Top Influencers Earn up to 420 x the Average Income - Influencer Earnings Versus Ordinary Joe Soap
Cristiano Ronaldo can earn more than $1.6 million for a single Instagram post, never mind the millions he takes in through his football skills. Addison Rae made $5 million from TikTok last year. Ninja reportedly took in $25 million from his Twitch earnings in 2020. And perhaps most amazingly of all, nine-year-old Ryan Kaji earned an estimated $29.5 million in a year on YouTube for literally playing with toys. The top influencers can certainly earn staggering sums of money compared to the ordinary Joe (or Josephine) Soap.
Sure, we'd expect one of the world's best footballers to earn more than the average toe hacker, but what makes one young boy worth so much more than all those other kids who enjoy playing? What's so special about Ninja that he can earn a sum most of us can only dream about, simply from commentating on his video gaming? How does Addison Rae not only enjoy 84 million followers on TikTok but a further 40 million on Instagram? And how does PewDiePie manage to earn considerable sums of money on the "wrong" social platforms, yet not enough to make the success lists on his "right" platform?
To put things in context, Ryan Kaji earns more than 420 times the average American income. His earnings are double the average of those made by the top 1% of earners in the USA. And yet, he is still only a nine-year-old boy playing with toys.
Influencer Earnings Versus Ordinary Joe Soap:
Who Can We Count as Influencers?
We immediately strike a problem when determining how much more influencers make than ordinary people from their internet activity. Many of the top-performing influencers made their name offline. In some ways, it is a chicken and egg scenario. Is somebody an influencer because of their online activity, or have they become popular online because of their fame offline?
Let's look at our Top Authentic Influencers Ranking for Instagram. You will notice that most of the names near the top of the list with the highest followings are celebrities who have already made their name elsewhere. According to this list, Cristiano Ronaldo is the top Instagram influencer, with 342 million followers. However, much of his income comes from football activities, even though he can charge up to $1.6 million for a sponsored social post.
Using data from Hopper’s recently updated Instagram Rich List for 2021, we can see that the Instagrammers who can command the most per post are:
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Sport) - $1,604,000
- Dwayne Johnson (Celebrity) - $1,523,000
- Ariana Grande (Celebrity) - $1,510,000
- Kylie Jenner (Celebrity) - $1,494,000
- Selena Gomez (Celebrity) - $1,468,000
- Kim Kardashian (Celebrity) - $1,419,000
- Lionel Messi (Sport) - $1,169,000
- Beyonce Knowles (Celebrity) - $1,147,000
- Justin Bieber (Celebrity) - $1,112,000
- Kendall Jenner (Celebrity) - $1,0563,000
Of course, influencer income is only a small portion of the money that these superstars make. Ronaldo was ranked third on Forbes' 2021 list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, with earnings of $120 million. Of this, $50 million relates to off-field ventures. Conor McGregor topped that list, with earnings of $180 million in 2020, $157 million coming from non-sporting activities.
While the boundary between celebrity and influencer can be decidedly blurry, it's noticeable that you have to go quite some way further down Hopper's list to find people they classify as Influencers or experts in non-celebrity niches:
44. Eleonora Pons (Influencer) - $180,000
45. Charli D’Amelio (Influencer) - $172,700
48. Addison Rae (Influencer) - $155,800
50. Caio Castro (Travel) - $153,800
51. Bella Hadid (Fashion) - $149,400
While these numbers are considerably lower than the money that top celebrities and sports stars can earn on Instagram, they are not numbers to sniff at! Remember that these are the prices these influencers can command per Instagram post– not their yearly online income.
In our Top Authentic Influencers Ranking for Instagram post, we tried to separate influencers from celebrities. As we state in that article, relying on follower numbers is not a good indication of influence. Genuine influencers need to engage with their audience, not merely broadcast to them. Using that as a guide, we estimated that the top five non-celebrity Instagram influencers at that time were:
- Addison Rae - @addisonraee - $79,220 - $132,033 estimated earnings per post
- Khaby Lame - @khaby00 - $84,966 - $141,610 estimated earnings per post
- PewDiePie - @pewdiepie - $43,125 - $71,875 estimated earnings per post
- James Charles - @jamescharles - $49,249 - $82,081 estimated earnings per post
- Luis Arturo Villar Sudek (Luisito El Pillo) - @luisitocomunica - $57,038 - $95,063 estimated earnings per post
Obviously, the estimated earnings per post rates vary between the two sources – the posts were written at different times using differing methodologies. However, they do give a good indication of overall earnings for some Instagram influencers.
We don't have access to per-post data for TikTok, but we recently wrote about TikTok's Highest-Paid Stars. In that post, we included our estimated annual earnings for the top seven TikTokers. They were:
- Addison Rae - $5 million
- Charli D’Amelio - $4 million
- Dixie D’Amelio - $2.9 million
- Loren Gray - $2.6 million
- Josh Richards - $1.5 million
- Michael Le - $1.2 million
- Spencer X - $1.2 million
Remember, these aren't comparable with the Instagram figures above, as they show estimated annual earnings, not earnings per post.
TikTok has fewer celebrities and more genuine influencers at the top of its highest-paid rankings compared to Instagram. Perhaps this indicates the additional time needed to make a TikTok video compared with sharing an image on Instagram. It may also be an age factor too. Most celebrities are older than typical TikTok users.
YouTubers have the advantage of being able to share advertising revenue on the platform. As we have written in How To Make Money On YouTube, top YouTube influencers have multiple ways of making money. They can add to their share of advertising revenue by:
- Earning rewards as a YouTube Partner
- Joining an MCN (Multi-Channel Network)
- Ancillary Products
- Sponsorship, Endorsements, Product Placement
- Affiliate Links
- Subscription Fees
- Crowdfunding Support
Forbes collated a list of the highest-paid YouTube stars of 2020. As with TikTok, most of these top YouTubers are genuine influencers rather than celebrities, like the most followed Instagrammers. But, again, this might relate to the considerable time and effort needed to operate a successful YouTube channel, too much for an active sports person or movie star.
