Zach Benson is not your average travel blogger. He started out at as a dancer, and soon, began traveling the world, and has gotten over 150 accommodation nights for free. His company, www.assistagram.us, which specializes in Instagram growth, has allowed him to work with brands such as The Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and Dubai Board Of Tourism.
In an exclusive interview, Zach tells us all about his career (which was already featured in Forbes!)
Editor’s Note: responses have been slighted edited for clarity, spelling and grammar, but the meaning has not been altered.
You are an award-winning dancer. At what point of your career did you start travelling for free and how?
I have been dancing since the age of 15, when a friend in highschool gifted me a DVD called “How to Break Dance”, and said, “you are Asian, you need to learn how to breakdance.” So I watched it, started practicing, made a crew and then met others who did it. Back then it was more of a hobby, but at times, I thought to myself and day dreamed… man, it would be so cool if I could travel the world one day and do this, or have a studio fly me out to come and teach, or get paid to perform. Those were just simple dreams back in the day.
So I kept working and working and working and then eventually, I was on “So you think you can dance,” and eventually I started winning competitions and eventually I started traveling the world. When I auditioned and advanced in the contest, one of the producers said to me, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” go out and make a name for yourself. Like, this competition is good, but there’s so much more you can do. You can teach at dance clinics around the world.
So I took his advice, had my friend make me a pretty sweet professional looking dance video and I started to send it out to studios, first in the USA and then in Mexico. This was in 2011. I studied abroad in Mérida, Mexico, in 2007 and made some good friends there, and since 2007 have been back many times from 2007-2011, so I decided to reach out to some studios there and teach. I made a little bit of money, but I didn’t start to travel for free until my first full paid trip and experience as a judge and workshop teacher in Cancún, Mexico, in 2012 at the Concurso Internacional Cancún Danza (CIAD) and they paid for my airplane ticket (round trip), hotel, food, and workshop class fee — a truly awesome experience! I thought, wow, I’m making my dream come true. And that’s when it all started for me.
After that, I just kept on planning trips. I’d think of where I wanted to go and then choose a country, choose a city and started emailing these studios in other countries. Now, I have done workshops in Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Mexico, India, Cambodia, just to name a few.
When you travel, is there a team behind the scenes with you for the photography and creation of posts?
Actually I do it myself, or if I’m pressed for time I hire a local photographer in the city and country I am in and have them create content with me.
Recently, one of your client’s accounts (@healthywanderlust see above) had a post that went viral on Instagram. In your opinion what are the reasons behind the success of that post?
The reason is because we have such a large network on Instagram (a 155+ million reach) and over 12 million followers just in the travel niche. So we have a lot of power. My company, www.assistagram.us, specializes in Instagram growth and campaigns reaching millions. Think of it like your own personal virtual assistant, hyper-focused on your account 7 days a week, doing hundreds to thousands of small manual actions each and every day. My people work hard to give our clients “out of the world” results like this.
Instagram rewards you with more growth and engagement the more active you are on your accounts each and everyday. They want people to be consistent, to spend a lot of time on their platform, to engage with their followers, and that’s what we do, so since we have created this viral system, we can grow accounts very fast and make posts go viral. For our commercial packages, we can grow someone around 4-7,000 followers per month and more premium packages around 20,000+ followers plus per month.
We even have ways to merge together three same niched hub paged accounts, also known as feature pages. (On Instagram, there are special accounts called feature accounts, these are also known as hubs or groups. Think of them as mini-communities within Instagram. They mainly post content that is produced by other Instagram accounts, with credit.) Feature accounts help build awareness and drive traffic to the account being featured. For example, in my new hub travel page @tribeinfluencer we can merge together three same niched hub pages and get someone over 1 million followers in 3-4 month delivery.
With respect to the post for our client @healthywanderlust, the original photographer of that post went viral, too, and only got around 30,000 likes. We got over 85,000 likes, almost 700 comments, 5k new followers just from that post and over 3,000,000 impressions, 10s of thousands of profile visits, etc.
