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How to Be an Instagram Influencer |

How to Be an Instagram Influencer

Lifestyle blogger Jane Ko teaches an “Austin Monthly” editor the art of being a social media star

(page 1 of 3)

My stomach is audibly growling as I stare down at a table filled by two plates of juicy cheeseburgers with seasoned fries, a bowl of ceviche next to crispy tostadas, a pink beet salad, a pair of fruity cocktails, and a glass of beer. I’m standing on a chair on the patio of Hotel Ella, silently praying that the fabric seat doesn’t rip out from below my bare feet. I lean over and outstretch my arm while holding my iPhone parallel to the table, trying to take a photo of the colorful fare from the hotel’s restaurant, Goodall’s Kitchen.

Someone somewhere decided it’s National Cheeseburger Day, and lifestyle blogger Jane Ko is showing me how to take eye-catching, hashtag-ready pictures for my Instagram account. We met for lunch at noon, and it’s already 1:20 p.m. By the time we get just the right shots, the burgers and fries are tepid, the cocktails are watered down, and the ceviche has turned soupy—but our images are gorgeous.

Melted drinks and lukewarm food aside, Ko has what many would consider a dream job. Thanks to her Austin-based food and travel website,, she gets paid to eat gourmet meals, take complimentary cruises, and visit hip cities for free. She’s gotten a new kitchen courtesy of KitchenAid and a living room set from Ikea. When I walked up to her darling Mueller townhome five days earlier, I couldn’t help but feel envious of the 28-year-old, who has more than 41,000 followers on Instagram and more than 9,000 followers each on Facebook and Twitter.

Ko greets me with a hug at her front door. She and I often run into each other at media parties, grand openings, and restaurant tastings. The petite blogger is wearing a strapless white-and-gray striped culotte jumpsuit. She has dark brown hair brightened with caramel highlights, and her eyes are accentuated with winged-tip eyeliner. She pours me a glass of San Pellegrino water flavored with chunks of fresh watermelon and begins telling me how she became a “social media influencer,” a job title that didn’t even exist a few years ago.

Born in Taiwan, Ko moved with her family to Port Lavaca, Texas, at age 3. She came to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 2007 and felt overwhelmed by the size of the campus, which boasts a population five times bigger than her tiny South Texas town’s. She hated school, never buying textbooks and rarely going to class. In 2010 she began to regularly read several national food and lifestyle blogs and decided to launch her own, calling it A Taste of Koko. (Koko was her childhood nickname.)

“I was very inspired by these women that built these brands by themselves. They could write all of these cool things, and I was so impressed by all of this beautiful photography,” she says. “I was really into baking, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll launch a blog.’”

Without much prior photography experience, she bought a no-frills camera and pored over Pinterest posts, pinning gorgeous pictures of cakes, cupcakes, and other sweets. She started taking similar images with her camera, learning how to do the necessary styling, lighting, and editing. Her focus was her blog, but she used Facebook and Twitter to promote her posts. At first she was skeptical of Instagram. “I didn’t jump on it for the first three years because I was like, ‘Well, this is just going to go away, so I don’t want to waste my time on it,’” she says.

After graduation Ko worked full-time jobs in social media management and customer support for companies including meal-planning service Food on the Table, consulting firms Idea Labs and Marketing Zen, and healthy-meal-on-the-go retailer Snap Kitchen, and she even launched a macaron catering company. Meanwhile she continued to build her social media presence and adapt her online content, moving the blog away from baking and delving into food product reviews, then pivoting to local restaurant coverage, and eventually travel content.

In 2014 Ko only made about $1,000 from A Taste of Koko the whole year, but the fledgling social media industry—and her online following—was about to skyrocket.

“It’s like a light bulb went off beginning in 2015 to all of the brands that were like, ‘Hey, let’s pay bloggers for advertising.’ That’s when I immediately saw it change,” she says. “The brand deals started coming left and right.”

Companies began reaching out to Ko to endorse their products to her followers. In the last few years she has worked with companies like Target, Ikea, KitchenAid, Carnival Cruise Lines, PayPal, and Uber, eventually inking enough deals to make blogging and social media her full-time job.

I want her secrets. Maybe I too can achieve social media stardom.

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