I like to share: Georgia Penna and her fellow Irish instagram queens
It's not all soft filters, inspirational quotes and pictures of cute pets. Paid posts, accusations of photoshopping your own bikini shots, lingering posts of now ex-boyfriends, nasty comments and staged shots are just some of the pitfalls that curating an Instagram account presents. Liadan Hynes spoke to some of Ireland's most popular Instagrammers about how they keep it real . . . but not too real
'You look awesome." "Perfection." "You have the most perfect figure, I'd hate you if you weren't so nice." "The dream." "You're a goddess." Just a sample of the types of comments posted recently on the Instagram feed of Rosanna Davison."You're as skinny as a pencil" is about as vicious as it gets, a comment that is roundly trounced by other followers, who immediately jump to the former Miss World's defence. Although Rosanna will regularly respond to queries about food, fitness or fashion, on this occasion, she doesn't get involved.
Instagram. The friendly face among the social-media platforms, all soft filters, pictures of cats, 'fitspiration' and food photography. At worst, rampant vanity in the form of selfies, too many shots of people standing in bathrooms, and the occasional passive-aggressive inspirational quote.
Kinder and less demanding than the schoolyard bullying and downright banality of Facebook and Twitter, less invasive or immediate than Snapchat, which is increasingly becoming the most popular kid on the block. While for most of us, Instagram is just a way to share pictures of our kids, and possibly a nice meal, the professional potential of Instagram are limitless. Model Kendall Jenner, with 46.2 million followers, is estimated to earn anything up to US$300,000 for a sponsored post. Now, when a model, a personality, or a TV presenter is hired for a job, the size of their social-media following is always taken into account.
Build yourself an impressive following, and Instagram is both a free personal ad to prospective clients, a self-promotional tool you have complete editorial control of, and a captive audience for whatever you, or your clients, are selling.
But heavy-handed product placement and obviously paid posts turn people off. The more authentic the account, and the more it seems like a genuine online diary rather than advertorial space, the more followers you're likely to gain. What we want from the celebrities we follow is a #bts (behind the scenes) glimpse inside their so-called real life. Not a thinly veiled product press release.
For anyone positioning themselves as a sort of lifestyle brand, it's a cosy way to commune directly with your customer.
But how to toe the line between sharing, and invading your own privacy? Ireland's Instagram queens tell all . . .
@georgiapenna, 369k followers, 866 posts, model
Georgia's Instagram account manages to maintain a delicate balance of sharing tantalising glimpses into her life, without actually revealing anything too tangible.
"I share a very small percentage of my life," she says. "I look at my Instagram as a fashion and fun account. None of my personal life is up there. My husband, our beautiful babies, our wedding, our general family life, I keep private and always have. It's the most special and important thing to me, so I don't want to plaster it all over the Internet."
As such, her account is largely selfies and Outfit Of The Day (OOTD) posts, modelling work, holiday snaps and shots with friends. Her husband Joe pops up occasionally - he's not on Instagram himself, and has a reputation for being the private type.
Their babies have yet to make an appearance, and seem unlikely to do so anytime soon. "I definitely wouldn't post anything before giving it a once-over," she says with a laugh. "People screenshot photos so quickly, so you've got to check it first."
Her OOTD posts get a huge reaction; Mrs Penna's accessorising alone is worth a follow. Those and selfies get the biggest response, she says. "I think people follow me expecting to see all bikini shots, but that's not the case. I do throw in the odd bikini shot when I'm on holiday or on a shoot."
Georgia herself is such an enthusiastic user of Instagram that she also runs an account for her dogs, @bernieandcoco.
Mostly her interaction on Instagram is positive, but there is the occasional hiccup. "To be honest, most people that follow me are so lovely, and it's mostly girls. You'll always get one or two nasty comments," she continues. "Just stupid stuff. I'll usually just ignore them, but sometimes I'll have to reply to them. The comments that annoy me the most are 'eat something' and 'too skinny', and any nasty comments about my friends or family. But most of the time people are really nice."
With over one million followers on Facebook, Georgia acknowledges that her social-media following has helped her professional life. "It's just a bit of fun for me, although I know it can come in handy in a professional way. You can promote products or whatever job you're doing at the time, and the more followers you have, the more people you can reach.
