On the Gram, For the Green: How a trend turned into a career

Photographer Jayson Hinrichsen and personal blogger Rachel Mallas both audibly groan when they talk about the struggles of building a career through Instagram in the Midwest.

“People ask me where I’m from, I tell them Iowa, and they say ‘Idaho’?” Hinrichsen explains. “Like, they don’t even know where Iowa is.”

“It’s so hard,” Mallas adds. “Finding that niche is a lot different, and not a lot of people are into that culture.”

That culture Mallas refers to is the Instagram Influencer lifestyle to which both Hinrichsen and Mallas contribute. A trend that initially started in bigger coastal cities of America now has people all over the country collaborating with companies and brands on an individual basis to promote their products. In other words, companies will get contacted by or reach out to photographers or models on their social media profiles, cutting out any middlemen and giving a more direct line to advertising and marketing services.

For some, like Mallas, it’s a passion that started when she was a child.

“I have always loved photography, and I’ve always loved being in front of the camera,” Mallas explains. “If you look at little kid pictures of me, I’m always cheesin’.”

With that love of being on camera, Mallas has collaborated with multiple companies and even found herself on the red carpet during Des Moines Fashion Week. She has been working on her brand for a little over a year on Instagram, and she experiences a lot of difficulty with building that, being based in Iowa.

“There just isn’t a lot of people here that are willing to chase that dream,” Mallas says. “That’s why everyone goes to L.A., because everyone there is chasing a dream, so everyone there is using each other to build themselves up. That’s why [influencers in L.A.] all have high followings.”

Kaitlyn Hess, another Midwestern Instagram influencer, has also encountered these problems as it relates to finding opportunities to promote her brand.

“Honestly It really sucks living out in Iowa because there really is not a lot of options as far as photographers and also locations go,” Hess adds. “You really do have to be willing to travel if you want to do anything more.”

What these influencers realize is when opportunities come so rare, self-promotion is the name of the game.

“Self promoting is most important because the higher the following the more influence you have over brands. There’s not much to growing a following besides talking to the right people and being noticed,” Hess says.

This type of self-promotion and branding are not lost on photographers like Jayson Hinrichsen either, who also uses Instagram as a part of his income.

“I try to make as many connections as possible,” Hinrichsen says, and through these connections he has gone from shooting photography for free and getting his name recognized to creating sponsored content for GoPro and Durex Condoms.

In addition to the extra challenge of creating a large following in the Midwest, there is the regular stress of social media and putting creative work on display for all to see. Hinrichsen says it puts a lot of pressure on him to perform.

“Once you hit a certain [amount of exposure], you can never go back down, so everything has to be good once you post that high quality photo,” adds Hinrichsen.

Hess expresses that being vulnerable opens the door for a lot of unwanted, but readily available comments.

“You get a lot of backlash and weirdos that will message you asking a lot of strange things that wouldn’t be acceptable in the real world,” Hess explains.

However, through all of the stress and vulnerability, there are positives that come with putting yourself in the spotlight as these influencers do.

“I’ve gotten emails from girls and other women asking for health, nutrition and confidence advice,” Hess interjects. “It warms my heart that there are women that love what I post and post in and it gives them confidence to do the same and not fear negativity as much.”

With the rise in popularity of new age careers starting exclusively on the Internet, more people are going to jump at the opportunity to make a name and money for themselves. These influencers who have started to pursue this type of work recognize that this trend isn’t confined to the region of which they are based out of.

“Everywhere needs people like us,” Mallas says. “Everywhere you go, there’s going to be people that choose this type of lifestyle.”

Photos used with permission from Jayson Hinrichsen