MANKATO, Minn. — On any given day, Dustin Tyler can be seen working at Spencer's Gift Shop at River Hills Mall or at the front desk at Great Clips.
And when he isn't working, he spends his time off reading a book at home or hitting the gym.
"I don't know if that's just the 33-year-old in me, you know," he laughed while talking to The Free Press. "But I really find that's fun every once in a while."
Tyler isn't your average Joe, though. Decked out completely in tattoos, he stands out in any environment, including social media. On Instagram, Tyler has more than 70,000 followers including some celebrities such as Kelly Osbourne and adult film star Jenna Jameson.
He began his Instagram account less than two years ago after a suggestion from a friend. His friend has a clothing line, EXCD, and they would frequent the gym together. The clothing line is known around the area, especially for gym-goers. And his friend said "You should do some photos for me."
So Tyler sported the clothing line and his friend started to post them onto his Instagram account. Before Tyler became an influencer, he wasn't entirely sure of what Instagram was but his friend knew that Tyler would do well on the social media platform.
"So I made it, and then just kind of started adding people that I knew. And before you know it, I started getting follows from bigger names, and I just started networking with people and doing shout outs."
He quickly became a social media influencer — "a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media," according to Google.
The phenomenon has grown in social media as another form of advertising, one seen as more hip than normal ads on TV (or the annoying and inescapable ads on YouTube). Tyler's Instagram account is full of images of him wearing specific brands, such as Sullen Clothing, a clothing line that uses tattoo-inspired art.
Tyler predicts that advertising will merge directly onto the internet, more than on TV. It's no secret that many people spend a lot of their time on their phones using all forms of social media, and what better way to advertise a product than by leveraging a person with thousands — if not millions — of followers to promote your product?
"And that's basically what an influencer does right there. It's like you're a social media advertiser. Instead of being on TV doing it, you're doing it on the internet," he said.
In order to become a social media influencer, though, it takes some work. It's not simply just posting the latest picture of your food or your pets or memes. It's a niche market, Tyler said, and it's one that needs to be curated specifically to that interest.
He's learned how specific hashtags can be seen as "spammy" and can cause a post to be taken down.
"I feel like I could write a book on Instagram, honestly, with all the do's and don'ts that I've learned throughout the past," Tyler laughed.
The main component, however, is remaining active on the platform either in the form of liking and commenting on other posts, tagging people in shout outs and keeping the account fresh with quality content.
As far as the products that Tyler has promoted on his page, he believes in only supporting brands and companies that he would personally use. He describes his style as alternative and he keeps the products that he's promoting true to that style.
When he first started out on Instagram, a company that makes sun tanning lotion reached out to him. He'd posted a picture of the product, but then deleted it after.
"I'm like, OK, you know, I don't tan so I don't really believe in that, per se."
That goes for any item he chooses to promote on Instagram. If something doesn't meet his standards, he won't take up the offer to receive the product for free. It's part of establishing credibility among his followers, and with other brands.
"It does (help) because you're being you, you're being real. I'm not going to take some piece of junk and put it out there and pretend like it's something it's not," he said. "I really have to truly like that. If it's something that looks silly on me, believe me: I'm going going to take a picture and put it out there."
Eventually, Tyler hopes the Instagram account grows even more. He still receives 40-50 follows a day. And most of you are probably thinking, "Isn't that addictive?" Well, sure. We can all probably agree that social media is addictive, Tyler said.
"But at least the way I see it is, it's not just for fun. I have a purpose for it. What I mean is that it kind of gives me a form of relief."
For Tyler, it's building a brand for himself. Kind of like how someone starts up their own construction business, or any business for that matter.
"I'm hoping to one day have Dustin Tyler be a big name. You never know," he said. I want people to see what I'm putting out there. It's meaningful for met to get my thoughts out there ... I want to show something really cool to people. It's just something I enjoying doing."
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Free Press.