Murad Osmann Curated
CURATED BY :
What has been the most memorable or challenging series so far?
There were lots of difficult ones because you can't see the weather, for example, in the picture. [Sometimes] it's really cold and Natalia is in a dress, while I'll be in a coat with my sleeves rolled up. Every photo has a story. Our first four days in Hong Kong last year were sunny but the day we went to the Global Geopark there was a thunderstorm and the humidity was mad. Natalia was dressed as a swan and rain is bad for that outfit. For a second it stopped, we took the photo and got back on the bus wet.
What’s it like having more than two million followers on Instagram?
Our fans give us a lot of advice on locations to visit and share stories of their lives, which is always interesting to know. Or they share their photos from those locations that we took — it's fun to see in the hashtag how people do the same photos as us. If we have negative comments, we leave them — everyone has their own opinion. But if they're abusive or have bad words, we delete them.
What is one of your favourite pictures?
We took one in the helicopter of the Hollywood Hills. We took off the doors of the helicopter and flew with open doors. Both of us leaned out and it was really dangerous. But the picture is gorgeous.
What camera do you use?
Recently, I've been using a Sony Alpha 7 because it's small and you can mount different lenses on it. I don't stick to one camera; it depends on the conditions we shoot in. Natalia says I have hundreds of cameras that I take with me. I don't. She has hundreds of dresses that she takes with her.
What was the concept behind your wedding at Lid’s Eventhouse in Moscow?
There was so much to prepare but it was fun. The theme was imaginary and surreal like Alice in Wonderland. It was like a fairy tale.
Did you expect your Instagram travel pictures with your then girlfriend now wife, Natalia Zakharova, leading you into beautiful places to be so big?
It wasn't instantly popular. It started in Barcelona — it was our first trip together. We took our first picture there, then another one, and it went on and on. It was popular among our friends for a year-and-a-half first, and only then did it gain popularity throughout the world.
You feature so many shots from the Middle East. What are some of your favorite places to photograph and be photographed?
A lot people think there are just deserts, every country is different. There's so much to offer, not even in terms of the locations… Everyone thinks of our projects as being magical views and nice places, but it's also about the people. They're so humble, so open and in the media different things are portrayed. I'm not talking about Dubai but the whole Middle East area.
From the location to the outfits…How do you come up with ideas for your shots?
Working with tourism boards is a great benefit because they know the places your wouldn't usually go to, they know the best secret locations. We also approach local Instagrammers and photographers. Normally when you go to websites like TripAdvisor or if you type in Google you get carried away with typical tourist places. 10 years ago when there was almost no social media it was very difficult to communicate, you'd have to come here for a few days, get acquainted with local people… You'd have to come to the place first and get to know them.
Your pictures look incredible. How much touching up do you have to do to make sure they’re good enough to post? Home much time do you spend editing?
It depends. Sometimes you go to a place really early in the morning and there are tons of tourists, especially in the magic hours. The nest time for us is sunset, I don't like to wake up early but we have to go for sunrises because there's a bigger chance to be alone. But I try to take photos and phase them out of the pictures or ask our friends to hold them back. W have a picture of Taj Mahal and people asked "where are the people?". That's a square image but if you look at the horizontal pictures you see huge crowds.
What are your top tips for people trying to achieve Instagram shots that are as stunning as yours?
There are a lot of people not attached to any single camera, even using an iPhone they get amazing quality pictures. It's the ideas that count. Even in you hometown you can get really beautiful photos going at night and shooting stars. It's your passion and vision, playing with lights and a series of photos. Dressing up for a place that doesn't really require dressing up. It doesn't have to be sophisticated dresses. We had our friends in India wearing a typical easy going sari and the picture looks different to when you're wearing a western outfit. You don't have to be too pushy so it looks like you're culturally appropriating the place, it has to be organic and it will work. There are comments [about cultural appropriation] but whatever.
A lot of people try to copy your #followmeto hand-holding style. Do you find it annoying?
No, we're always happy and looking for our hashtag or laughing at funny pictures. We try to comment on those pictures. We're trying to create a community around that and connect.
