Mandy Ansari wasn’t planning on becoming an influencer. But when tragedy unexpectedly struck, she decided to change course and channel grief into action, applying her brand marketing skills toward new goals as an entrepreneur and mental health advocate.
Known by fans as their “Virtual BFF,” Ansari has built a huge community of followers through her positive, inspiring content and candid takes on topics like depression, happiness and the importance of self-care. Today, Ansari relies on Slack, her digital HQ, to actively engage peers and keep her growing team motivated. Her superpower? Honest, open communication. But a custom Barbie emoji helps, too (more on that later).
Slack: Tell us about your journey from a career in tech to a full-time influencer. How does tech still play a role in your day-to-day life?
Mandy Ansari: I had been working with everyone from startups to multi-billion-dollar brands for over a decade, helping them share their stories to connect with their target audiences. Through this, I organically built a community online. I had toyed with the idea of building a space online to better connect with them, but it wasn’t until my best friend lost her battle with lifelong depression and took her own life that I made a move. She loved the internet, whether it was a hilarious meme, career advice, blogs, inspirational quotes or self-help. It provided her with joy and inspiration to persevere through the daily.
The thing we don’t often realize about depression is that the people struggling with mental illness chase happiness harder than anyone else. I wanted to turn the intense pain and grief I was experiencing without her into a legacy that could live on, but also help others feel less alone and more understood. It’s important to me that I share the good, great, bad and ugly moments online. The more I did this, the more my digital footprint grew, and I suddenly found myself needing to leave my demanding role in tech to dedicate all my time to helping my online community thrive.
You’re known as your followers’ “Virtual BFF.” How have you cultivated strong relationships virtually? How have they played a role in your day-to-day life?
I’ve always been obsessed with the internet’s ability to make the world a smaller and more connected place, which is why I loved working in tech to develop digital products. As I began navigating my own personal grief and mental health journey, I realized sharing it online helped others feel less alone. It’s the power of community and connection that allowed me to help my audience chase happiness in their everyday lives alongside me.
I’m dedicated to normalizing conversations around mental health, and I believe the single most common cause of depression is feeling alone and misunderstood. It’s important that every single thing I post helps someone feel more confident, a little lighter, less alone and a bit more understood. Technology allows my voice to travel further by allowing me to communicate to more people.
How do you use Slack to build relationships and strong connections virtually?
I’ve been a Slack user since its inception. I love trying out new tech as it’s launched, but Slack was an application that I immediately knew would improve the way we work.
Slack organizes conversations in a way that has never been done before, creating a space where cross-functional teams can come together in one place to share ideas, make decisions and move work forward at rapid speeds. It helps teams operate faster and stay in sync, wherever they are.
Whether I’m working with internal teammates or external partners, Slack gives everyone involved an opportunity to weigh in on key decisions and deliverables mid-project to co-create better outcomes.
How has Slack helped you strengthen collaboration virtually?
I still use Slack the same way I did at my corporate gig with my team at the agency I’ve founded, Modern Girl Media. But a content creator is essentially a one-human advertising agency. Every social media campaign comes with briefs, client calls, rounds of approvals, several drafts and many cross-functional team members. I can wholeheartedly say that the campaigns that utilize Slack as a mode of communication result in a better end product (with a lot less email).
My favorite Slack experience recently occurred during the height of the pandemic. I was a speaker at many virtual conferences, and one of those was Create & Cultivate. Their events had always been held in person, bringing together thousands of like-minded professionals, goal-getters and brands. With the pandemic, Create & Cultivate had to completely pivot, and they utilized Slack, which was a game changer.
During that time, people were so hungry for human interaction, myself included—I was in total isolation, self-quarantined in New York City. As a speaker, I loved the ability to connect with attendees and other panelists, and deepen relationships with peers and my community, through Slack channels. Once the livestream was over, attendees were still able to stay connected and energized, even though we couldn’t all be in the same place at the same time.
How do you balance your busy work schedule with your personal life?
In all honesty, I’m still figuring this part out. I pride myself on being the same person I am online as I am offline, so sharing my life online is a part of my job and it’s something I enjoy.
Now, as a bride-to-be, I’m having to be more intentional about my time because I want to be present and prioritize my relationship while still sharing a holistic view of my life and my pursuit of happiness. Since I don’t have traditional working hours, I utilize status updates in Slack to give team members a glimpse into my current headspace, bandwidth and even my mood.
Any tips or advice you would share with your followers when it comes to work-life balance?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the importance of saying “no.” Just because a night is empty on your calendar, that doesn’t mean you have to say yes when a coworker or business partner asks you to go to an event with them. You can turn invitations down for no other reason than you want that time to yourself and that your free time can be just that—free.
You are an advocate for mental health in all aspects. How have you changed your work habits to better your mental health?
Something that’s reframed my mind, and something I speak about often with my peer and fellow content creator @colormecourtney, is the importance of putting your own mask on before helping others. When you board a flight, just before takeoff, the flight attendant announces, “Should an emergency situation occur, put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help others.”
How can you be at the top of your game if you aren’t meeting your own needs first? You’ll only be able to provide quality guidance and support by making sure you are well-rested, hydrated and ready to conquer each day with renewed energy.
What are the most important components of creating a healthy hybrid work environment?
Communication! I love that whether you’re new to remote work or have been working remotely for a long time, collaborating with Slack can bring everyone closer together—from internal teammates to external partners.
And when clients have an opportunity to weigh in on key decisions and deliverables mid-project, teams can co-create better outcomes. What makes it even better? Using GIFs, reacji and emoji to lighten the mood and create a more personable workplace.
All right, we’ve heard they call you “Carbie Barbie.” We’d love to hear the story here. Could you walk us through it?
As a girly girl, I grew up loving Barbie. But as a Middle Eastern immigrant, no Barbie ever looked like me. “Barbie” was synonymous with a thin doll with makeup, a mane of straight blond hair and garish clothes.
As a curvy girl who loves (and blogs about) carbs, I decided that Barbie could be reinvented as every woman–no matter their ethnicity, appearance or interests. So I started using the hashtags #CarbieBarbie and #GirlandtheCarbs.
Since then, Mattel has released three new body shapes: original Barbie has been joined by Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie and Petite Barbie. The dolls also feature a wide range of skin tones reflecting many different ethnicities.
So here’s to changing unrealistic beauty standards while pushing diversity and inclusion! I also love my custom Carbie Barbie Slack emoji–a professional gal who multitasks and consumes macaroni and cheese while using Slack to get work done.
You recently spoke on a livestream discussing the shift from formal workplace jargon to informal communication, such as GIFs and reacji via Slack. If you could get rid of one work-jargon phrase, what would it be and how would you replace it?
I would absolutely abolish “Let’s take this offline.” Mostly because there is no offline anymore.
We’re living in a digital-first world, communicating primarily online from our digital HQ, and transparency is essential to a healthy team. I would replace it with “How can we move this forward together?” Or “How can we find a solution for this together?”
Finally, what is your favorite Slack feature, and why?
I’m a sucker for a good GIF, so I love the humor that Slack’s Giphy integration brings to conversations in workspaces to create camaraderie and spark laughs. Work should be fun, and a timely GIF and sense of humor are an easy way to usher that in.
Also, I appreciate the vulnerability and honesty that can be shared in Slack status updates to let your peers know where you’re at emotionally and mentally on a given day, and to prompt others to approach you with empathy and understanding. Work is important, but treating one another like humans first is most important.