How Social Media Has Impacted The Modeling Industry

Gigi Hadid/Instagram

Written by WEIV Contributor, Francesca Cassola

The animal that is social media has changed many aspects of our society across the board. One major change has been its impact on the modeling industry. Recently, the criteria for what it takes to be dubbed a model or supermodel has been re-established because now, it is crucial that all those in the business have a significant digital presence.

When a model is trying to book a gig, a client’s first question is “how many followers does she have?” instead of “what does she look like?”. This may come as a shock since we usually associate appearance with a model’s ability to get booked. However, being beautiful, fit and healthy is no longer enough as models now must also be social media influencers. Models need to have tons of followers and proportionately large engagement rates in order to be considered by an agency or client. General Manager of Vivien’s Models, Catherine McGill says most companies today will not even consider a model if they do not have at least 10,000 followers on social media. Agencies like Chic and Vivien’s Models have adapted to these client demands for social media statistics by creating influencer divisions.

So, why has being a social media influencer become so important for models? Potential clients know that if the model is an influencer, thousands or even millions of people will be exposed to whichever products are featured in their posts. Clients wouldn’t have this kind of reach in a magazine spread because not nearly as many people read magazines as they do engage with social media. More importantly, it’s because of the intimate relationship between social media stars and their fans. Fans trust and emulate their favorite models, and brands use this relationship to their advantage by running campaigns through the “personal” social media accounts of models. This all comes at a cost. Brands might have to pay as much as thousands of dollars for a single post. It’s been said that “top tier” models like Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne can charge up to $300,000 per post.

Aspiring models have had to add self-promotion into their repertoire in order to stay relevant in the fashion world. If one’s follower base is large enough, they’ll be labeled an influencer, which distinguishes them from those models who are not and thus perpetuates their careers. The models of today must be masters of social media in order to solidify their brand.


If a model/influencer agrees to incorporate a product into a post, it’s usually not as simple as taking a selfie wearing it or with it in their hand. Most often, brands spend time planning what the post will look like and when it will be posted. Many brands work products into posts subtly and incorporate them into what a model is doing in a photo.

We could compare this process to the introduction of LinkedIn. Now, many people include their LinkedIn link on their resume, enabling potential employers to glean information about one’s professional network, a dimension of information that they didn’t have before when simply looking at a list of past work experiences.

The most important social media platform that determines whether a model is an influencer is Instagram. If you’re not somewhat “Insta-famous”, good luck booking anything substantial. According to an analysis conducted by D’Marie, an analytics app, 89% of models have an Instagram whereas only 20% have a Twitter and 16% have a Facebook page.

Insta-famous individuals can become models even if they’ve never walked a catwalk or been to a real photo shoot. Instead, they can do things like tag agencies and brands in posts to catch their attention, and even get “re-grammed”, which attracts many more followers. Before, one needed an agent to become a model. Now, one needs to be Insta-famous to get an agent. People have more of a chance to become models now who might otherwise have been dropped by agencies because they do not fit perfectly with the looks criteria.

One example of a model who fits into the new definition is Gigi Hadid. Hadid went from up-and-coming model to global fashion celebrity in what seemed like one day. Though she was able to enter the scene partly because her parents (Yolanda Foster and Mohamed Hadid) and stepfather (David Foster) are well known, she wouldn’t have made it to where she is without killing it on social media.

In 2016 alone, she gained 16 million followers. It all began when she started hosting Q&A sessions called “Ask Gigi” on her Twitter account. In addition to this, she posted many selfies, behind-the-scenes pictures from photo shoots and inside looks at her life, which made her followers feel connected to her. Gigi has stated: “I think it’s always come naturally to just be genuine on social media and to put things into words that people can relate to, rather than putting things in a way that makes them feel that they can’t be part of it”.

Gigi Hadid’s Instagram page/Instagram

Vogue has called models like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevingne “Instagirls”. They are millennial models who have succeeded both in high fashion and the commercial world, which hasn’t been common since the supermodel era in the 1990s.

Some pre-social media era models aren’t too pleased about how easy it is now for someone to be called a model. Rebecca Romijn, Victoria’s Secret model and Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl, doesn’t give much credit to models like Gigi Hadid’s careers and thinks that they’ll never be comparable to icons such as Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Romijn doesn’t agree that having a social media presence should be favored over having runway experience and is disappointed that acclaimed magazines in the fashion world, such as Vogue, are giving social media stars the model title.

The newly set standards for becoming a model have both positive and negative implications. On one hand, those frustrated with the shifts in what it takes to be a model have a point because now, it seems like models have to do less yet get paid more for doing it. Instead of having to go to a shoot and follow direction for a couple hundred dollars, they just need to be good at taking a selfie for a couple thousand dollars. However, this transition has also allowed individuals who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to become models due to lack of access to the industry or not fitting with the cookie-cutter model image to have a chance. Additionally, having a personal brand through social media is a security net for models, as they know that once they hit their late 20s, agencies will likely start losing interest.

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