You’re so well known now that you voiced the Smurfs in Russian. How did that come about and how did it feel to hear your voice on the big screen?
A year ago we created a TV program in Russian and it's huge but for us it was really a challenge. You're a prisoner of the format because it has to be done in 21.4 seconds [for example]… not a second longer, not a second shorter. It's not like on YouTube, assembling anything and putting it out, it has to be fully scripted. We have operators behind the scenes so we're trying to push more to two people [on camera]. I prefer shooting Nataly, she's prettier.
How do you keep your accounts exciting for your followers who have been around a long time?
On the Murad Osmann account, we used to post only #FollowMeTo pictures, now we post video teasers, behind the scenes photos. We're testing the format because people are used to the hand-holding gesture. On Nataly Osmann, we post travel, fashion, cultures ad Nataly traveling. We're creating a community. All different platforms grow separately. If I keep posting #FollowMeTo photos on my account three times a day, I will be bored!
How do you ensure you’re responsible and safe while taking your daring shots and what do you do to show fans you’re responsible?
Our shot was not as dangerous as it looks because there was a whole meter in front of us, and a story below so you would fall only two meters but it seems we're on the edge. When people are hanging off a building it's not cool. Maybe it's an age thing, when you're 15 or 18… it sends the wrong message to the audience. If you have a private exhibition and it's professional, fine. But promoting it to the audience is not good. When people ask in the comment we let them know that it's not as dangerous as it seems. The only dangerous thing we did was hanging off a helicopter in front of the Hollywood Sign. There were no doors on the helicopter but we were strapped in.
You’re a couple. Have you discussed what would happen to your business if you broke up?
No, it only fits us. Recently, I tested it out and took a photo with a different girl and posted it on #followmeto, a famous girl, and I received so much hate from people saying, "No, Murad it has to be Nataly, Where's Nataly?"
You and Nataly embarked on a pretty exciting journey this year (getting married), what’s next?
Now we are going to publish the second #FollowMeTo book in English, with more stories by Nataly and more exclusive pictures by me. We are also launching a big international travel website, TV-program in Russia, YouTube channel and our own jewelry line.
You’ve travelled to so many places around the world, which destination stands out the most?
India and Jordan. You want to come back again and again to these countries, they are unforgettable, and give a lot of inspiration.
How did you first get into photography, and how did you turn your interest into a career through Instagram?
We made our first #FollowMeTo shot during our trip to Barcelona in 2011. Back then, we were young, careless and in love. I was taking photos of everything, including Nataly. As a true tourist, she wanted to see everything and at some point dragged my arm to draw my attention. In that moment I just decided to take a picture. Later we came up with the hashtag and posted the photo on social media. The project remained our hobby for about 1.5 years and was followed just by our friends and family. After a time, however, news about our project appeared in western media (Reddit, BuzzFeed, Daily Mail), and our audience began to grow swiftly. People wrote that our example inspired them. Speaking from our experience, we learned that Instagram is the fastest and easiest platform to convey your ideas and share your stories and values with millions of people. It is literally the best way to influence and infect (in a good way) the world!
How did you meet (and fall in love with) the subject of many your photos, Nataly?
We met on a shoot, then became friends on social media and had breakfasts together, as we lived near each other. It took me a long time to get Nataly’s phone number. I even suggested a run together in the morning. I remember waking up at dawn, taking a selfie from the track and returning to my bed, just to make sure she knew how serious I was about it. Oh, the things we do for love! Soon we’ll celebrate the two year anniversary of our marriage. I can’t help but admire her optimism, vivacity, and sincerity. My wife is my muse!
How many countries have you traveled to so far? Which has been the most memorable and why?
We cannot count all of them after 5 years of traveling. The more you travel, the more you start to feel the immensity of the world. We really want to travel to Australia, Norway, Finland, and are planning our trips to these destinations. I would say out of all countries, India influenced us the most. This is the land of karma, bright contrasts and a special spiritual culture. We’ve been there 4 times and every time we discovered this country from a new side.
