photograph it and tweet about it. I’m learning something while I’m doing it, so that’s good for me.”
Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, Stewart has one hope for anyone engaging with her social media platforms: that they learn something. “That’s what I care about,” Stewart said, before paraphrasing what she wishes her fans walk away from her accounts saying. “’Oh, I learned so much from Martha! You should see her blog today. On her Facebook Live, I learned how to organize my bathroom. I learned that I should wipe down my shower every day when I get out of it instead of leaving it to get moldy.’”
Stewart has forged into the darkest corners of the internet once or twice, but she’s become a member of the “Never read the comments” camp. “I try not to read comments very often, but every now and then for research sake I’ll read some comments and I’m quite astonished that there’s nasty people out there with nasty things to say,” she said. “And they’re always so anxious to correct your grammar, your spelling… I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me because I’m supposed to be so perfect that they love to catch me up or something, but I didn’t think that’s the case. I think they do it to everyone. I do not take it personally. If people have something nasty to say, I think they should write a letter.”