In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
Natalie Amrossi was exhausted. She’d been up all night shooting photos of luxury cars, and in the morning, she was struggling to brush off her sleepiness -- and her thoughts of the photos of Jaguars on her computer, waiting for her to edit them.
She’d been building a following with her Instagram account, @misshattan, for a year at that point. It was then, at age 25, that she decided to resign from her finance job at J.P. Morgan and pour all of her energy into freelance photography. Her lifelong hobby had become her side gig, thanks to exposure via Instagram. But juggling both was becoming overwhelming.
The native New Yorker’s ultimate passion was taking aerial photos: She started on rooftops, which led to an offer to take her first helicopter ride. Breathtaking shots featuring her legs dangling above skyscrapers became a staple of her brand, but she also lent her skills to companies such as Jaguar, Cadillac, Nike and more. As inquiries piled up in her inbox, she became increasingly confident that she could make a living taking photos full time.
Three years later, @misshattan is Amrossi’s brand across a variety of social platforms including Facebook and YouTube, but her largest community is on Instagram, where she has 427,000 followers. Her feed is still mostly comprised of Manhattan cityscapes, but she occasionally posts photos of other destinations, such as Hong Kong or Morocco. When relevant, she features her brand collaborations on her account. Her roster of clients includes tech companies such as Google and Apple, alcohol beverage companies such as Heineken and Absolut Vodka and even travel and tourism organizations such as the city of Las Vegas. She views her photography as a way to chase her own dreams while inspiring others to chase theirs.
Amrossi spoke with Entrepreneur about the opportunities for not just photographers, but artists of all types to broaden the reach of their talents using social media.
1. How did you get your start with Instagram?
A friend of mine recommended that I download the app and check it out. I immediately really enjoyed the interaction from people all over the world. I never knew that I could touch people from different parts of the Earth with my photographs. I kept on posting, because the more I would post, the more engagement I would get.
I was working at J.P. Morgan, straight from college, and it was just a side project, just for posting for fun. Then slowly but surely, my following started to grow, and grow rapidly. I guess a year into it, I hit tens of thousands. Different companies would ask me to take photos for them for their social media. So that's how that started, in terms of starting my own brand and working with other brands as well.
2. What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
I definitely spend half of my time on Instagram and the other half of my time on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat -- YouTube, even, I'm starting to dabble in.
I think YouTube just tells a story differently. The fans on YouTube, also, if they like travel photography, they're going to really dive deep and really follow up with everything. A lot of people like to watch TV, and now with smart TVs, there's an app for YouTube where you can easily watch different YouTube channels. It's adding on to your platform on Instagram to have this full YouTube channel.
I love Instagram stories. I think it's a great way to show different things on your account without adding them to your feed. I think it's great for behind the scenes and stuff like that that your fans are really interested in. When I travel or have a photoshoot, I’ll try to get in a few things on my story to give a different perspective of what I'm doing.
3. What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
I'm first and foremost a photographer, so just being able to see different photos and different artists inspires me. Just scrolling through my feed or looking at the explore page gets me excited. And I have my own community on Instagram. When I post, I like to interact with my fans from all over the world.
4. How much of your time do you devote to it?
When I wake up in the morning, I tend to just scroll on Instagram, probably for like … (laughs) you know, you get carried away. Like a good 15 or 30 minutes, just scrolling, and then you look at the time and you're like, “Wow, I didn't even realize how fast time went.” So, I’d say maybe two hours a day, so 14 hours a week, if I had to make an educated guess.
A lot of the work that I do, I don’t post on Instagram. My followers enjoy the travel aspects of my photos. So if I posted portraits and stuff like that, I don’t think as many people would be as interested than if I posted something of like, an aerial shot of Morocco, or wherever else I’ve been. It’s definitely tricky, because sometimes I’ll post portraits, but the majority of the time, I will post different aerial shots or cityscapes.
With different brand work that I do, depending on the brand, or if I really do love a shot, I post it.
I resigned from my job about three years ago, and at first I was on Instagram heavily. But I think in order to survive as a freelancer, I’m more on the back-end side of things, so I’d say that my time on Instagram has been maybe less than what it used to be. But it varies. It really depends on how busy my week is and what I have going on.
5. How do you promote your account? What's your number-one way to gain followers?
One is doing Instagram meetups, which are called Instameets, where people who have the same interest in photography go shoot around in different locations. Also, a lot of people on Instagram tend to repost your photos. Their followers see your work, and if they like what they see, they follow you, too. I would post photos of New York from perspectives that not a lot of people would otherwise see, especially my aerial perspectives, and a lot of reposting action is how my followers grew. It could either be just an average person with 1,000 followers that were their friends, or a photography account page with more followers featuring different photographers. That and collaborating with other photographers and taking portraits of each other is another way I grew my followers.
6. How do you engage with others on the platform?
I go into their profile and check out their work and comment. I think the more you engage, the more engagement you'll get. It connects you differently with your audience, and it's a fun way to kind of communicate.
There are so many different ways that you can engage with different people, whether it’s commenting on your own photo and just writing back to somebody -- if they write a nice comment to you, you could do the same in return. Clicking on a hashtag of a common interest and just commenting on photos that you like and liking different pictures as well as, now you can search different locations, and on the explore page, you can just scroll through. The Instagram algorithm already has posts in there that they think that you would like. So I think that's another great way to engage with other users.
7. How often do you post?
I try to at least post once a day. But it can go from one post a day to like four or five. It really depends on my time and my mood.
