When you open Instagram and scroll past a celebrity or influencer who’s endorsing yet another company’s product, what do you usually think of?
- “Ugh, I wish I could get free swag too!”
- “Gee, I wonder what it’s like being that popular.”
- “Hah! I can do better than that!”
- All of the above.
If you answered D, here’s good news! You have a pretty good chance of hacking it as an Instagram influencer.
Instagram influencers rely on their online clout to promote a brand. They are usually sought by businesses to promote their products or brand campaigns to their online followers. Aside from their niche (or segment), influencers can be categorized according to the number of followers they have. Let’s briefly discuss this, shall we?
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The Instagram Influencer Hierarchy
When we say influencer, you’re probably thinking Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner, or any of those personalities whose followers on IG probably equal the population of entire continent!
But not all influencers are created equal. In a nutshell, here are the four levels of IG influencers, classified according to their “reach” or number of followers:
Celebrities. These are the likes of movie, TV, sports, recording, and fashion personalities—Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, The Rock, and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name a few—whose following is usually in the hundreds of millions.
Trivia: Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo currently holds the record for celebrity with the most IG followers at 179 million—a number more than the entire population of Russia.
Mega-influencers. These are online celebrities who have made a name for themselves on social media in one or a variety of niches.
The number varies, but these high-profile Instagram influencers usually have anywhere from one to twenty million followers. These include well-established and uber popular online household names like Huda Kattan (more on her later), workout queen Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines), and videogame commentator PewDiePie.
These people are more of niche influencers. You probably haven’t heard of them if you’re outside their niche, but they do have a loyal fan base of between 100,000 and 1 million. These include gamers, fashion bloggers, travel bloggers, and health bloggers, among others.
These Instagram users have a smaller following—a ballpark figure would be between 1,000 and 10,000. What they lack in terms of follower numbers, they make up for in active engagement.
Then there’s You. You may have fantasized about being an Instagram influencer at one point, but quickly dismissed that thought, thinking the Internet is already awash with brand endorsers and influencers. But there’s always room for one more—and that spot could be yours.
Me? An Influencer?!
There’s actually a fifth segment of IG influencers called nanoinfluencers. These are people who engage with and advertise to a smaller community on social media—and who is attracting the attention of brands too.
“But I don’t even have 1,000 followers!” you cry out. Don’t fret! Here’s why that’s a good thing:
Flash news! There’s currently a strange shift going on in the Instagram universe. While major brands and marketing agencies still ink million-dollar deals with A-list celebrities and mega influencers to promote their products, studies show that companies and marketers are increasingly going more for smaller fish such as microinfluencers and nanoinfluencers to do brand collaborations.
According to social media marketing and tech firm HelloSociety’s study, small-time influencers that don’t have as large a following as celebrities or athletes have more active conversations with their audience. This means they have the power to generate more buzz on a brand they feature.
Do you . . .
- use your phone a lot?
- have a phone with good-quality photo and video capability?
- have a talent for taking pretty pictures?
- have plenty of online presence?
- have a knack for swaying people with your words?
If you answered “yes” to most if not all of the questions, then you’re probably already an IG influencer in the making!
(Or perhaps you’re actually already addicted to Instagram, so instead of looking at it as a huge timesuck, why not just make money off the number of hours you spend on it, right?)
Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to be the next Instagram darling!
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How Do I Build a Following on Instagram?
One of the very first things brands (and companies that hire Instagram influencers for them) look for in a prospective brand ambassador or promoter is a sizeable following. And while going from having just 500 to 5,000 followers may seem like a tall order, it isn’t rocket science either. For starters, here are eight things you can do to increase your following tenfold—a hundredfold even.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
Okay, this one’s a no-brainer. If you’re on Instagram, chances are you’re also on several other social media platforms too, like Twitter or Facebook. Whether you’ve just created a new account or are trying to breathe some life to an old one, a good place to start earning followers is from within your current network.
It won’t take more than a minute to write a post asking your friends and family to follow you on Instagram. Even better, send your request via DM or PM to make your request more personal (and make your request harder to turn down).