If you had to provide 3 essential tips for future journalists, marketers and bloggers to grow their Instagram following, what would they be?
1. Buy an Instagram account with over 100k followers
I suggest people to save up money and buy an Instagram account with over 100k followers. We build and grow pages and sell them. This will save you time, money and make you more money and make your experience on Instagram much more amazing. Think about it. With an account with over 100k followers, you are an Instagram celebrity, and there’s so many ways that you can leverage its power, such as networking opportunities, outreach and creating dialogue with other celebrities and influencers in your niche and all around the world on Instagram. People respond faster when they see your account is legit with a lot of followers and engagement.
When you are out and about networking, you exchange business cards with someone, then you say hey lets stay in touch on Instagram, pull up your Instagram account on their phone and click follow, they are like woah… you have over 100k followers, out of everyone they met that night they will remember you. It makes it easier to seal deals.
2. Engagement groups
By having a good, big page with lots of followers, it’s easier to get into engagement groups, also called direct message groups or DM groups on Instagram. You can fit 15 people into each group, so basically, how it works is: you have a system and set up rules that everyone follows. For example, as soon as you post, everyone drops their link into the DM group, and says posted, please like and comment on my most recent post. Everyone likes and comments on each others post throughout the day.
Try and get into as many engagement groups as possible. Simply message other same niched accounts and ask them if they can get you into any big DM groups. Offer to pay them for each group they get you into.
Take initiative and create your own groups. You can use the big account to engage with same niched accounts and then grow your smaller account or client’s accounts by dropping the link into the group with the account whose posts who want to grow.
3. Consistency is key & post great content
With great content comes growth. That’s why I always suggest people to start up a hub page and a personal brand, or just start a hub page, grow it fast by participating in a ton of engagement/DM groups, researching well, finding and then posting viral curated content that you think has a good chance of going viral on Instagram and be one of the first few people to post it on your page. Great viral content with a ton of engagement groups can help hit the algorithms right on Instagram to help you hit the explore page on Instagram and get you seen by tons of people. When that happens and your post goes viral, lots of growth and lots of followers come with it 🙂
You need to be posting at least 1-2x a day, sometimes up to 3-5x a day and you need to be consistent with it.
Why did you decide to start managing Instagram accounts and how did you do it?
The same friend, Ryan Smith, who got me into break dancing, 12 years later got me into Instagram and said, Zach, you need to buy an Instagram account, I am making a ton of money off of it. So I listened to him, invested a lot of money into an Instagram account and started making money, too — selling his growth packages to people all over the world.
Fast forward to today, I am the Founder of www.assistagram.us, a company that specializes in growth and management, influencer marketing campaigns and Facebook and Instagram ads. Now it’s a full blown marketing agency, I have a huge team and have worked with some amazing brands like the Ritz Carlton, Dubai Board of Tourism, and a variety of brands and companies, from super famous celebs to thought leaders, SEO and marketing agencies to podcasters, plastic surgeons, life coaches, retirement advisors, e-commerce and fashion and SAAS companies. We can grow anyone and everyone. I mainly spend most of my time traveling the world and doing consulting for huge hotels and luxury brands. In this past year, I have worked with over 50 hotels worldwide. My assistagram team does all the work from content creation, to influencer marketing campaigns, to Instagram ads, Instagram profile growth and management. We are doing well and the reason I am so passionate about this is because I also started as a dancer who just wanted to travel the world and do what I love… because the world is a beautiful place and there’s so many people that have so much potential and talent in this world. I truly feel that when people are doing more of what they love every single moment of the day, they become happier, their lives improve and that spreads all over and that’s how we make the world a better place.
Based on your opinion and experience, what are the key elements an ideal Instagram post should have?
Make someone feel something. That’s the key with the picture, caption, call to action….it needs to stir some kind of emotion inside of the person when they see and read your post.