Case Study: From Insta’ User to Insta’ Star

Instagram influencers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are cute dogs with disabilities, fashion icons with Harvard case studies written about them, and young couples living the #vanlife. You can basically make a viral Instagram account about anything as there’s something for everyone. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.

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However, they all have a few things in common: They post frequently, create stories people can relate to, and have found their niche audiences. But is it possible to turn these tactics into a full-time job? It definitely is because many have done it. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most successful accounts online right now.


Emily King and Corey Smith of @wheresmyofficenow found success on their Instagram account featuring photos of their life on the road — aka #vanlife. In a New Yorker article about the couple, Smith explains he saw potential for business in their large fanbase (as of September 2018, they have 180K followers.)

Where's My Office Now?Where's My Office Now?
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King and Smith found success in promoting the #vanlife lifestyle. Their account’s popularity led to the couple getting paid to post by sponsors like Hydro Flask, Kettle Brand chips, and Cliff Bars. The New Yorker argues why the term “van life” is so appealing to social media users — it sums up renewed interest in road trips, outdoor adventures, and freedom from 9 to 5 jobs.


Chiara Ferragni is one of the first fashion bloggers to use her online popularity to launch her own business according to She’s one of the top fashion Instagrammers with 15M followers as of late. Her ‘gram features scenes from her daily life, outfit of the day posts, and magazine photo shoots.

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Chiara Ferragni/@chiaraferragni

Italian blogger Ferragni’s initial success started on her blog, but her 10M Instagram followers earned her $12M for a sponsored post according to The Telegraph. Even business schools have taken note of her success — her blog and shoe line became a case study at Harvard Business School in 2015.


Sixteen-year-old Shih Tzu Marnie’s current 2M followers love her signature head tilt and tongue out expression while she poses with celebrities. This famous dog has met stars like Usher, Aaron Paul, Chance the Rapper and more. Some celebs imitate her tongue out while cuddling Marnie, consequently racking up the “likes!”

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Marnie once had a “ruff” life — she was found on the streets and possibly suffered from Vestibular Syndrome (hence the head tilt and tongue). Now, the older lady makes her money slanging merchandise, books, and her own app thanks to her memorable Instagram. She and owner Shirley Braha also use their fame to bring awareness to senior pet adoption.


Chances are this Insta’grandma has a way cooler closet than you do. Baddie Winkle often poses in Drake shirts, neon crop tops, and Tweety Bird swimsuits, smirking at the camera and smoking cigarettes. Baddie told NPR she’s “always been a rebel.” She thinks the rebel attitude she exudes in her photos is the reason for her fanbase of currently 3.8M followers.

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Baddie’s (real name: Helen Ruth Elam van Winkle) success has lead to a myriad of opportunities where she can show off her sassy outfits. She’s been in campaign features, done modeling shoots with brands like Dimepiece and gotten invited to the MTV Music Video Awards. Moral of the story? Age is just a number!


Makeup artist Bretman Rock (full name Bretman Rock Sacayanan) rose to fame as a teen and now has over 10M followers on Instagram. He became known for his makeup tutorials featuring daring looks and his funny personality. Rock’s fame led him to host the Miss Universe red carpet in Manila, a makeup collab with Morphe, and to become CoverGirl’s first-ever CoverBoy.

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Multiple publications claim Rock is breaking down barriers as one of the few men and high profile Filipinos in the beauty industry. He told Paper that while he doesn’t consider himself to be an LGBTQ activist, he does use his platform to show it’s OK to be queer.


Liam Martin (aka Liam Miscellaneous) of New Zealand has currently racked up 1.2M followers keen on his low-budget recreations of celebrity photos. His hilarious posts have included mimicking Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball inelegantly poised on a yoga ball and imitating Kim Kardashian’s backside with balloons attached to his bottom.

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Rolling Stone reports his success has lead to paid opportunities in selling merchandise like t-shirts. He’s also used his platform to be a mental health advocate and to publicize his book, A Wave to Ride. Martin has shown the world that you can use this platform for both creativity and advocacy.


Adam Gallagher’s account catering towards fashion, travel, and adventures has drawn in a cool 2.1M followers. Gallagher’s posts feature beautifully-styled photo shoots of him in trendy outfits around the world. His blog, I AM GALLA, aids men interested in fashion with style tips and trend forecasts. We can see why users love him so much, this guy is styling!

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Gallagher’s online influence has given him opportunities to work with big brands like Harrod’s and Schwarzkopf International, ultimately making his love of fashion his career. It seems like a lofty goal for those that are starting out, but if you already have a knack for fashion, you might be able to propel into Instagram fame with the help of the following resources.

