The initial stages of becoming an influencer are really exciting – growing your following, creating content and figuring out what makes you stand out. But what happens when it’s time to earn money on Instagram and start charging brands for access to your following and social influence?
There Are Some Things You NEED To Know Before Starting to Earn Money On Instagram.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell when you’re ready to take your online brand to the next level and start earning money in return for all the hard work you’ve been putting into your blog and social accounts.
Because we are often responsible for deciding which influencers get chosen for certain press trips or projects, we frequently get asked the question, “how many followers does someone need to be considered for an influencer campaign.”
If you’re expecting a magic number, we unfortunately won’t be much help because it’s not as easy as it seems. Of course, we could pull numbers out of a hat and and say for example “If you have 50,000 – 250,000 followers with 2% – 5% engagement, you are in the running to become America’s Next Top Influencer,” but we all know life isn’t always black and white and often when working in a space that is continuously evolving, a frequent response to tough questions is, “it depends.”
The secret to effective influencer marketing is not really how many followers someone has, it’s how many engaged and loyal followers they have, i.e. the question of “how strong is their social influence?”
Yes, you have a lot of followers, but do you have influence over them? Do they listen to what you have to say and follow your recommendations? If you’re not sure then you definitely need to test your influence and understand the ins and outs of your following before starting to charge brands to work with you.
Don’t get us wrong, if you’re an amazing content creator, the number of followers you have may not matter to brands or they may not care how strong your social influence is because your work speaks for itself. They may be looking to work with you more for your content creation abilities, not necessarily because of your social influence. But, that’s a different conversation altogether.
Remember, if you’re not pitching yourself on the production side (photo or video), and you’re positioning yourself as an influencer – we hate to break it to you baby girl, but you better have some influence.
So before we get down to business and help you figure out if your social influence is strong enough to start earning money on Instagram, let’s discuss how influencers are categorized by marketing professionals. Just FYI, everyone has their own internal system but we’ll give you a broad overview of the three main categories we use when defining influencers:
Micro Influencer: Less than 30,000 followers
Power Middle Influencer: Between 30,000 – 250,000 followers
Social Media Celeb: Over 250,000+ followers
Then of course there are traditional celebrities with large followings who are considered influencers in their own right and are technically competition, but for the sake of this article we’re only going to discuss the three categories mentioned above.
“Micro Influencers” and “Power Middle Influencers” are starting to earn money on Instagram because their social influence is considered to be the most engaged and authentic.
We’re huge fans of Micro Influencers and Power Middle Influencers because their social influence feels trustworthy and authentic. Their audience is often very engaged and loyal which is a huge benefit for brands looking for sales, new customers and fans.
Based on our experience, most influencers with less than 250,000 followers are still using Instagram as a side hustle and haven’t yet ditched their 9-5 to pursue travel blogging full-time, or have multiple “hustles” to stay afloat. That means they often have less pressure to earn money on Instagram so they keep their sponsored posts to a minimum. As a result, they typically have more organic and authentic content for their followers to consume.
They also feel more relatable because they haven’t crossed over to Social Media Celeb status yet. Being able to connect brands with followers who engage with your content is a great sign you’re on track to start charging for posts and earning money on Instagram.
It seems that once influencers cross over into the “Social Media Celeb” status their level of engagement tends to drop. We believe that having so many followers can make once engaged followers feel that you don’t need their “like” anymore or that you won’t even read their comment anyway because you don’t have time so what’s the point? Yes, brands will get visibility when working with Social Media Celebs but they may not get the engagement or results they need to consider the campaign or project a success.
Micro Influencers and Power Middles are starting to earn money on Instagram because brands are beginning to realize they can spread their influencer marketing budget across a multitude of influencers in these categories instead of working with just one Social Media Celeb whose fees can be astronomical. They can also target different demographics by choosing influencers based on their specific niche, instead of one mega influencer with a following that is more broad and generic.
For example, if a country’s tourism board focuses on different categories such as romance, culinary and adventure they may want to use their budget to work with a travel blogging couple, a travel/food blogger and a travel/adventure blogger. The theory is that people following these niche accounts are most likely interested in these defined categories as well as are looking for travel recommendations and inspiration.
