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The perks of being Insta famous

Three NTU students who have built a five-figure following on Instagram tell Chrystal Chan how they keep their Insta game strong

Communication student Carrine Low has over 15,800 followers on Instagram, but unlike most students who take to social media, she gets a side perk from her hobby.

“It has helped me to land paid modelling jobs from brands like Topshop and Laneige,” she explains.

“Since I first got on Instagram six years ago, my followers have grown organically. Perhaps it helps that I kept a blog in secondary school, which had about 2,000 readers back then,” says the third-year undergrad who gets an average of 1,000 likes with every photo she posts.

National taekwondo athlete Ng Ming Wei built his base of 47,500 followers over years of taekwondo competitions abroad in places like Iran and Croatia, where he often gets attention as the lone representative from Singapore.

The final-year psychology student keeps his account interesting by pairing his expertise in taekwondo with other sports like table tennis and basketball. A video post of him playing table tennis with his foot went viral after it was picked up by popular social media website 9GAG, garnering over 260,000 views and 7,905 likes.

Jonas Koh, a third-year chemical and biomolecular engineering student, racked up over 39,700 followers in the last four years, thanks to his keen eye for aesthetics and his love for cafes. While he uses Instagram to share culinary pleasures, especially his love of baking, he does so with so much precision that he can spend up to an hour crafting a post.

“Creating flat lays with different items can take much longer as I have to prep the background, pull out props and then arrange or rearrange the items. If it is a photo of interior design or just coffee, I usually get the shot I want in a couple of minutes,” he says.

Insta perks

The perks of being an Instagram personality run from receiving business proposals to meeting like-minded pals, say Jonas and Carrine.

“The best thing about being on Instagram is being able to work with brands I love. It’s a happy accident since I started the account just to share pictures with friends,” Carrine admits.

Her stylish feed has has also resulted in collaborations with Lazada, Nivea and ezbuy.

Ming Wei gets his kicks out of sharing his love of taekwondo with friends and perfect strangers. Some of the nicest comments he has received are from people who tell him how he has inspired them to continue practising the sport. “I am glad that I can promote the sport in Singapore. I want others to know that it’s really fun and not violent at all.”

Jonas reveals that in the four years or so that he has been Insta famous, a number of companies have approached him for sponsored posts, but he is adamant about working only with brands whose products he truly likes.

“I do not see a point in accepting money, so I reject payment. My most popular post resulted from a collaboration with a tea company. I made a non-diary coconut matcha ice cream with their matcha powder. The end result not only looked but tasted delicious,” says the 24-year-old.

For him, the best perk is meeting like-minded Instagrammers who have become travel buddies. His last trip with Insta buddies was during his exchange in Korea, where they hung out in cafes.

Keeping followers happy

It goes without saying then that there is some pressure for these social media influencers to keep their followers happy.

Carrine says consistency is important as people tend to lose interest if they haven’t seen anything from you in a while. “Posting regularly helps. But you must have interesting content. Currently, I’m trying to post more videos to switch things up a little bit,” she says.

Jonas keeps his fans happy by posting at least once every two days, although this can be hard to do during busy school weeks. “I try my best to create content wherever I am, even if I’m having breakfast. I’ll make the meal look presentable and snap a few pictures.”

For Ming Wei, having a thriving Instagram account matters because he hopes that it will help him land a sponsor for his ultimate dream – competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Taekwondo is not a big thing here in Singapore, so my parents have been supporting me for various overseas competitions since I was 14 years old. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be my final push before I retire from the sport,” says the 24-year-old.

As he hasn’t secured a financial backer, Ming Wei is doubling up on his efforts on Instagram.

“I try to post two videos a week. I find inspiration for my videos by googling ‘types of sports’ and then seeing which ones I can try with taekwondo moves,” he shares.

“I’m also on social media app TikTok. If a video does well there, I know I can post it on Instagram as well.”

Dealing with trolls

One downside of Insta fame is getting negative comments on posts.

“I tend to encounter trolls when I post videos. Since these are people I don’t know, usually with no profile pictures, I am not affected by them,” says Carrine.

“Most of the hateful comments I’ve seen online come from a place of anger and lack of understanding about taekwondo,” says Ming Wei. “They believe the sport should look a certain way and when I don’t do it that way, they post angry comments. I don’t get upset, because their comments are not directed at me personally.”

Jonas has not received any hate online but he recalls the one time a stranger secretly tried to take a photo of him: “At cafes, I sometimes shoot cups of coffee on the floor instead of on the table, and my friend once saw a girl trying to photograph me doing that. I went up to her and told her it made me feel uncomfortable. Her excuse was that she was just trying to take a picture of my coffee!”