Photographer James Jackson had quite a weekend.
He invited some model friends to hang out at the condo where he was staying—a light-flooded unit in the converted Buchanan School on Capitol Hill. He had coffee and lunch at Little Pearl, plus dinner out at Beuchert’s Saloon.
If you’re one of his 9,161 followers, you got to watch the whole dreamy affair unfold on his Instagram story. And if Jackson did his job correctly, you might’ve wished that it was you flipping through a magazine in the condo’s all-white kitchen, or walking across its herringbone marble bathroom floor, or doing a photo shoot with your incredibly good looking friends in front of its massive arched window.
Because that was the whole point. While there was no mention of things like the condo’s list price ($499,900), or number of bedrooms (one) until the very end of Jackson’s weekend stay, it is in fact for sale. And Jackson was paid by its developer, Ditto Residential, to make you want to buy it via his Instagram feed.
Jackson is a social media “influencer” meaning his Instagram following makes him a desirable marketing tool for local brands, including real-estate companies that want to reach potential buyers. While other industries, like Washington’s food scene, are better known for their use of influencers (such as Justin Schuble, whose @dcfoodporn handle is up to 221,000 followers), it’s an increasingly popular tactic in real estate, too.
Jackson says he fell into the influencer racket after his photography started getting significant attention on Instagram. Brands began contacting him, and PR types started inviting him to openings and parties around town.
“94 percent of my followers are in the DC area, so I’m a really good person [for a client like Ditto],” Jackson says. “Someone who lives in the area can walk through the door and give Ditto money, whereas someone who lives in Peoria will just go ‘oh that’s a cool picture.’”
Ditto’s head of marketing Callie Bruemmer says that while most of the 41-unit Buchanan School sold out quickly, she felt the three remaining units could use an extra boost. She says the one that Jackson stayed in has likely been tougher to sell because its price-per-square-foot is higher than the other one-bedrooms. It’s priced that way, she says, because of its unique features, including the huge window framed in the schoolhouse’s original arched entryway.
“I imagine the person who will buy that unit is a lot like James—single, doesn’t have kids, can appreciate interesting architectural details and really digs that stuff,” says Bruemmer. “He’s the right demographic. He came to mind for this pretty early on.”
Jackson declines to disclose how much he’s paid for these gigs “because it’s a very competitive field.” But if you plug his Instagram handle @thisisjamesj into the earnings calculator on Influencer Marketing Hub, the website calculates that his posts are worth up to $100 each.
Jackson says the contracts differ from job to job. He and Ditto worked out a required number of posts, including photos of the building and the surrounding neighborhood. They discussed the restaurants and other hot spots he might go, but did not require him to visit anywhere in particular. In addition to paying him for his posts and putting him up for two nights in the condo, Ditto gave Jackson a per diem to spend on food and drinks. “Capitol Hill has some fancy places, so that gets taken into account,” says Jackson.
Another recent gig, for an apartment building in downtown Silver Spring called Central, came with tighter parameters. Jackson says the developer made reservations for him at specific restaurants, and gave him tickets to see a David Bowie tribute band at the Fillmore—which wouldn’t have been his first choice. “But if someone’s like, ‘hey I have a whole weekend planned for you, and I’m gonna pay you,’ then sure!” he says. “Especially if it’s a fit for my brand.”