For students with viral food Instagram accounts, the phone eats first

Even if you follow hundreds of Instagram accounts dedicated to food photos, you may never know that some of the people behind these viral accounts are sitting next to you in class.

At least five students run food-dedicated accounts – each with at least 34,000 followers – where they post multiple drool-worthy photos every day. Creating a brand on social media can be a full-time job, so we sat down with these students to see how they do it.

Photo courtesy of District Eats.

District Eats featured a Union Kitchen ice cream sandwich in a photo on the Instagram account.

Sydney Fleisher, @foodporndaily1

Sydney Fleisher, a sophomore majoring in communications, runs the account @foodporndaily1 with three friends who live around the country. Fleisher said the account started when she was in high school as a “joke” – she and her friends would take turns posting pictures of their meals for their own enjoyment.

“We didn’t think anybody would follow it,” Fleisher said. “Then we started getting more and more followers. But it was all random. We really didn’t plan it.”

Now, with more than 3,500 posts, @foodporndaily1 has racked up more than 104,000 followers.

Restaurants will occasionally send Fleisher an email offering a free meal for a post featuring their establishment, she said.

Fleisher said her favorite posts – and those that get the most likes – feature burgers and other greasy finger foods. Those meals fulfill the “food porn” theme because followers wouldn’t eat them every day, she said.

“I always like pictures of really greasy things,” Fleisher said. “They always get a lot of likes.”

Devon Rushton, @food_ilysm

When Devon Rushton, a junior majoring in business administration, came to campus for Colonial Inauguration in 2014, she decided to start an Instagram account dedicated to food because she wanted a way to record all of her dining experiences in the District.

“I wanted to post them all on my personal Instagram, but didn’t want to flood my personal account with too many food pictures,” Rushton said.

A few short months after creating the account, she passed 1,000 followers and now has around 178,000 – a number that grows every day, she said.

Rushton said she often receives complimentary meals from restaurants and has collaborated with several national businesses, like Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Baked by Melissa and ZICO Coconut Water.

Just like any other company, having an Instagram presence attracts business. Several people have proven that by offering to purchase the account from Rushton – the highest offer for $7,000 – but she turned them all down, she said.

“It really has become a part of my life,” Rushton said. “I can’t imagine not having it.”

Victoria Skrivanos and Alex Babkowski @district_foodies

Sophomores Victoria Skrivanos and Alex Babkowski started their food Instagram account the fall of their freshman year. Initially, they didn’t take the project very seriously, they said.

“The account originally had maybe 20 followers,” Skrivanos said. “It was really just something fun for us to do.”

Today, @district_foodies has more than 36,000 followers, and the pair co-run GW’s chapter of Spoon University – a national publication about food on college campuses.

Skrivanos said running the account has helped her find a “foodie community” on social media where people can look through photos to find out about new restaurants.

“I feel like now when you visit a new city, or at least I know this is what Alex and I do, we look on Instagram to find out where to eat.” she said.

Skrivanos said they recently posted a video taken at RPM Italian in CityCenterDC that features gelato set on fire and covered in chocolate sauce. Video has become more popular on Instagram recently, so the two have been testing out posting videos, she said.

Mia Svirsky and Sydney Tretter, @districteats

At the beginning of their freshman year, Mia Svirsky and Sydney Tretter, now juniors, created the account @districteats as a way to explore D.C.

Both said that through their “foodstagram,” they have formed relationships with hospitality firms around the District.

Svirsky and Tretter said when crafting a like-worthy post, they use VSCO and Afterlight to edit the exposure, contrast and saturation of their photos but never use Instagram’s own filters.

With 1,000 posts and more than 34,000 followers, Tretter said running an Instagram account dedicated to food photos can be like a second job.

“Understand your semester budget will all go toward food,” Svirsky said. “Sometimes you’ll have to order something you don’t necessarily want but know will photograph well.”

Tretter said despite the money and time they both give up to run the account, their passion makes it worth it.

“You always have to remember that the phone eats first,” Tretter said.

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