Also, don’t forget to return the favor! Give friends a followback, and don’t forget to check out and comment on their posts too.
And another thing: Make sure to cross-post your IG posts on your other social media channels to maximize exposure.
Focus on a Niche
There are Instagram users who are content posting random stuff on their gallery. Sunsets. Cats. A lovely flower they came across while walking down the street. The occasional Monday motivational quote. They don’t really have a specific niche in mind when posting content.
Then there are people who are more intentional—and focused—about the kind of stuff they post on Instagram. There’s Pat who posts about keto-friendly food recipes. Or Heidi who likes to fill her gallery with photos of handpainted signs she’s seen around the city. Both Pat and Heidi are part of a specific niche, or segment, on Instagram.
When we talk about niche, we’re talking your own unique place in the IG-verse, or a subcategory within an industry, technically speaking. In the first example above, Pat’s post would place him in the Wellness market, and would further fall under the “food recipes for keto diet” niche, for instance.
Niches are helpful if you’re looking to corner a certain audience or demographic. It’s helpful for brands too, since they can easily tell if an influencer is right for their target audience by looking at their posts and who it primarily appeals to.
Here’s the tricky thing: The perfect niche exists somewhere between popular (that is, discoverable) and unique (that is, there aren’t that many of you interested in and talking about it). It can’t be on the extreme end of popular or specific—otherwise, you’ll risk either getting drowned in the crowd or forging a path no one actually wants to follow (pun intended).
More on niches and how to select yours later.
Maintain a Constant Social Media Presence
If you’re serious about growing your social media mini-empire, then you need to take your time on social media seriously. This means committing a set number of hours to connecting and engaging with your network every day. Hey, you’re looking to make money off Instagram, right? Then you need to treat it just like your regular old day job—that is, like you’re being paid to do it.
Budget your time on social media between creating content and engaging with your followers. For content, there isn’t a magic number to the number of photos you can post in a day: others would say a minimum of one high-quality post a day is ideal (and would draw the line at no more than 5 posts daily—hey, no one likes spam!). The rest you can simply share as Stories on your feed.
While you may be in it primarily for the money, it’s important to remember that what brings home the proverbial bacon is engagement—genuine engagement, that is. This is especially important since Instagram’s algorithm rewards consistent and frequent engagement with higher feed rankings (that is, the more you interact with a follower, the more your posts will show up on their feed).
Leaving generic comments like “Cool post” or “Great!”—or worse, a thumbs-up or heart emoji—on every post you come across isn’t going to get you noticed, much less a follow.
When you engage, really get up close and personal. Ask questions or conduct polls on your IG story—that way, you’re more likely to get a reply rather than just be seen.
Bottom line: Make friends on social media the way you do in real life—by making genuine connections and helping to create a strong community.
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Choose Quality Over Quantity
Treat your Instagram as if it were your work portfolio—which it is, in the eyes of the brands you’re aiming to attract.
Aim to publish one high-quality post a day. By high-quality, we’re talking a well-lit, properly composed photo backed by a well-thought-out caption (and some well-placed hashtags). A DSLR camera or a high-quality phone is ideal, but isn’t a necessity.
Instagram is primarily a visual-heavy platform, so aesthetics is key if you wish to stand out. There are free courses and tutorials on photography and photo and video editing that you can take to upgrade your skills, such as those on Udemy. There are free apps as well that can help you come up with more creative and engaging photo content.
Don’t Forget Your Bio
Your Instagram bio is like your answer to the “Tell me about yourself” question on a job interview. It needs to be brief, accurate, memorable—with special emphasis on *brief*, since your bio should be no more than 150 characters.
Think of it this way: People who don’t know you personally are likely to look at your bio first (and your posts next) to see if you’re worth a follow or not. So if you’re looking to grow your following, you need to make sure you make a great first impression by taking time to sit down and craft your unique bio.
“I like unicorns.” No.
“Pizza is life.” No.
“Coffee first, then we’ll talk.” Probably accurate, but still no.
