How To Use Instagram To Build Your Network

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It’s not a secret that Instagram is no longer just a frivolous social-sharing tool—it can now be leveraged to launch or grow your career, sometimes with six and seven figure results. (Just ask Gigi, Kendall and every fashion blogger.) The ways in which many are now using Instagram professionally make LinkedIn seem almost archaic. Instagram is a networking tool that, when used properly, can provide access to individuals you would otherwise find it difficult to meet, and it can also help you take these digital relationships offline to influence the trajectory of your career. Here, advice for how to best utilize Instagram in this capacity, from influencers, social strategists and other users who regularly expand their networks through the platform.

@swimsocial

Elena Hansen, Founder of Swim Social @SwimSocial

"Instagram is a great place to find a community based on your interests, both professionally and personally. It’s a safe space to reach out to someone and say, 'Hey, I love what you’re doing. Let’s connect!' If you use it as a tool for self expression and for showing people what you’re all about, that opens up the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. It’s very powerful in that way."

Swim Social is a full service social media agency with clients that include Alfred Coffee, Revival Tour by Selena Gomez, Highbrow, Splits 59, Carbon & Hyde and others.

@grantlegan

Grant Legan, Photographer @GrantLegan

"The Internet has become the new-age salon meet up. You see an interesting person across the room, and you introduce yourself because they are intriguing. If someone reaches out while I am abroad, I'm more likely to invest time into meeting them, as I trust they will have good insight into that city."

Grant Legan is a photographer who has shot for Soludos, Estée Lauder, J. Crew, Nordstrom and others.

@akiraakuto

Akira Akuto, Chef @AkiraAkuto

"I will receive or send messages on Instagram before migrating over to WhatsApp or text messaging. It allows time to vet a potential connection by checking mutual friends and common interests. If, after messaging for a bit, it seems like this person would be good to meet in person to eat with and will be fun, I will invite them for a meal." -- Akira Akuto, Chef

Akira Akuto is a chef at Osso in Los Angeles. His Instagram-enabled dinners were recently featured in the LA Times.

@victoire_loup

Victoire Louapre, Food Critic @victoire_loup

"I never thought Instagram would lead me to making new friends. And yet, I met @akiraakuto when he commented on a food pic I had posted. Now, we've both moved to LA and see each other all the time. However, I don’t 'try' to build new relationships—it just happens, without having an agenda in mind. When I see someone that seems to love what I love, I comment on their pics, or start a conversation on someone’s picture. I reach out to them in the same way that I would in real life: small talk, puns, common interests. Playing it low-key is key, actually!"

Victoire Louapre is a French-born food writer living in LA who has written for guides and publications around the world and blogs at intheloup.la. She was also recently featured in the LA Times.

@jordanrisa

Jordan Santos, Account Director at Swim Social @SwimSocial

"I use Instagram to build new relationships by finding like-minded people or brands, whether it’s for myself or for our clients. I’ve met countless new people through Instagram, and we’ve found each other through shared geotags, or even hashtags. It’s a great way to make new friends since you immediately know their interests and passions, rather than the other way around in the ‘real world,’ where you may meet someone through school or a mutual friend, and then get to know what their interests are."

Jordan Santos is an Account Director at Swim Social.

@akiraakuto

Akira Akuto, Chef

"The first step for me has always been a mutual interest in eating good food, and seeking out good food in cities I am traveling to or through. My area of expertise is in restaurants and in chefs who are cooking delicious food all around the globe, and I am fortunate enough that I've worked in the right restaurants in NYC and cultivated a lot of relationships over a decade. Also, I am happy to make connections with people and introduce mutual friends who I think will hit it off in any city. So, the first step is building trust that the person on the other end isn't a creepy person, or a selfish person who just wants information. That takes time and communication, and it helps if there are a lot of mutual friends."

@swimsocial

Elena Hansen, Swim Social

"I typically send a direct message and drop a comment saying, 'Hi! I reached out to you via direct message!' This helps to ensure that they check and see your message. I always provide a compliment on their page and a reason why I’m reaching out. Then, I provide an email address to further communicate."

@victoire_loup

Victoire Louapre, Food Critic

"I start a conversation in the comments, and then by DM. But most of the time, I get someone reaching out to me, rather than the opposite. They comment, I check out their profile, where they’ve been eating, if they write any negative comments about a restaurant (that’s a deal-breaker for me—I respect chefs too much to mock their work on Instagram), and if we have any friends in common. And then we start chatting by DM. I’m not a huge fan of this Instagram functionality, so we switch to Facebook, text or email very quickly. And then we meet in real life—that’s the most important thing!"