I try not to post too late at night. But, when you start to have a following, you have people from all over the world. So, if you post, let’s say, at 3 a.m. your time, although it might not do as well as it could do if it was earlier in the day, there will still be people liking and commenting on that photo. So that just reaches a different audience, and that reaches audiences in different parts of the world. As long as you don’t let the numbers affect you too much, it’s another way to grow your following.
I know people who, I don’t know if they still do it, but every four hours, they would have a post up there, even if it was, you know, 4 in the morning, they would just keep posting.
8. What's your content strategy?
I just try to stay consistent. People follow you for a certain reason, and if you just stay consistent to that, then you’re going to grow your following faster.
I do play around with that, and the engagement might not be as strong as what you usually post, but you do reach a different audience and you add to your following growth. I think as long as you stay true to what you like and what you enjoy, other people will follow that.
But there are so many times that I want to post something personal, but I’m like, “You know what? Yeah, some people will enjoy this, some people won’t. But this isn’t true to my brand and what my end goal is, so why post it?”
9. How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
Instagram has made it so much easier to communicate with people. If you hold down on their username it pops up with an easy way to reply. In the top right corner, you can send a message easily. Essentially, Instagram is a communication tool.
If I'm traveling abroad -- or even if I'm in New York, people come to visit. It’s so much easier to say, “Hey, let's collaborate together, let's go take some photos and create more.” It definitely helps with doing that, with the updates.
I've met people who were following me and they wanted to host me and take me around. So we'd meet at a location and kind of start there. And you know, that sounds a little creepy, but you get a vibe off people, and once you meet somebody, you can see if you guys have a good connection between each other. That’s happened to me in Dubai, in Hong Kong, in Tokyo -- even in New York.
10. What's your best storytelling trick?
When I post a photo, I can use Instagram stories to say what happened in that photo or whether it's in the caption, kind of describe how I was feeling in that photo, as well as, when people comment, replying back and asking questions. You get more of a deeper connection and one-on-one storytelling, and other people can scroll through and view that as well.
11. How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
My editing style is different from other photographers. Everybody has their own aesthetic when it comes to editing their photos, so I think that helps tremendously as well as perspective and seeing things in a different light.
I kind of use similar tones within my photos -- brightening up the highlights and going with a more colder look, which adds more of a bluish tint to my photos.
I think it’s how you play with the light when you take these photos. The light hits something in a certain way, and with that, you can kind of play with the shadows, make it darker and bring out the highlights and just make the photo more vibrant. With different editing tools, you could bring up certain colors, like oranges and blues, and bring down other colors, like yellows. So, it really depends on your mood. If I edit a photo today and tomorrow at the same time and I feel a different way, the photo will look completely different because of how I feel in the moment.
12. How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
I went to school for finance, and, you know, I wanted to live comfortably, and I never knew that you can make a living as an artist. People think that artists starve, but that's not necessarily the case. And especially now, with social media, there are so many platforms, and there are so many brands out there that need help in that department in terms of making content for it.
Instagram definitely gave me my initial connections with different brands to start creating for them, and then from there, whether it’s word of mouth or people moving companies and just building relationships or going to events, I think it really does help you meet up with a global brand for social media. There are so many that you can work with. So I think as long as you keep interacting with people and going to events, you can meet more people and work with different brands.
Then there are also brand sponsorships, like I have with Heineken. We've been working together for the past six months doing different activations and stuff. But there are many different routes that you can go. I've definitely done over 20, 30 sponsorships.
A lot of brands need creators to create for their social media, beyond just Instagram. They need content for their pages, so you don’t even necessarily need to have a huge following to do that. As long as you put yourself out there, there are so many events out there that people want you to go to, if you go and you meet the right people and decide to work together, that's just a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Sometimes [I repost the content I create for brands onto my own feed]. If I like the photo enough, then yes. If I think it fits within my aesthetic of my brand, then yes. But not always, because I think it’s important to brand yourself and differentiate yourself from other brands. So, posting other brands isn’t necessarily going to help you accomplish that. It really depends on the brand and it depends on how much you like the photo for your feed.
13. What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands on the platform?
Stay consistent, and figure out what you want the vibe of your feed to be and what you want your brand to represent. Stay true to that, and keep posting and engaging and interacting with as many people as possible.
Most of the people that you engage with on social media, they probably won't be able to help you in any way or give you a job or something. But they do spread your name around and tell their friends about you. The more that you just engage with the opportunities that come up, the more likely it is that you’ll meet somebody who can help you.
14. What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
I think people think that it’s really easy, and it really is hard. You really do have to kind of stay focused and stay true to your brand and find different creative ways to collaborate with people on the platform.
For instance, I'm a photographer, and I take these photos. So, a lot of these images, I don't want them to just live on the internet. I do want people to be able to have these photos hanging up in their homes and stuff like that. I think it's important to realize that you can build your own business behind that. I set up my own print shop, and that has been super great and helpful for my survival through this freelance photography life, as well as brand partnerships. I think it's just more of what your end goal is. So, for me, it would be to have galleries and the opportunity for people to purchase the photos.
If you stay consistent and people follow you for a specific reason, when you post that you have a product available, then, whether you have 2,000 followers or half a million followers, those are like your customers for your store. I know people who, for instance, do a lot of lifestyle things and fashion. They'll have links on their website where you can purchase some of the things that they wear and they get kind of a commission off that. So it really depends on what you want to achieve on social media and what you want your brand to represent.