67,000 followers and counting…

All without a “Real” Camera

Andrew Griswold bought his first camera in 2010, an iPhone 4.

Fast-forward five years, and Andrew, now known as Gris, has just under 70,000 followers on Instagram, a photo-sharing community that boasts 500 million members worldwide and where more than 95 million images are posted. Every. Single. Day.

“When I was at Ivy Tech, I used social media as a tool to connect with other designers (including E3’er Bob Ewing). As a result, my feed was filled with incredible images, 24/7.”

It was those images, along with the release of Instagram that inspired Andrew to use his iPhone 4 and its surprisingly capable 5-megapixel camera to give photography a try. Thus, Gris was born.

“I started off by sharing a few photos and didn’t log in again for months. Then I began sharing one or two images every few weeks. Then every few weeks turned into every couple of days.” Before he knew it, Gris had uploaded at least one photo to Instagram every day for five years. Along the way, he experimented. A lot. And became known as an authority of sorts.

“I must have tried every feature, filter and piece of functionality. Being one of the first Indy creatives to use Instagram on a regular basis, a lot of new users started to find me.”

It was this newfound popularity that led Gris, along with a handful of other local designers, to create Instagrammers Indianapolis, or “Igers Indy” for short. Igers Indy has held at least one InstaMeet every month for the past five years and now attracts 50-60 participants at each gathering.

“Each Igers Indy event draws a fresh wave of photographers from throughout Central Indiana. It blows my mind how many new people I meet from week to week.”

Being a part of Igers Indy allowed Gris to add to his Instagram following in a big way, a following that grew even more rapidly when his work caught the eye of Instagram’s Community Manager and was placed on the app’s “Suggested User List.”

Turning Eyeballs into Opportunity

Suddenly, millions of new Instagram users started finding Gris.

“Plenty of people saw my work as a result of being on that list, and it’s resulted in a lot of opportunity.”

Opportunity with brands looking to make an impression and share their products with the Indy creative community and beyond.

“Brands, especially those with complex offerings, want more than a celebrity with a large following. They want a unique style that portrays their products in a simple, clear and engaging way. Fortunately, Instagram allows for a very artistic form of commercial expression.”

Delivering Something Different

Of course, finding paid work on Instagram has gotten harder as the platform has matured.

“In the beginning, a lot of marketers were just learning how to utilize Instagram, so you could reach out and communicate with them directly. Now they all have huge followings, and it can be a lot more difficult to break through.”

And then there’s that celebrity competition.

“Former Colts punter Pat MacAfee has a big following here in Indy and beyond. He actually followed me for a few years because of an old man joke that I made on his page about Matt Hasselbeck.”

Still, brands are finding that they can get more bang for their buck by partnering with a handful of specific influencers, rather than going all-in on some brief exposure from one or two celebrities.

“Most brands want to work with those that can help them forge meaningful connections, and sometimes the best Igers for the job are those who can portray a more authentic style.”

Lately, Gris has been reaching for bigger and better things by getting choosy about what he works on.

“I want each job to lead to the next, so I try and collaborate with brands and organizations that present me with unique opportunities.”

And despite all of the new followers, friendships and projects Instagram has brought him, helping the rest of the world get to know the real Indianapolis through Igers Indy is what makes Gris most proud.

“My favorite thing is when someone comments on an Igers Indy photo and says, ‘Wow, that’s Indianapolis?’ I love that the work we do allows us to shine a positive light on the city that we love.”