Resources for Instagram Influencers

Some Influencers are running full-fledged businesses. Those that can turn their accounts into moneymakers might benefit from hiring some help or buying new software! Adding one other person to your team or new tools might help your brand expand and keep the money flowing. It might not be good for someone just starting out, FYI.

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Noting the success influencers find using Instagram, businesses have adapted to create ancillary services for social media entrepreneurs. There are now lots of resources for Instagrammers to stay organized, edit their photos, get legal advice and more. We think getting a little help and guidance can make all the difference between a followership of zero to millions!

Personal Assistants

Having an assistant to manage your day-to-day affairs can free up time spent answering emails, scheduling meetings, and promotion. Influencer Noelle Downing (@noelledowning) often features her assistant, Jessica Leigh Morris (@thecompleteworksofjess), on her Instagram. She hired Morris to help manage her blog (Noelle’s Favorite Things), her Instagram account with 208K followers, and her Depop shop.

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This piece of advice might only be helpful for Instagrammers with massive followings and clientele. You have to have an income in order to hire a personal assistant in the first place! While building your brand, you can save some money doing a lot of the smaller clerical tasks yourself.

Lawyer Up!

It’s not a bad idea for online influencers to employ the help of lawyers specializing in copyright law and intellectual property. Digital media is changing rapidly, and a lot of issues can be legal gray areas. Legal firms like New Media Rights offer services specifically for creative types like bloggers.

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They counsel on issues like user privacy, copyright and trademark users, contracts and more. Having a resource on deck to navigate the legal complexities can get your business on the right track and avoid potentially lawsuits. Take makeup YouTuber Michelle Phan (@michellephan) for instance. Ultra Records sued her in 2014 for copyright infringement when she used their music in her videos.

Instagram’s Business Profile

Many online reports offer various opinions on the benefits of this profile. It’s a good idea to do your own research and see if it’s a good fit for you. In Takumi’s blog, influencer Justine (@itsjustinejournal) reported seeing reduced engagement. Engagement is a really important metric on the Instagram platform.

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However, some also said they liked the features that the Business Profile offers, for example, its analytic tools. Analytic tools tell users how much engagement the account is getting and how the followers are engaging with the account. Blogger Victoria (@philorose) told Takumi the Business Profile’s analytics indicated a lot of her 11.3K followers were from New York. If you really want to get fancy, you can cater your content to appeal to these audiences.   

Marketing Agencies for Influencers

Taking notice of Instagram’s 1 billion users, marketing agencies specializing on Instagram influencing have gone into business. Some actually represent influencers or work with companies to expand their reach on Instagram. They’ll partner them with influencers down to market their product. They can be helpful in taking your business to the next level!

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Some agencies specialize in this niche industry or have Instagram influencer marketing as a part of their services. Influencer Marketing Hub lists Viral Nation, HireInfluence and 6Degrees as some of the top influencer marketing agencies. These might be some of the priciest options but there are other ones out there.

Photo Editing Software

Instagram is a very visual social media platform. Some of the most popular accounts have beautiful photography, such as National Geographic (@natgeo). The publication has 91M followers. Not all of us are award-winning photographers, but many can figure out photo editing programs. Some tweaks here and there make all the difference in your photos.

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For those adept at Adobe Suite, Photoshop and Lightroom will be your new best friends. If Adobe isn’t your speed, there are open source editing tools, like Canva and Gimp, that are simpler to use and free of charge. A little editing can go a long way to increase your followership.


A verified Instagram account gives your brand legitimacy and garners immediate trust from potential followers. A verified account means that Instagram has confirmed the account is the authentic presence of a business, person, or brand. A little blue checkmark badge on the account indicates this. People are typically more likely to follow an account that has been verified.

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Instagram’s new update has made it easier for accounts to get verified, according to a September 2, 2018 report in Forbes. Accounts with many followers will be able to request verification. Before, Instagram would award verification to profiles they determined legitimate or users would buy badges on the black market.

Scheduling Tools

These’ll save you a lot of time and better manage your content. You can draft your posts for the week and carefully plan photos all at once. It’s much less stressful than rushing to get a post up once or twice a day while fulfilling your daily duties. Use some tech to set it and forget it!

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There are free tools, like Grambler, but paid social media tools like Zoho Social and Hopper HQ also have built-in Instagram schedulers. You can view your content calendar ahead of time, edit captions and photos, or reschedule posts when necessary. Some of these tools also provide analytics for you to review.

Tips for Starting an Instagram-Based Business

Possibly the most important part of starting an Insta’business is envisioning the big picture. What does your account stand for? What are you trying to sell? Who are you trying to reach? Really dig deep and do some Insta’soul-searching! That authenticity will shine through in your brand. Followers are able to spot a fake much easier than you think.

