LOS ANGELES — Charles Porch said he was always a big fan of Instagram.
So it only made sense that one of the social media platform’s earlier adopters would go on to make an interesting suggestion to Instagram’s founder.
“I pitched Kevin Systrom about starting a partnerships team. He said ‘Who are you?’” Porch said jokingly.
Facebook had just acquired Instagram and, at the time, conversations around pop culture for the most part lived on Twitter. So why not move those conversations to Instagram, Porch asked. That was nearly six years ago when Instagram’s head of global partnerships began working on the division, still splitting his time on Facebook, where he led music and entertainment partnerships. Today, Porch heads the Instagram partnerships team, dividing his time in California between Menlo Park and the company’s Playa Vista office. It’s the latter that sits at the nexus of fashion, technology and entertainment, where it’s not uncommon for a celebrity or influencer to walk the halls of the highly Instagrammable — obviously — space.
“We make sure the biggest people, properties and events in the world have the best possible Instagram strategy,” Porch said. “The way to think about us is we are a team of basically consultants who help people create the best Instagram strategies to reach their goals.”
The team is organized by verticals, such as fashion and music, with seven officially across a team of roughly 50 people globally.
How Instagram ended up in Playa Vista makes sense to anyone who has been watching the landscape shift in the greater Los Angeles area for the past few years as more creatives, new development and investments pour into the region.
“L.A. is a global pop culture center and it has been for a long time. But technology coming into the mix has made it even more interesting,” Porch said. “This was the place of Hollywood, but today we have the creator world based out of here. You have the art world burgeoning. You have the dance world. The influencer world. It made a ton of sense to have a hub here.”
Technology and platforms driving dialogue today are the common thread among industries that traditionally operated separate from one another.
“Technology is giving people platforms to have their own voice,” Porch said. “I think what’s becoming really great about this is when I started working in tech, they were these two separate worlds that didn’t talk. You always had to be a translator between this [technology] product and the entertainment world. Now they’re merging and that’s really happening in L.A. You see this new generation coming up and they understand technology.”
In the early days Porch was hitting the streets, singing the praises of Instagram to people who hadn’t quite yet figured out how to use the platform. It was a lot of individual pictures that were highly stylized.
“A lot of people didn’t know how to express themselves visually in that way, so it was really talking to people about how to do that effectively. Then the product evolved to video.”
There is also Instagram Stories and shopping functionality that have been added since the partnerships division launched.
“We’ve really built a 360 version of ways to show yourself,” Porch said. “Now we’re having much more holistic conversations with partners as opposed to what you do with just one single photo. So our partners have grown with us throughout the feature evolution.”
While partnerships gained a toehold with fashion and then moved on to dealing with big names, the company’s now scoping out the next generation of creators.
Who the team works with spans quite the range, including digital natives such as vlogger Susie Shu, emerging actresses such as Zendaya Coleman and Hollywood veterans like Diane Keaton, and on to companies spanning Glossier to Vogue.
“What we’re seeing with technology is just a democratizing that’s happening in all these categories,” Porch said. “You think about what fashion was back in the day, the tents. Street style can get just as big a hit as what’s happening in the tents. The same goes for Hollywood, where before it was a closed system.…Today, with technology, you can start as a teenager from your bedroom with your dancing videos. So I think we’re going to continue to see the democratization and more ways to get the word out about what you’re doing and more ways to build a fan base.”
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