Q&A: Talking ‘Teen Vogue’ and ‘TRL’ with social media guru Terron Moore
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
By Marissa Gaston, Studio M staff //
If you haven’t heard of Terron Moore, you’re not listening. The 29-year old social media guru spent almost two years at Teen Vogue right as the magazine was gaining notoriety for its expansive and engaging coverage of everything from lipstick shades to Donald Trump’s relationship with truth. However, it was announced in September that he would be joining MTV in reviving “Total Request Live,” the late-’90s, early-2000s hit that counted down bangers long before “bangers” was a part of American vernacular.
In the relatively short time between graduating college and becoming the social media editor at Teen Vogue, Moore had not only been published in the likes of Elle, Esquire and Men’s Fitness, but also built social media followings for brands, such as Gawker, Jezebel and The Root, whose traffic rocketed from 500,000 to 4 million during his time there.
Now traversing the new and unfamiliar landscape, Moore shares his seemingly light-speed transition from journalism to social media to television, his hopes and dreams for the new “TRL,” how music listening has changed music writing and what even makes a hit, anyway.
Gaston: What is your title at TRL?
Moore: I’m the senior director of social media. Basically, what that entails is a few things: It is overseeing all of our social platforms from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to YouTube in a publishing sense. A lot of that is establishing our social voice, establishing how much we post, when we post it in relation to both the live show and then everything that comes after that. On top of that, it’s working with the creative team and what we call the linear team who are responsible for publishing the show on a daily basis. It’s a lot of working with them to make sure that social is baked into the show that we do. It’s a lot of things, but it’s really cool, and I have such a great team whose willing to deal with everything that happens on a daily basis. I’ve never worked in television production before, so to add that to social is like a whole other beast. But it’s very cool, and it’s been super fun.
Gaston: Tell me the quick-and-dirty version of how you ended up at “TRL.”
Moore: I wasn’t really in the market for another job or anything, but I had been working with MTV. I’ve worked with MTV a lot over the years with their shows like “Teen Wolf” and “Awkward,” I’ve done carpets at the VMAs. So I knew so many people at MTV, and I had always felt like if an opportunity ever presented itself I would definitely jump on board, and this was just an opportunity that came really fast. They reached out to me, and it was a really tough decision, and I had to weigh a lot. But it’s like, it’s “TRL,” and everyone remembers “TRL” in their youth and growing up and what it meant and what a huge deal it was. So for them to be ambitious enough to want to bring it back and sort of rebrand it for a new generation, the second they reached out to me I kind of was just like, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even in my interviews I was like, ‘I know there’s going to be one person who is going to get this chance to help reinvent ‘TRL’ for a new generation,’ and I really wanted that person to be me.
Gaston: How did you get to Teen Vogue? Did you leave college with the plan to do social media? Did you have other goals in mind, and then you ended up in social media?
Moore: It’s funny, because when I left college, I knew that I was very passionate about music writing. … My focus was music I think when I first started, but I really just wanted to be involved in culture from a journalism sense.
I started at this blog. I think I was there for like three years, but through there I started to expand my writing. That company unfortunately folded, but I had just started to get my first clips for Elle.com and for Esquire.com, or for places like that. I had already started to expand when that company folded, and I sort of had reached an impasse where I had been unemployed and just kind of freelancing until I found something. I literally had a little bit of experience in social media, and I kind of just realized, ‘Hey, there’s something here. Social media’s going to do nothing but get bigger, and there are only so many people with any sort of experience in this field.’ So I really had built a resume for journalism jobs, and then I built a resume with the little bit of social experience I had, and I just happened to get a job in social at a site called The Root.
Teen Vogue just wasn’t on my bucket list of things to do. At the time, Teen Vogue was primarily a beauty and fashion site. When they explained to me, ‘Listen, we want to expand what people get out of Teen Vogue. We want to really expand to include political coverage. We really want to expand to include wellness content. We want to be a brand that talks to young women about issues that matter to them, whether it’s activism, whether it’s mental health or sexual health or sexual identity.’ Those sorts of things were where Teen Vogue wanted to be, and that to me was what resonated.
I feel like people don’t realize how long it took for us to get the recognition that we ended up getting. Because by the time certain articles blew up and people were like, ‘Oh, Teen Vogue covers this?’ It’s like, we had been doing it for ages, and it was just, no one was watching. It was one of those learning experiences that I take with me. Whatever you want to do or whatever you believe in and the work you want to get done at a brand, the things I have in mind that I really want to do for “TRL,” it really takes months of just putting your head down and doing the work. Before you know it, people will recognize it. It just sometimes takes a lot longer than you think.
Gaston: Earlier, you talked about how you’ve never worked in the television industry, and I’m wondering how social media is different in the television industry. I’m sure things are just going all the time, and that’s kind of the nature of social media sometimes. Also, you’re in a space that is focused on music as well, and artists are always dependent upon social media followings. Considering all of that, how is your job so much more different now, being in TV and music, than it was when you were in print or digital journalism?
Moore: (In the print and digital industries), on top of your steady stream of working with the 30-50 stories a day, you have to strategize around these tentpoles that are your books coming out every month or so at Allure and every month or so at Teen Vogue. The television industry is like having that tentpole every single day. (Laughs)
It’s a little bit crazy because you have your job of just regularly pushing out content, but it literally feels like two jobs at once, because in addition you are dealing with a show that’s coming out every single day. On top of creating social content based on the show, it’s dealing with booking, when are we rolling out talent, working with talent, teams and PR people to make sure their content is getting out on social. It’s so much because I have to figure out every single day what every single channel looks like, optimizing for this show that’s coming out every day — and then simultaneously working on projects that are tomorrow’s show, projects that are next week’s show, projects that are next month’s show.
