In the Aon Tower in Chicago, a woman turns to me and says that Tony the Tiger is inside, don’t be scared.
I walk into a room full of energy, and it’s just five adults on a Friday afternoon. With a smile and a handshake to match the warmth of her yellow shirt, I meet the Instagrammer, Elise Swopes.
Swopes is glowing. She just reached 275,000 Instagram followers. Tony the Tiger kicked off his road trip in New York City and stopped in Chicago where he teamed up with photographer Swopes to snap photos in iconic locations around the city.
Kellogg’s put a lot of strategy into announcing it’s cinnamon flavor, with a year’s worth of research and over 100 different variations including vanilla and caramelized sugar. To launch the product, they just needed the right way to introduce it, and they chose Tony the Tiger and the Chicago Instagrammer, Elise Swopes.
“I love Chicago because I live here,” Swopes said, “Me and Tony had breakfast together. I took Tony around Chicago, and we had a videographer film us at the top of the Hancock Observatory. Tony did the Tilt yesterday.”
Her video has already received over 7k views on Instagram.
Working with global brands like Kellogg’s isn’t new to the Adobe Influencer Certified artist and Instagrammer. Swopes uses her iPhone to take most of her photos, which she edits. She started on her own over four years ago and then used an agency called Mobile Media Lab. Today, she works with her own manager to garner new business opportunities.
I sat down with Swopes to talk about her strategy, her background as an artist, and the importance of being part of an Instagram community to grow a social media following.
Windy City Cosmo: What do you do as a brand ambassador?
Swopes: I shoot and edit with my iPhone. I sometimes shoot with a camera and then transfer it to my iPhone.
Windy City Cosmo: Where do you have your Instagram photo shoots in Chicago?
Swopes: If it’s a gloomy day you will catch me in the Willis Tower or The Hancock.
Side note: Check out the 15 best places to shoot as a Chicago blogger here.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you edit Instagram photos?
Swopes: This is an app called Art Studio. I’ve been using that for five years. I’m an Adobe Influencer as well. I do live demonstrations.
Windy City Cosmo: Do you have any tips for taking good shots?
Swopes: No one use the Instagram filters (she laughs) – they’re horrible. I haven’t used an Instagram filter since 2012.
Windy City Cosmo: How do your fans react when you post sponsored content?
Swopes: About four years ago, I got push back. But now people look to me for advice.You see my work for free, and I’m inspiring people. I need money to keep me alive so you can keep my art alive.
I think they’re also excited for me because my fans see that I show myself and am real and vulnerable. You have to be friends with your fans.
Windy City Cosmo: What makes a brand ambassador partnership authentic to your brand?
Swopes: I’m a yes woman. I like to figure out how I can work with a brand. They know how my work looks. Last year I shot some stuff at the Chicago Auto Show. I never shoot cars. And it went really well.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you monitor your Instagram followers?
Swopes: By being involved in a community with Instagram. Instagram has little lines that you can connect with Facebook – and it’s called Instagram insights. See here (she points to her iPhone) that I have a top following in Bangkok and Chicago.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you grow your brand on Instagram?
Swopes: I have a hashtag strategy and a community strategy. I follow a lot of Instagram accounts that are featured accounts. I tagged a lot of featured accounts in photos to get discovered.
Also, I got a viral image over the past couple of days.
To keep up with my network, I also get notifications from people I follow.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you keep a similar feel throughout your Instagram page, yet sill work with so many brands?
Swopes: For me, I like to switch it up a lot. I keep it simple and clean. The first picture on my Instagram was in 2010. I was going to South by Southwest at the time. My first photo is a screen shot of my driving directions through Google Maps to Austin, Texas. It was a month or so later that I started creating art. I used Snapseed when it was independently owned.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you get followers?
Swopes: I woke up one morning and got thousands of followers. I was on the suggested user list. I think I made 100,000 followers from that list. I made 175,000 from traveling.