Marketer to Instagram Influencer: The Josh Horton Story
Wondering how to maximize the exposure of your Instagram posts?
To explore how to become a full-time Instagram influencer, I interview Josh Horton.
More About This Show
The Social Media Marketing podcast is an on-demand talk radio show from Social Media Examiner. It’s designed to help busy marketers, business owners, and creators discover what works with social media marketing.
In this episode, I interview Josh Horton, known online as Jugglin’ Josh. He’s a marketer turned influencer with more than a million followers across all of the social channels. He also holds 12 Guinness World Records, and he’s been on The Ellen Show.
Josh explains how he uses various Instagram features to share content and grow his following.
You’ll also learn how producing content for YouTube differs from Instagram.
Share your feedback, read the show notes, and get the links mentioned in this episode below.
Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:
Becoming an Instagram Influencer
In 2011, Josh graduated from college and planned to be a professional juggler. After performing for several months, Josh joined a social media agency started by a friend of a family friend. Josh was the eighth hire, and he started out part-time, deleting spam and cusswords from Facebook pages.
When the company (McBeard Media, which later became part of Fullscreen Media) began to grow, they offered Josh a full-time job. Because he worked remotely, he could work full-time and continue performing on the side, juggling and traveling for shows.
After a couple of years, Josh was managing a team of coordinators, graphic designers, and video editors. He helped run day-to-day operations of multiple brand pages, including Sony Pictures. Every movie from Sony Pictures had its own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes Snapchat account. He also helped create graphics and videos posted to other brand pages every day.
However, the deeper Josh fell into this job, the less he focused on juggling. In 2015, when Josh turned 25 years old, he realized he had no juggling gigs booked. Although juggling was a side hustle, it was also his passion. So within a month of his birthday, he quit his job.
Originally, he planned to focus on performing on stage at halftime shows and corporate and community events. But because he knew all this stuff about social media, he decided to also try growing an Instagram following. Josh focused on Instagram because he enjoyed that platform the most and figured it was the easiest place to grow a following.
Today, although Josh is still performing, his social media following has grown to a point where it makes him more money than his performances do.
Listen to the show to learn more about Josh’s work at the social media agency.
How to Grow a Following on Instagram
When Josh quit his job, he had around 8,000 Instagram followers. Now, he has about 260,000. Josh began trying to grow his following soon after Instagram launched its video feature. From his agency work, Josh knew he needed to make something that was so good people would want to like, comment on, or share it.
Compelling Videos: To encourage engagement, Josh edited his juggling videos into polished content with music and transitions. With those videos, he gained followers organically. Then he found viral video accounts on Instagram, which have millions of followers and post other people’s content. He gained a lot of followers when those accounts reposted videos of his trick shots.
Some of those accounts reposted his videos with permission, and others didn’t get permission. As long as the accounts tagged Josh, he was okay with it.
Collaborations: Josh also started collaborating with other Instagram influencers to continue building his following. In fact, Josh keeps performing in part because his travels allow him to connect with other influencers. Whenever he performs for an NBA or college halftime show, he finds the Instagram or YouTube influencers in that area so they can collaborate on a video.
However, halftime shows are separate from Josh’s social media marketing. For his juggling, Josh decided to focus on halftime shows and spent a couple of years making his living with these performances. In addition to his juggling website, Josh has a website specifically for halftime shows. He pulls off his breakaway basketball pants and juggles basketballs in a jersey.
Instagram: When Instagram’s own profile featured Josh, he received the most followers he’s ever had in one day. This channel features mostly artistic content, but occasionally has a sports video or something that appeals to a broader audience. Josh had a contact at Instagram and pitched the idea of featuring him for World Juggling Day, which is one of those fake holidays.
I ask if Josh has ever used a publicist. He says no; his growth has always been through his own efforts.
Explore Feature: When Instagram added the Explore feature, Josh learned that video thumbnails are more important than ever. Before the Explore feature, video played automatically for followers, who accounted for most Josh’s views and likes, so the thumbnail wasn’t important.
Now followers account for a lower percentage of Josh’s views, and a larger percentage come from Explore, where users scroll through grids of videos and pictures until they see something they want to click. So thumbnails need to elicit a click.
Instagram insights tell you where people discovered your account, where they’re watching your content, and where they ultimately become followers. Instagram also recently rolled out new analytics that tell you what percentage of your views is from Explore and what percentage is from the Home tab.
