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How A Cat Lover Became An Instagram Influencer - Case Study

This guy used to post cat photos. Then a marketing agency made him a star.

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There is no denying that Instagram, the 'selfie' capital of the world has skyrocketed and continues on the rise above platforms like Twitter and Pinterest. But compared with other social networks like Twitter and Facebook in Instagram is all about trying to become an influencer and the amount of followers one has.

Instagram's global growth and popularity have led the (so called "Influencers") to command audiences that number in the millions. For brands, collaborating with these fashion amantes, talented photographers, stunning makeup artists, and inspirational photographers is now one of the most effective ways to reach and engage with consumers who spend hours each day on social media platforms and look to top Instagram influencers to make purchasing decisions.

Max Chafkin, a "Bloomberg Businessweek" reporter who decided to take on the hard task of becoming an Instagram influencer, went far and beyond of what I ever Imagined anyone doing just to gain a social media influencer status. An although it was just an experiment he showed many of us that being an Instagram star is not easy.

Chafkin considers himself a normal guy, has always been well-liked, has friends, a spouse, a job, a college degree, he says that he exercises, gets haircuts regularly but decided to become an Instagram influencer to essentially make money through putting out content online and make a living by simply uploading images to his Instagram profile.

I think I should give a quick definition of what that is, I think a social media influencer is anybody who has a big following and a group of people who very much respect their opinion on particular types of products and all concepts and in one way or another has the power to make people make decisions about purchasing something or choosing a certain way of life. An influencer can be anything from a blogger to a motivational speaker to a comedian to a makeup artist beauty guru.

According to Chafkin's article, there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of influencers making a living this way. Some make a lot more than a living. The most successful demand $10,000 and up for a single Instagram shot. Long-term endorsement deals with well-known Instagram influencers like Huda Kattan, Huda is a Dubai based beauty YouTuber who has since started her own makeup line, Huda Beauty, off the back of her incredibly successful Instagram account. Her range of liquid lipsticks, false eyelashes, highlighters and eyeshadow palettes prove so popular they sell out almost immediately. Another such influencer is Kristina Bazan, who signed with L’Oréal last year for $1 million or more.

Big retailers use influencers, as do fashion brands, food and beverage companies, and media conglomerates. Condé Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vogue, recently announced that it would ask IBM’s artificial intelligence service, Watson, to take a break from finding cancer treatments to identify potential influencers.

These are the people that big brands are now looking at to promote their products and services. Big brands are looking for people who have a very engaged audience, an audience that comments on their posts/videos and not just some John Doe with 2 million followers an 1 or 2 comments on each post..

According to Chafkin his idea of "How to become an Instagram influencer" was born on the marketing website Digiday, after an anonymous social media executive ranted that marketers were essentially throwing money away on influencers, whom the ranter characterized as talentless.

He's curiosity about the way that these people earned a decent way of living guided him to Daniel Saynt, another influencer guru. Daniel disputed that, with the right guidance, almost anyone could become an Instagram influencer. To prove it, he made Chafkin an offer: He’d help him become an influencer himself.

With Saynt’s company advising Chafkin, the mission was to go undercover for a month, attempting to turn his original @mchafkin profile into that of a full-fledged influencer. Chafkin would do everything possible within legal bounds to amass as many followers as he could. Chafkin's niche would be men's fashion in which he clearly had no experience. The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay him cash money for his influence.

First thing is first and he went for a quick haircut and got his nails done! Saynt's company, Socialyte, would suggest a photographer for Chafkin to hire, and he was told to bring 20 or so mix-and-match outfits to a shoot, to generate a huge volume of “looks” to post each day. A week later, he was on the field looking for a textured backdrop wall that’s brick or painted and stylish in some way — and all he had to do was to look off, unsmiling, into the middle distance.

The first picture he uploaded during this experiment didn't get a "like" until 15 minutes after he posted it. Moderately successful influencers might get 100 likes or more in that same amount of time.

He was then told by Saynt to use #hashtags. Saynt recommended that he should include at least 20 with every post. To avoid any unnecessary creativity, Chafkin used the Focalmark app, which allowed him to input a couple of variables about each shot—for instance that it was a portrait, containing menswear, in New York City—and would then spit out a list of hashtags. Here are a few that he used regularly: #menwithclass, #mensfashion, #agameofportraits, #hypebeast, #featuredpalette, #makeportraits, #humaneffect, #themanity, and, of course, #liveauthentic.