Forbes's ten best paid YouTube influencers (with estimated annual earnings) were:
- Ryan Kaji (of Ryan's World) - $29.5 million
- Jimmy Donaldson (Mr. Beast) - $24 million
- Coby Cotton, Cory Cotton, Garret Hilbert, Cody Jones, and Tyler Toney (Dude Perfect) - $23 million
- Rhett James McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III (Rhett and Link) - $20 million
- Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) - $19.5 million
- Preston Arsement - $19 million
- Anastasia Radzinskaya (Nastya) - $18.5 million
- Stevin John (Blippi) - $17 million
- David Dobrik - $15.5 million
- Jeffree Star - $15 million
As you can see, popular YouTubers make serious money. And you don't even have to appeal to the "cool brigade." At nine, Ryan Kaji is probably the first member of Generation Alpha we've highlighted at the Influencer Marketing Hub.
Twitch is, of course, the home of eSports streaming and video games online. As much as Twitch has tried to widen the platform's appeal, with Just Chatting now being the most popular channel type, it is still very much a gamer's paradise. This makes it a much more specialist social platform than the rest we have looked at here, making it easier for marketers to target the right audience.
As a result, popular Twitch streamers can earn very healthy incomes by playing games while talking simultaneously.
In our Ultimate Guide for Streamers, we found that streamers could make money from:
- Affiliate links
- Selling customized merchandise
- Tournament winnings
- Twitch Bits
- Selling games, in-game items, and t-shirts
- Video ads
eSports Bets scoured the internet to come up with a current top ten list of the highest-paid Twitch streamers of 2021. They focused on individuals rather than organizations. As with most of the statistics listed here, all the annual earnings listed are estimates.
- Ninja – $25 million
- PewDiePie –$20 million
- Shroud – $12 million
- TimTheTatman – $8 million
- Dr. Disrespect – $6 million
- Nickmercs – $5-8 million
- Summit1g – up to $7.5 million
- Syndicate – $4.8 million
- xQc – $1.5-4 million
- Pokimane – $1-3 million
Criss Cross the Platforms
You might notice some cross-platform success here. Addison Rae first made her name on TikTok and can still pull in serious money for a sponsored post. However, she has widened her audience (and income potential) with a highly successful Instagram account. She is by no means alone in operating multiple popular social accounts, however.
These lists bring up a further head-scratching complication. PewDiePie made his name as a YouTuber. Indeed, for some time, he operated the most popular YouTube account in the world. Yet he appears twice in this list – for his Instagram and Twitch earnings, with no reference to YouTube.
In many ways, his Instagram account is merely an ancillary social account for the YouTube star. He still holds the third position in HypeAuditor's list of Top 1000 YouTube channels. He joined Twitch in 2017 and quickly became one of the highest-earning streamers on that site. So why doesn't he appear on Forbes's YouTube list? Who knows, but it probably indicates his troubled time on the platform in the last few years, coupled with the rise of new younger stars.
Of course, many influencers earn money from multiple sources PewDiePie will happily be making money from YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch, with many associated sources of income.
More Typical Influencer Earnings
The above figures are all very well, but they don't accurately indicate influencer earnings overall. Instead, they only give a guide to what a top influencer could make from their social postings.
Also, most influencers will make nowhere near the money per post as the superstars, whether on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, or any other social site.
According to a survey of 1865 Instagram influencers collated by HypeAuditor, the average influencer earns $2,970 per month from their Instagram account. The amount they make varies depending on the size of their influence. Micro-influencers with 1K-10K followers earn on average $1,420 per month, and Mega influencers with over 1M followers average $15,356 per month. The average influencer makes $31 per hour. However, Mega influencers earn from $187 per hour for their time maintaining their account.
This again shows the disparity between top-level influencers and those who have yet to reach the elite group. There is a vast difference in the money earned by mega influencers compared to the more commonplace micro-influencer.
In reality, influencers earn income in a variety of ways. HypeAuditor's respondents found popular ways to earn money include brand promotion (40.15%), building a personal brand and attracting customers to your business through Instagram (21.71%), participating in affiliate programs (14.92%), selling courses (5.12%), and subscription services (OnlyFans, Discord, and others.)
Notably, 21% of influencers claim to work with brands through barter, 23% for money, and 56% for a combination of barter and money.
If we widen our definition of influencers to include creators, we can gain additional insight from our 2021 Creator Earnings Benchmark Report. As we observe here, traditional influencer marketing from sponsored posts and brand deals is just a fraction of the existing monetization opportunities for Creators through social media and digital platforms. In fact, 43% of surveyed creators reported earning $50k in annual income or higher, and 78% make more than $23,500 annually.
The survey compared creator incomes to some other careers in the United States. The average income for a full-time creator was $108,182. This compared to psychiatrists ($208,000), dentists ($147,200), entry-level software engineers ($109,800), entry-level marketers ($45,000), and bartenders ($23,400). In other words, the average annual income of a full-time creator is 78% more than the average bartender, and on par with that of an entry-level software engineer.
While the ordinary Joe (or Josephine) Soap may struggle to earn the money of celebrities like Ronaldo and Dwayne Johnson and top-tier influencers like Addison Rae, Ninja, or the remarkably successful Ryan Kaji, they can still make a livable income. They can do what they enjoy as a creator or by utilizing some other marketable skill online.
We have accessed the data for this post from a range of sources. Throughout this post, we have used $US. Not all sources cover the same period but are nonetheless broadly compatible.