“I’m a business owner and a growth expert. If you just say reposter, I’ll be in a bad light,” Patrick repeatedly tells me over Instagram DMs. The 16-year-old German adamantly wants to approve what I write about him, even though I keep saying that’s journalistically unethical.
As an Instagram reposter, um, “growth expert,” Patrick is used to controlling the narrative — namely, which food tutorial videos to repost on his @amwayde feed, which brands to partner with and which stack of hashtags will get him on the ever-important Explore pages. With 110,000 followers, he calls himself “one of the most successful teens in Germany” on Instagram.
Really, though, Patrick is a master class in self-image, tougher to nail-down than most celebrity publicists. I couldn’t even get him to clarify his relationship with Amway, a multi-level marketing company often accused of being a pyramid scheme.
At first glance, Patrick’s Instagram page doesn’t look much different than most food DIY accounts that feature short, mind-numbing tutorials with obnoxiously loud music. But unlike Tasty or So Yummy, Patrick doesn’t typically create the videos he posts. Instead, he downloads them from similar food accounts — often without permission — and shares the co-opted videos on his page. He, however, doesn’t consider himself to be a content thief like FuckJerry and The Fat Jewish, both of whom make money off of stolen jokes. “Please don’t type in that we steal the content because we always give credit, as you can see,” he instructs.
Patrick, as he’s made it clear, only makes money when companies pay him to post ad content. Often they’re entirely off-brand. That is, he’s not cashing in on Tastemade chocolate cake roll videos — he mostly posts those for fun; he does, though, make money on XS Protein Bars photos with captions provided by the company.
He’s not the only teen doing so either. Case in point: For a price of $100 for every 10K followers, 14-year-old Eli will post a sponsored video to his 154,000 followers. Though he won’t state exactly how much he’s made, what started out as a Pinterest-y archive of his favorite food videos has now morphed into a profitable after-school gig. “I’m at an age where I haven’t started to even look for a real job,” says Eli, who has worked with brands like Talenti Gelato on his @foodychannel. “I hope that when the time comes, I won’t have to get a job, and this can be a source [of income] for me.”
While spending 20 minutes after class uploading a food video to Instagram sounds much better than my high school days of scrubbing lipstick off of martini glasses as a busboy at a suburban wine bar, reposters will have you know that their jobs aren’t so simple. They are, after all, offering a service.
Lexi, who asks to be referred to by a pseudonym because of her age, is the 16-year-old behind @satisf.ydaily. She started her slime repost account “as a joke” to impress her younger sister, a major slime-video stan. “I wasn’t expecting to earn any money off of it,” she explains. After attracting a large following of 145,000, however, companies like Duracell — she’s still working out a deal with the battery company — started offering her money to post photos, stories and videos of their products. Now Lexi charges $25 to $35 for a post that stays up for only 24 hours. (A permanent post is another 10 bucks.)
Such success shocked her parents. “They think it’s very cool and exciting that I’m making money off something I only spend a few minutes a day on,” she says. (Some of Lexi’s fellow “growth experts” like Patrick and Eli even create media kits or Instagram memories outlining their engagement numbers and brand partners.)
In a lot of ways, the real key to Lexi’s success is her mastery of the Instagram algorithm, which prioritizes how many likes a post garners in its first 15 minutes. Because Lexi says she can get 200 to 2,000 likes over that time period, her posts often top the Explore pages, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
To keep their feeds fresh, reposters will upload videos with attribution but without permission. Their followers may be none the wiser, but the original video creators aren’t always appreciative. “I haven’t paid any repost accounts to share my work,” says Edgar Villa, a New Jersey calligrapher. His videos of perfectly swooped, inky letters often pop up on repost accounts anyway — much to his surprise. “Often I wonder how they find them,” he says. (They’re likely acquired through detailed Reddit threads that provide videos tailored to specific interests or downloading apps like the aptly named Repost for Instagram.)
Villa admits he’s gained massive promotion from accounts sharing his videos, but he still won’t actively work with reposters. Not because he doesn’t respect the teens’ hustle, though. “I can’t be mad that they found a way to make money without doing odd jobs they would probably hate,” he says. It’s just that he values artistic integrity, and believes, “An artist just wants to make art; a reposter just wants to make money.”
Reposters, unsurprisingly, disagree. “Doing [this] isn’t easy because you have to have time and a lot of nerves,” explains Meti, the 17-year-old from Kosovo behind @global.virals who fits in his reposting after he’s home from high school. Regarding those nerves: He occasionally deals with upset content creators in his DMs requesting that their videos be taken down, a request he always politely obliges. Adds Eli, “As a teenager and student, I share content because during the week I have school, and I cannot get around to creating my own.” Also a headache: Not all companies want to work with teens. “I just lose some respect from them automatically and need to prove my self-worth to them, which isn’t super fun,” Eli says.
With 2 million subscribers, 23-year-old Talisa Tossell is one of the most popular slime YouTubers, but she started as an Instagram slime reposter in 2016, though she “never earned any money off that account.” Having experienced both sides of the content-aggregator relationship, she won’t say monetized repost accounts are a scam, but she also won’t say they aren’t either. “Everyone knows when something’s paid for. The content tends not to be good,” she explains.
Many reposters then are following Tossell’s lead and striking out into the original content game. Some want to prove their chops as “legitimate” influencers. But for most, making slime at home, posting videos fingering that slime on Instagram and YouTube and selling the same product in an online store is a pure cash grab. “I could have never expanded without the money I got from my Insta,” says Lexi, who plans to open a “satisfying things” online store selling slime and fidget toys.
Even though Eli is just finishing his first year of high school, his viral success has piqued his interest in studying social media marketing in college. In fact, he’s already started working with local businesses near his Minnesota home — he depends on his parents to drive him — where he shoots their Instagram and Facebook videos. He charges $150 for a local restaurant and at least $600 for a national chain.
But if the money is worthwhile enough, Eli will still try his hand at reposting. He’s trying to be a savvy businessman, even if he’s only 14. “I understood the process of influencer marketing,” he says. “I knew exactly what I was getting into.”