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A One on One Conversation with Chase Russell

It started with a new camera Chase Russell got for Christmas one year.

Already a Disney aficionado, visiting almost every year with his family as a kid, he fell in love with the parks all over again through photography. “By taking pictures, I realized how much attention to detail there was,” remembers Russell, a graduate of Clay-Chalkville High School and now a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Alabama. “Everything is so beautifully made there, and seeing it through the lens of a camera sparked my interest in a new way.” So about five years ago, he started an Instagram account (Instagram.com/Imagineerinsta) to share his Disney pictures with friends and family. Before long, Russell realized his following had extended far beyond that.

“Once the numbers started going past 1,000, I said, ‘Okay—I don’t think I know 1,000 people personally,’” he remembers. “That’s when I realized this is something I like to do, and something I’m good at and passionate about, so it started growing.”

Before long, Petco, the giant pet retailer, approached him about forming a social-media partnership. He was still 17—too young, it turns out, to take them up on the offer. Then when he turned 18, Coca-Cola invited him to take part in the brand’s “Taste the Feeling” campaign. It’s been upward and onward from there: His Instagram account now has 180,000 followers, and he’s long ago earned his credentials as a social media influencer. 

Here’s a slice of life through the lens of a college student who makes a lot of extra spending money just doing what he loves.

B-Metro: What do you think helped build your Instagram account so quickly in the beginning?

Russell: I attribute some of that to being on the platform early. Five years ago, Instagram was pretty new, and being on there and then being passionate about it made it easy for people to find my page and follow along.

B-Metro: Besides Coca-Cola, what other big companies have you partnered with for promotions?

Russell: I’ve partnered with Polaroid, and recently I got to partner with Visit Anaheim, which is the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, and I was there to do social-media takeovers for their various social-media channels to promote the Halloween season in Anaheim and the Disneyland Resort. They gave me free reign—like, ‘We like what you do, we trust you, so here’s our log-in for all the channels. Have a blast.’”

B-Metro: Is Instagram still your primary social-media platform?

Russell: I’ve also really been moving forward on YouTube. I’ve had that channel for a little more than a year, and it’s something I really enjoy. Doing that partnership with Visit Anaheim made me realize I like being in front of the camera just as much as I like being behind it, and on YouTube I’m able to share videos and a little bit more of my travel life through vlogs…it’s kind of a mini story of my day. There are also times I’ll upload tip videos, because Disney is literally massive, and I do get questions all the time. Since I’m lucky enough to go so often I’ve figured out quite a lot of helpful information.

B-Metro: What are you studying at Alabama? Something tells me you’re going to say ‘pre-med’ or something that has nothing to do with any of this.

Russell: (laughing) Pretty much. I’m here studying Mechanical Engineering and getting my Master’s in Business Administration. It is a joint program called STEM, so I am able to pursue both at the same time. I know everyone thinks I’m crazy for not studying film or something like that, but it’s also been a longtime dream of mine to be an engineer at Disney, so earlier on I used my social-media platform to network and build connections with that. Social media has led me to a few mentors and others in the field. It has allowed me to make professional connections with current executives through LinkedIn. I have become great friends with Steve Pratt (associate project manager at Walt Disney Imagineering), who is constantly mentoring me and helping guide me towards a career with Imagineering!

B-Metro: In the meantime, you’ve built such a large following for your Disney posts—do people ever recognize you at the parks?

Russell: When I visit the Disney parks I am usually approached on average once a day. There have been times where I have met more than five followers in a day, and it is an extremely humbling experience! I absolutely love having the chance to interact with my followers while in the park.

B-Metro: Would you ever want to expand your platforms beyond Disney?

Russell: I do think about it. I love travel as a whole and photography as a whole, and my uncle works for an airline, so I’ve grown up traveling quite a bit. One of my goals on YouTube is to do videos outside Disney World. I went to Puerto Rico this past summer and did a whole series of videos on Puerto Rico. I also love going outdoors, and last year I went to Yosemite in Northern California, and I loved it; I would love to see some more of the national parks in America. And I do want to go international. I’ve been to Alaska and Canada, but I would love to go to Australia and Africa. So one goal for the future is since I got to work for Visit Anaheim, I would love to work with another travel department somewhere else. Travel is one of my passions, too.

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