"I've got jobs because I have a lot of followers on Instagram and Facebook. I have about 1.2 million on Facebook, which is crazy; I don't know how that happened! If you're doing a photo shoot, maybe they'll ask you to post a behind-the-scenes picture or something like that." But it's rarely outright product promotion. "Andrea [Roche, her agent] will get emails asking if I'll promote a product on Instagram and obviously people pay for that, but I very rarely do that - only if I genuinely like the product."
Pippa O'Connor Ormond
@pipsy_pie, 131k followers, 2,902 posts, model, blogger
Pippa O'Connor Ormond is Ireland's Jessica Alba. A woman with an already thriving career (in Pippa's case, as one of Ireland's busiest models), who has created a hugely successful lifestyle brand. "I probably like Instagram the most, because I like things to be visual," she says of her preference for the picture app over other forms of social media.
Instagram is regularly criticised for allowing people to put out a too-perfect version of their life. So what, says Pippa. "I love the idea that it is about a beautiful-looking picture. I know people say, 'Oh Instagram, it is not real life'. But I think if you kind of know that, what's the harm in it? I like that people purposely make the photo look beautiful just for Instagram. And the other side of the room is a complete mess. We know that that's the case," she laughs.
Her account is a well-curated blend of OOTD posts, the driving force behind the hugely successful pippa.ie blog; inspirational quotes, pictures of her husband, TV presenter Brian Ormond, and their gorgeous little boy, Ollie; and the usual blend of fashion, social stuff and beauty. Pippa doesn't really cover fitness in a big way.
It's a perfect example of making one's own life the product; people want a piece of Pippa, particularly her style, so there's no real issue of plugging. She's just covering what she likes.
"With Instagram, it's all fairly spontaneous," she explains. "Facebook would be more business-led, so that's definitely more structured."
Is it exhausting, all this sharing, snapping, posting, tweeting?
"I think it's just part of the job," says Pippa.
"And because I enjoy it, and, let's be honest, we're all probably addicted to it, it's just part of your day and part of your routine. I don't find it a chore."
@rosanna_davison, 105k followers, 4,189 posts, nutritional therapist, author, food blogger, model
Family trips to Mauritius, funny quotes, fancy dress, friends, food, husband Wes, her dogs, dad Chris, workouts, modelling work, shots from her Rosanna's Workshop events, book tours, baking, bikini shots on the beach, and lots of smoothies, all make up the content of former Miss World Rosanna Davison's Instagram feed.
"I don't ever put up anything that I feel is overly private or personal, and it's nice to be in control of what goes up," she reflects. Nothing is contrived. "I'm sure it happens," she says, "but I rarely stage shots because I prefer to keep my social media fresh, and as natural as possible.
"But I do choose the best photos, as I'm picky about what goes up. Sometimes I post pictures from a day or two before that I may have forgotten to put up, but I generally post as I go along to keep everything fresh and true to what I've been up to."
Again, the idea of Instagram as a personal document of record comes up. "I do think that social media is extremely useful for spreading information and really helps when you're working with a client who is trying to promote a product," she says.
"But I also enjoy documenting my life and interests for both myself and others. It will be great to look back at all the photos in years to come."
@voguewilliams, 95k followers, 2,060 posts, model, TV presenter
Vogue is obsessed with Instagram, she admits with a laugh, estimating she checks it "every couple of hours". Her account is a mixture of fitness, behind the scenes on modelling jobs, nights out with friends and family, and plenty of OOTD posts.
Former husband Brian McFadden featured fairly regularly during their relationship.
"There aren't really things I wouldn't share," she says. "If I like a picture, I would share it. It just depends. You can't document your whole life. I generally try to put up three a day."
Certain times of the day are better to post, she explains. "At eight in the morning, people will be looking at their phones; half-twelve, people look at their phones; from six o'clock on, people look at their phones. If you put it up, you want people to see it."
Once a following is gained, it's essential to keep up the momentum. Vogue often plans posts in advance, even hoarding pictures to cover quiet work times, or times when she won't be 'Instagram ready' because she might have a hangover.