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When you determine your vision (or while! These things take time) understand how to use Instagram’s features and keep up with its best practices in order to illustrate your vision to the world. Engaging your followers, picking a memorable handle, and putting on your storytelling hat are just some tips we list below.

Pick a Catchy Username

And stick with it! A change in a name also means a change in branding. Your account name is what your fanbase will know you and remember you by. You’ll want to select something professional, short and sweet that’s unlike already established accounts. You also want it to be easy to pronounce since word of mouth will help amplify your brand.

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If you already have a blog, you’ll want your Instagram account to use the same name as your blog. It is a good idea to spread your reach across other social channels even if Instagram is your main gig. Use the same username on your Twitter, Facebook, etc. This not only reinforces your personal brand but makes your online assets easier to find.

Find Your Niche

With the 1 billion users out there in Instagram world, there are certainly accounts to follow no matter what you’re into. With that said, “building your brand” in your Instagram account is necessary. How else are you going to stand out in the sea of content out there? By standing out! That’s how.

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Try not to be too broad when creating digital content. Stick to a specific subject matter. If you’re into fashion, find a way to communicate the uniqueness of your style. Into animals? Set up an account dedicated to one kind of animal — cats, dogs, frogs, whatever! There’s a fan for it.

Tell a Story

Since Instagram’s platform is photo-centric, having strong visuals is necessary. You don’t need to invest in a DSLR camera — newer smartphones have great cameras installed in them already. Take the time to learn a couple photo basics like the rule of thirds, take photos during “magic hour” and make sure your subjects look camera-ready.

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They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but you can add even more words to your posts! Give your viewers a detailed summary of the photo within the caption beneath the image. You can discuss the inspiration for the photo, any challenges associated with finding the subject, or why you think the subject matter is important.


This feature on Instagram allows you to tag a location. Like hashtags, (which we’ll explain below!) users can search geotags. It’s another way for potential followers to discover the magic of your account. It also adds to the story behind your photo. Users that haven’t been to that location get curious about it or if they have been there, the location will bring back memories.

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You can geotag the location your photo was actually taken at, maybe a potential location you’re traveling to (if it’s relevant to the photo) or if you’re doing a giveaway, geotag the location of the store or company you are working with (they will appreciate the cross-promotion). Not only does it make you easier for users to find, but also adds another level of storytelling to your post!

Use #Hashtags

In Instagram world, “#” isn’t called a “pound sign,” it’s called a “hashtag.” Users are able to search photos of a certain subject matter when clicking on hashtags. For example, a photo of a cat might have the hashtags #cat, #kitten or #catsofinstagram. Users can even “follow” a hashtag much like following an account.

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Instagram allows for 30 hashtags within a caption. You don’t have to use all of them but the more tags you add, the more likely users can find your account. It’ll be beneficial to search hashtags that are popular at the moment. For example, #ThrowbackThursday, #wcw or #latergram. Using the most popular tags makes your posts that much more relatable too!

Engage With Your Followers

Build organic audiences by not only creating interesting content but also by engaging with your followers. This might consist of responding to their comments or DMs, creating interactive giveaways and posing questions for them to answer. However you choose to do it, make them feel like you’re listening and be friendly. Within reason of course! You’re nobody’s doormat.

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Engagement keeps your fanbase from hitting the “unfollow” button. You can pay for some follows and likes, but a real live audience is more appealing to yourself and potential clients. On that note, post consistently to give your followers a reason to interact with you online. More of that below!

Post Often

Followers are much more likely to stay engaged with your account if you have posts going up on the regular. Consistency is key! If users don’t see many posts going up on your account, they won’t have anything to engage with, so they might lose interest and unfollow you. Consistency is good for impressing potential clients as well.

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If they see users engaging with your content on a regular basis, this is more of an incentive for them to offer you opps for sponsored posts. They want to see the same users coming back to your account so their products make an impression on them. Followers will engage again if you give them a reason to.

Create a Social Media Calendar

With the high volume of content that you will be posting, it is important to stay organized. Planning out your content for the week, or even the next few weeks helps to ensure that your account is posting often, posting quality content, and a solid variety of content. Content, it’s all about content!

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Considering the time of day you post and the day you post is important too. Plan that out on your social media calendar! Scheduling relevant content around holidays is also a good way to get engagement. For example, users don’t want photos of red, white and blue fireworks around Christmas time. They want gift ideas or photos of snow!

Challenges of Instagram-Based Business

Life as an Instagram influencer isn’t all filters and latte art. Behind the camera, an Instagrammer might face online trolls, discomfort publicizing their private lives, and social media burnout. All of these can lead to depression, anxiety and ultimately interrupt your life. We know, it sucks, but it can be managed!

