In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
When it comes to photos of drool-worthy food and drinks, there's no shortage of options on Instagram. Over the past few years, countless self-professed foodies have started gourmand-inspired accounts that take food porn to the next level, showcasing one mouthwatering dish after another. Of the food accounts that have made it to influencer status, the @New_Fork_City Instagram account — which was letting the camera eat first before it was even really a concept — continues to stand out in a sea of food bloggers. With 23-year-old friends Emily Morse, Gillian Presto, and Natalie Landsberg at its helm, the New York City-based account boasts 964,000 followers and counting at the time of publication, all of whom tune in to follow on the trio's food escapades through the Big Apple.
What's even more surprising about their story is that the three women built the account from the ground up before Instagram influencers and food Instagrams were even a concept. When New Fork City was born five and a half years ago, the curators were just three regular high school seniors worrying about homework and graduation who "got really lucky" by stumbling upon what was a novelty at the time.
"At the time, we were one of the first on the scene, and we think that’s what we owe a lot of our success to," Presto shares. "That we came in really early, we produced great content, and we had great people following us who were able to spread it out."
Morse says the original idea came from wanting a space where their friends and family could follow along on their food adventures. "We never followed a food Instagram. It was more of an organic idea, and we thought that could be fun," she explains of the initial concept. "We grew up in the city, so we spent our whole lives going to restaurants and exploring the city."
Novelty factor aside, the three women also laid a strategy in place to make sure that once new followers got to their page, they'd want to stay. Landsberg says that the group originally decided to upload a lot of photos to their page, so that when they began to follow people, potential followers would land on a page of "drool-worthy, amazing food photos." In addition to support from friends and family, who in turn shared the group's handle with their friends, the account slowly but surely began to gain traction and pick up momentum.
"We started it in November our senior year of high school, and less than a year later, right before we left for college, we hit 50,000," Presto says of the account's swift progression, noting that they were extra excited when they hit the 10K milestone. One year after they started the account, they hit 100,000 followers.
We were three people in college who were trying to go to class and hand in our homework on time, and then celebrities like Harry Styles and Ashley Benson were following us.
Their swift trajectory wasn't without difficulties, however.
With starting college, the group — which was comprised of three freshmen at three different universities — was faced with new challenges as they attempted to balance the struggle of not all living in New York with creating their own original content and coordinating posts.
Presto credits this period as helping the group cement their multi-tasking and time management skills, which they still use today as they continue to run the account themselves. This also led to their decision to begin inviting followers to send in submissions to be featured on their page through the hashtag #NewForkCity.
"We started doing our own original content when we were in high school and we were in the city all the time, and as the account kept growing, we found it was a little harder to keep up with eating out so much. We started a hashtag where we'd ask our followers to send submissions for a chance to get featured on our page," Presto says. While she admits that the trio would be sifting through submissions for an hour or two every single day, it was a choice that ultimately paid off and helped the account grow even more and even gain a celebrity following.
"In a way, I think that actually really helped us build our audience because people were like 'Oh, maybe I’ll get a chance to be on a food Instagram account that has over 100,000 followers and that can help me start my own food Instagram,'" she says.
Landsberg adds that a lot of the New Fork City growth happened in their college years, which was nuts "because we were three people in college, who were trying to go to class and hand in our homework on time, and then celebrities like Harry Styles and Ashley Benson were following us."
Five and a half years later, the group is still at it and continuing to churn out hunger-inducing content with the help of their followers, who still submit their best food photos to #NewForkCity. As every influencer knows, a big part of growing a successful Instagram brand means monetizing their posts and toeing the line between posting organic content and working with brands, which is something that New Fork City has been able to do. The group was first approached about comped meals back in March 2014 and paid partnerships followed soon after.
"With partnerships, they happen really organically. Brands and restaurants will reach out to us, say 'Hey, this is what we’re looking for. We’re either announcing a new initiative or we’re just trying to get more exposure, but we’d love your help,'" Presto says about the process.
Landsberg says the idea of sponsored posts can turn off followers, which is why they've made it a point to work with companies that they support, are easy to work with, and give them creative freedom. Some of their favorites include Cookie Dō, Chef's Club, Visa, and Loco Coco.
"When I see that every other post is a paid post, it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth and turns me off to the fact that they’re just doing this to make money," Landsberg shares. "Whereas I think that we’re very selective, which makes our followers think that we’re more authentic for sure."
Because of that, they try to keep a lot of their account's original formula intact when they go out scouting for new content. They also don't have a lot of their meals comped to keep the integrity of their posts.
Presto says, "The majority of the stuff is when we go and have our own experience at the restaurant without them knowing we’re New Fork City. So, a lot of times it’ll be us eating out with friends without them knowing, and then we’ll post the photo."
So, what kinds of photos are they looking for? As trends come and go, it turns out that some things never change, such as the fact that people tend to gravitate towards aesthetically-pleasing food photos of their favorite guilty pleasures.
Morse explains, "We’ve just kind of grown over the years definitely into a more food porn type account, like ice cream, and cheese, and egg pops. People really like that, and that’s what they come to our account for. So, those are definitely the ones that do the best and get us more followers."
However, Landsberg and Presto make it clear that 'Gram-worthiness is only one of the considerations when deciding what to post. A dish, while not the most aesthetically-pleasing, will get a spot if the ladies decide that it was amazing and their followers need to know about it. Conversely, an eye-catching offering that didn't live up to the hype won't be featured.
Still, considering the abundance of food Instagram accounts, there's a need to keep up with the current trends and food fads that are taking the social media platform by storm to stay relevant and continue to grow.
When it comes to taking content and posting photos, it’s still fun for all of us. I mean, we go out and eat pretty much every single day anyways.
"We kind of developed our style of taking the photos early and stuck with it because it did work from the beginning," Morse says. "But one thing that I think we did adjust to was video content. I feel like a year, two years ago, people started using videos a lot more on Instagram and people were drawn to that content. So, we definitely tried to take more videos of the food that we were eating and places that we were going to. Also, the aesthetic of restaurants and the decor as well as our experience with specific dishes."
When it comes to building your own account, consistency in style and captions, good content, and a unique twist is key, according to the three founders.
Presto advises, "I think that an important piece of advice for people especially trying to start out with a food Instagram is to make sure that it’s quality content but also find a way to stand out. Because so many people have food Instagram that you want to give people a reason to follow your account over anyone else's."
Another big factor is making sure that having your camera eat first is something you actually love to do. Landsberg credits the group's passion for the account for helping them continue to expand and keep it up over the years. "When it comes to taking content and posting photos, it’s still fun for all of us," she says. "I mean, we go out and eat pretty much every single day anyways."
As for the future, the group hopes to expand their website and add a food review element to their current coverage similar to what Infatuation does, with a short blurb about what to get and other details about the restaurant. "Our goal in the future would be to create a comprehensive list, like if you want Italian in the East Village ... we'd tell you where to go," Presto shares.
But, for now, you can head over to @NewFork City to tune in as the trio continues to explore the Big Apple's never-ending lineup of new restaurants and share their most mouthwatering finds.