It’s safe to say that social media changed the world, and the modeling industry in particular has seen a major transformation. If the late 20th century gave birth to the supermodel—women like Janice Dickinson who became so important in the fashion world that they reached widespread celebrity status—the 2010’s seem to have spawned the social media model.
Many popular personalities on Instagram seem to lead a charmed life, traveling the world, partying at the hottest clubs or showing off designer clothes. For models like Rocky Barnes, posting beautiful snapshots from trips to India or the Caribbean is all in a day’s work.
Barnes began her career doing what she calls “traditional modeling,” like photo shoots for Old Navy and Target advertisements. She wasn’t discovered online, although she now boasts 758,000 Instagram followers and relies heavily on social media. When she began, she says, “Your agent was God! They were how you got jobs.” Then something changed. “I’m a beach girl from California, so I [was] just posting all my own stuff,” says Barnes of her early days on Instagram. “I started getting all of these emails from clients who wanted to work with me. They all kind of fit into my lifestyle—beachy, bohemian, travel.”
Barnes began referring clients to her agent—which she says is the opposite of how things are supposed to go. “The roles kind of flipped; Instagram started bringing the clients, not my agents.” As things began to change, it was up to agencies to evolve with the times. Scott Lipps, founder of One Management, realized the importance of capitalizing on social media early on. One launched a division dedicated solely to social media called One.1K—and signed Barnes—over a year ago, but Lipps says his approach when it comes to social is to push models who are big online to cross over to traditional jobs and vice versa. “It’s all about building brands, so ideally the best kind of scenario for us is: we take on a girl with a great following and we’re able to deliver for her [jobs with] some major brands. And if they’re high fashion that’s always an added bonus,” says Lipps. “The ultimate goal with all of this is to have the girls live between all of these worlds.”
Traditional modeling and social media modeling are no longer mutually exclusive, and a large following can be the factor that gets a model a job in an offline advertising campaign. “Think of it from a business standpoint: if a company is coming in and they’re between two girls, and this girl has 100,000 followers and this girl has one million followers, just think about the outreach and exposure that you’re going to get,” says Barnes. “It’s no longer enough to be a pretty face, that’s not interesting enough anymore. They want to know more about who this person is.”
Sometimes, social media is the job. “I just did a trip to India—I went with a company called Soludos, a shoe company, and it was just a social media trip,” explains Barnes. “They flew me and the photographer out and we did five days in India and we shot a bunch of their shoes—I styled all of the outfits—and we kind of did a tour through India for them, and it [was] a sort of takeover.” The gorgeous shots were chronicled on Barnes’ Instagram and could easily appear to be a trip she took for pleasure.
In the worlds of modeling and marketing, social media is revolutionary, and Instagram photo shoots are just the beginning. “Everything is changing,” says Lipps. “The interesting thing about where the fashion business and social has gone now is that, in a way, you can kind of create your own destiny.”