"Say I know I won't be going out or doing anything. I don't want nothing on my Instagram," she explains. "I would just scroll through old pictures and put up a shot of an outfit on somebody that I liked. So there are days when I would have back-ups on my phone." She takes a fairly sensible approach to any nastiness she encounters on the site. "It's like with any social media, you can't take notice of stuff like that," she says bluntly. "If I'm putting up pictures of me in a bikini, I'm inviting people to comment on it. That's the point of Instagram."
@daniellamoyles, 14.7k followers, 1,483 posts, model, DJ and co-owner of travel website The Travel Two
Instagram has not just provided a sort of online diary space for Daniella Moyles to document her extensive travels (49 countries and counting), it has, of late, suggested a whole new career path.
"I would get asked regularly on Instagram to start a travel blog or show. For a couple of years, I'd see the comments and reply with, 'Thanks, glad you're enjoying the images'. Until recently it clicked with me that there's potential here to make a hobby a job, and off the back of that I set up The Travel Two website with my travel-partner-in-crime, Martin Gaughan."
As such, she says that Instagram has been hugely beneficial to her career. "I probably wouldn't have known there was an audience interested in my travels without Instagram."
In day-to-day work, Instagram can be part of a contract for a job. "If you work in the media in any capacity nowadays, an available audience can be a great asset," she explains. "There have been times where it has been a requirement of a contract that I post a certain number of images on Instagram or other social-media platforms and that's fine within reason, and once you flag that post as such." When she does plug something, it tends to be done well - see her 'belfie', pictured top right, used to mention a treatment for getting rid of cellulite that she tried and found successful.
For the most part though, her account is strongly travel-themed. "Once your account has a theme, you don't have to put much thought into what you post. If I was just posting imagery from my real day-to-day life, I would probably be more self-conscious and cautious about what I put up."
The illusion of perfection that Instagram can sometimes present isn't a source of pressure to Daniella. "I love beautiful imagery and the idealistic versions of reality it allows you to escape into. It's a place where everything's perfect and everyone's happy all the time. There's no need to share my flat tyre, or that I forgot my keys and I'm locked out of my apartment. We're all aware of the ebb and flow of a normal day, Instagram's not the platform for that. Facebook could be for you if that's your thing."
@angelascanlon, 41.6k followers, 4,641 posts, presenter
Broadcaster Angela Scanlon's Instagram account is the perfect example of how to curate your life online. There's lots of fashion, travel, friends and family, the occasional shot of her, husband Roy Horgan, interiors inspiration, books she's reading, inspirational quotes and the occasional gorgeous throwback of Angela and her family in 80s Ireland. Standard Instagram fare, but done in a way that is funny, personal and highly individual.
"I love it," says Angela, who often posts several times a day. "It's like a personal, visual scrapbook. If I'm having a shit day, I scroll through it and it's an instant reminder of how lucky I am."
It's this personal approach that characterises her account. Sometimes, she says, with work, there is an expectation of Instagram coverage. "With commercial jobs it's often requested, but I have never been paid for an Instagram post. I will only ever include things I love; stuff I would recommend privately to a mate. I don't really think of it as a professional 'tool' at all. It's actually very personal for me."
In fact, in Angela's case, it's less a space for others to advertise, and more an accidental personal ad.
"It's a way to be front-facing without being in people faces, literally," she says of how it has helped her professionally. "It allows you to have a presence across multiple territories without physically being there, which obviously would be impossible otherwise. From a purely practical point of view, it allows a potential client to get a very quick insight into what you're about, what you like, your interests and so on, in a way that may be difficult to articulate."
There's little she doesn't share, but one thing she considers out of bounds. "My nieces and nephews. I know a lot of people post pictures of kids - usually their own - and they're snotty and adorable and I enjoy them, but it doesn't feel appropriate for me.
"It's not just my friends and family who follow my account, so exposing them to a bigger audience just doesn't feel right. Apart from that and shots of my arse, I tend post whatever the hell I want," she laughs.
Her content is a reflection of an interesting life, lived curiously, probably the recipe for the best Instagram accounts. "I don't spend time painstakingly perfecting the image, and I don't take a million shots before settling on the 'chosen one'," Angela says.
@joannacoops, 41.4k followers, 416 posts, Miss Universe Ireland, model
"It's really funny, people on Instagram really hate my eyebrows. For some reason they just can't take my eyebrows. I'm like, 'Get over it'," says the Derry-born blonde, who recently competed in the Miss Universe pageant finals in Las Vegas, for which she was strongly advised to get the famous brows tidied up.
