When Bailey McGuire created her “Hangry Chicago” Instagram account in 2017, she never saw it as a career move. It was just a fun place to store photos of food during nights out with friends or having lunch at Cafe Lula with her parents.
At the time, she had recently graduated from DePaul University and landed her first job at a public relations agency focused on serving clients in the hospitality industry.
“While I was figuring out what to do with my life, I just started posting,” McGuire said. “I didn’t put a lot of energy into it. I used it more as a job portfolio to prove to employers that I could build a small audience.
The pandemic started just three years later and his company began laying off employees. She was unemployed for eight months and knew it was time to change direction by taking her content more seriously.
“I didn’t think I could go back to the hospitality world because things had changed so much,” she said. “I remember thinking that this [account] is really the only thing I have right now.
By spreading his brand to different social media platforms, like TikTok, McGuire’s accounts have seen tremendous growth. She now has 190,000 total followers across all platforms and hundreds of posts showcasing the best food in town.
McGuire is one of thousands of young digital creators who choose Chicago as their background for creating content. Many social media influencers move to Los Angeles or New York to build their brand, but unlike those cities, Chicago offers an unsaturated market for those looking for a career online.
Ren DiNino, born and raised in Northwest Indiana, graduated from Purdue University in May 2020 and headed straight for Chicago. While working full-time in research and development for The Kraft Heinz Company, DiNino began posting TikToks to document her new explorations around the city.
These short “diary-like” videos opened a whole new door to her career. One day, after posting advice on how to find an apartment in the city, Compass Real Estate offered him a job as a rental agent.
Now, when you look in DiNino’s TikTok bio, you’ll see a link to a Google form. Subscribers looking for a new home can fill out a short questionnaire and she sends out new listings that match their preferences. If they end up signing with one of the buildings, DiNino makes a commission.
“It was never something I had considered doing as a part-time job,” DiNino said. “I was able to emerge in the real estate business all because I posted a video expressing that I loved apartment hunting.”
As new residents in Chicago began following her, so did businesses. Restaurants across the city have reached out to DiNino with weekend dinner invitations in exchange for an article about their establishment.
“I love being able to connect with the community through these places. Some businesses don’t have the means to advertise yet, especially if they’re new, so I do my best to inspire my followers to check them out. said DiNino.
These types of connections are crucial for Chicago influencers whose content relies on partnerships. Still, there is pressure for the content to perform well from the creator and the business.
“These local restaurants invest in us and our content because they believe it will help support them,” McGuire said. “There is a level of stress that goes along with that. I think the perception is that it’s an easy, stress-free job, but at the end of the day, it’s impactful.
Due to the creative nature of this work, there are a number of different approaches to filming and editing footage. Each influencer works to build their aesthetic with the goal of differentiating themselves online.
For Sabrina Waryjas, owner of the “Sabrina in Chicago” Instagram account, culture and education drive her content. Growing up in Guarulhos, Brazil, she dreamed of one day living abroad.
That dream came true in 2019 when she accepted an international exchange offer in Chicago. His love for the city was immediate. After working several jobs for several months, she saved enough money to buy a computer and camera and started posting her personal journey on social media.
“I saw an opportunity to be the eyes of Brazilians who are watching and experiencing the same as me,” Waryjas said. “They have a dream and need to see that it is possible to set foot here one day.”
She gained more than 10,000 subscribers in less than a year, and her content quickly evolved to feature travel tips and Chicago history.
“I spend between two and three hours a day researching trends, a few more hours editing, and at least 18 hours a week recording on the street,” Waryjas said. “All of this so that I can have content to post almost every day.”
Waryjas is passionate about raising awareness of the importance of the Brazilian community to American tourism. In addition to posting online, she hosts a daily show on Radio Florida Brazil, one of the largest Brazilian stations in the United States.
Lately, his content has focused on visiting small businesses in different neighborhoods, from Spam fries in Lincoln Park to face mask bars in West Loop. She will capture the interior of the restaurant or shop, show her purchases and offer her overall opinion.
“I do a lot of research on places and find out what makes them different,” she said. “I speak with owners ahead of time to understand how I can help authentically market their business. I really like to think I’m part of the community now.
The community aspect of this industry is what seems to be driving the creators of this city. They don’t just see it as a side hustle, but also as a way to connect with the place they now call home.