In the face of difficult job market, millennials use social media to make their own

Matt Barron and Justin Jones

When you play the game of likes, you win, or you get unfollowed.

Social media platforms have gained fame — or infamy, depending on whom you ask — because of their extraordinary ability to connect the world. Millennials spend large chunks of their day keeping up with friends, celebrities and the news, and some have used it to create a brand new job that turns social media into social business.

By now, many have heard the term “influencer,” perhaps even too often. It’s a word that means different things to different people, but is generally used to describe social media users with large followings. 

Austin residents Chris Cates and Jose Gutierrez have turned their influencer statuses into full-time jobs by finding, curating and posting about the city’s best parties and special events on their Instagram feed When Where What Austin. 

“When you’re on Instagram, you’re either showing people what you did or seeing what other people do,” Cates said. “So to use that platform as a gateway to promote what people should be doing, we feel like is the perfect marriage.”

While event listings for Austin usually list pages upon pages of events, Cates and Gutierrez have the difficult job of narrowing down which events are worth recommending. For these two, what makes a good influencer is knowing what to exclude from the feed.

“We usually have about 70 things in the calendar for one week and pick maybe 25 to actually post,” Gutierrez said. “We make it a point to put out things that we would want to go to for ourselves.”

Although the duo gained its initial success by promoting events in the Austin area, Gutierrez said, the end goal was always to host their own events and contribute to the city’s culture in their own way. When Where What recently began launching an original event series, the first of which, the WWWarehouse, surprised Gutierrez with its success.

“Neither of us expected our first to have the turnout that it did,” Gutierrez said. “We also just recently launched dinner events, and that sold out back-to-back nights.”

When Where What has become a go-to tool for many of Austin’s event organizers, but Cates said some actually elect to not work with them. Some worry their event spaces may not be able to accommodate the extra 150 to 300 guests WWW’s post may bring.

“Some prefer we don’t promote their stuff, but we still try to shout them out when possible,” Cates said. “Most businesses already see the value in what we do and have reached out to us about collaborating. Some fit the culture, others don’t.”

On the flipside, vegan health blogger Annie Markowitz, a nutritional sciences graduate student, has 50,000 followers across her social media accounts, and she said her growth was somewhat unexpected.

“It started just on my personal Facebook and my personal Instagram,” Markowitz said. “Which have now turned totally unpersonal.”

Although “influencing” is not Markowitz’s full-time job, she has figured out many ways to monetize her large internet reach, including ads on her personal website and sponsored recipes. While her older relatives are not very familiar with social media, she said they support her nonetheless.

“My grandmother is one of my biggest supporters. Every time I send out an email to one of my subscribers, I get like eight emails from her that she has forwarded,” Markowitz said. “I could never talk about social media. They understand the blog part, with the pictures there, but I couldn’t go tell her that I promote on Instagram and Facebook; I couldn’t even try.”

Whether influencers gain followings through careful marketing or by happenstance, the art of tailoring to the masses is shaping up to be a lucrative occupation.