Yonathan Moya always considered photography a hobby. He became interested in taking photos as a teenager after leading mission trips across Central Mexico. In college, he bought a camera and started working for his campus newspaper.
But he never imagined it would get more serious than that.
Enter Instagram. Since its 2010 inception, the app has accumulated more than who share more than 70 million photos and videos each day.
Now enter Popular Pays, an app created in 2013 available to Instagram users with 500 or more followers. Participating companies and brands give products to these users who then promise to post a photo in return. Offers range from a cup of coffee to paid “gigs” from companies like Nike. And they’re all based on the Instagram user’s number of followers.
Moya, 24, started seriously using Instagram last year and now has more than 30,000 followers. After discovering Popular Pays, he began working on campaigns for grassroots companies looking for word-of-mouth endorsements. What Moya considered a hobby soon transformed into a job. He was suddenly being reimbursed for simply sharing a photo online.
“Instagram is becoming intriguing for people like me,” Moya says. “It’s an avenue to expose your work and socially engage and connect with anyone who will follow you all over the world. ”
Moya works as a regional coordinator for Experience Mission, a Christian organization that lends resources to underdeveloped regions worldwide. His job sometimes takes him across the country for conferences. When he goes to Chicago next month, he’ll be staying at the ACME Hotel for free thanks to Popular Pays.
“I’ve always wanted to go there,” Moya says. “It’s a great experience, and I don’t have to pay.”
Popular Pays was conceived at a party in Chicago, according to co-founder Corbett Drummey.
“THEY CONTROL THE BUDGETS AND BUSINESS AND THERE’S A LOT OF INERTIA THERE. BUT I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE THIS IS THE FUTURE OF ADVERTISING.”
“My co-founder, Allan Holmes, said, ‘We should throw a party that you can’t get into unless you have 500 followers on Instagram,’” Drummey says. “I thought it was cool.”
While the app was eventually turned down despite popular feedback at an initial “test drive” event, Drummey and his team didn’t give up on Popular Pays.
“Allan was taking a Vine of a barista making a drink and we had the idea, ‘What if he could pay for the drink by posting that to his 500 followers,’ ” Drummey says.
Although business was slow to boom, the app spread like wildfire once it gained traction and has reached into parts of New York and California. It is now growing 10% weekly, according to Drummey.
“The local businesses love it because we bring customers in the door,” Drummey says. “Instagrammers share their experience to their followers, they usually buy something else, bring a friend and come back frequently after that. Larger brands dig it because it’s the most authentic way of getting your brand seen in a medium that is so highly coveted.”
Drummey likens Popular Pays to the bartering system. Since this generation’s social media presence influence is greater than ever before, these personalized endorsements mean more for businesses than traditional advertising. To Drummey, Popular Pays is to advertising as Uber is to taxis, what Airbnb is to hotels and what Kickstarter is to fundraising.
“Agencies still rule the world,” Drummey says. “They control the budgets and business and there’s a lot of inertia there. But I absolutely believe this is the future of advertising.”
Drummey compares his app’s growing system to Google AdWords, which assists merchants in marketing their products and services in the Google search engine and its affiliate sites.
“[We want] brands [to] create and manage their own campaign without our input,” Drummey says. “But in a year we want that experience to connect them with influencers on Vine, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat in addition to just Instagram.”
For Moya, the app has revolutionized the way he looks at his smart phone. He’s found a practical side job that utilizes his passion, which might not have been a possibility just five years ago.
“I work closely with the app primarily because I want to think of creativeness in my daily life and have projects that are going to challenge me and make me grow as a mobile photographer,” Moya says. “We’re at a starting point of what digital marketing is going to be in the future. I’m excited to see the future of what mobile photography will become, and the doors that will open for people who are so called social influencers.”