Last week, W magazine debuted a spread in its Pop issue called “Privacy Settings” which showcased the 10 sexiest supermodels on social media. If you keep up with fashion and pop culture, the mag’s choices—which included Emily Ratajkowski, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Chrissy Teigen, and Bella Hadid, weren’t particularly shocking. With millions of followers each, these women have carved out a very successful niche on Instagram, and have become as known for their sultry feeds as they are for the work that pays the bills—they’re pioneers of a new frontier known as the Insta-model.
This particular breed of girls—Emily and Bella and Chrissy, as well as pals like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin and even someone like Cara Delevingne—have enormous followings because they’re hot, sure, but also because they’re front and center in tabloids and on websites like this one—and often it’s their social media antics that get them there.
A little less clear is how key Instagram is to the success of models who are less commercial, less headline-drawing, less voluptuous. Do followers matter? How involved are agencies in models’ feeds? Is keeping pace with the shameless ‘sexy’ nature of the app important?
To get some answers, we called on two experts from Wilhelmina Models—Jorge Urena, an agent and booker in high-fashion New York, and Betsy Shrader, also an agent and booker in more commercial L.A.—to explain how and if social media apps like Instagram can make or break a model’s career.
How important is social media—particularly the visual Instagram—to models’ success today?
Betsey Schrader: It’s critical. Social media, particularly Instagram, allows a client to see another layer of a model; their personality, candid shots with friends, their lifestyle and interests, and what they look like on a day to day basis. Social media is being used, whether we like it or not, by clients to look up a model before they consider booking that model for a shoot. So in a way, Instagram is now an extension of portfolios.
Are models encouraged to post or not post certain types of photos?
BS: Most definitely. I’d say we are embracing social media as an agency and are changing our strategies to utilize a model’s social media transparency to our benefit. Whether that’s “art directing” a models post so it’s geared towards a particular client base, or helping them streamline their posts to reflect a certain “personal brand” direction we see for that model so that they may have the opportunity for business ventures down the line. It’s not taken lightly.
How involved are agencies with Instagram?
JU: Not as involved as you’d think. I mean, models are humans too. They have weak moments. They may do something out of anger or something as a response to what people are saying. If it’s something ABSOLUTELY that should be removed because it will damage them … Yes … Otherwise… No.
Do followers matter to new models? Why?
BS: A models social influence is powerful leverage. If a client is deciding between two models, the job will definitely go to the model with the most followers and the biggest social presence. We are also becoming smarter with our models fan data and are using this information to help clients package digital media campaigns that would target that model’s specific fans through online ads.
JU: You know, there was a point that it didn’t and people laughed at social media—especially Instagram. I’m still shocked that it’s such a surprise a visual source has sort of taken over our industry little by little. At this current moment, [followers] aren’t a deal breaker but I can see how a few years from now the amount of followers and who you are will be one in one.
Do you think discovering new talent on Insta is the future?
JU: It’s one of the easiest sources. Lately Wilhelmina has found about 3 to 4 of our top talents based on social media and yes it’s an easy source to get you to have an insight of the person. Being an ex scout, I spend times on end looking into Instagram and finding talent who can’t maximize on their potential.
BS: Instagram is definitely being used as an important tool in our scouting process. It’s a great because it gives us immediate access to view the accounts of women and men globally, and we are able to see what they are all about— their personalities, interests, what their “personal brand” could be all about.
How important is it for models to keep up with the overwhelming amount of overtly ‘sexy’ social photos?
BS: I don’t think the focus should be on keeping up with over-the-top “sexy” photos on Instagram, but rather should be about creating tasteful and strong posts that reflect that particular model’s career, personality and interests. Instagram is too diluted with half-naked girls, exploiting themselves and their sexuality. We’d rather our models focus on posting about their career with new work and tear sheets, their personalities by having them share “a day in the life” type posts, and interests such as fashion, health and wellness, cooking or fitness as examples.
JU: Not necessarily [important.] think social media gives people the freedom to show who they are. If sexy is what you are, then yes. If ‘yoga’ is who you are, yes. If a foodie is who you are, then yes! It’s not one specific character you have to do on social media to make you relevant. Find what you love and then let that lead you!
Why do you think Instagram is such a powerful tool in the fashion world?
BS: Social media is a powerful content creation tool that allows us to create authentic brands around each of our models. Our world is changing, and I think it’s in the best interest of a brand to use models who are authentic representatives of what that brand is all about, rather than just “looking” like the brand. Social media allows brands and consumers to have the “personal relationships” with these models needed to form those authentic connections. In turn, the models with the high social followings hold high “influence” in the fashion world.
JU: Visual industry, visual app.
Which models do you think are killing it right now on Instagram?
JU: Danielle Knudson, Andre Hammen, Margaux Brooke, Soo Joo Park, Cindy Bruna