"I would get a few negative comments on Instagram, especially after winning Miss Universe Ireland, but a lot of it is positive. I love Instagram. I think I'm addicted," she laughs. She never engages with anything negative posted in the comments on her Instagram account, saying, "I don't see the point".
So far, work hasn't presented too much of a dilemma in terms of keeping her account plug-free - just the occasional request to post certain work-related hashtags on shots taken at shows and shoots. "In things like Belfast Fashion Week and stuff, we would be given a list of hashtags from photo shoots and promotions from clients," she explains. With her new, higher profile as the current Miss Universe Ireland, that's all likely to change as her modelling career takes off.
Her account is heavy on selfies, and pictures of her and boyfriend David Murdock, as well as lots of OOTD posts, and general modelling work. So far, she hasn't put in too much pre-planning into what she puts up on her Instagram account, but with the increase in profile thanks to the Miss Universe competition, she's rethinking her attitude to what she posts. "I've kind of tried to take it more seriously now," she says. "I don't really want to just post anything anymore." When it comes to selfies? About 20-odd takes, she says.
@yvonneconnolly_, 11.9k followers, 413 posts, TV presenter, foodie
"I'd heard a lot of talk about Instagram, but really most of the talk I'd heard was from my kids," says Yvonne Connolly, whose account covers the life of a working mum, food, friends, including bestie Cecelia Ahern, who herself recently joined Instagram; and life with her boyfriend, John Conroy.
"My kids and their friends would always have their finger on the pulse. So you tend to hear about these things and think, 'Oh, it's one of those teenage things'. But I gave it a try because, in my house, what we try to do is get onto whatever the kids are onto. And it's kind of a way of keeping an eye on them too," she laughs.
"And I just absolutely fell in love with Instagram," she says. Yvonne also shares lots of sweet shots of her kids - ballet recitals and rugby matches - some great throwbacks to her early modelling days and the occasional night out with celebrity friends. "I just loved the idea that it was nearly like a little diary as well," she says. "And not necessarily having to put a big opinion out there, as in with Twitter. I find it a much more tolerant space. On Twitter, they can be pretty negative.
"You get a lot of people who are into the same kind of thing," reflects Yvonne, who often gets into discussions with followers after her cooking appearances on TV3's The Seven O'Clock Show, by suggesting alternative ingredients, or sharing what she's making the next night.
"I have put pictures of my kids on Instagram because they're on Instagram themselves," she says matter-of-factly. "Obviously some of our more private moments I don't put up, but no, I'm not too shy with it."
She's particularly cautious about anything too overtly advertorial. Anything in the nature of a straightforward plug is out of the question, she says. "I certainly don't like to do that thing where somebody sends you a random product and wants you to promote it. I wouldn't do that unless it's a product that I've used for a long time, and I genuinely can stand over it."
@hollycarpenter, 67.7k followers, 2,482 posts, model
Former Miss Ireland Holly Carpenter's blog post, 'What she's really saying on Snapchat' not only went viral, it was reposted by Ashton Kutcher, and more recently, Kris Jenner. Her Instagram feed is full of funny pictures and quotes, selfies, modelling shots, friends, make-up posts, baking, and of course, fitness.
Her new boyfriend, Danny O'Reilly, lead singer of The Coronas, is unlikely to be making many appearances; Holly acknowledges that with a former relationship, with rugby player Cian Healy, she feels like she may have overshared.
"In the past, I've put up loads of pictures of me and my boyfriend and stuff like that, and then, when you go through a break-up, all the papers will have all those photos. So that's something I learnt."
Now, she's more cautious about what she posts. "You can be kind of afraid to put up a picture of yourself in a bikini sometimes, because you're worried people are going to have something to say. Whether it's, 'Oh, you're not in that great shape', or 'you're too skinny' or 'too big'. Or 'You've photoshopped that', and I haven't," says Holly, who spoke out in Vogue Williams's defence when Vogue was accused of photoshopping her thigh gap in an Instagram picture.
"It doesn't really bother me what people say, but, at the same time, if you are getting a few comments, it can be a bit personal, because it's your own body."
