Together, Freshmen Matthew McGannon and William Benjamin have 325,000 followers on Instagram. They get between 7,000 and 11,000 likes on each photo they post. For them, everyone’s favorite photo-sharing app for cats, selfies and food, has become more than a social media outlet. It’s become a business.
“People want more followers or a brand wants more people knowing about it,” Matthew, owner of Instagram accounts @basketballcoverage and @trickvidz, said. “So they go to an Instagram account and buy a shoutout from them for a certain amount of time. You keep it up for like one hour, then you delete it,”
Shoutouts, essentially, are posts made to promote an account. Prices for shoutouts are based on the duration of time that they remain posted. They range from $15-$40 and can go as long as 24 hours. But in order to earn money from selling shoutouts, accounts need a substantial amount of followers, such as Matthew and Will’s. Their accounts have grown to 170,000 and 155,000 followers respectively since they began over a year ago.
“It took us a while to start,” Will said. “When you don’t have very many [followers] it’s harder. We had a competition who could get more [followers]. Once we reached 10,000, that was a big moment.”
Matthew and Will teamed up with other accounts and promoted each other to gain an even greater amount of followers.
As the boys’ accounts grew even larger, the two realized that they could make money off of shoutouts. Both began earning money near the 70,000 and 75,000 followers mark.
“Other accounts around my size were selling shoutouts and I thought it would be cool to do it too,” Matthew said.
Shoutout purchases are coordinated through email and Kik Messenger, a free instant messaging app. After sharing information, money is transferred through PayPal.
“It’s like any part-time job,” Patrick McGannon Sr., father of Matthew, said. “I’m just trying to make sure he gets it into the bank or a savings account. He’s always been a sports nut. Even as a little kid, every morning at 6 a.m. I would hear that ESPN song on the TV set. He would watch ESPN and he would know everything. So I think it’s fun for him to validate that huge interest.”
Will and Matthew work hard on their accounts, updating multiple times a day and doing their best to gain followers. Followers are mainly gained by how well things are presented and how quickly updates are made compared to other accounts.
Will and Matthew put different hours of work into the account depending on the day and time of year. During off-seasons for basketball and NFL and when Matthew and Will are busy with school, it’s harder to make posts and gain followers.
Matthew’s brothers, Connor McGannon and Patrick McGannon Jr., are both big supporters of his account. They help by offering advice on post presentation from their college homes in Texas and Tennessee.
“Matthew is lucky that he has two brothers in two different colleges around the country,” Patrick Sr. said. “They’re talking to their friends, who are talking to their friends and that helps his distribution of his account. You’ve got these kids following him that might be from New York or kid who then tells 10 friends.”
Patrick Jr. and his friend Scott Schober both were impressed with the follower amount and effort McGannon put into his main account @basketballcoverage.
“[Our friends and I] started following him around 2,000 followers and we were incredibly impressed,” Scott said. “After we came back from summer this year, he had [around] 60,000 followers. And at that point we all became pretty invested in it. We started commenting and following it pretty closely.”
At first their parents were wary about the idea. They didn’t understand how one could make money off of a simple photo sharing app and didn’t know if it was safe. The parents were concerned about what personal information there would be online and how the money would be handled and transferred.
“I got on and checked it out and I asked him a lot of questions because I’m just not that social media-savvy,” Patrick Sr. said about his son and his account. “It’s like a bunch of kids sitting around in the cafeteria and talking about their favorite sports, but this happens to be with 170,000 people.”
While money and being popular on Instagram, or “Insta-famous”, are positives, there is some controversy within the Instagram community surrounding the practice of selling shoutouts. Some people feel as if shoutouts fill the page with information that people don’t necessarily want to see, essentially clogging up their Instagram feeds.
“Whenever [Matthew] does shout outs, I get the heat from my friends. If you go to the page during a shout out, it’s a battlefield. Everyone is dropping f-bombs, ripping into him and telling him that they’ll find his family,” Patrick Jr. said.
Despite the threats, Patrick Sr. feels as if the whole process is a valuable experience his son.
“He is learning something,” Patrick Sr. said. “We talk a bit about what appeals to people and a little about business marketing and things like that. I tell him to just keep it fun.”
Check out some of McGannon’s and Benjamin’s instagram photos below.[yinstagram username=”basketballcoverage”] [yinstagram username=”trickvidz”]