You can use your bios to make you sound cute or clever, but first and foremost, your bio needs to be targeted (to your follower demographic) and intentional (that is, reading it should make first-time visitors to your profile want to follow you).
So what makes a good bio?
- It gives people an idea of who you are and what you do. Your bio sums up, in a word or two, who you are (your profession, for instance) as well as tells people about any skills, talents, hobbies, and interests you may have—written in a language that appeals to the people you’d want to follow you. It can be as simple as “I am a full-time mom of two, a part-time online pencil pusher, and an avid documenter of sunsets.” The important thing is it needs to accurately reflect who you are.
- It has a clear call to action. Like we said earlier, if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. If you want someone to follow you, say so in your bio. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a simple “Follow me!” or a wordier “Follow me for your daily dose of . . . ” will do.
Widen your exposure with #hashtags
If you’re already on Instagram, you probably get those random likes and follows from people you don’t know (or even people from another continent). Chances are, these people found your post via the hashtag you used on one of your posts.
Hashtags are the third part of the Instagram trifecta (the first two being your bio and your content). Aside from making your profile discoverable to other users, using hashtags also allows you to be part of a bigger community on Instagram.
Here are a couple of things to note when using hashtags:
- Choose hashtags that speak to your tribe. Let’s say you’re looking to attract followers, specifically working moms. Make sure to use hashtags that your target community is likely to use and search for. There are hashtag search engines (like All Hashtag, Hashtagify.me, or Display Purposes) that can help you create relevant hashtags as well as clue you in on which hashtags are worth using and which ones are best left out (hello #likeforlike and #mustfollow—not).
- Don’t overdo it. While there isn’t a magic number to how many hashtags you can use in a single post, the principle of “less is more” is best applied. A healthy number would be between one and five. Upwards of twenty is probably overkill (FYI: Instagram actually draws the line at 30).
TIP: If you’ve reached the 2,200-character limit in your caption, you can add your hashtags as the first comment in your post. Which is great if you hate clutter (which is what a surplus of #hashtags #one #after #the #other kind of looks like).
Join IG engagement pods
As mentioned previously, Instagram recently changed its algorithm. From previously populating your feed chronologically, Instagram now usually highlights posts from users you interact with often as well as users and brands Instagram thinks you might be interested in (based on your likes and interactions).
This change might make it harder for up-and-coming influencers to be seen. That’s why engagement pods have become a thing now.
Engagement pods are groups of IG users that agree to bolster each other’s posts by engaging and liking each member’s content, usually at a scheduled time (or a “drop”). As this Hootsuite writer’s experience shows, joining engagement pods can drastically increase your engagement rates (hers went up by more than 1,000 percent).
The downside? These pods are somewhat elusive, so you’ll have to do some serious sleuthing to find and be part of one. As the abovementioned article suggests, you can search Facebook, Reddit, Telegram, and Instagram itself for engagement pods, or you can try your luck and google “<your niche> engagement pods.”
See? That’s not too hard now, is it? So now that we’ve demystified the art of getting more followers on Instagram, let’s answer some of the burning questions you may have about making money off being an Instagram influencer or brand ambassador.
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How Do You Make Money on Instagram?
You may be wondering, “How exactly do I make money using my Instagram account?” Is it as simple as striking a pose and posting it for all your followers to see (and hopefully like)? Well, probably, if your name ends with Kardashian. But if you’re a relative unknown, you will have to build your online reputation from the ground up with a lot of hard work—and maybe some luck.
Here are just some ways you can profit off your time on Instagram:
Selling a product or service
So the most obvious way to make money on Instagram is by using it as a marketing channel or tool. Suppose you like to bake cookies. Well then, what better way to get the word out than by using Instagram to market to potential customers (a.k.a. followers), right? Even better, it’s free to open an Instagram business account. (Note: You will need to have an existing Facebook page before you can sign up for a business profile.)
