David Liebowitz

@daveliebowitz

Hacking Instagram: How Vince Van Meer Grew A Fashion Influencer Empire

A picture of Vince Van Meer

Let’s face it, if you are trying to grow a brand today, then Instagram is a must. No other social media site has a combination of aesthetics, reach, and positive perception as Instagram does (it has even escaped its parent company Facebook’s PR disaster over the past year). You could find all the negatives that you want about social media like how it is addicting and how we compare ourselves too much on it, but the matter of fact is that we are on it and it has become intertwined with our real lives much more than people want to give credit for.

From this, a new class of young entrepreneurs has risen to take advantage of this new cyber landscape of business opportunities. One of them is the 23-year-old Dutchman Vince Van Meer who at one point had six different fashion accounts each with hundreds of thousands of followers. Today he is working on growing a new crop of Instagram accounts, one of them being the prized single-word @games handle.

Van Meer grew up in the small town of Roosendaal in the Netherlands and has always been encapsulated by media and technology. Like many his age growing up, Van Meer was an avid gamer but took it one step further when he started to program and create his own games. This would lead Van Meer down a path of programming both on the web and for media projects.

During his teenage years, Van Meer was concurrently working at McDonald's and starting his own YouTube channel Xtrasmallspacer which focused on gaming. The channel quickly reached over millions of views and he started to make decent money from it. Although he wanted to quit McDonald’s from his channel’s success, his parents forced him to keep working there with the reasoning that it would be good for his development overall. In hindsight, Van Meer said he is thankful for staying there and that it helped him how to work as a team with others. When he was 17, Van Meer started to take professional pictures and videos at a nightclub, a hustle that he would pursue for a year. This gave Van Meer even more experience in the realm of content editing.

A picture of Van Meer on his computer

Van Meer’s first experience with social media was in 2013 when he created his first Instagram account. After becoming more familiar with the platform, he quickly realized how he could make money off of it through growth hacking techniques. He chose to target fashion, seeing it to be one of the most popular topics on Instagram at the time (and still thinks so). Van Meer went to work and grew his accounts using strategies such as following fashion-minded users, going shoutout-for-shoutout with similar level accounts, and buying shoutouts from larger ones. At its peak, Van Meer owned 6 fashion accounts totaling hundreds of thousands of followers; some accounts had over 500k.

At that point, brands started contacting him to promote on his empire of fashion Instagram accounts. He started to see a decrease in engagement on his accounts after accepting ads from outsiders, so Van Meer decided to start his own brand. The key to his success that not only did he grow his audience, but he curated his target audience with unique content that could not be found anywhere else, so much so that when his paid posts strayed away from what they were used to that they expressed their dismay through dislikes and unfollows. Once he launched his own brand he saw bigger margins and more profits overall for his e-commerce businesses and would sell it only a few months later.

When asked about the adversity he faces in digital marketing and e-commerce, Van Meer says the most difficult thing is how fast the platform landscape changes and how he always had to keep up with them. Platforms like Facebook, Google, and Instagram are comparable to sports each with their field of players and own rules (comparable to algorithms) and they have complete arbitrary control over the rules on their field. At any moment, they can decide to change their algorithms (or rules) and it can have a drastic effect on businesses. The problem is unlike actual sports, platforms don’t tell you when or how they changed the rules to the game, leaving users to go through trial and error in order to adjust to them. For example, if Instagram changes its algorithm to focus less on the explorer page and more on hashtags, then accounts would need to adapt to keep their growth and engagement up.

Although algorithms change, the secrets to growing accounts remain the same over time. Instagram is an extremely competitive environment and having unique content is the key to standing out and growing your audience. In terms of growing an account, Van Meer highly advises not to pay for shoutouts and promotions just because someone has a big account; Having curated shoutouts and promotions that you know will audience will like will go a much longer way for building your account and brand overall.

Currently, Van Meer has his own e-commerce consulting firm Rocketviral where he helps brands and influencers both big and small on their business strategy, marketing, social media reach, and product development. In addition, he is currently working on a new crop of Instagram accounts with @games being at the forefront of them and is gathering a team of content managers and creators to start working on them as soon as possible. Outside the internet, Van Meer is working on a number of real estate projects in the Netherlands as well as investments.

When people say the American dream of entrepreneurship is dead, it’s not. It has just moved online and young people are taking up its mantle from all corners of the world.

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