On the other hand, if the tourism board collaborates with a Social Media Celeb with 2 million plus followers, yes, the messaging can reach a large audience but a big portion of that audience may not be travel enthusiasts and if they are, still may not be interested in the specific categories (romance, culinary and adventure) that they promote as a country.
So it makes sense that depending on the brand’s internal goals, there will be a rise of influencer marketing budgets being spread across Micro Influencers and Power Middles instead of all of it being poured into Social Media Celebs.
So if you’re a travel influencer with a not so huge following, but amazing content and a loyal audience, hang in there…we believe in you!
The only catch (there’s always a catch) is that not all clients and travel brands understand the inner workings of influencer marketing and are blinded by “big followings.” Sidewalker Daily does its best to educate them on the theory that “not all followings are created equal” and encourages them not to be swayed by “big numbers,” but ultimately they have the final decision on who gets selected for the certain trip or project.
To be honest, sometimes it’s even difficult for us to not be mesmerized by accounts with large followings, but we have to stop and ask ourselves:
“Is their social influence legit?”
“Will they be able to meet the goals we set?”
“Is their engagement real?”
When it comes down to the business side of your social influence and earning money on Instagram, conversions matter. If you haven’t come across the term “conversion” yet, let’s break it down:
“Conversion” is a term marketing professionals use to talk about a marketing tactic that encourages a customer to take a specific action. For example, if a travel brand would like more followers on their social account and they hire an influencer to promote that action, the conversion we would be tracking is how many people the influencer got to follow the travel brand’s social accounts by their efforts.
Another example is if a hotel chain hires an influencer to promote their hotel in Barcelona and the conversion they are looking for is room bookings, then the conversion rate would be how many people who follow the influencer go to the hotel’s site and book a room.
Basically, the question to ask yourself in evaluating your influence is, can you get people to take action i.e. book a hotel room, purchase a ticket, buy a product? Your ability to meet a client’s conversion expectations is a good sign that you can start earning money on Instagram.
But how can you tell if your social influence is enough to get the conversions you need to earn money on Instagram?
Understanding your social influence and following is important before you start approaching travel brands and destinations because you need to know what you can offer them in exchange for a monetary fee.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Have you tested your social influence?
Ok so you have a whole lot of followers and you think you’re ready to start earning money on Instagram but have you even tested your influence? We’re huge fans of testing because it’s the best way to really understand your following and community i.e. the people you’re selling to. Also, if you’re expecting to get paid on a project, the brands you work with will be a lot more strict with their requirements. Basically, you need to deliver value.
So now they’ve paid you a certain amount for a post, at the minimum, they’re looking to breakeven. What does “breakeven” mean when evaluating a brand partnership? It means the amount they paid an influencer and the amount they earned from the partnership is neither a profit or loss.
Of course, every partnership is different and a brand partner has different objectives when working with influencers so this example is only if their goal is to generate sales, not necessary factoring in content creation, brand awareness or other reasons a brand may choose to work with influencers.
We’ve created an in depth worksheet on how to test your social influence so you can be prepared when approaching travel brands for paid partnerships.
In the meantime, here are some quick ways you can test your influence today:
Include a Bitly for your website or any other click-through method on your strongest social media platform – then you can see how many people are clicking over to your website. This information will be very useful if you ever have to promote certain sponsored posts.
Team up with a brand (for trade) and use a unique discount code to promote to your followers. Make sure to ask the brand to let you know how many items you were able to sell through your unique code. If the answer is zero – reflect as to why:
Was the price point of the product too high for your audience?
Were the images you used quality and on point with your overall brand vibe?
Was it a product or service your community would actually like and/or use?
If you’re able to identify what could have gone wrong, then make any changes you need and try again. If after multiple attempts you’re still not getting any conversions, then sponsored posts may not be the way to go for now.
Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t sell a lot of products right off the bat. If you’ve never tried it before, your audience may not be warmed up to the idea. As time goes on and they are able to trust your recommendations in terms of products and services, you’re social influence will strengthen and your ability to make conversions for brands should also increase.
If you don’t feel comfortable working with a brand yet, get creative! Choose something you already own and love (or purchase something) that your followers may be interested in. Whether it’s an amazing travel bag or accessory, promote it on your Instagram and see what happens. Create a Bitly or other click-through tracking method with the website page of the product or service. Then include the trackable link in your Instagram bio. While you may not be able to know how many people purchased the product, you will be able to track how many people clicked the link and were interested in your recommendation. This is helpful information to understand your social influence and see if you’re ready to start earning money on Instagram from brand partners.
