Chicago's Instagram influencers make thousands posting photos

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You may not know her name, but Jessica Sturdy is famous on Instagram. She is one of many Instagram influencers in Chicago making thousands by posting to the social media platform.

"I am my brand, and my brand is me," said Sturdy.

She has cultivated a massive following by posting beautiful photos about fashion and travel on her page, @bowsandsequins. She currently has over 105,000 followers.

"I've been doing it full time for a year, two years? It's kind of surreal," said Sturdy.

Surreal, and lucrative. Because of her popularity on social media, brands like Nordstrom, Kate Spade, even Delta Airlines pay thousands to mention them in an Instagram post.

Hallie Wilson, another Instagram influencer based in Chicago, has posts sponsored by both Nike and Old Navy. She said companies cut her a check because followers follow her lead.

"I went into a local boutique and bought a hat from them, because I wanted to share with my readers, and the hat sold out a day later in the store," said Wilson.

Erica Eckman's Instagram, @everythingerica, focuses on food and being a new mom. She said the job may look glamorous, but it's about much more than taking a colorful photo of what she eats.

"When I'm there for a job, it's a job, I'm not there to totally enjoy, I'm there to take a photo, get what I need done," said Eckman. "Then I have to go home, edit, which takes hours, then I have to come up with a caption that's organic and true to the brand."

A few Chicago pets are even Instagram celebrities. Casey Swanson created a page for her golden retriever, Porter, when he was a puppy. The account, @porter_the_golden, boasts 80,000 followers, and companies send him doggy treats to bark about.

"They ask if they can send this vacuum or brush or collar and let them know if Porter loves it," said Swanson.

All of these Instagram influencers said there is no secret recipe to growing your following, but they said it's important to post consistently, use hashtags so new followers can discover you, and most importantly, be authentic.

"It's very important to stay true to yourself," said Sturdy.

For these women, that means turning down money from advertisers if they would not use the product in their real life.

"With all the marketing and advertising we're bogged down to begin with, people really want to feel a connection, and listen to and shop from people that they trust," said Wilson.

After all, they are paving a new way for companies to connect to the customer, but by no means are they selling out.
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