Maggie Hitchings/ Courtesy Photo

Katie Postl carefully selects her outfit and hairstyle for the day, but not just for herself, for her 21,100 Instagram followers.

Instagram is a social media platform primarily based around sharing photos and videos. With more than 300 million active users that spend an average of 21 minutes on the app every day, it’s now being used for more than just sharing photos; it’s used to market products, services and even individuals.

Graphic by Maggie Hitchings

“I’m constantly either sending messages or talking to companies [or] my manager, editing pictures or getting pictures edited by someone else,” animal science graduate Postl said. “It’s honestly a 24/7 job when I’m not sleeping.”

Postl, who modeled as a kid, started her road to Instafame by modeling apparel from small clothing companies in Los Angeles. Once she gained enough followers, she was featured on Total Frat Move, a top college comedy website. Now companies reach out to Postl through Instagram to represent their brand.

According to Postl, it is crucial to post consistently, a struggle she faced as a full-time student at Cal Poly. After just two days of not posting a photo, she runs the risk of losing followers. As a student, Postl didn’t have the time to have a photoshoot every week. To keep her audience engaged, she would have to post photos from previous photoshoots.

Maggie Hitchings/Courtesy Photo

“I don’t think people realize that me posting one picture is not like I’m quickly selecting one photo and caption. I have a list of captions that I wrote down months ago that I haven’t used,” Postl said. “I have to send my edited pictures to so many people before I post it and I have to get captions approved by the company before I post the photo. It’s a lot of work to post a single picture.”

For just one post, she charges approximately $200 depending on the company she is collaborating with. Postl tags the company, such as Members Only and Movimento Apparel, in the image or caption as part of her agreement. Her Instagram account is her personal brand and business. She stays true to her style by posting photos that have a similar natural look to them, though she’s not yet sure which particular brand or look she wants to eventually represent.

Instagram also allows Postl to connect with her fans on a personal level. Because she runs her account, they can directly message her.

Makeup artist and vegan lover

While Postl built her personal brand in the world of Instafame, nutrition sophomore Amanda Castillo created her style through makeup tutorials and sharing her passion for veganism on YouTube. She uses Instagram to promote her videos and gain YouTube subscribers.

YouTube video

Video by Clara Knapp

“I don’t think there was a day in high school where I never wore makeup,” Castillo said. “I was known for it and people would always ask me to do their makeup for special occasions.”

After gaining more than 20,000 subscribers on YouTube, Castillo was contacted by Nikki Phillipi, who now has more than one million YouTube subscribers. The two collaborated on a few makeup tutorials, and Phillipi served as Castillo’s mentor and taught her how to reach new heights of fame on social media.

From there, Castillo first started trading free items from companies for shoutouts on her channel. Castillo soon realized she was underselling herself. Now she receives approximately $3,000 for a one-minute shoutout and $6,000 for a full-video shoutout for companies.

“As you’re in this kind of business industry for a while, you really learn how much you’re worth and how much you should get paid,” Castillo said.

Though she is making good money, Castillo emphasized her ethics and the importance of staying true to her personal brand. She declines  daily offers from companies that want her to promote products — such as makeup — that have been tested on animals. As a vegan she would never willingly apply makeup that counters her beliefs against animal testing.

“I do look into my ethics and what I’m interested in first, and from there I’ll choose the company,” Castillo said. “Money definitely is tempting, but I always look at my core values and what my viewers like as well.”

Hungry Haley: A foodie finding fame

In contrast to Postl and Castillo who make money from their Instagram and YouTube accounts, nutrition junior Haley Hansen does not currently charge companies for her “foodie” Instagram account. Created as she recovered from an eating disorder, Hansen’s posts feature recipes for nutritional meals and promoting healthy living.

“My journey has been finding what foods support my busy fitness-obsessed lifestyle. Oh, and I’m vegan!” Hansen said.

Hansen has promoted companies such as Crazy Richard’s PB and Square Organics Protein Bars on her Instagram account. She featured the health products on her Instagram and wrote reviews about them on her website. In the past three years, Hansen gained more than 20,000 followers. Because of this large increase in followers, she has plans to start charging companies. She is discussing fees with DrinkRE, an energy booster with natural substances, and Eat Healthy Designs, a clothing company promoting good nutrition.

Graphic by Maggie Hitchings

Hansen’s personal brand is a combination of balanced eating and fitness, but she said staying true to this style is sometimes challenging.

“Sometimes staying true to me can be hard and it is easy to get lost in the excitement of companies reaching out and followers growing,” she said.

To those following the road to Instafame, Hansen suggests prioritizing one’s brand over the money and business aspect, and to make sure that a company matches the style and purpose of that account.

“When distraction consumes your mind, which it likely will when your following grows, it’s easy to forget your mission and lose sight of your ultimate goal,” Hansen said. “When you put out genuine material, people who want to see it and who share the same beliefs will support you.”

Challenges of student entrepreneurship

On top of staying true to her personal brand, Hansen also faces challenges as a full-time student and running her business Instagram account. Being a successful student entrepreneur means choosing your priorities and practicing good time management. Jonathan York, Co-Founder of Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), emphasized the importance of finding a balance between running a business and being a full-time student. He noted that this gets harder as a business idea grows rapidly and gains popularity.

“For the most part, it’s not going to wait for you,” associate professor York said. “As you get thousands of followers and people are noticing what you’re doing; you can’t just say, ‘Sorry I’m going to have to stop for a while.’”

York said when it comes to entrepreneurship, students must be committed to expanding their brand. The work  they put into their business has to be a part of their day, regardless of classes and other obligations.

“I think that students who are young entrepreneurs pretty much excel at setting priorities and using their time well,” he said.

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