Congrats on turning your #followmeto series into a successful book! What was the inspiration behind going from Instagram to print and your favorite experience with this?
We've had the idea of creating a book that would cover everything that happened behind the scenes of #FollowMeTo for a long time. As the project grew, we understood that there are a lot of interesting things which are left behind the camera: backstage photos, stories about people and finding places for unique shots. Our followers often asked us about the details and wanted to see more photos. That’s why we created our FollowMeTo account, and after that wrote a book. We spent about a year working on it: rewriting stories, the introduction, and the conclusion, choosing photos and countries. It was a wonderful experience for us and, at the same time, hard and tedious work. As a result, we have two books in Russian and English into which we put our very hearts and souls. It was a wonderful experience for us and, at the same time, hard and tedious work. As a result, we have two books in Russian and English into which we put our very hearts and souls.
What’s your process for choosing which brands to partner with? Any favorite campaigns you’re especially proud or fond of?
The key to successful collaboration is in the content, how organic and native it is, and such a campaign is only possible in cases where the vision of two collaborating brands are the same. #FollowMeTo cases are about making the world around us warmer and better, not about selling things. We are especially proud of our partnerships with Cartier, Macy’s, and Google, and our recent video from Cuba was made in collaboration with Samsung.
What does the creative process for costuming and apparel look like for you and Nataly?
As you may guess, the right costume is 50% of success! Nataly prepares for every trip by herself, all of #FollowMeTo looks were chosen by her. She has her own artistic vision and interest for national costumes. Wherever we travel, we always go to the showrooms of local designers, sometimes we rent dresses from locals or even in theatres. Makeup and hairstyles depend hugely on the location we are filming in and overall conditions. For instance, during our trip to Kamchatka there was no time to search for stylists or makeup artists, but during our traditional Indian wedding styled photoshoot, we’ve worked with a whole team of artists and stylists.
As one of the most famous travel photographers on Instagram, what are your top 3 travel and creative tips for aspiring artists and social media influencers?
1. See the World Through Love-Coloured Glasses When we came back from India with gorgeous shots our friends were looking at them in disbelieve and asked us: “How did you do that? There’s only dirt and trash in India!" The main thing about traveling is the way you see the world, how you perceive it. You should try to find beauty in everything! 2. Be open for everything new If you go on a trip it means that you want to discover the world from a different side. You should learn to accept a different culture and mentality, whatever it takes. Do some research about the country you’re about to visit: learn more about its culture, art, traditions, history – it will help you to avoid culture shock. Also, I always follow updates of other travelers online, search for beautiful locations on Pinterest or look for 360° panoramas. 3. Stay patient As odd as it sounds, patience and stress-resistance are the most important characteristics for a traveler. Without having them you’ll hardly feel comfortable with all the flights, permanent jet lag and other unpredictable circumstances.
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve ever done to get a shot for Instagram?
One of our brightest shots is the one on a helicopter, above the Hollywood Hills in LA. Our goal was to take a magnificent shot. But how? Of course, from the cabin. I spoke with the pilot at the airfield and we decided that the door should be off in order to take the picture we wanted. Nataly changed into a gorgeous dress and we took off. I took off the safety belt, as we approached the Hollywood sign. We had a few minutes, Nataly took my hand and stepped out of cabin. It was terrifying! I was watching everything through the camera’s lenses, but Nataly was a true hero that day, showing exceptional bravery. But that’s not the end of the story — we could not get the right shot from the first take and went on the second round. I don’t advise anyone to repeat that!
How do you hope your Instagram passion project will grow in the future? What’s the next big project you’ve got on the horizon you’d like share with your fans?
Now we are trying out a new format. We’ve already had our own TV show on Russian television and right now our goal is to work on the international level with the help of our YouTube channel. Overall our project is multifaceted: we have our own website, and are developing our jewelry brand Follow Your Love. The idea is that we create engagement rings and bracelets from lab-grown diamonds. Pretty much the only difference of such diamonds is that they are grown in laboratories and not mined and extracted from the Earth by hard human labour. You know what they say, you have to start somewhere. We’re also thinking about launching #FollowMeTo brand shop, and now we’re working hard on developing our very own traveling accessories line.