To create a compelling thumbnail, first be sure to choose one. If all your videos start with a fade, which is black, your profile page will show a lot of black squares. Josh sees this issue all the time. The black squares also look bad on Explore. If you forget to choose a thumbnail, it’s worth deleting your video and reposting it, because you can’t change the thumbnail after posting the video.
When you select a thumbnail image, find the best frame. Sometimes when Josh is making an Instagram video, he thinks about the thumbnail during shooting because you can’t upload a thumbnail on Instagram the way you can on YouTube.
If you don’t get a good thumbnail during the shoot, make your video fade to black and add an image for the thumbnail as a new frame that appears a few seconds after the fade. Josh uses this tactic every once in a while.
Thumbnail Text: Josh also adds text to his thumbnail images. Although Josh thinks adding text to an Instagram video or on a photo isn’t the best practice, the thumbnail image is one exception. You can add what Josh calls meme text (white bars with black text above and below the video) specifically to your thumbnail. When people see that text, they’ve come to expect something funny or amazing.
The actual text depends on the video you’re posting. Recently, Josh added “Wait for it” in big text to make sure people watched the whole video. Although he doesn’t have data to back up his hunch, Josh thinks retention is important for Instagram videos, so text that gives people a reason to watch to the end is good.
You can also add text that grabs people’s attention. For example, Josh recently posted an Instagram video of a little kid stacking dice, which is a unique skill. The meme text was something like “Five-year-old stacks dice.” The idea was to get people wondering what dice stacking is and why a five-year-old is doing it. The video had three million views.
Photo Text: As for text on Instagram photos, Josh bases this advice on an audit of the 20 most followed and engaged Instagram accounts, which he did while working at the agency. If quote graphics and inspirational things are important to your brand, text on photos can work. However, of the most successful brands on Instagram, Josh found that 19 of them didn’t use graphic text or logos.
Instead, these brands, which included Adidas and Chanel, focused on sharing awesome photos and videos. With their well-known branded products, these companies obviously had their branding in the photo. There’s simply no point in putting a Nike watermark on a photo when a Nike shoe already appears in it.
User Engagement: I ask how you can improve the chances your video will appear on Explore. Josh says your visibility on Explore works similarly to improving your organic reach on Facebook. Instagram shows your post to a few followers, and depending on engagement, might boost the video to Explore. If enough people click the video, more people see the video on Explore.
With that in mind, if you want your video to appear on Explore, your engagement within the first few minutes of posting the video is important. Josh has heard that if you get likes and comments, especially from other fans and big pages, within the first few minutes of posting, that engagement helps your posts perform better in the long run.
To prime his followers to engage with a post, Josh uses Instagram Stories to say something like, “Hey I’m posting in 10 minutes! Who’s going to give the first comment?” Or he’ll offer a giveaway if followers like and comment within the first few minutes of posting.
Josh doesn’t go live with Stories. He simply creates a post. Sometimes he deletes the story after the first few minutes because it served its purpose of encouraging people to engage.
All the effort Josh puts into helping a post appear on Explore is worthwhile because the post can stay there for a really long time. After Josh’s video received three million views from his followers, the video received another million views after a couple of weeks on Explore.
The Explore section is the only way to extend the life of an Instagram post. Josh thinks followers usually stop seeing a post within 48 hours.
Hashtags and Keywords: Hashtags and keywords might also help determine whether your video appears on Explore. For instance, when you’re going through Explore, you see video playlists. Josh sees one called yo-yos because Instagram likely sees yo-yos as somewhat similar to juggling. The algorithm might also look at who’s following whom.
Listen to the show to hear Josh and me discuss how Zach King benefited from people repurposing his Vine videos.
Just as you can use Stories to incentivize followers to engage, you can also use them to encourage people to do other things. Sometimes, Josh posts old videos to his stories to keep followers engaged with good content. He doesn’t want followers to feel like his stories are just requests to like a post or swipe up for a new YouTube video.
Josh focuses mostly on making Instagram stories that are easily digestible, behind-the-scenes looks at his life. If Josh is performing at an NBA game, he might do a quick story about being at the game.
Josh isn’t using the Highlights feature because he’s waiting for the right idea. He wants to do something unique but finds the organization to be a bit difficult. As an example, to create a logo for a Highlights category, which looks nice, people post the logo on their story. Although Josh hasn’t figured out how he’ll use Highlights, he thinks the feature is awesome and loves what others have done with it.
