Last week, 21-year-old model Kendall Jenner abruptly deleted her Instagram account, which she had been using as a platform for showcasing her modeling work, photography skills and celebrity friends.
Considering the account’s popularity—it boasted 68 million followers and housed the most-liked Instagram post of 2015—the move (which proved temporary—she returned to the platform Sunday, after just a week’s break) was shocking, especially to those who know the modeling industry.
Today, models’ Instagram photos and follower counts are referred to often, by everyone from casting directors wondering about their personalities to brand executives looking to align themselves with influential talent. They’re commonly the catalyst for models’ biggest deals—and Kendall Jenner’s page is no exception.
Jenner’s first Estée Lauder campaign
In 2014, Estée Lauder’s global brand president announced the company had signed Jenner because she was the “ultimate Instagirl.” Since, brands hiring models based on their social presence has remained prevalent.
It’s common knowledge among models that backing a popular Instagram page is necessary to be successful in their field. To boost their following, they typically take to a proven strategy that reads like paying dues. “It goes: Do a lesser paid show, get more followers, negotiate more money down the line,” Stefan Campbell, an artistic and creative director and menswear fashion show producer, told Glossy in July.
According to Forbes, the world’s 20 highest-paid models have 200 million Instagram followers between them, and made a total of $154 million from 2015 to 2016. Jenner was the number-three earner, a 150-percent jump from the prior year, pocketing $10 million from brands including Estée Lauder and Calvin Klein. Tied was Karlie Kloss, who advertised for 18 different brands, no doubt thanks to her 5 million-plus followers.
And moving forward, brands will come to increasingly lean on their Instagram-popular hires. “Over the next 18 months, the obligation for models to post images from shoots will become ubiquitous,” said Ben Sealey, a casting director and the founder of Cast Partner, whose clients include Elle and H&M. “It’s already happening more and more”—contributing to the industry’s state of transition.
The Instagram page is the new book
According to Melodie Monrose—a New York-based model with 60,000 Instagram followers, who has walked the runway for designers including Lanvin and Saint Laurent—a model can take control and expand her job offers simply by posting a variety of the right pics. “I never used to do bathing suit and underwear jobs,” she said. “But once I started posting pictures of my vacations, I started booking swimwear jobs for magazines and campaigns.”
It’s no surprise, considering model scouts and casting directors are increasingly looking online in search of new faces. “For us, it’s about 30 percent,” said Mary Clarke, one-half of the husband-and-wife scouting duo behind St. Louis–based Mother Model Management, in regard to how much Instagram is currently playing into her agency’s scouting efforts. “For a lot of other people, I think it’s way higher. It’s easy for them to sit on the couch and ‘scout.’”
“Mother,” as Jeff and Mary Clarke are popularly known, has a unique fondness for hitting “the county fair, music festivals and dance competitions” (they discovered Kloss at a Midwest fashion show) in search of talent, but they have also had success by simply “scrolling, scrolling, scrolling” through their feeds. “That’s how we found Molly Constable. I think she liked one of our pictures or something.” Clarke said. “Within an hour, we were talking to her. Now, she is a working plus-size model in New York.”
…And hashtags are the new casting call
Last Tuesday, Marc Jacobs took to its wall to cast models for its beauty-focused video series. According to the post, to be considered for the video, followers had to post a video to Instagram about what inspires them and tag it #CastMeMarc.
Similar casting calls are currently widespread on Instagram: IMG backs an account with the handle weloveyourgenes, which features a selection of models who have captured the agency’s attention simply by tagging a photo with #WLYG.
Next Models doesn’t have an official Instagram-based casting call, but it’s aware that—because of the platform—it can review aspiring models at any given time. “Right now, there are more than 125,000 posts that are tagged with our agency name,” said Damien Neva, Next’s social media editor and content creator. “There is clearly a tremendous interest in attracting Next’s attention.”
Instagram isn’t a no-rule zone
There are rules when it comes to using Instagram to find model talent, said Sealey. “It needs to be used like a sniper, not as a machine gun,” he said. “To throw a project onto Instagram and expect a great casting to present itself seems like a stretch.”
Clarke said that casting via selfies should come with a warning: For one—thanks to “Facetune and filters, and tricks for lighting and angles”—the person you’re seeing online can be very different than who you wind up meeting in person. What’s more, models scouted on Instagram run the danger of taking longer to find their footing.
According to Monrose, who likes to post images and Stories (featuring everything makeup tips to OOTDs) on a daily basis, remaining active on Instagram is like working out to stay in great shape and getting facials to take care of your skin. “It’s one more thing you have to do to be a professional model,” she said. “I understand it—it’s business; if you have a huge following, it’s one more thing that you have over the other girl.”
Agencies clearly understand it, too. “It’s about the return on their investment,” said Joel Wilkenfeld, Next’s founder and president. “If they utilize that person, is there going to be an element beyond just that fashion shoot?”
As a result, constantly encouraging models to use the platform has become a part of the agent’s job. “We tell them that if they’re not on social media, they’re making a decision that’s going to hurt them,” said Clarke. “It affects day rates, what clients are interested in you—it affects everything.”
And lately, “clients and casting directors want to know more,” said Clarke. Owe it to the increased importance brands are placing on video content. According to Social Media Examiner’s 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 73% of marketers planned to increase their video usage on social media this year.
“They want to know ‘Who are you and what are you like, communication-wise?’” said Clarke. “It’s our job [as their agent] to show the casting director or the client who this person is,” said Clarke.
That is, if they’re not actively doing it themselves. According to Monrose, the number-one thing aspiring models should do is pinpoint their unique interests and put them out there on Instagram. “Being a pretty face is not enough,” she said. “You need to show who you are through the platform.”