What’s your background? Were you ever trained as a photographer?
I finished school in Moscow, where I’m from, and went to study Civil Engineering in Cambridge. After a stint in London, I moved back to Moscow to study photography for two years, then quit the training.
Have you always had the travel bug?
I always wanted to travel. It seems that I’m travelling all the time. In fact, Natalie and I only travel on the weekends. We both work during the week. So we take off Friday to Tuesday for example. It may seem like I’m traveling the world based on the frequency of our Instagram posts for #followmeto, but in reality, I have a full time job in Moscow. A friend and I have a production company. We produce commercials and music videos, and we’ve just shot our first feature film.
How do you balance #followmeto with your main job?
Traveling from Moscow to almost anywhere else is a substantial hike. Our work allows several time slots in the year for us to travel for a week or two. In January we chose India for nine days. All the rest, we have to choose locations nearby for a couple of days. So it’s not like we’re going on vacation, sunbathing, going to spas. We won’t have time to take well-crafted photos. The first photo I shot in the series was in Barcelona when Natalie joined me on a work trip in 2011. It’s funny to think how the project has snowballed.
Working full time in production and multimedia, did you ever intend to start this Instagram as a business?
Not in terms of a business, but I do constantly think of strategies. With Instagram, you have to be clever with each post. You can’t just blast commercials on your feed. You do that once or twice and you’re done. We’ve built #followmeto into something bigger than just an Instagram account. We’ve created a book. We’re also offering a full spectrum of collaborative ventures. For example, selling #followmeto as a TV commercial concept.
Why are commercial brands drawn to social media influencers as a new form of advertising?
Previously, brands paid a lot for TV commercials. Now the Internet is starting to get some more funds. They’re transferring more budgets to the internet because you can connect with the audience faster: right here, right now. The typical commercial project can last for a year before you see something produced, but here you create something with the brand and the response is instant. I also have a genuine relationship with my followers. I approach Instagrammerswhen I’m in a city for advice on the best location to shoot. I think genuine relationships are an appealing factor.
You recently collaborated with jewelry brand Bochic on “Le Tour de Bochic” which comprises of imagery shot in exotic locations such as Baku, Istanbul and Petra. How do you choose with whom to collaborate?
Any collaboration has to be perfectly integrated into the #followmeto project. It can’t be forced. If a brand is to get involved, it has to look absolutely organic. We want to see a brand engage with the artist rather than just pinning a tag on an art piece. In a collaboration, both parties have to be interested, to be involved. That’s why it’s called a collaboration and not a paid job. With a paid job, you do what you have to do, collect your money and then bugger off.
What kind of pointers can you provide for Instagram users who are active and is looking into turning their followings into into a profitable career?
Brands are open to collaborating when they see an opportunity for greater exposure at a target audience. If you’re confident with your social media account, don’t be afraid to pitch ideas to agencies or brands. Natalie and I travel with expenses paid for now because we work a lot with tourism boards.
What’s Natalie’s role in #followmeto?
She does a lot. She chooses the location. She’s in control of all the styling of the shots, the accessories, the clothing. She suggests a lot of pictures herself and kicks in the creative ideas. It’s not just me, I wouldn’t have been able to do this by myself. She contributes more and more, and I’m just the one who presses the button.
What camera do you use? Can you share your presets and filters?
It depends. I used Canon before, but now I use a Sony. It depends on the circumstances and the kind of shot. I started on an iPhone and I was retouching them on Camera Plus app. Then, I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the prints. You really can’t make quality prints with iPhone photos. Obviously retouching high quality takes more time, three to four hours. Most of the time we’re not satisfied, so we delete the photo and it’s annoying because it’s a long process. For me, I focus on make the product first, if the followers come, so be it. My aim is to produce a quality product that’ll lead to success, whatever the measurement may be. It’s not my target to get followers.
You don’t gain 2.2 million followers overnight. How did you build such a following?