On the second picture he posted he acquired a few dozen likes and roughly three followers. That’s actually not bad for somebody with an almost nonexistent presence on Instagram, but it was discouraging, because he would need at least 5,000 followers to have any hope of making money online as an Instagram influencer.

A few days later Chafkin started to test out bots that would zip around the service on his behalf, liking and commenting on any post that contained the hashtags that he specified. In a typical day, he mentions, he would leave 900 likes and 240 comments. By the end of the month, he liked 28,503 posts and commented 7,171 times.

Socialyte had suggested Max to create at least three posts a day, which sounded easy since he already had most of the pictures he would need. It was not easy—and Chafkin spent much of the next month in a state of constant dread, mostly because he says he hadn’t told his friends or family members about his Instagram experiment.

Another difficulty was that he’d been told to post at least one piece of “lifestyle content”—that is, a picture of something other than himself—every day. The idea was to create a sense of variety and to avoid boring his new audience during his experiment. He was suggested to use sunsets, cityscapes, and decent looking food plates.

A week later into his experiment, Saynt informed him, in the gentlest manner possible, that his lifestyle content was terrible. The natural solution was professional help. He was introduced to Alisha Siegel, a wedding photographer by trade who also sells stock images to influencers.

Siegel could offer as many perfectly framed lattes, hipster hotel lobbies, and urban sunsets as one wanted and Chafkin purchased 20 for $400, which brought his total tab for photography services to $2,000, yes two thousand bucks.

By the end of Week Two, Chafkin's Instagram profile had reached 600 followers, or a threefold increase and Saynt told him that that if he kept it up, he could be at 10,000 by the end of the year, which would be enough to command maybe $100 per sponsored post. That was encouraging, Chafkin thougt. But to keep up the pace, he’d have to spend $2,000 a month on professional photography services and also find a way to keep a steady stream of new outfits coming. There was no way he would ever break even on this; He clearly didn’t have the talent.

Chafkin says that the breakthrough came as his Instagram followers count pushed above 800. He received a message from Andrew Hurvitz, a photographer in Los Angeles and the founder of Marco Bedford, a clothing line. “You want to collaborate?” he wrote.

A few days later, one of his T-shirts was sitting in Chafkin's mailbox. Hurvitz’s shirt, retails for $59. The picture he took wearing a Hurvitz's t-shirt did pretty well, earning 156 likes and, according to Instagram, reaching 468 people.

And just when Chafkin thought that his social media experiment was winding down, he began to wonder whether there might be an easier way to complete his goal.

There was a chance that a fake boost could turn into genuine momentum. And so, with a week or so left until his deadline, he says that he logged on to a site called Social Media Combo, which promises “high quality followers.” Packages range from $15 for 500 new followers to $149 for 10,000 followers delivered straightly to any Instagram account. Chafkin says he went for the base package purchasing 500 Instagram followers for $15 and that nothing happened for two days.

Then, without warning, his Instagram profile jumped from 885 followers to about 1,400 in a matter of hours. By the time he posted his final influencer photo—a lifestyle shot of a flower shop that Siegel had sold him he was adding enough followers to mostly offset a slight drop-off of followers when one uses these type of services. But that's not the interesting part, the interesting part is that according to FollowerCheck, an app that purports to analyze an Instagram account for authentic engagement, 1,168 of Chafkin's followers were real.

So Max had an agent. He also had to hire a professional photographer who took the fashion shots. He had someone helping him with styling just like a real influencer would probably have a publicist as well and according to his story Social Media Combo was his life saver . "And just when I that these bot sites didn't work".

Kim, a former designer for Ralph Lauren, who started her account as a sort of joke, posting photos of her shiba inu in men’s sweaters and sport coats in the style of other popular fashion influencers says that “Whatever you do in life, it helps to have a following,” and “It’s going to help you professionally.”

Just look on the bright side, at least we don't have millions of followers to judge us for our blurry, out of focus pics hey.

Max Chafkin is back to being a schlumpy (ph) dad in Brooklyn. He writes for Bloomberg Businessweek. And, Max's, Instagram handle is @mchafkin.

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