2. When it comes to your social influence, the number of followers you have, and your account engagement – you’re the only one that knows if your numbers are authentic. Be honest with yourself.
You’ve gotten to this point where you have lots of followers who seem to love what you post and have to say. But are these followers for real? Here are a few great questions to ask yourself:
1. How did the majority of the followers you have find you?
Third party promotions
2. Do you feel confident that your audience is interested in what you have to say and may actually take your advice and purchase what you are suggesting they should buy?
3. Are the comments and engagement you receive on your posts authentic or are they from others that are obligated to engage (for example, comment pods, family members, etc.). If the latter, you should try posting a few photos and requesting that they don’t engage with the posts, just to test the true level of engagement from your followers.
Another thing to be aware of is if your following increases, don’t be surprised if your engagement decreases.
According to Digiday, “A survey of 2 million social media influencers by influencer marketing platform Markerly showed that for unpaid posts, Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers have a like rate of about 8 percent, while those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers have a like rate of 4 percent. As following base continues to increase, like rate keeps decreasing. Instagram influencers with 10,000 to 100,000 followers see a 2.4 percent like rate, compared to 1.7 percent for those with 1 million to 10 million followers and more. Comment rate follows a similar pattern.”
An increase in followers and drop in engagement doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your social influence or it isn’t as valuable. It just means it’s more difficult to track conversions as people may be viewing and consuming the content you are creating, they just might not be engaging with it.
3. Earning money directly from Instagram can be tough to conceptualize but the theory of a “1000 True Fans” really puts things into perspective.
We absolutely love the theory of “1000 True Fans” because it makes so much sense! The theory is that all you need is 1000 true, dedicated SUPER fans, to be successful at whatever you do – whether it’s being a social media creative or travel influencer, if you have loyal people in your corner then the chances of being successful are through the roof.
Think about it – when you have true superfans, they are eager to hear what you have to say and you can count on them to support you in whatever you do. They will purchase anything you promote, they will drive the distance to come see you if you’re doing a meet up, they will tell their friends about the cool things you are up to and they are more than happy to promote you whenever possible.
Let’s analyze this from a business perspective. If you can find 1000 unique people to purchase something that you receive $100 from, that’s a yearly income of $100,000. Not bad, right? The theory goes that you can adjust the amount of “True Fans” you need depending on your goals. For example, if you are selling Lightroom Presets for $200 each and you want to earn $50,000 a year, then you would need 250 Superfans to meet your goal.
This goes back to our point that you don’t need millions of followers to earn money on Instagram, but you do need to have followers that are loyal and truly interested in what you say and your recommendations. It’s like the famous saying, “quality over quantity” – it’s better to have less followers that are quality then tons of followers who really don’t care about you.
The key to being successful in this industry and earning money on Instagram is having the proof you need to show brands and partners that your social influence drives action. When brands spend their marketing dollars on promotions and collaborations with influencers, they want to see results aka conversions.
Remember, when working with brands, you want to make sure you will be able to deliver on your part of the bargain. Once you start earning money on Instagram your professionalism and work ethic are in the spotlight and like in any small industry, word travels fast.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your social influence before pressing “go.” Of course, sometimes things don’t go as planned (which is part of life) but at least you know it may be because of an external factor, not necessarily you.
Understanding the strength of your social influence, what your followers like and what they are interested in is invaluable. Make sure to keep track of any proof or examples of the power of your social influence so you can include them in your media kit when pitching to brands. The proof is in the pudding!
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Did you find this article helpful or do you have a question? We’d love to know! Feel free to share in the comments section down below!
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Nina ZadehDirector of Partnerships, MBA
Clairesse BrogoittiDirector of Business Affairs, JD
We’re industry experts devoted to helping travel bloggers get more partnerships, understand their value, and turn their travel influence into a legit business.
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Sidewalker Daily is a team of marketing and business professionals dedicated to providing resources to travel bloggers and influencers who want to turn their social influence into a profitable and legitimate business. They also manage one of the original travel/style communities on Instagram of now over 60,000 travelers from around the globe – @sidewalkerdaily.