There are a lot of contributing factors. We’ve developed this project through time, collaborating with influential Instagrammers and conducted interviews. We did a collaboration with digital artist Robert Jahns(@Nois7). He added a couple of balloons to a photo I took of Natalie in Jordan. He had 500k followers then. Through collaborations, you get an exposure to the collaborator’s audience. If your feed is interesting enough, you’ll get followed. You have to have traditional media contribute too. Even if you’re popular on Instagram, it doesn’t extend your reach beyond your immediate crowd. Traditional media need to be involved to continue the buzz. You have to constantly work and do projects beyond social media. We’ve done interviews with NBC, and conducted social projects with Michael Kors. Sometimes you have to focus on everything other than Instagram first, then the followers will come. With that said, you obviously have to have a good feed. Your Instagrampage needs to look good if you want to draw in collaborators.
Are you active on other social media platforms?
I have other social media accounts, but they all just connect back to my Instagram. For me it’s difficult to gain Facebook followers, but my Google+ account has 1.4 million followers. You have to really understand who uses these forms of social media. I thought no one used Google+, but I guess it’s very active. I’m thinking of starting a second account to show behind-the-scenes images of #followmeto. The travel kitchen of the project. It’ll be cool to show people how we got to these destinations, our experiences, the hotels we stayed, the brands Natalie’s wearing, etc.
Were there any collaborative projects that didn’t go too well?
It depends, you just need to find the perfect brands to work with. Some brands don’t understand the power of social media; sometimes you need to explain the mechanics and how your work will engage with an audience properly. You have to think of the long run, not just instantaneous success. There are two approaches, you can either create a commercial for people to buy right now, or you create a commercial that leaves an emotion for people. For me, the latter is much more powerful. Brands like Nike they create an emotion and then you fall in love with the brand itself. You don’t need to buy this sneaker right after the commercial, but when you go to the shops, you think “oh I remember that cool ad,” and then you buy the shoes. You don’t get it instantly, that’s what happens with social media. Sometimes you do get purchases right away, sometimes you don’t. The brand has to understand which way they’d like to go.
Tell us a about yourself.
I graduated Imperial College in London, then founded a production company named Hype Pro. Photography has always been my passion, so I took photos just for fun. In Hype Pro, we produce advertisment, films and music videos. One of the films we produced – “The Student” by Kirill Serebrennikov – won the Francois Chalais prize at the Cannes film festival.
You’ve inspired millions of people around the world, but where do you find your inspiration?
It's all about the people. We create photos for our followers, their opinion and attention make us work harder and open more hidden places for them. The idea of #FollowMeTo is to show people the beauty of the world and motivate them. While travelling we meet a lot of new people who also do a lot for us.
Did you expect FollowMeTo to be as a huge hit as it is?
Of course we didn't expect that, because we took photos just for fun and posted them for friends. We just did what we enjoyed most – travelled and took pictures. Between trips we worked hard to be able to travel.
Just how much time and effort goes into getting the perfect shot?
Many people think our job is easy, but it's not like that. It takes a lot of effort, time and energy to make the #FollowMeTo photo. We prepare a lot, before every trip we plan the route, choose locations, costumes. During shooting we work from the dawn, and if we don't get the perfect shot, we come again and again until we get what we came for.
Can you tell us how you first came up with the idea for FollowMeTo?
It was never an idea, since the first #FollowMeTo photo was taken accidentally. Nataly and I were in Barcelona, it was our first trip together. It was the beginning of our relationship.
According to you, what is photography?
“For me photography is about capturing things other people might miss. It’s a way to communicate and bring images I hold in my mind to the surface”
How did the collaboration with Bochic come about?
Last year, during our trip to Baku, we had a chance to get acquainted to the brand and their jewelry. Bochic’s philosophy appealed to us and we obviously liked the designs. We have managed to take some shots on our trip and that is how it all had started.
Did you and Natalia collaborate on the jewelry designs as well?
We are trying to keep the integrity of the project and therefore rarely collaborate with brands. Bochic is one of the first ones we have agreed to due to many reasons. Everything that Nataly wears on the shots is her own choice.
