What It Takes To Become an Austin Influencer
By Blair Fielder and Bailey Whelton
From food to lifestyle tips, these four Austin women have you covered. With over 260,000 combined Instagram followers, Shelby Sorrel, Jane Ko, Lindsay Vandygriff, and Ashley Hargrove answer some questions about their rise to becoming an influencer to their favorite brunch spots.
BLEND: How did you become an influencer?
Shelby: It happened super organically (and randomly) for me. I always loved photography, and fun murals, and combining the two by having my friends stand in front of pretty/colorful walls. I also began taking photos of my food whenever my friends and I would go out to eat (sorry, friends for always making you wait to eat...) and over time, I started gaining a good following of Austinites who wanted to find fun places in Austin to eat/take photos/etc. I became good friends with Lindsay Vandygriff (one of the wonderful sisters from @eatingatx) and still to this day joke with her about how she really helped me get on the map. She introduced me to a lot of people and brought me to a lot of fun events, that I eventually began getting invited to on my own. The rest is history and I'm really so thankful for how it's all panned out!
Jane: I started A Taste of Koko in 2010 during my last year at UT Austin. I was finishing up my degree in Nutrition when I realized I didn't want to become a dietitian so I started the blog as a creative outlet. This was before the term "influencer" was born. I blogged along the way as I worked in the social media industry and quit my job in 2015 to blog full-time.
Lindsay: For some reason, we started growing a following on our account after a year or so after starting it. It was never an intentional thing, it just kind of happened, but it has since led us to have some really cool experiences.
Ashley: Funny story that most people don't know. I actually started my very first blog over 12 years ago. It was based on my life as a wardrobe stylist as well as fashion inspiration, similar to what my current blog is now. I took a break for a few years as the fashion blogging world just wasn't as prevalent as it is currently is today. I was one of the only people in Austin who was outside taking really bad fashion photos and posting them on Instagram so I figured I should regroup and really focus on what I wanted to achieve with my blog.
About 5 years ago I started a revamp of dtkaustin. At the time, I was full blown into running a commercial advertising wardrobe styling company. Those jobs are always so sporadic so I figured I needed a creative outlet while I had the free time. My amazing husband was such a huge help and started taking all of my photos and helping me with content. To this day, we are still such a strong team now that the blog has grown. I actually had never intended on becoming an influencer but really wanted a creative outlet to share fashion tips and my style.
BLEND: What tips do you have for someone trying to grow their following?
Shelby: My following really started to grow the more I engaged with people (people who followed like-minded accounts, commented on my photos, etc.) and the more I made use of hashtags. I hated using them for so long, because it felt obnoxious and weird -- but once I continuously began using them on each post, my following grew, because my posts were being seen by more and more people. Making use of Instagram stories has also helped grow my following. Don't be afraid to share your life with people!
Jane: Focus on your content - photography and the captions. Invest in a camera and/or consistently work with the same photographers to create a consistent aesthetic. Focus on developing a niche - if you're fashion, specialize in petite fashion, casual fashion, or high-end fashion. If you're food, specialize in gluten-free, vegan, paleo, etc. If you're travel, is it family travel? Luxury travel?
Lindsay: Always be authentic and don't try to cut corners. If you take quality photos, and are consistent, then you'll grow an authentic and loyal following.
Ashley: Oh gosh, I could go on for hours on this topic. The times have definitely changed since the time I started posting content on Instagram. With algorithm changes and an over abundance of fashion bloggers/instagramers out there it's definitely a challenge to grow these days.
My main tip to growing is to be true to yourself. Don't worry about what other people are doing and don't compare yourself to other bloggers. These days you really don't know if someone has an authentic following or not. I've heard of so many girls literally get depressed because they are constantly getting sucked in to the comparison game. It will effect you, your mind set and in turn, your content. Post what YOU love.
Second, don't cheat. The amount of people cheating these days is astronomical and it really doesn't help you at all. Brands do know and they won't work with you... That is if getting brand collaborations and making an income is your end goal.