@jordanrisa

Jordan Santos, Swim Social

"Engage, engage, engage! It’s always good to be following someone already and liking their posts before you reach out, so that they know you’re contacting them because you have shared interests. If you just contact someone without following or liking, it can come off as impersonal or as a mass outreach."

@victoire_loop

Victoire Louapre, Food Critic

"The same you would use in real life. If you’ve just met someone, would you go up and ask them a dozen questions? Or ask for a favor straight away? Or get personal very quickly? I’m sure you wouldn’t. Instagram is the same: Make a few jokes, show your love of food (or else!), try to make contact in a respectful way. It’s just like the real world, only our names start with an @!"

@swimsocial

Elena Hansen, Swim Social

"With anything, it’s important to give or add value in a situation, versus just expressing what you can take from it. For example, if you are reaching out to someone because of their photography or creative skills, let them know what you love about their work and why. Is there a potential project you could collaborate on? Would you like to meet up for coffee to chat about ways to work together? I think it’s important for people to understand your intentions up front."

@akiraakuto

Akira Akuto, Chef

"The only etiquette I try to follow is not to name-drop people I do not personally know and can't text. I also don't like to be aggressive about leaving lots of direct messages or comments. And if I do not have any mutual friends, I am very wary to ask any favors for a long time. Basically, pretend it's real life and not the digital world, and act like you're making a new friend: Don't be a weirdo."

@jordanrisa

Jordan Santos, Swim Social

"Definitely make sure it benefits both parties. Reach out to those who you genuinely want to start a friendship with, knowing that they will probably feel the same since you have similar interests, goals or passions. If you are reaching out in hopes of getting career advice, offer them lunch for their time. If you are a photographer reaching out to a model, offer them the photos for personal use."

@swimsocial

Elena Hansen, Swim Social

"If someone is reaching out to you via social media, it may be best to have a quick phone call before meeting up in person. As cool as someone may seem on social media, they are only showing you what they want you to see. Whether it’s professional or personal, you should have a bit of a screening process in place. I think a phone call always helps to get to know someone better, then you can set up an in-person meeting!"

@akiraakuto

Akira Akuto, Chef

"The only horror stories I can share is friends of friends who I do not know asking for help with reservations and not showing up. Or I have met up with people for meals, and they turn out to be socially awkward; they do not talk at all in real life or they dominate the conversation and try to name-drop a lot. I hate that."

@jordanrisa

Jordan Santos, Swim Social

"In general, do your homework! It’s off-putting to the recipient of the outreach if it is obvious that it is a mass email or message. Always make sure to spell names correctly. I’ve also received emails from brands saying that they love my fashion blog, when I don’t even have a blog! Little things like that are noticeable. You want to come off as genuine."

@victoire_loup

Victoire Louapre, Food Critic

"It might be an app with pictures and a lot of tapping and swiping, but Instagram is not Tinder. I don’t want to receive pictures of strangers via DM, just because we seem to be eating at the same restaurants! There are also a few (very kind people) who seem to have so much to say on Instagram, and then they are very, very quiet in real life. It can be awkward. But thank god, there’s always a lot to say when it comes to food."

Jordan Santos, Swim Social

"Personally, it’s been a fun way for me to share tidbits of my life—things I wear, places I see, things that inspire me. By seeing my Instagram, some people have reached out to me to get to know me further, since they like the same things I like, and I’ve definitely done the same! I’ve met so many cool, creative people through Instagram that I would have never met otherwise."

@victoire_loup

Victoire Louapre, Food Critic

"Instagram is like a business card. It shows my work (and my network) better than my personal website. When I meet someone at a food event, I add them on Instagram first, before asking for their contacts. And if you check my real business card, it has three things on it: my phone number, my email and my Instagram handle."

@akiraakuto

Akira Akuto, Chef

"Instagram has been wonderful for allowing me to meet a lot of people around the globe involved in food. People and friends put me in touch with local chefs I should meet and break bread with, or get coffee. I will reach out, or they will reach out, and we will meet up and take it from there. It has led to many new friends around the world. And with technology, if has been easy to keep in touch with other friends when they are traveling. I think the secret for me has been the willingness to connect people, and to constantly stay in touch and do it without ulterior motives. I'm more in line with the philosophy that nice people doing awesome things should meet, and see what else we can all accomplish together down the line."

Elena Hansen, Swim Social

"Instagram has provided an incredible community of young, up-and-coming creatives. With a few clicks, I have so many amazingly talented people at my fingertips for photo shoots at Swim Social. We also use Instagram as a way to share our portfolio of work. I curate our feed, so people can see and click through to all of our clients’ pages. Personally, it is a great place for self-expression. I keep it to a minimum, but it’s nice to share elements of my life and work with people. I like to use my personal platform to spread motivation and positivity."