Tell us about your love affair with travel photography. How has your creative journey evolved?
I think it is better to say that our journey is about love to each other, about love to the culture of the countries that we visit, about people that we meet on our way, about traveling. Photography is just a way to show it all to our audience through our eyes.
What are your favourite places to shoot in the world?
There are a lot of favourite places in the wold that we absolutely love, like Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Jordan and the USA.
How did you get your start with Instagram?
We were one of the old guys on Instagram. We started back in 2011, when the platform was just evolving. A lot of our friends had just started using Instagram. It was the new thing. Facebook was getting older, and among the other social platforms, it was the new kid on the block, I would say. We used it mainly like everyone else uses it, for day-to-day sharing of what you do right here, right now. Then I developed it a bit more into the platform of my photos and then gradually we started this project spontaneously with Nataly in Barcelona. We posted one photo, then, in a week, another one. Throughout some time, several more photos. We were doing this for one and a half years before it looked like a project, like a whole series of pictures. And only then it gained popularity. It was already an established visual form of a project, and only then some popularity came after that. It wasn’t just one photo or two photos.
What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
What we try to do now is we try not to stick to one single platform and be the prisoners of it. I mean obviously, Instagram is our major force behind the whole project, but we are developing YouTube, and in different ways. With Nataly, we’re doing more vlog formats, with #FollowMeTo we’re doing more inspirational videos. Before, it used to be that you could post one amazing inspirational video, and you’d get a lot of views and attention. Now, you need to be devoting a lot of time not only on inspirational but also on the vlogging formats. Vlogging is more towards the younger audiences, and inspirational is the older audiences.
How much of your time do you devote to #FollowMeTo?
I would say that I have two jobs. Fifty percent of the time is working as a producer, 50 percent of the time is working on the #FollowMeTo project. It’s difficult, because people think that all we do is travel and just have fun and sunbathe, but in reality, all the time, we’re both on laptops, working, 24/7 -- even when we’re in Maldives or some paradise island. All of the free time is devoted to the #FollowMeTo project. Now, we are building a community around this project, the whole #FollowMeTo movement. In the future, what we want to do is become a sort of new-age production in terms of content. So it can be us producing the pictures, or it can be our network of people that are like, friends of the brands, I would say. That’s how we will talk to the brands, through us and through our community. Because it will be difficult to scale it only on us. There’s a certain amount of time that we have. We’re not robots. We can’t be like that for 20 years more.
What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
They were losing touch a bit with the whole Stories part. I don’t support them using the same mechanics as Snapchat, but they really needed that to attract younger audiences. I think now, as a platform, it’s really, really good in terms of promoting yourself or sending a message to your audience, because you have instant videos, instant photos that delete after 24 hours, and that one demographic watches them. And then you have your front page being your Instagram feed. And then you have videos. You have the livestream, so that offers a lot more toward talking to your audience. So, now, I think Instagram has a lot of mechanics that will be able to help you promote yourself and your vision and to talk to your followers. YouTube limits you, in a way. People feel attached to you, but they can’t really talk to you directly.
How do you promote your account? What’s your number-one way to gain followers?
Before, it used to be generating content on a steady basis. I’ve made mistakes: Sometimes I’ve waited for like three weeks [between posts], which is wrong, because you should constantly generate content for your followers and audience. With huge gaps, you will see the decrease in attention and steady growth. Now, the constant generation of posts and content works mostly only on YouTube, it doesn’t really work on Instagram because of the new mechanics and algorithms. We don’t pay for promotion, but I’m sure that works for some people. What we try to do is cross-promote with different influencers, go on different trips and generate the content that our audience wants. Our strategy at the moment is to communicate with our followers a bit more and increase the reach of our existing followers.
How do you engage with others on the platform?