Becoming an affiliate
Another way to make money off your Instagram account is by earning commissions from selling other people’s products via affiliate links. Basically, it’s when you drive traffic (and hopefully, sales) to a company’s product or services by talking about them on your post.
Take note though that direct linking is not allowed on Instagram. (If you haven’t noticed it yet, URLs on IG comments or captions don’t appear in blue and aren’t clickable). The only section you can post a link that your followers can click on is on your bio.
Getting sponsorships by posting about products
So this is the sweet spot that most Instagram influencer-wannabes aspire to be in. Some brands may seek you out to post about their merch in exchange for getting free stuff (a pretty sweet deal, if you ask us). Others will pay you to post about their product to your followers. Easy money, right? But then again, you probably have to be a few steps up the “influencer hierarchy” in order to get paid to sponsor a post. Also, you stand a better chance of getting noticed by brands if you work within a particular niche.
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How Much Money Can I Make as an Influencer?
Good question. Influencers usually get paid per sponsored post. The rates vary, although it typically follows that the wider your reach (in other words, the greater your number of followers), the higher the rates you command. But again, brands are also looking at an influencer’s engagement rates too.
Viral Nation, an influencer agency that has a stable of around 10,000 influencers, estimates a fledgling nanoinfluencer’s yearly earnings at between $30,000 and $60,000 USD and micro-influencers’ at between $40,000 and $100,000.
Aside from an influencer’s follower count, other variables that dictate market rate include the type of platform (with YouTube and IG being the two most popular) and the type of niche (the gaming industry is currently the most lucrative).
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Are All Niches Profitable?
There are currently about 2,000 niches swirling around on social media as of our last count. Not all niches are and can be monetized. Out of the many, here are just some of the most popular—and profitable—industries within which you can carve your niche:
- Health and fitness
- Online Marketing
- Arts and Crafts
- Love and Relationships
- Gaming and Tech
How Do I Choose a Niche?
Well, if you’re all about the money, you can go with any of the profitable niches we mentioned. However, with competition probably already neck-deep in those areas, you better have some pretty special tricks up your sleeve (like perhaps changing your last name to Kardashian).
When choosing a niche for your Instagram profile, it’s always a good idea to “follow your heart.” That sounds so cliché, but here’s basically what we mean by that:
The Perfect Niche Is a Combination of Passion and Knowledge
What are you passionate about? What or where do you spend most of your resources (time, money) on? Is it something you know (or are willing to learn) a lot about or are really good at, and don’t mind talking about on Instagram 24/7? Asking yourself these questions could help you identify your niche.
Here’s another great way to go about finding your perfect niche: When you’re on Instagram yourself, which niches do you naturally gravitate towards (in terms of accounts or hashtags you follow or posts you like)? Is there a hole or gap within it that you can fill?
For instance, if you like calligraphy, then you can try your hand at documenting your attempts to write artistic lettering on Instagram. You don’t have to be super good at it, but you do have to be invested in it—otherwise, you’re going to get tired of that subject pretty quickly and probably won’t be able to sustain your interest in it long enough.
Torn Between Niches?
Having trouble deciding which niche to go for? The good news is, if you’re aspiring to be a micro or nanoinfluencer, you don’t actually have to stick to just one niche. You can actually touch on several segments or niches in your posts that revolve around your life, interests, and hobbies.
However, don’t be totally all over the place too—otherwise, brands will have a tough time pegging you in a certain category. You know what they say about spreading yourself too thin trying to cover all bases, right? It’s never a good thing, and the same goes for being an influencer too.
If you need help picking out a niche, head on over to Google Trends and to see how many people are talking about a topic or idea you’re interested in.
The bottom line: Take time out to really, really think about your niche first. The rest will follow.
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What Do Brands and Marketers Look for in an Influencer?
Here are qualities you can cultivate in order to increase your chances of tying up with brands and businesses:
Confidence, the ability to sway or influence people’s opinions, tact mixed with conviction—these are qualities brands look for, especially if they’re looking for ambassadors and not just endorsers. That said, it’s important that you come across as an authority in whatever field or niche you want to specialize in.