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Realizing the causes of your stress and approaching them in a positive way will keep your business — and your sanity — going strong. Everyone approaches stress differently as everyone is different. Some people need organizational tools to calm down, others like talking to a therapist or a friend. You might pick up a tip or two from the Instagram entrepreneurs we’ve listed below!

Having Your Private Life Go Public

Especially if you’re introverted, having your private life on display can make you feel vulnerable. Some influencers take steps to set boundaries between real life and online. As a way to retain some privacy, Fashion blogger Rebecca Stice (@aclotheshorse) purposely doesn’t share photos from inside her home on her blog A Clothes Horse.

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Other influencers find there are benefits to sharing their personal life with others. Craft blogger/instagrammer Elsie Larson (@abeautifulmess) toyed with the idea of not publicizing her family’s adoption story of daughter, Nova. She decided to share her journey to help other families understand the adoption process. She was glad she did!

It’s Hard Always Looking On Fleek

Even if you schedule your social media posts (see more under “Resources for Instagram Influencers” below!) you will still need to use Instagram’s Story feature to engage your audiences. Stories are short real-time videos that disappear after 24 hours. You can’t schedule those, at least not yet, but should post those frequently if possible.

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That means you gotta retain your photo-ready looks almost around the clock. Unfortunately, Instagram’s image-obsessed userbase will favor FaceTune or Filter enhanced photos of influencers wearing the latest trends and prettiest makeup. It’s a bummer to feel this pressure, we get it. If that’s not you, be warned that is when the trolls might come out.

The Trolls

Instagram-based business isn’t for the thin-skinned. Anyone with high online visibility runs the risk of being targeted by “trolls” — users that start arguments and use inflammatory language on the Internet to provoke others. Those with fashion and beauty accounts might especially be the target of body-shaming comments. It’s so unfair.

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In a report on GirlBoss, a survey is cited in which 42 percent of people said they’ve been a target of bullying on Instagram. Bullying on Facebook and Snapchat was fewer — 37 and 31 percent. We can only assume the reasons why this is, but we can now file this news under Social Media’s Negative Impacts next to depression.

Social Media Burnout

You might have heard the many reports linking social media use to depression. According to a study by the Royal Society of Public Health, Instagram is the worst app for your mental health (even worse than WebMD?). The study says Instagram causes “fear of missing out” (aka FOMO) and body-image issues.

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It’s OK to take a break from the app if it affects your happiness. Kitten rescuer and animal advocate Hannah Shaw (@kittenxlady) told her followers she’d be going on a social media cleanse at one point for her mental health. She often posts about the importance of taking oneself first before taking on the responsibility of humane work for cats.

Harmful Self-Assessment

There’s a downfall to Instagram’s image-centric design: It shows you photos of people that are seemingly prettier, richer and more successful than you. In addition, most users only show their “highlight reel” on social media. A quick glance at any social profile makes other users look like they’re totally killing it.

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It is easy to forget that most users’ carefully curated online images are not a true blue reflection of their IRL personas. Remember “MySpace angles?” The light tricks and angles photographers use on Instagram are just the same, making them look better than they actually do away from the camera.

It’s Addictive

Science says so! A study in the journal “Technology in Society” says 210 million people might be affected by social media and Internet addictions. That’s a ton of people… Could it be you? Affected individuals show lowered overall satisfaction which drives increased Internet usage. Knowing how easily addictive the platform is, monitoring your social use is key.

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Instagram influencers have to spend a good portion of their days on social. The regular person spends about two hours per day using social media — an influencer might spend much more! Scheduling posts ahead of time and turning your phone off at bedtime are some strategies to save your sanity.

Algorithms Can Be Tricky

Some Instagrammers report much difficulty with using Instagram to sell. Vintage seller Amanda Suter (@butchwaxvintage) told her followers Instagram made her tags harder for users to find. In particular, she relies on #bwvforsale to show her clients available merchandise. She instructs followers to click on “recent” when searching the tag.

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Staying up-to-date with any new changes to the platform, and figuring out how to work with them, will help your business succeed. Some publications regularly give users the down low on updates to Instagram and other social outlets. Try Forbes and Social Media Today for the latest news and tips.

There’s Lots of Competition

Didn’t we mention there are 1 billion Instagram users according to Omnicore Agency? A good portion of those are influencers that are just as talented, pretty, and smart as you are. Only the accounts with the biggest fan bases will be considered for sponsored posts (the real money maker) by companies.

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So how you do you rise up against the sea of digital media content creators? Some ‘grammers simply do all the work themselves — posting, scheduling, photo editing — but some employ the help of outside resources. Personal assistants, lawyers, and marketers are just some of the services they hire to create their personal brand dream team.