Listen to the show to hear how Gary Vaynerchuk influences Josh’s thinking about Instagram Stories.
To make money with his Instagram content, Josh collaborates with different brands. His first collaboration was for about $150. He doesn’t remember how many followers he had at the time, but someone reached out to him about the opportunity. Chevrolet was doing a soccer-themed campaign, and the contact asked him to post a photo of himself juggling soccer balls with a specific hashtag.
Since then, Josh has worked with lots of different brands. Typically, someone from an agency representing the brand contacts Josh about the collaboration. They tell him about the campaign and ask if he would like to be a part of it. Rarely, somebody working directly for the brand reaches out to him.
If Josh is interested, they work out the details of how many posts Josh will create, on what platforms, and for how much money. The client determines how much creative freedom Josh has, but the end result is usually a post everyone’s happy with.
Sometimes, Josh is juggling the brand’s product or otherwise including it in an overt way. To illustrate, Josh recently promoted a new sparkling water called Bubly. Josh balances cans of the water on his head while juggling four clubs that match the super bright neon colors of the cans. The result is a cool-looking photo.
Other times, the promotional aspect of the post is more subtle. Carnival Cruises sent Josh and his YouTube partner, Jake, on a cruise. They simply had to create a certain number of posts proving to their followers that they were having a good time on the cruise. They also had to tag Carnival. In return, Jake and Josh were paid and received a free cruise.
For a recent Reebok promotion, Josh had to follow a very specific prompt. For the Fastest Feet Challenge, Reebok hired several influencers to jump over a line really quickly as an exercise and challenge fans to beat their scores. Josh did it while juggling to make the content look more natural for his followers. Fans who submitted a video using a hashtag could win a trip to a big sporting event.
A campaign in which Josh encourages fans to participate in something is typical for him. For another recent campaign for Jack in the Box and the Lakers, called Sunglasses @ Night, Josh encouraged fans to use a hashtag with a picture of themselves wearing sunglasses while watching a Lakers game. Participants were then eligible to win something.
For Josh, the benefits of these brand collaborations go beyond making money. When big accounts like Reebok or McDonald’s share Josh’s content, he also gets more fans and followers as a result.
However, the downside of brand collaborations is that they’re a fairly unpredictable source of revenue. You can’t guarantee that Reebok is going to call with a brand deal on a certain day. Also, Josh studied business and knows you want several sources of revenue.
Josh can almost guarantee a certain amount of money from the halftime shows because he’s established in that market and knows how to book those shows. However, putting on those performances takes a lot of time and doesn’t generate as much income as the brand collaborations do.
To help him balance it all, Josh is looking forward to his wife joining his business to help run the logistics. He hopes she can help him reach out to brands that he likes via email, LinkedIn, or Twitter direct messages.
Listen to the show to hear more about how social media has helped Josh book juggling gigs.
Josh thinks YouTube is tough but also the platform where you have the greatest potential for earnings, both from brand deals and ad revenue. Josh was scared to try YouTube, especially while performing at several halftime shows and working by himself, because to do YouTube right, you need to post a lot and produce longer videos. While Josh was on his own, YouTube was too much work.
However, when Jake, a friend of a friend, was leaving his job, Josh and Jake connected on Facebook. Jake had been making funny, well-edited videos for his friends. He wasn’t trying to be a social media star. He’s just good with a camera and editing, and is really funny.
Although Josh couldn’t promise Jake any money, he invited Jake to move to Dallas and try to do YouTube with him. Josh thought they could make something happen. Jake took the risk and joined Josh last July. At that point, Josh had 20,000 subscribers, and now they have about 114,000.
The channel started with the name Jugglin’ Josh, but when Jake joined, the name changed to Jake and Josh. The YouTube content is different from what Josh does on Instagram. Even before Jake joined, Josh wanted his YouTube content to add a personality to the juggling skills that most people have seen.
On Instagram, sharing a personality is kind of hard except with Stories. You have only a few seconds to post something that people will like, comment on, or share. People love Josh’s trick shots and juggling, but they don’t know the man and the personality behind those short videos. YouTube is a good platform to share a personality because the videos are longer than Instagram videos.
YouTube also offered Josh a way to be known for skills beyond juggling, which is why he started trying to break world records. Before Jake joined Josh’s YouTube channel, Josh tried to break or set a world record every Wednesday.
