The Instagrammers Among Us: The Business of Social Media

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for regular people and celebrities alike. It’s also a place where savvy users are using their feed to form their own brands and make money off their content.

“You are your own personal brand on Instagram,” says Abdulla Khatib, 23, a Toronto-based Instagrammer who mainly focuses on men’s fashion.

He started making money on Instagram around a year ago when an accessories brand approached him and asked if he wanted to do a collaboration with them. Since then, he has worked with multiple companies. However, Khatib is selective about who he works with.

“I believe in promoting the brand if it fits your creative content. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t hurt to turn down people or turn down opportunities,” he says.  

Khatib mentions an avant-garde streetwear brand that approached him recently asking if he wanted to collaborate with them. In the end, he turned the offer down because he couldn’t find a way to incorporate the brand into his feed.

Fellow Toronto Instagrammer Torri Webster, a 19-year-old creative industries student at Ryerson University, has had similar experiences in having to turn down gigs. As an influencer, she has almost 300,000 followers on Instagram and has worked with brands ranging from Ford to Hollister. Yet, Webster says she tries to stay true to her life and shares things she is interested in.

“You want to be smart with which brands you’re collaborating with and make sure they match your own brand,” she says.

Although she was more proactive about reaching out to companies when she first started out, she now mainly works with intermediary companies to connect with brands. These companies help her by letting her know when to post or send content. One of the companies she works with is Toronto-based #paid, a former start-up at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.

Bryan Gold, co-founder of #paid, says that the company looks for influencers to work with who generally have a large amount of followers, good engagement, and high quality content. Currently, the company only works with Instagram as a platform.

“It’s a super powerful way to get a brand’s message across because it’s focused on high quality photos, and there’s also the caption, which allows influencers to really tell a story,” says Gold.

Webster says intermediary companies have allowed her to connect with big brands that don’t typically reach out to individual Instagrammers. In addition, they help take care of the contracts and agreements which outline the details of the time and content of posts, as well as other legal procedures that come with working with big brands. Webster usually charges a minimum of $500 per post, but it varies depending on what company and brand she is working with.

“I like to use it as a part-time job for school,” says Webster.

Part of her responsibilities include making sure the content is ready when the brand wants it and having time to create the quality content that they are looking for. Usually, there is about a week to post content. But, sometimes it can get hard to balance everything, especially as a university student. Webster says she manages by making sure  she is not booking too many jobs at one time and, if necessary, taking time off of work

As a recent University of Toronto graduate, Khatib knows what it is like to balance Instagram with everything else. Even during school, he thought of building his Instagram as something he did for fun — a hobby that might potentially develop into something more. Initially, he started his Instagram hoping to offer fashion advice to fellow students, try to engage with his followers, and be himself. Although he is unsure of where Instagram is taking him, he thinks it’s very doable for students, as long as they have priorities and understand what they really want.

“You just want to be a human being at the end of the day and nothing more than that, and that’s how people see you as someone they can trust and someone they can look up to or even enjoy your content because of who you are,” he says.

And while Webster enjoys her work on Instagram, she doesn’t see it as something that she will pursue long-term.

“I enjoy it, but I think there’s going to come a point where I’m going to be looking to something more,” she says.

She hopes to go to law school and says she has bigger dreams.

Meanwhile, Khatib is headed on a trip to Asia at the end of the month. He is hoping to connect with people there and grow his follower base, as well as network with like-minded individuals.

Looking at it now, Khatib sees the importance of Instagram as a tool to show who you are as a person, which may even affect your employment chances in the future.

“It’s a perfect portfolio,” he says.

Featured image by Vanessa Gentile