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How to Win Followers and Influence People

Young Alums Find Success on Instagram

By Sala Levin ’10


Instagram influencing isn’t all millennial pink clothing, avocado toast and succulent gardens. (Well, okay, a lot of it is.) Behind the scenes, influencers—Instagram users with enough of an audience and personal brand that they can sway followers’ purchasing and lifestyle decisions—are hustling, turning their interests into demanding and rewarding side gigs or even full-time ventures. Meet five UMD grads who have found a niche in Instagram’s crowded marketplace.

After working for a defense contractor, DANNY KIM ’17 decided to ditch mechanical engineering. Instead, he turned to a more fundamental passion: food. “Since high school, people always complimented what I brought for lunch,” he says. Since starting @dannygrubs in 2016, Kim has collected 122,000 followers with pictures of noodle bowls, sushi, ice cream and more. Thanks to restaurant group sponsorships, Kim is pursuing influencing full-time and has started @eatthecapital, geared toward restaurant recommendations. Kim sees Instagram as an artistic outlet: “I’m starting to make my own cinematic-style videos with food just so I can push my creative side,” he says.

Last year, when VANESSA ULRICH ’09 left the board of Baltimore’s chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, she began looking for a creative way to fill the 20 hours a week she’d dedicated to the organization. Channeling her love of fashion and style, she started @theprimpysheep, which now has some 6,000 followers. Ulrich, who works in PR at Sage Growth Partners, showcases her love of high-end, timeless clothing, describing her style as “classic, elegant, with a little bit of a quirky vintage twist.” She hopes the Primpy Sheep will launch a future career in fashion, whether marketing a brand or designing her own forever-fashionable clothing.

If SOPHIA HADJIPANTELI’S ’18 eyebrow had a name, she says, it would be Veronica. Like Eminem or Cher, it just needs the one name, as Hadjipanteli has become famous for her voluminous unibrow. For years, she plucked and threaded her eyebrows but now flouts expectations for women’s grooming and appearance, earning 246,000 followers. “Even at the time I was deciding to let my eyebrows do their own thing, it really was a stubbornness thing, like: ‘Well, I like myself,’” Hadjipanteli told Vice last year.

LUCINDA DEGERLUND M.H.P. ’10, M.R.E.D. ’12 didn’t stop growing when all her high school peers did. Soon she was 6’2” and struggling to find clothes that suited her stature. “I was looking for an online resource that I could reference, and there just weren’t any that spoke to tall style,” she says. So she seized the opportunity. As @lucindervention, Philadelphia-based Degerlund, a full-time construction estimator, shows her 10,000 followers clothes that flatter tall women and reflect her personal style, which she describes as a “Blair Waldorf meets Charlotte York fever dream.” “Gossip Girl” and “Sex and the City” fans know that means classic preppy with tweed blazers and nautical stripes galore.

“Badly behaved and crazy fit”: That was KYM PERFETTO’S tagline when she launched her YouTube channel in 2009. A theatre major turned bike messenger turned bike racer, Perfetto ’02 transformed her lifestyle—hardcore biking interspersed with partying, drinking and tattoo-accumulating—into a brand, delivering workout videos, nutrition advice and snippets of her racing to an audience of now 132,000 YouTube subscribers. Lately, she’s toned her content down a notch (“It’s been 10 years now, so I’m a lot older and I’m not as badly behaved,” she says), but still gives her followers—including 51,000 on Instagram—fitness inspiration. An early SoulCycle instructor, Perfetto values authenticity in her influencing strategy: “It’s like networking or making friends—you provide something you want to provide and there are people who will show up for it.”

Photos courtesy of Sophia Hadjipanteli, Danny Kim, Lucinda Degerlund and Vanessa Ulrich

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.