There are quite possibly a hundred (or a thousand even) other people within a niche you’re in, so it pays to have your own voice—and look—to make sure you stand out. A sense of humor is a bonus too.
Brands want to see a real human being behind all that perfectly curated content. Don’t be afraid to talk about difficult issues with your followers once in a while. It helps make you more relatable, which is what brands want from their endorsers.
Speaking of authenticity: Don’t cheat or use shortcuts, like paying for an app or software or service that promises to multiply your followers. Companies and agencies know how to sniff that fake stuff out.
Aside from followers, marketers looking to pair an influencer with a client will usually look at whether your profile will make a good fit for the target demographic a brand is looking for. (Geography is another factor.)
This is something that’s hugely dependent on client or brand preference though, and therefore is outside your control. So don’t feel bad (or worse, cry sexism) if a luxury brand of men’s watches doesn’t consider you a good fit for its product. There are battles you’re just not meant to win, sister.
Value for Money
Influencer marketing is a growing billion-dollar industry. And with an increasing number of brands willing to spend on this new trend, competition can get intense. Strive to put out high-quality content, not just run-of-the-mill, generic posts. Add value by learning skills that are relevant to your work (like video editing for produced content, for instance) and will place you a cut above the rest.
I’m All Set Up—What’s Next?
Clever IG username? Check.
Rocking bio? Check.
Targeted posts? Check.
1,000 followers? Working on it, but in a month or so will place a check next to that too.
Congratulations, companies should start flooding you with DMs, asking you for sponsorship deals any minute now!
Okay, so it doesn’t exactly work that way. Getting clients isn’t going to happen overnight, and you’re not likely to come across one any time soon if you just sit and wait it out.
Getting your first deal is going to take a bit of guts, patience, and some legwork. Meanwhile, here’s what you can do to up your chances.
Don’t go for the big fish right away, knocking on the doors of Adidas, Louis Vuitton, or Revlon. Instead, seek out microbusinesses looking to grow their presence on social media.
Don’t expect to get paid in cash right away too. Expect to be offered free products or coupons in exchange for your service while you’re still growing your reputation and portfolio. That said, make sure to reach out to brands and products you genuinely love and support.
“How do I search for local businesses?” Instagram’s geolocation tool can help you scout for brands within your neighborhood. Also try searching for hashtags of stuff that interest you, and DM or e-mail brands or businesses within a niche close to you.
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Prepare Your Portfolio
While your Instagram gallery is your walking work portfolio, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared with an actual portfolio of work that you’ve done and that you can show to prospective clients or agencies when you try to strike a deal with them.
A portfolio can be as simple as a PowerPoint presentation, a one-page PDF document, or a simple web page that summarizes your interests, work experience, talents, skills, and hobbies.
Be Prepared to Talk Business
Being an influencer is still very much a business as it is a lifestyle or a hobby. When advertising or promoting your services to a brand or agency, make sure to answer the question, “What’s in it for you?” as well as convince them why you are worth investing in.
When offering your services, expect to be asked on ROI or sales and lead generation. That said, know the language of the industry and be prepared to present facts and figures.
Bottom line: Your future clients have to see the value in getting your services.
Command a Fair Price
“How much am I really worth?” or “How much do I charge per post?” are common questions to ask if you’re still new. With rates being highly variable, it can be easy to under- or overcharge.
Aside from using the estimates we gave, do your own research so you gain a more accurate insight into how much you should charge in the niche you are in.
You can use web-based tools such as Instagram Influencer Earnings Calculator or Webfluential’s Influence Estimator, which look at how much engagement (likes, comments, and shares) your posts generate on average in order to estimate how much your individual post is worth.
Expect plenty of “nos” and closed doors when you pitch your services as an influencer. Don’t be discouraged! Just keep at it. They say that the road to success is filled with plenty of rejections. The key is to never give up.
Consider Upgrading to a Business or Creator Profile
As soon as you get your first milestone, like getting from 150 to 1,500 followers (which is not an easy feat!), you may want to upgrade your Instagram suite by going for a Business Profile, which allows you to place contact details in your bio, schedule posts, and know more about your audience via Instagram Insights.