"I get the best response from showing posts of my real life and being down-to-earth and relatable," says Holly. "If there was a picture of myself where you can see a spot I might have, I might put a filter on, but I'm not going to start photoshopping."
While she points out that an Instagram account is a potential marketplace for possible future product lines, Holly is cautious about championing things for work. In the past, she's turned down jobs which require her to post things she doesn't feel are something she would naturally share.
"For example, training gear for running outdoors, cross-country. They're saying, 'Just show people yourself going on a big long run'. Anyone who knows me and looks at my Instagram knows that I don't run outside. There's no point in me pretending. I think people would see straight through it.
"The more your number of followers grows, if you ever wanted to promote something, they're all potential customers. For me, I'm lucky that most of my followers are girls, so I feel like if I was to ever bring out a jewellery line or a lingerie line, my followers are my target audience."
"I've never really had a fight with anyone on Instagram," says Holly, who recently wrote about the hateful comments she received on Twitter about her New Year's Eve Herald column. "It's nice, because a lot of the time some of my followers will just stand up for me. So I don't have to get involved."
@rozannapurcell, 120k followers, 1,737 posts, model, food blogger, clothes designer
It wasn't until she went to the finals of Miss Universe in 2010 that Rozanna Purcell discovered Instagram. And it was a slow burner for her at the beginning. "I remember starting it, and I think I used to post the pictures that didn't make the cut for Twitter and Facebook," she laughs. "It was like the second-hand one. It wasn't really until I started my food blog that I really became a daily poster. Now I could post three, four times a day."
She posts on both her eponymous account and on a second account named after her food blog and upcoming book, @naturalbornfeeder. "For food and me, it's become a really good way of being able to market yourself. And an inexpensive way," she adds.
"I'm quite private," says Rozanna, who rarely posts shots of her and her boyfriend, Bressie. "Unless it was some sort of occasion or something, but not really." She tends to keep her posts work- or food-related.
"I find it difficult not to be on social media. I really enjoy it. Ask Bressie, he would be like, 'Yeah, she needs to get off her phone'," she laughs. But it's not just hours spent aimlessly scrolling through strangers' accounts. It's work. "I actually will be looking at ideas, posting about something, editing photos."
She's refreshingly straight about how many takes it requires for the average selfie. "It depends what the lighting's like, if I'm being really honest. I think people are being quite generous with saying 50. Sometimes you could have way over. I'd be quite scared to count mine," she says with a laugh. "I think everyone's saying 50 because isn't that what Kylie Jenner said? I definitely take about 100, 200."
@thaliaheffernan, 26.5k followers, 1,254 posts, model
Twenty-year-old Thalia Heffernan is currently Ireland's most in-demand model. Her account is primarily work, with a little bit of friends, family and fitness thrown in.
"I guess it's just a platform to show my work, and what I'm interested in," says the beauty, who recently made her TV-presenting debut on TV3's Xpose. "Also for enjoyment as well; seeing other people's worlds."
Like most of Ireland's Instagram queens, she considers it to be far more positive than Twitter or Facebook. "I think it's easier. In a weird way, I feel like it's less of a commitment to just go on Instagram and scroll. I've noticed it's a lot less hateful. Maybe it's because it's an image-based medium. I think it's a lot easier to get into a debate on Facebook because the comments there are a bit easier to scroll through."
Having quite freely shared shots of a previous relationship with Andrew McGuinness, she's now wary of invading her own privacy. "I keep myself a little bit controlled on Instagram, I think. I haven't controlled it enough in the past and I think I've kind of learnt from that; that it's been a negative thing," she reflects, referring to posting about relationships.
"I'm happy people who follow me want to know my life, and I'm happy to give them most of it. People know me through Instagram, but they still don't know me.
"I think it's important to keep that part of you as well."
@madelinemulqueen, 6,677 followers, 1,125 posts, model, blogger
As with her blog posts, Madeline treats her Instagram feed as a personal diary rather than a vehicle for career advancement.
More than most, she probably needs to consider just how much to reveal - her fiance is Hollywood actor Jack Reynor, so there will be more than the usual interest in any 'my love' type posts.
"I think I'm quite conscious of what I put up online," she acknowledges. "It's nice to have a balance."
That being said, Jack does pop up every so often, on holidays or at a friend's wedding.