Spend time interacting on your Instagram. I can't tell you how many hours a day I spent staring at Instagram and commenting/liking people's content when I first started. I had set times 4 times a day that I would sit on my phone for an hour each time just so I would stay relevant. Your content has to get out there somehow and most people aren't just going to come to your page without a reason. Which brings me to my next point. Have a competitive advantage over your peers. Your account really needs to stand out so people want to follow you.
Lastly, be patient!!! Authentic growth takes time. It didn't happen for me overnight.
BLEND: Does anything stand out to you about the Austin audience?
Shelby:Austin has such an incredible community of creatives/foodies/photographers that I really feel like we have an incredible opportunity to surround ourselves with those super similar to us and also those completely opposite of us. Austin is such an accepting, fun, beautiful city filled with incredible people who want adventure, new experiences, and good food. I've learned so much from my followers, and from the friends I've made through Instagram, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I live in Austin, the best city in the nation. (I've lived here my whole life, so I may be biased). There's room for everybody in the Austin Instagram community, and I think that's so fun, and a true testament to Austin as a city.
Jane: We're a fun and casual bunch that likes to do things - trying new restaurants, paddle boarding on the lake, and take a weekend getwaway.
Lindsay: The two things I've learned is that our Austin audience is diverse and inquisitive. They are open to every types of cuisine and all unique dishes and always wanting to have more food experiences.
Ashley: The Austin audience is literally all over the place. If you've ever been to Austin you know by now that we're not known for our fashion. We're known for being weird. I've noticed that when I post something that is extremely casual with easy-to-put-together basics, I will get more interaction and sales from that type of look. It's easy to throw on and go and easy on the wallet. If I post something dressy that doesn't apply to many Austinites, the post won't perform as well. Austin isn't the only city that loves their easy outfit basics; I actually see it from all over the US. Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people in Austin who dress extremely professional on a daily basis but what I've personally noticed is that Austin loves casual basics and athleisurewear!
Thankfully, there are so many Austin bloggers and our content is all completely different. This gives people in Austin a nice variety without having to follow the same type of account over and over again.
BLEND: In your opinion, what is necessary for a quality Instagram-worthy post?
Jane: High-quality photo with an authentic and engaging caption.
Lindsay: Lighting, lighting, lighting. Most restaurants have dim lighting and dark decor. In order to get a quality photo, you almost always have to take your dishes outside. It's not even embarrassing anymore for us to take our dishes on a trip outside for a quick photo shoot.
BLEND: On a Sunday morning brunch, you could find me ordering...
Shelby: mint cold brew and literally all of the food at Hanks.
Jane: a frozen prickly pear margarita with salt and steak chimichurri tacos at Fresa's.
Lindsay: French Toast at Elizabeth Street Cafe.
Ashley: Sticky Rice with Ginger Sausage & Poached Eggs (add avocado and mushrooms!) from Elizabeth Street Cafe
BLEND: Anything else that you would like to share about Austin, being a foodie, or your journey? Shelby:
Shelby: There's room for everybody at the table, and everybody brings something different. I love the incredible food community Austin has cultivated and am so thankful for the humans I get to surround myself with because of it. Austin is the perfect place to try new and delicious food -- we definitely do not lack in food Instagrammers/Bloggers -- so if you haven't tried somewhere and have questions, or need recommendations at all, ask any Austin foodie. We love answering your questions and helping you find new delicious spots
Lindsay: We've met so many people since starting this account. People that have become best friends.
Ashley: The only other pieces of advice would be to really understand what you are wanting to accomplish in the end. This hobby of mine turned into a full fledged job and it took years of hard work. I regret not focusing more time on my actual blog as I focused all of my time on Instagram for years. While Instagram and all social media keeps changing, we all own our blogs. That won't change. Just don't think you're going to become Insta-famous because that could change with the simple change of an algorithm.