‘Influencer’ trends are profitable side gigs for alumni, students

Students and alumni share their experiences running popular food-centered accounts.

Binh Nguyen, a 2017 strategic communications alumna, orders a California roll at Crazy Sushi on the corner of Chestnut and 19th streets on Sept. 5. | ALEX ARMSTEAD / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After working at a Japanese restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania for three years, Bihn Nguyen became her friends’ go-to person for sushi recommendations before she came to Temple in 2013.

“I figured, why not create an Instagram account that could help other people…whether they’re first-time sushi eaters or whether they’re sushi lovers like me and want to check out some new spots,” said Nguyen, a 2017 strategic communications alumna. “I didn’t expect it to blow up the way it did.”

She started @philly_sushi, an Instagram account showcasing sushi spots in the city, during her junior year as an advertising student. Now, three years later, Nguyen has accumulated more than 48,000 followers on the platform. 

She’s a part of a growing industry of influencers who generate income by promoting brands and interests through social media posts.

Nguyen calls herself a “micro-influencer,” meaning she has between 1,000 and 100,000 followers, according to CMSwire.

Leah Hillegas, a 2019 advertising alumna, has more than 7,500 followers on her food-focused Instagram account called @templefoodies.

She created the account her freshman year at Temple when she started eating out more and sampling different cuisines in Philadelphia for the first time.

“I used to have a pretty bad relationship with food. I never wanted to try anything new,” Hillegas said. “Then, when I met my boyfriend freshman year at Temple, he would always want to go to all these [restaurants], and I realized that I really started to like food.”

Both Nguyen and Hillegas have jobs in public relations and digital marketing and use their accounts as side income.

Binh Nguyen, a 2017 strategic communications alumna, orders a california roll at Crazy Sushi on the corner of Chestnut and 19th streets on Sept. 5. | ALEX ARMSTEAD / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Micro-influencers can make over $30,000 per year, Vox reported in November 2018. Platforms like Instagram and YouTube are the most profitable for influencers. In July, Business Insider predicted that the influencer marketing industry will be worth $15 billion by 2020.

Devon Powers, associate professor of advertising at Klein College of Media and Communication, said a social media influencer is “someone who has built a community around a particular interest, area or topic, and through that community, they’re able to promote brands and events.”

“It’s part brand-building and part community-building,” Powers said. “The idea of working for yourself and being very self-directed and finding something that you love or are interested in is very appealing.”

Nguyen and Hillegas both work to build online communities around their passions by keeping their followers engaged.

Nguyen said she tries to respond to as many messages and comments as possible.

“I try to think of creative ways to engage my followers aside from posting quality content and engaging with them in the comments and when they direct-message me,” she added.  

Sometimes Nguyen partners with sushi restaurants to do giveaways for her followers, she said.

Hillegas said she takes pride in the fact that college students tag their friends in the comments of her posts. 

Nguyen and Hillegas view their Instagram accounts as creative outlets for sharing their passions with other people.

“Just doing something that you’re passionate about goes a long way,” Hillegas said. “I know a lot of people in my undergrad thought that @templefoodies was stupid, but I think other people want to see when you are passionate about something.”

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