Why I Create Sponsored Content

I recently went to a meet-and-greet hosted by @instadfw and Fleishman-Hillard where local DFW creatives/social media influencers got to meet with the agency side. It was so great seeing and hearing both sides of the process of influencer marketing, and it spurred me to finally write down my own experience.

I've thought about broaching this topic for a long time because a lot of people ask me about it... and I've also heard people speculating about my Instagram and blog. What do I get out of creating sponsored content (or being a "social media influencer")? WHY do I do it? Surprisingly, money is not the only factor.


Farmshop, CA

Farmshop, CA

Okay, but it is a factor though. I started my Instagram and blog to be creative. I love making things look pretty, whether it's a flat lay or editing a dingy corner of a cafe. Then one day, I wanted to become a part-time freelance photographer and get paid for shooting other people (babies, engagements, weddings, I'll do it all).

Somehow along the way, my Instagram blew up, and I got paid to shoot for other ... companies. What is the difference if I'm creating content for brands versus people? I love creating aesthetically pleasing images! And if I get paid to be at SXSW or style a gorgeous product in my home, then that's even better. I'm doing what I love to do, experiencing cool events, getting free product, and making some side money.

I can see that the difference may be that I vouch for other companies, but I actually only accept what I like. To be honest, I've turned down $1,000+ offers because I couldn't relate to the brand or if the brand would just... ruin my aesthetic. I think hard about every project I take on; they are not just easy paychecks because I put my heart into the content.

Disclaimer: In the beginning, when I became a suggested user, I did take on any projects because I was SO excited I could make a few bucks for being a photographer ("influencer"? I don't even know if that term was around at the time)! I've since then learned how to curate my personal brand and feed to be more genuine.




I absolutely love thinking about how to take a great shot. Constantly. If I'm not thinking about full-time job (my unaesthetic, logical side), then I'm researching and thinking about my next shot. I think to grow any skill, you need to be challenged. As a freelance photographer, taking on new client projects is your challenge. The same concept applies when you're shooting for Instagram/blog posts. Accepting a product and assignment I'm interested in but have never shot before is an amazing challenge and forces me to think on my feet or come up with new concepts.

A pretty recent challenge for me is also being IN the photos of my own feed. Who takes those photos? Well, whoever is around me that I can direct really well... I've had to learn to direct, model, and edit another person's photos (sometimes that person doesn't even know any more than pressing a button). I've also started hanging out with other photographers, and we all take photos of each other, which is really great for creative collaborations also!


Le Labo

Le Labo


I post almost EVERY day. I think that constantly creating content for either myself or brands has given me a lot of visibility and connections. I've met a lot of great people, learned to run a side business, learned to be patient and kind with people from all walks of life, learned new photography skills, and am still constantly evolving (this isn't even my final form). I LOVE my full-time job, and loving both sides of my world (logic and art) is what keeps me sane and amazed with life in general. 

I still shoot for myself. I still shoot for others. And along the way, I shoot for brands. Whatever I'm doing, I make sure it's to grow, learn, and become more well-rounded person.


If you are an aspiring blogger/influencer/creator, make sure you are 1) staying true to yourself and 2) educated on what you're creating/who you're creating for. I've pushed back on ideas and given reasons on why something will work or fail; most brands will work with you on that. If not, then the post will fail (and sometimes that happens), but you learn not to accept those assignments anymore/to stick up for yourself.

Are you blogging to make a quick buck? Don't get burnt out by taking on partnerships you don't even like or making content you're not proud of. Are you wanting to make it your career? I really can't relate, but as with any career, make sure you're happy. Are you doing it to become "Instafamous"? What in the world.

Just have passion. Fleishman-Hillard said they think creatives/influencers are the type to not be able to put a camera down, and it's true. We love what we do as creators, and being rewarded for it is a great perk in addition to creating work we are happy with!  

Instagram Suggested User

Well, my time as a Suggested User on Instagram is finished. What a ride! Let me try to put my experience into words.

The Beginning

I was driving to the movies with Brian when I got a notification that Instagram started following me, and that I received a Direct Message from them. I was really confused to see the name "Instagram" on my screen. Since I was driving, I told Brian to check it. He read to me that Instagram picked me as a Suggested User.

I quickly glanced at the words "suggested" and "thousands of new followers" and my hands started to sweat. I couldn't believe it! JUST a few days prior, I had Googled "How do you get on Instagram's Suggested Users list" out of curiosity because I had seen 2 other Instagram friends get on the list these past few months.

I had to turn off my notifications because the followers/likes came instantly. By the hundreds. Over the next 2 weeks, I jumped from about 1,300 followers to over 60,000 (I'm assuming this number will drop -- keep reading!). 

The Doubt

One strange thing that crossed my mind was that there was an alarming amount of what looked like spam accounts. I double-checked all the "Instafamous" people and saw that their followers were a good amount of inactive followers too. It made me think, "Does Instagram know about this?" and "Is this what all 'Instafamous' accounts are like? Is Instagram itself promoting spam just to up our follower counts?"