Although not all the records are official, Jake and Josh do have, for instance, the Guinness World Record for most marshmallows caught in your mouth in a minute. For the Guinness World Record, the marshmallows had to be the big ones, but because you’re catching and spitting, you don’t have to keep the marshmallows in your mouth. (Their record was 42 marshmallows.)
The video has a whole story to it. Jake and Josh were asked to be on The Today Show to break a world record. They thought they could break the marshmallow record, but they failed on national television. Because they logged the whole trip to New York for the shoot, the video includes footage of them failing. Then the video documents their comeback effort, breaking the record in a gym.
In fact, Jake and Josh have learned it’s important to share stories and failures in their YouTube videos. When Jake and Josh first started making YouTube videos, the videos were 3-5 minutes. However, with longer videos, they started seeing more growth, engagement, and attention. Now, instead of showing the complete world record, they show their path and struggles. People love those videos more.
Since Jake joined the YouTube channel, they increased the schedule from posting a video once a week to posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. On Monday and Saturday, the videos usually involve some sort of skill instead of a world record.
Producing a video takes several hours. Each episode requires about 4 hours of editing. Beyond that, the time required really depends on the type of video.
Also, Jake and Josh don’t aim for a polished final video. Jake is an awesome cinematographer and can make awesome works of art. However, the videos on their YouTube channel are rough and thrown together because Jake and Josh need to get the videos done and uploaded. They don’t even color-grade anything.
This lack of polish is different from Instagram and more consistent with other YouTube videos. Josh thinks YouTube viewers want to feel as if they’re in the room with you like friends, not viewers of a TV show. For example, a recent upload was a 100,000-subscriber party. Jake and Josh invited subscribers, fans, friends, and family to a place where they could play games and eat dinner.
The video combined footage from the subscriber party with shots of Jake and Josh on the couch talking about the party. During the video, they commented on how the video might be boring. However, several commenters said they liked the video because it felt like being in the room with Jake and Josh.
Josh thinks that the age and other demographics of his Instagram and YouTube audiences could be similar. However, the two audiences are definitely different people. After Josh started taking YouTube seriously, he was surprised and discouraged by how few of his Instagram followers would transfer to YouTube. The superfans might cross over, but most people prefer a certain platform.
Listen to the show to hear Josh discuss a video Jake and he produced with a Phantom slow-motion camera.
Tips for Becoming a Paid Influencer
For anybody who has a desire to be a paid influencer on a video platform, I ask Josh what tips or advice he can share. Josh says the biggest tip is to have a brand-friendly page.
Some brands are okay with swear words or vulgar music in videos, but most are not. Brands also tend to shy away from comedians whose acts include innuendo, drugs, or alcohol. Instead, you want to share content that brands want to partner with.
Listen to the show to hear Josh and me discuss how athletes with partnerships tend to be brand-friendly.
Discovery of the Week
The Instagram Stories widget from Fastory allows you to showcase stories on your website.
After you set up the widget on your site, it appears in the lower right. When visitors click it, a phone-like screen shows your current Instagram stories and highlights. These show up as bubbles people can click to see curated Instagram stories that don’t disappear after 24 hours. The screen also has a button people can click to follow your Instagram account.
The widget works with Instagram’s official API and is approved by Instagram. To get the widget and add it to your site, start by logging in through Facebook. Then you receive a code snippet that you copy and paste into your website code.
The widget is free but includes some Fastory branding. If you’re all-in on Instagram, especially Instagram Stories, this widget might be something to consider.
Listen to the show to learn more and let us know how the Instagram Stories widget from Fastory works for you.
- Visit Josh’s website.
- Follow Jugglin’ Josh on Instagram and Twitter.
- Check out the Jake & Josh YouTube channel.
- See Josh’s website specifically for halftime shows.
- Explore the featured posts on Instagram’s own profile.
- Discover how Adidas, Chanel, and Nike avoid text on photos and videos.
- See some of Josh’s Instagram promotions for Bubly and Sunglasses @ Night.
- Watch the World Record Wednesdays playlist.
- Note the storytelling in Jake and Josh’s world-record marshmallow-eating video.
- Check out the inviting format of Jake and Josh’s 100,000 subscribers party video.
- Try adding the Instagram Stories widget from Fastory to your website.
- Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on Crowdcast or tune in on Facebook Live.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on becoming an Instagram influencer? Please share your comments below.