What particularly characterises Madeline's account is her fitness posts. Of late, she has started posting mini videos, made especially for Instagram, with workouts that use only body weight or resistance bands (no gym equipment needed) - lending them an immediacy that's perfectly suited to the platform.
It's a near-perfect example of using social media to push forward your brand by giving your followers something of quality, rather than just another picture of you in gym gear or trying out the latest beauty product.
"It actually is time-consuming in that sense," she says of the process of editing the videos so they are Instagram-friendly: short, but still with a high standard of content.
"I have to sit down and decide what I want to show, how I'm going do it and how I'm going do it well."
She, too, gets the occasional negative comment, but isn't bothered in the slightest.
"All I do is block someone if they're being annoying. You'd love to say something back, but what are you getting from it, really?"
@nadiaforde, 80.8k followers, 1,468 posts, singer, model, TV star
"I think Instagram, out of all of the apps, is probably my favourite," says Nadia, whose feed is a mixture of work, workouts, socialising, family, her boyfriend - rugby player Dominic Day - and the occasional inspirational quote. "Because it's more visual. Sometimes I'm a little bit lost for words on Twitter."
"It's great for keeping in touch with people. But on the career side, it's really important as well," says the model, who moves between here and the UK for work.
"I feel like I haven't had a contract with work where Instagram hasn't been involved in the last year," she says. The type of social media Nadia will be expected to provide is worked out specifically in each contract. "I try and put something a little bit more personal on top of it," she admits. "Because I think an Instagram photo is kind of a little bit of a snapshot into what your life is like."
Managing a balancing act between meeting a client's requirements and being too obviously pluggy can be tricky, she agrees. "I think when you're in a situation like that, you always try to put it into your life. I did something recently with a client where they didn't want any product shots, and I had to talk about it on a beauty level. They didn't want a picture of a bottle. I think even clients are coming around to the idea now that it can't be an ad."
She isn't phased by the negative side of social media, probably for the best; she says male followers regularly send her pictures of their genitals on Snapchat. "Ah yeah, you always get loads of random comments. You just don't look at them. Especially if there's, like, a hundred comments, you know something's wrong," she laughs. "It's normally to do with TV. If I've been on TV, people are really vocal about what they thought on Instagram."
There's little she doesn't share with her followers. "I remember the first time I posted a picture of my boyfriend. We'd been together a good few months, and it was like, 'Oh, are we sure we want do this now?' And I remember there was a horrific photo doing the rounds of me and him out. I looked like I'd been dragged through a bush backwards.
"I thought, 'Well at least if I post this nice picture, they'll use this one, where I'm smiling and I've make-up on'," she laughs.
It goes with out saying that owning an Instagram account encourages a certain amount of vanity. "Anybody who says they take a selfie in one go is lying," Nadia says. "At least 50 goes. Until you get the best one."
And now for the boys . . .
@13rianodriscoll, 83k followers, 131 posts, former rugby star
Brian's posts are a mixture of sports, Amy, fashion (yes, he seems to have a shoe thing) nights out and mornings after. As with his Off The Ball sports commentary, it's a great insight into the personality of one of Ireland's greatest sporting heroes. Follow it for the funnies.
@bressie, 48.7k followers, 341 posts, musician
Bressie's account is a mixture of fitness, his adorably cute nephew, and general funny stuff. Follow because we should all support such passionate mental-health campaigning.
@andrewfitzsimons, 19.8k followers, 1,6787 posts, hairdresser to the stars
Andrew Fitzsimons is a Dublin boy done good, now living between New York and LA, and hairdresser to celebrities, including Kendall Jenner. Follow for behind-the-scenes posts of Andrew prepping Kendall for various shoots and red-carpet events, such as this Vogue shoot.
@rorymcilroy, 842k followers, 168 posts, golf superstar
As well as titbits from his day-to-day life, Rory's account is a fascinating look at the training and occasional injuries in the life of a sportsman at the top of his game. Follow for the occasional unlikely celebrity pairing - such as Jamie Dornan and Rory hitting the town.
@paul_o_connell5, 52.8k followers, 14 posts, rugby player
This is our favourite post - it's of the big man affixing tiny doors above the frame of an actual door, with the caption, "30 years later and I am informed the tooth fairy now needs a door". Follow for the cute posts about fatherhood.
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