Instagram has rocketed to become one of the highest profile social media sites. Its fans clearly love its focus on photos and visual imagery. Instagram’s supporters have now turned it into the most common way for people to share photos.
We recently analysed its rapid popularity rise in The Rise of Influencer Marketing on Instagram. Since then, Instagram has jumped to 700 million users, with 400 million actively using Instagram on a daily basis. More than 40 billion photos have been uploaded to date.
With these types of numbers, is it any surprise that people make a comfortable living from Instagram. It may not have the nicely structured way to earn income that YouTube does, but there are still plenty of ways that popular and active Instagrammers make money from the platform.
Summary: Quick Jump Menu
What Do You Need To Make Money on Instagram?
No brand will pay you to be an influencer unless you have people you influence. While your number of followers is not necessarily the most important statistic, it is still very important.
If you only have a few hundred followers, you simply don’t have sufficient influence for brands to want to pay you. You need at least a few thousand followers to consider making money on Instagram.
Brands want exposure to your audience, hence you first have to build up a following.
Remember, though, that even the largest influencers started off with only a few people following them. Don’t be discouraged if you don't have a large following at the moment. All this means is that you need to work on building up genuine followers.
Having a few thousand followers is not enough in itself to guarantee you success, however. Anybody can build up supporters - indeed anybody can buy followers. However, they are of little benefit to you if they don’t interact with you. Nobody is going to pay you if you are unable to influence and persuade your followers.
If you can show that your posts have a high level of engagement then your posts are probably solving your followers’ problems, or at the least entertaining them.
You know that your posts are valued by your followers when they lead to a high number of comments, shares, likes, and in turn, additional followers.
What Can You Do To Create Engaged Followers?
Craft a Good Bio
Your bio contains your only clickable link on Instagram, so it is an extremely important part of your money-making strategy. You need to use your bio well.
Most people who consider following you will first scan your bio. Therefore you need to sell yourself there. Your bio tells people who you are. Keep it simple and clear. Show your creativity and personality in your bio, without going overboard or trying to be clever.
This is just as true, whether you are setting up your Instagram account in your own name, or whether you are setting it up for a business.
If you run a business, use your bio’s clickable link to direct people to a customized landing page on your website, rather than simply to your home page.
You also want it to include a clear photo of you, so people can clearly see who they are communicating with. For a business, you may prefer to show a crisp logo instead, particularly if there is no single face behind the business.
To build up a good relationship with your followers you need to hang out with them online. This means that you need to post regularly, preferably on a daily basis.
According to Tailwind’s Instagram analysis, greater frequency leads to greater engagement. Tailwind found that accounts that increased their rate of posting over the three-month analysis saw a significant increase in their engagement rate. Tailwind also found, unsurprisingly, that the more you post to Instagram, the more followers you acquire.
Engage With Your Followers
To be successful you must be more than a broadcaster, however. You can’t just post your own images, even on a daily basis, and be considered influential. You also need to engage with your followers.
You need to try and take part in the conversations on posts, share other people’s posts and like your followers’ posts.
If somebody replies to a comment you have made, you should in turn reply, to keep the conversation going.
Use Relevant Hashtags
Instagram allows you to make great use of hashtags, to help you group posts on similar topics. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post.
While using 30 hashtags in a single post is probably excessive, you can realistically use up to 15 per post.
But make certain that your hashtags are relevant. You want the right people to find your posts. Thre is no point is using hashtags as click bait. The hashtags need to legitimately match the content of your post.
You have approximately 2,000 characters as a caption for your post. You will use some of these for your hashtags. Use the rest to tell the story behind your images. If you’re posting as a brand, tell the brand’s story. Experiment with your captions, to see what resounds with your audience. Your followers will probably appreciate the gesture if you @mention them when relevant.
Think Carefully About What You Post
You are in competition with millions of other followers on Instagram. Thus if you want to build your account up to the state where you can make money, you need to keep ahead of the competition.
There are already 1 million advertisers on Instagram. There are 8 million business profiles on the app, up about five times the number in September 2016.
This means that you need to consistently post quality images. You will get nowhere my posting boring low-quality images, stock images, or even worse, clip art.
You could consider taking a photography course to improve your skills. You could also invest in improved photographic equipment. You might struggle to compete if you simply upload quick snaps from your phone unless they show totally unusual and enticing images.
If you operate a business account or get to the point where you can make posts on behalf of companies, do remember that you need to keep your authenticity. You will never build up any genuine relationships if you simply post marketing messages. It is generally considered good practice for you to make no more than 20% of your posts promotional.
Don’t forget about using video content. Quality videos can add to your reputation. You can upload videos of up to 60 seconds. Videos are great for helping engagement, too.
How Can You Make Money on Instagram?
Make Sponsored Posts
Probably the best-known way of making money on Instagram is as an influencer, where you make sponsored posts on behalf of a brand. You will need a sizeable following for brands to consider you viable, so spend your time building up your following and engagement before you attempt to connect with brands.
It is important that you keep your content authentic. Your followers will rapidly lose interest in you if you come across as simply making posts for marketing purposes. If you do manage to gain brands interested in you, there is little point in working with any where you can’t feel enthusiastic about the product. If you can’t authentically post about a product, there is little point in taking on the contract, no matter how much money they offer you.
