Instagram became a billion dollar company thanks to users taking their own photos, and applying arty filters to those photos.
But as the platform has evolved, new uses have emerged. And not everyone is using Instagram to post their photos. Some are treating it just like Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook.
One such user is Elliot Tebele, but you might know him better as “F*ckJerry,” a massively popular Instagram user. While other Instagram users get famous for taking their own pictures, Tebele gets famous for sharing memes and funny pictures. He has more than 1,000,000 followers.
“I believe this trend [of using Instagram in non-traditional ways] has been going on for a long time now,” Telebe told us. “I was a very early adopter in this trend and I attribute some of my success to this early adoption.”
The pictures on Tebele’s Instagram account largely aren’t his. They are pictures that originally appeared on websites like Reddit, Imgur, Twitter, and Tumblr. Tebele essentially uses Instagram like Tumblr or Reddit, aggregating the funny pictures he finds elsewhere on the internet.
“I’m aggregating what I believe is the best content available and I’m doing it all day,” he says. “In terms of knowing if the audience is going to like a post — it’s hard to explain, I have this gut feeling. Sometimes I do test the market and remove content that doesn’t fare well.”
According to BuzzFeed, which wrote about Tebele in August, Tebele receives submissions from followers via email or through Instagram’s private messaging feature. Some of Tebele’s Instagram pictures are obviously from Twitter. They typically include the user’s Twitter handle, or if that’s cropped out, there’s still a screenshot of a tweet’s text and a photo.
Tebele told us he tries to give credit whenever he can, but it’s often difficult to find the original source of the content he aggregates. And currently, Instagram doesn’t allow users to post links in comments, which makes sourcing hard anyway.
While the majority of the pictures Tebele posts are from elsewhere, he says he’s recently started to experiment with posting original content. “The engagement I’ve been getting has been on par if not greater than that of the curated content,” he told Business Insider.
Tebele has started to monetise his big audience of users. He’s done ahandful of sponsored posts on the F*ckJerry account, which he says he named while watching Seinfeld, but he says he has to make sure they’re not obvious advertisements — his audience is discerning. “The ad has to be as hilarious as the regular content and the brand has to be something that I genuinely believe in,” he told Business Insider.
He’s making enough money from sponsored posts that Instagram is a full-time job.
“I’m currently focusing on F*ckjerry full time,” Tebele said. “In terms of living off its success — yes, between ad revenue and brand collaborations, it’s definitely possible. But I’m thinking way beyond that. I’m trying to turn Fuckjerry into a long-term sustainable brand. I’ve recently brought on a business partner to help me realise that vision and am looking to build out small team, starting with a dedicated copywriter to help with Fuckjerry original content.”
Sharing content that’s not your own online is something nearly everyone has done — a great example of this is Chris Scott’s infamous “Oh hi Becky” tweet, which went viral and was plagiarized globally.
The very nature of internet communication and “going viral” doesn’t always reward those who follow the rules and post their own content. The internet rewards people who slog through the annals of less-amusing posts online to find and repost the funny gems themselves.
In its community guidelines, Instagram explicitly tells users not to share photos that aren’t theirs, lest their accounts be disabled:
Don’t share photos or videos that aren’t yours. This includes other people’s posts, and/or things that you have copied or collected from the Internet. Accounts that solely consist of only this type of content may be disabled at any time.
Instagram takes action against “curated content” accounts only when the rights holder believes that content on Instagram is violating its rights. The rights holder can report that content to Instagram, which has a global notice-and-takedown team in place that promptly removes content identified in a valid report. Repeat infringers may have their accounts suspended. But Instagram isn’t seeking out accounts that violate its rules, allowing users like Tebele to thrive.
Tebele is just one Instagram user getting popular for using the platform in a non-traditional way. Josh Ostrovsky got his start in a New York-based rap group before becoming a correspondent for E!. But Ostrovsky’s real fame comes from Instagram, where he goes by @TheFatJewish and posts funny pictures and memes, as well as his own photos.
Ostrovsky is cashing in on Instagram aggregation too. “Brands will say you’re an influencer, and send you somewhere just to cause a scene, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he told Billboard in August. Stella Artois paid for him to go to the Cannes Film Festival. “I was like, ‘I’m immediately going to get found by a bunch of billionaire Saudi Arabians and be in the most lavish situation pouring rosé on myself,’ which is exactly what happened.”
Anyone can repost funny pictures to Instagram they find elsewhere — seemingly without consequence — but the early adopters like Tebele and Ostrovsky are the ones finding viral and fiscal success.
“I don’t think the founders of Instagram ever dreamed of how big it would actually become or about all the different use cases that would arise,” Tebele told Business Insider. “I respect them for maintaining their vision and focus on photos — you still can’t add a link to a post! Models have started their careers on Instagram. Companies have been formed for the sole purpose of letting people purchase goods through Instagram comments. It’s amazing to think about.”