All sorts of disappointing thoughts. But I did see real people commenting and liking, and it gives me hope that Instagram is still the awesome community I know it is. When all the spam accounts get shut down (they disappear 10-12 at a time with each post, I've noticed), I'll hopefully be left with people with whom I can genuinely interact.

Also, Jean had a very good point. Suggested Users usually pop up for people who are new to Instagram. Other than that, you would have to dig through "Find People to Follow" and Suggested Users would be underneath all contacts/Facebook friends. So it's normal to see people without much activity following you. 

The Hate

Just 2 days into my feature, someone (or a bot) commented on about 5 of my photos. All of the comments were mean in nature, accusing me of buying followers and calling me fake. It was comments like, "STOP BUYING FOLLOWERS. WE KNOW YOU ARE DOING IT." and "HEY EVERYONE! This girl buys her followers!!"

They themselves had 0 followers and 0 following... which meant someone either made a new account just to accuse me or it was some sort of hate bot. I blocked them, but they came back with the same name (different number attached to the end). If it was a real person, that is just sad... I took the time to reply to them ONCE, but I decided it wasn't worth it and just blocked them/deleted all the comments.

I felt a bit offended after that, so I reached out to someone I knew who had been a Suggested User (@ashlynlanders) to see if she had any advice. And she helped me IMMENSELY. Thank you, Ashlyn! She told me that it was expected, and that these comments could keep coming, but I shouldn't be bothered by it. And it really didn't bother me anymore. The "hater" commented so frequently that the shock had faded, and I just started rolling my eyes at the accusations. I also have to thank my friend Amanda for easing my worries too. She researched bots and spam for me, and gave me encouraging advice. She is much too kind!

The Positives

I am SO grateful for this opportunity. Instagram is my personal creative outlet. A chance to attempt to make beautiful things every day. It's my zen. And to be recognized by my favorite social media platform out of the millions of users they have is such a great feeling. 

I've also met so many talented people out there who share the same interests as me. Through all the spam, there were real people out there who inspire me and support me. I think it's great that Instagram can get people from around the world to connect like that. It also helps me seek out more beauty in the world, and to make a list of places to see and things to eat! I've discovered a lot of places I never would have otherwise through Instagram.

Also, I get so much more free stuff on Popular Pays now... YEAH!! 

Sorry for the novel. You all know I love Instagram, and it's something I genuinely love doing, so I had very strong feelings about the ups and downs of all of this.

Wait. How Do You Become a Suggested User Anyway?

Nobody knows. I've heard that you need to get noticed by someone who works at Instagram. They're looking for "model" Instagrammers, so maybe someone who follows others, posts/comments/likes frequently.

I noticed I got on the list about a week after someone who works at Instagram HQ followed me, and I think they noticed me from some other "Instafamous" Dallas people's accounts, who had noticed me after I went to a Worldwide Instameet event based in Irving, which I only went to because I got featured on @instadfw's account, which hosted the whole event (whew!). So maybe it was a large chain of events and a lot of luck. I've also been featured on other accounts with large followings like @ilovetexasphoto, @madewithmap, and @coffeesesh, so that may have helped put my name out there.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: In 2015, I was listed as a Suggested User again, which brought my follower count to over 111,000. Of course, as with a majority of Suggested Users, this number wasn't sustainable as I lose more followers than I gain by the day! I do get a bump here and there from being featured on accounts and through organic growth. I hope I have been completely transparent about the Suggested User experience! Feel free to ask me any questions!

Thank You! + Instagram Thoughts

First of all, I'm thankful for all the support from my friends! Photography has been a fairly recent interest for me. I love learning new methods & tricks and seeing things with a new perspective. It's taken some time, but I feel that I'm slowly improving.

At Method: Caffeination & Fare

So today, I tested my camera at Method: Caffeination & Fare, a super cool and fairly new coffee shop in Dallas (try the peanut butter toast). I also tried the camera + phone wifi connection for the first time, and I love it. SO quick and easy. I experimented with iPhone vs E-M1 shots. This was mainly for Instagram purposes because that's where I post all the time.

As some people may know, I LOVE VSCO Cam. I even got the VSCO Film for Adobe Lightroom! So after editing with both, here are the results:

Taken with E-M1, uploaded to computer, and edited with Adobe Lightroom.

Taken with E-M1, uploaded to computer, and edited with Adobe Lightroom.

Taken with iPhone 5S and edited with VSCO Cam.

Taken with iPhone 5S and edited with VSCO Cam.

Ignore the fact that I didn't up the saturation in the second photo. But obviously, details are sharper with the E-M1, and I get more in the image with my wide angle lens. Other than that, they are practically the same if posted to Instagram. In conclusion: who gives!

The phone definitely feels more like snapping on the go whereas the E-M1 is like, "Um, excuse me stranger, I promise I'm not a creeper, I just want to take a photo of you and upload it for the world to see."

Anyway, I will not turn the E-M1 into an expensive Instagramming machine. I'm still waiting for opportunities to take some bokeh-licious photos.

And here is the newest meant-for-web photo.

And here is the newest meant-for-web photo.