We recently had a contest where we had people post photos in our style and write text about where they met their loved ones or how they met, their love story. Then we traveled with the winners. So we got really good engagement with that. This type of contest involves more difficult mechanics than a giveaway of equipment. A lot of people would want to have free equipment, but then they’d all subscribe to your content and unsubscribe as soon as the contest was over. Obviously, we read all of the comments and communicate via stories, follow our hashtag comments on people who are doing photos in our style and encouraging them to do more. The communication works well when we talk to them and when we understand what they want. A lot of people write to us with suggestions of where to travel and which country to visit.
Tell us how often do you post?
The project is a bit like, with Nataly, she posts sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes even three times a day, because her audience looks at her as a constant feed of inspiration. What she’s doing now, they want to know. With the project, we don’t really want to bore people with a lot of photos, and on top of that, it’s getting more and more difficult to get the photos constantly on the same level of complexity. All of the photos are really difficult to do, it’s not just grabbing a camera and doing it. Sometimes we post once a week, sometimes once in two weeks -- which is really bad. The aim is to do one in two or three days. Not everyday content, but at least two photos a week, this is our aim and what we want to do in the near future.
Tell us what’s your content strategy?
If you look at our #FollowMeTo photos, they aren’t only just travel. It’s about two people, it’s about love, it’s about inspiration, culture. All of these things might not be in one photo, but if you look at them as a whole, there are a lot of messages within. Within our @muradosmann account, we’re trying to fit in different strategies, sometimes doing backstage photos and videos and trying to figure out what works well. In reality, when we only have formatted photos, that content strategy works better with @muradosmann. With Nataly, people want to see more inspirational -- this girl traveling around the world, touching the travel and fashion topics. That works with her well, where we have her talking to designers, going to fashion weeks, going to cultural places exploring them in different outfits. Like a modern-age travel, that’s what we want to showcase with her.
How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
We sometimes use the gallery slideshow feature to tell a story. That actually works well with brands, where you can have a main photo being the #FollowMeTo, and then the brand collaboration can go under the slideshow. This way, it fits organically within our brand, and the audience who loves that photo, they can scroll and look at the other photos that can be connected to the brand. That works well for both parties, us and the brand. Instagram Stories works more as a call to action when you’re working with brands. With a post, you can’t really say to your followers, “do this, do that.” Whereas in the Stories, when you communicate, it feels like you’re communicating directly with the people. It’s difficult for brands to understand this whole Stories section, and Snapchat as well. They prefer working with your main feed, but in reality, the results sometimes even surpass the feed.
What’s your best storytelling trick?
With us, I think the storytelling works really well with the inspirational videos that we do on YouTube. The one that we did in Myanmar, or in Japan. This whole story just drags you, and you want to travel to this location. In a way, it works better, especially when it’s complemented by the pictures. So, when we go to these places, like let’s say Myanmar, we shot the #FollowMeTo photos, but then complemented with the video where we share the whole story about our travel. As a whole, this product looks really well and relates really well to the audience.
How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
In a way, it’s the aesthetic, it’s the project. And it’s the way we work with brands. We both understand that there’s a huge responsibility behind this project and that we have to work to develop it more and more. When we gained popularity, we didn’t just sit and say, “Oh, cool, now let the brands come to us.” We developed this strategy to go to the brands ourselves and create our content, rather than just working with what we have and whatever comes our way. I understand that everyone works, but we do really consider this as a job, so we do spend a lot of time on it, and not just travel and have fun only. It sounds boring for youngsters, but it’s the reality.
How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
We mostly do the 360 campaigns. We don’t believe in one-off posts, working with an ad. The market is so saturated now. You have so many people just doing posts and promoting it. Whereas I think the brands need a marketing strategy, rather than just a one-off post. They need to understand that they’ll have a photo, they’ll have a video, they’ll have this product showcased very well. So, there are a lot of things involved with us working with brands that are not typical and that we offer to them by going to them directly. And creating a script for them using the features that they have, not just working by receiving a script from an agency. In a way, we are, ourselves, like a small agency, where we go and talk to brands ourselves.
What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands?
I would say that they have to be really picky, because running after all the brands and all the money instantly might be well paid, but as a long-term strategy, it doesn’t work. They should develop their own unique style, and that also covers working with brands, because they have to distinguish themselves from the countless number of people nowadays on social media who do the same, so they have to be unique in that sense.