Take a look at our Instagram Influencer Sponsored Post Money Calculator to see how much money you could make.
If you do manage to make a sponsorship deal with a brand you will normally create posts with relevant images or videos. You will need to in some way reference the brand, perhaps with a branded hashtag, a mention, or a link (although links aren’t clickable on the Instagram post). To meet the FTC requirements you will need to identify your posts as being sponsored, as we described in What are the FTC Social Media Guidelines that Influencer Marketing Professionals Should Adhere to? You then share the posts with your audience and eventually get paid.
One way you can find brands to sponsor you is to outreach to any brands you feel an affinity with. Send them emails promoting your services. Make sure that you tell them your follower numbers and engagement statistics. Show them samples of the types of posts you make.
Another option is to work with a platform or agency. These will make it easier for you to meet up with brands wanting to connect with influential Instagrammers.
The different platforms use a variety of different systems. In some cases, they search out for influencers of certain sizes and approach them to join their platform. In others, platforms provide brands with lists of influencers, which they determine by some form of an algorithm. They use these lists in place of signing influencers up to the platform. Some platforms accept applications by anybody who considers themself to be an influencer.
We have reviews of many of the major platforms which may assist you in deciding which would be most suitable for your situation.
Do Affiliate Marketing
If you are an affiliate you sign up with a company and try and sell their product. You get to keep a certain percentage of each sale you make.
As an affiliate, you will be given a trackable link for the products you sell. This means that if somebody follows your link and buys the good, the selling company knows that the customer came via you, and knows to pay you the commission.
One problem with Instagram is that you can’t place clickable links in your posts. The only place you can put one is in your bio. This means that you can realistically only promote one affiliate product at a time.
You can use your posts to promote the product, directing people with a statement like “link in profile” in your photo caption. By sending people to your bio you can encourage them to click through to the actual affiliate link.
Companies offering affiliate products include:
For affiliate marketing to be successful on Instagram you need to search for products that will connect with your followers. Don’t be tempted to try and sell products from outside your niche. All that is likely to do is to lead to Unfollows.A good guideline to follow is to only sell products that you would buy yourself.
Search for products that convert well for other affiliates. Look for products that have received good reviews from customers.
One problem with affiliate links is that they can be incredibly long. It makes sense to stick your affiliate link through a link shortening service like bitly.com to make you a link more pleasing to the eye.
You can take this a stage further by searching for other Instagram influencers with at least 50,000 followers to do ‘shoutouts’ for you. You can find these influencers on:
Promote Your Online Store or Other Business
If you operate a business you can use Instagram in the same way as any other brand. This is particularly valuable when you sell products that you can showcase with your photography. Instagram is ideal for promoting fashion, beauty and food products.
You can create posts giving special offers. Just remember the 80-20 rule, though. For every promotional post, you need four posts that don’t promote your product.
You can still showcase your store or business in more general posts though, by emphasizing its more human side. For instance, you could share images of your customers using the product. Alternatively, you might show your followers what truly happens behind the scenes. They are likely to respond well to these posts showing your more human side.You need your Instagram posts to show that you are trustworthy.
You can carry out this tactic even if you don't already operate a business. You could open up an online store, e.g. on Zazzle or Etsy. You then build up an Instagram account in the relevant niche, featuring your products. Use your Instagram promotions to drive traffic to your online store.
Sell Your Photos
If you take high-quality photos then there is a chance that people may be willing to pay for your best images. Think how many people willingly purchase stock images online.
To a large extent, this does depend on your photography skills. The more you work on these, along with editing and composition, the greater the chance that you will be able to make some money from your images.
You are far more likely to sell an authentic photo than a staged one. Think of all those cheesy stock photos that you see, parfocality on the free sites. You want your images to look real, not played-up for the camera.
Also, you will probably do better if your photos aren’t square. Make then either vertical or horizontal if you hope to give them a resale value.
You can promote your photography portfolio on Instagram using suitable hashtags. Once you have built up a larger enough collection of photos on Instagram you could make direct pitches to websites that you think may be interested in using your pictures.
There are a number of marketplaces where you can sell your photos.
- Foap - this is effectively a way for brands to crowdsource quality photos. You can earn $5 for each photo you sell on Foap. There are also Missions where brands ask for particular types of images and photographers compete to provide the best image. In these cases, brands often pay substantially higher rates.
- 500px - here you can join a large community of photographers and licence your photos for potential sale.
- Twenty20 - you can place photos on this marketplace and make $2 per photo that somebody buys. Again you can enter photo challenges, and receive commissioning work from brands.
Use Instagram to Improve Your YouTube Income
Instagram and YouTube go together very well. Both channels are highly visual media that rely on their users’ graphical content.
As we have previously discussed, YouTube has a clear system of rewarding its top performers. While Instagram lacks the convenience of a centralised Adsense monetization, it does provide an excellent way for you to promote your YouTube channel.
You can even post teaser trailers for your YouTube videos on Instagram.This helps build up excitement in anticipation of your full-scale YouTube productions.
Successful YouTubers can also use Instagram to engage with their audiences. They can even ask their followers to suggest ideas for future videos.
Instagram can be a highly lucrative way of making money. However, you do need to do the groundwork first. Once you have put in the time and effort building up an engaged audience there is no reason why you can’t earn a very good living, solely from your Instagram activities.