(Laughs) Like, it doesn’t really stop. This isn’t some weekly series or this isn’t some network half-hour show that’s tucked away somewhere. This is MTV. This is one of the most iconic brands that is attracting top-level talent, and it’s on four times a week. It’s massive and it’s amazing and we’ve gotten to do such great things. I’m just learning the process. Everyone that I work with wants the show to be the best that it can. It’s 100% a challenge, but when we manage to pull things off — whether it took us an hour to pull it off, whether it took us a month to pull it off — having those things succeed is super rewarding.
Gaston: What is an angle in music that you feel like people are missing? Or something that’s not really being covered enough.
Moore: One of the things that is interesting to me is, when you look at Billboard now and when you even look at MTV to some degree now, where people go to define what is cool and what is popular, it seems to me that it’s now in the hands of the people. As opposed to those years ago when MTV determined what was cool and Billboard determined who was popular, that’s not really the case anymore. I think things like MTV and things like Billboard really, at this point, have to reflect what people are actually listening to and what people are actually consuming. I think everyone, in a lot of ways, is catching up to that. There are artists that we look at and we tweet about them, and then we get such a reaction from their fans, that it’s like, ‘We have to get them on the show.’ And I don’t think that that would’ve happened 15 years ago. I think it would be MTV looking to Billboard or Billboard looking at MTV and all of these big names looking at each other instead of what the fans are actually really excited and passionate about. Fifteen years ago, those brands determined relevance, and now it’s like those brands have to remain relevant by reflecting what people actually want.
Gaston: Would you say there’s a lag, in general, in the industry, when it comes to adapting to that? Because like you said, even social media is not a priority at every publication. I think sometimes there’s a lag, and especially when it comes to, like you said, brands like Billboard and MTV, you have to be ready to adapt because things are just changing so much.
Moore: There definitely is a lag, and it’s one of those things where it requires us to be super attentive of how we listen to our fans and our followers and our readers, and how quickly we can inflict change. Part of my job at “TRL” and MTV is to go to them and say, ‘Hey. This is working, this is not;’ or ‘These artists are people that our fans would love to see on ‘TRL.’ How can we make that happen?’ or ‘This performance did really well on social. This one didn’t. How can we reflect that?’ So, I do appreciate that a big, big part of my job is social-listening specifically to impact what we do on the show.
Again, that job would not have existed a couple of years ago. I think the same way “TRL” was all about fan engagement in the first generation — where it was people voting on the countdown (helping) to determine what went on the show — this is literally even more ground-level, because we are watching Instagram likes, we’re watching retweets, we’re watching Facebook shares to realize what our audience is into and what they’re not into. It has a giant impact on how we create the show for new audiences. There’s nothing more direct these days, I think, than social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, where you can see directly what resonates and what doesn’t. The smarter brands get at using those insights to make actual changes, the better off I think those brands will be. For me, I honestly think having the most-streamed song on Spotify or having the most popular song on iTunes is more powerful than having a Billboard Hot 100. It just is.
Gaston: What are some of your favorite music outlets? You mentioned, coming out of college, you imagined yourself working at Rolling Stone. Where are the places you go for music news?
Moore: I do follow a lot of MTV, obviously, now that I’m here. In terms of news, I really do like Billboard. I read a lot of The Hollywood Reporter, just for music and a little bit of everything. I think primarily I get a lot of my news in general from Twitter. So that’s always really interesting; that feeds me to all of my favorite outlets. I think Pitchfork thinks really deeply about music, and I can respect that, so I do read a bunch of Pitchfork. I would say my primary news source these days, and I think for a lot of journalists, I would say the primary news source is Twitter. In terms of music discovery, which is really a lane that I want TRL and specifically TRL’s social to really have an impact, for now I think my primary source of music discovery is Spotify. When we talk about using immediate, ground-level user insights to have an impact on what people consume and to reflect what people are listening to, I think Spotify is by far the best at that. The way they customize playlists, the way they reflect what users are listening to, the way they use playlists and user listening habits to help people find new songs, new artists, new albums to love, I think Spotify has been absolutely genius.
Gaston: What advice do you have for someone like me, who is entering into journalism as it’s changing constantly? But also, music journalism — what advice do you have after your experience?
Moore: I would say that the No. 1 asset that has helped me is being able to use voice as a tool. That involves reading these sites and understanding who their target audience is, but understanding who you’re talking to when you write is really key. You’re not going to write the same story for Pitchfork that you would for Billboard. The voice is different, the audience is different. The article I write for Esquire would not be the same article that I write for Elle, which would not be the same article that I write for Men’s Fitness. I’ve written for all those places, but knowing who you’re speaking to and knowing how to speak to them, I think, is key. If you laser in on, “I really want to be a Pitchfork writer,” there’s nothing wrong with wanting that, but you can’t bring the Pitchfork voice everywhere.
Really be a consumer of music; (you should be) able to speak to and talk about Selena Gomez the same way you would speak to or talk about someone like SZA or The All-American Rejects. You want to remain true to yourself. You don’t want to write an article saying, ‘I love Taylor Swift,’ and then for another website write, ‘I hate Taylor Swift.’ You don’t want to compromise your own voice, but to be able to speak to music from a passionate point of view that really ranges wide, I think the better off you’ll be in terms of opportunities you can get, and the better off you’ll be in terms of how people get to know you as a writer and as a music lover.
Marissa Gaston is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.