What’s a misconception many people have about Instagram?
I don’t know, maybe that everything is easy? Or maybe like, some brands have this misconception that, when they’re working with inspirational content, that they’re going to get sales straight away. Some people can drive sales instantly, but some of them have such unique content or such unique strategies, that the actual sales, they will come, but a bit later. Or they might think that working with someone who has 50 million [followers] will instantly give them huge popularity or a lot of sales, where, in reality, working with 10 people for 100,000 followers will drive them a lot more sales and a lot more results. So, they have to be really smart about that as well. Social media doesn’t solve all the problems. Marketing is still marketing.
How many cities and countries did you manage to shoot #followmeto in?
I have never counted it! We have visited almost all Europe. We were in many American states, in almost all Asian capitals. Last year, we were on Kamchatka, Baikal, in Kazan, shot a video about Saint Petersburg. We are just back from Cuba, the atmosphere there is incredible. In general, the more you travel, the more you feel how little you have seen.
Did you expect that this hashtag and the format of photos would become a mainstream?
No, we did not expect and did not make any project for success. People just helped, they liked it. At that moment, we could not stop and continued shooting new places telling the world about them. The success is likely to be explained by the love of people for travels. In the era of modern technologies, people want to catch that piece of beauty, inspiration, love. Now travels have had an especial value because at the moment we can touch the history, lodge the nature in the memory, we must do it. People visit our accounts for inspiration and new places. We are a kind of atlas of beautiful places at different points of the globe.
I also want to ask you what you do when you created your famous account on Instagram. What was it dedicated to at first?
I was born in Dagestan, and Natasha (Natalia Osmann is my wife and muse all in one. We founded the project, develop and care about it together) – in Potsdam (Germany). I have been living in Moscow since I was 5. Natasha moved a lot when she was a kid. This is why she loves endless flights. I created an account a long time ago when Instagram was just born. We just had personal accounts. We told about work, holiday and everyday life like the majority of the users. In general, the project Follow Me To began 6 years ago due to an accidental photo in Barcelona during our first romantic trip. Natasha pulled my hand during a walk, and I took a pic. Having looked at the photo, we thought there was something in it. As a result, #FollowMeTo is a photo about love for the world, people and each other. We continued the series of photos from different places, travelled on holidays and at weekends, took photos even in IKEA when we did not manage to go anywhere. Everything was as simple as possible: we liked the project considering it our hobby. At a moment, people started to tell they were bored of us and that we needed to make up something new. Nobody knew about Follow Me To 1,5 years ago except our parents and friends. Then a series of photos appeared in foreign media Daily Mail, BuzzFeed. It came out of the blue. Then followers started to appear on Instagram at an incredible pace.
How does the collaboration between the brands and influencers like you come about and how do you choose who you work with?
Tell us how involved you get in the creative process and the campaigns you are working with the brand?
When you are talking about campaigns with different brands is it something that’s addressed at some point or it has something that’s come up with the brands you have worked with?
Tell us how did you come up with your signature photograph of capturing the hands from behind?
Me and Natalie were traveling in Barcelona. She likes to do a lot of sightseeing when we visit new places. As for me, I am a photo maniac, especially back then when some new and cool apps just came out on iPhone. I was constantly taking pictures with my iPhone and instantly retouching them. That can occupy all my time, therefore Natalie was a bit tired and dragged me forward toward some attraction. That didn’t stop me from continuing taking photos and I took a photo of her hand behind. After that I took several more and retouched them on my iPhone. We really liked the result and continued doing those photos on the whole Barcelona trip.
Tell us, when a brand approaches an influencer, what do they expect from them?
Tell us in today’s fast moving world, it is the end of the word ‘influencer’ ?
Tell us how one can turn a large Instagram following into cash.
Brands are open to collaborating when they see an opportunity for greater exposure at a target audience. Don’t be afraid to pitch ideas to agencies or brands. You can’t just blast commercials on your feed. You do that once or twice and you’re done.