UPDATE: Instagram is currently testing a new profile specifically tailored for influencers. Creator Profiles is Instagram’s latest update for “public figures, content producers, artists, and influencers,” and will feature tools that will allow influencers to reach out to more users and engage more with the current followers.
Another cool feature available on the Creator Profile is shoppable posts (previously available for Business profiles). With this, followers who want to buy what a Creator is promoting on her post can buy it without having to leave Instagram.
For now, it’s not clear yet who will qualify for the update, but it’s definitely something to look forward to!
Instagram Influencers We Love
If you’ve read this far and are still on the fence about pursuing a side hustle being an Instagram influencer, we’ve compiled a list of people who were literally nobodies before Instagram, but are now making a killing with every photo they post. Without further ado, here are a couple of Instagram influencers whose stories can inspire you to work on getting started on your own journey.
Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty)
Claim to fame: Makeup tutorials
Reach: 29 million
Her first name needs no introduction. American-Iraqi Huda Kattan, founder and CEO of cosmetics giant Huda Beauty, was an Oklahoma-based makeup artist who started out as a beauty blogger, eventually joining Instagram in 2012 where she published how-to videos and makeup tutorials using only her iPhone 4.
In the 7 years since she’s joined Instagram, Huda has amassed almost 30 million followers and is currently Instagram’s Top Influencer, earning as much as $18,000 USD per sponsored post.
Zach King (@zachking)
Claim to fame: mind-bending digitally edited “magic” videos
Reach: 19 million
If you’re not familiar with his name, we’re sure you’ve seen at least one of his short videos where he seems to perform astounding feats of digit sleight of hand, like jumping and disappearing into a pile of laundry or smashing into a wall and breaking through the other side.
While King has been posting his videos on YouTube since 2008, his fame shot through the roof on the now-defunct app Vine, where he posted his six-second videos. With the demise of Vine, King now mostly posts his short videos on Instagram, along with pictures of his family—and of course, the occasional sponsored post.
Kali Kushner (@myfacestory)
Claim to fame: honest reviews of acne products
You probably haven’t heard of her, but Kali Kushner is one of the faces behind the global #AcnePositivity movement, whose primary message is about finding beauty and self-love in and despite your skin imperfections.
Kushner started off by posting about her battle with cystic acne on Instagram, where she documented skincare treatments and products that worked or didn’t work for her. Her openness about her struggle with severe acne as well as her positive outlook in dealing with it inspired countless others to embrace their imperfections as well.
And it seems like Kushner isn’t alone in her struggle with acne. She currently has more than 60,000 followers, and has even partnered with big-name brands such as Sephora and Murad.
Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines)
Claim to fame: High-intensity workouts that help you achieve your #bikinibodygoals
Reach: 11.7 million
Australian fitness guru Kayla Itsines is our definition of #womangoals. Aside from being an Instagram superstar, she’s also the author of the popular Bikini Body Guide series of print and ebooks and creator of the Sweat with Kayla workout app (which has had 5 million downloads on Google Play and is Editor’s Choice on the App Store). And did we mention she isn’t even 30 yet?
Kayla’s IG gallery is a well-curated mix of workout videos, women empowerment messages, food guides, lifestyle posts (she loves posting photos of her Greek hometown), and—now that she’s also a mother—parenting posts. She keeps it real by showing audiences an occasional glimpse into her personal life, but sticks to her main niche, which is fitness and health.
While she may have more than 10 million followers, Kayla encourages engagement with her tribe by regramming her followers’ posts (mostly before-and-after photos of BBG fans).
The Final Word
Becoming an Instagram influencer may sound glamorous, but make no mistake—it takes a lot of hard work and persistence too. But if you put in the time and effort to upgrade your content-making skills, engage with and grow your IG tribe, and really get your name and services out there, you are sure to be rewarded with an actively engaged follower community. With that, your first sponsored ad gig will not be far off.
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