As millennials who grew up using social media enter the workforce, they have an advantage over their older competition: They’re already pros when it comes to marketing.
Vitaly Kibenko fell in love with photography when he was 13 years old. Growing up, he enviously would watch as his photographer and videographer parents documented weddings around the Eastside. During his parents’ shoots, Kibenko would tote their camera bags and carefully watch their every move, eager for his own moment behind a lens.
When he was 16, Kibenko got his chance and started shooting weddings. By 19, he was photographing as many as 45 of them a year.
“I was shooting every weekend. Sometimes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” said Kibenko. “It got so busy, and it got to a point where I was creatively stuck.”
In 2014, Kibenko began shifting his focus from wedding to fashion photography and found himself traveling often from his hometown of Woodinville to Los Angeles to network and find jobs. Around this time, he also created an Instagram account, unaware of the profound impact the social media app would have on his budding career.
When Kibenko started his Instagram account, @ownthelight, he mostly used it to share scenic photos of the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t until he and some of his photographer friends from Los Angeles started sharing each other’s posts that he realized the potential the app had to help him grow his business.
“The whole Instagram thing, it was too new to even think about trying to make money off of it,” said Kibenko. “But (my friends and I) started realizing soon enough that Instagram was a new form of marketing that was still yet to be discovered. That’s when we started helping each other out and promoting each other.”
As Kibenko’s follower base grew, so did his business. Rather than having to hustle for work, companies started approaching him. But these companies didn’t want Kibenko to just snap photos of their products; they wanted Kibenko to post the photos on his Instagram so their ad campaigns could reach his followers — a new audience.
“The first (company) that came to me was (Swedish watch company) Daniel Wellington,” said Kibenko. “They reached out to me and said, ‘We’ll give you two watches and a hundred bucks if you do a post for us,’ and I freaked out. And I had like 15,000 followers at the time. It was nothing.”
Since then, Kibenko’s following has grown considerably — and so has his résumé. Today, the 21-year-old photographer has more than 270,000 followers on Instagram, and he’s done work for Macy’s and Justin Bieber.
“It’s kind of amazing to see that following that I have built in my world,” he said.
Kibenko has reached influencer status, meaning his social media following is large enough that brands want to advertise on his page to put their products in front of the eyes of new customers. Still, others who haven’t quite made it to his level can use social media as an affordable way to market businesses they otherwise couldn’t afford to brand.
Lynnwood-based clothing company Vision Garments is one example. The company’s apparel hasn’t yet landed on the racks at Macy’s, but founder Svetlana Fortygin is OK with that. She’s not looking for rapid growth. Instead, the 30-year-old mother, who also owns and manages a cleaning company by day, wants to grow her business in a way that’s more sustainable — and social media helps her achieve this.
“I don’t have huge amounts of money to pay for marketing, so I have to grow using Facebook and Instagram,” said Fortygin.
That said, in less than a year, Fortygin’s Instagram, which is brimming with professional photos taken by Kibenko, already has surpassed 1,000 followers.
“I haven’t marketed as much because I felt like I wasn’t ready for all that success,” said Fortygin.
As a busy entrepreneur, business owner, and mother, Fortygin is able to grow Vision Garments without limiting her time with family or relying on the income from her other business to support her new one. It’s a win-win-win.