In Depth

How much do Instagram influencers make?

There are big earning opportunities on social media - but not for everyone

The world of social media influencers is in the spotlight once again following the release of documentaries relating to a bankruptcy case linked to the 2017 Fyre festival fiasco.

Ticket sales for the failed event, on an island in the Bahamas, were “driven by a very slick social media campaign featuring some of the world’s most famous and most influential models including Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin and Chanel Iman”, says Sky News’ Hannah Thomas-Peters.

The prominent influencers featured in an “envy-inducing promo video and related social media campaign”, reports Thomas-Peters, who notes that Jenner has already received a warning from the US Federal Trade Commission for failing to disclose that she got paid for an Instagram post about the festival.

Such warnings aside, these “miracles of modern marketing” have “smartly monetised their identities and promote products based on their personal connection to whatever is being sold”, the journalist concludes. 

But how much can you earn from being a social media influencer and can anyone do it?

What is an influencer?

An influencer can be “anyone who’s built themselves an online reputation by doing and sharing certain things online”, reports the Daily Mirror. “To their audiences, influencers are tastemakers, trendsetters and trusted experts whose opinions about certain subjects are respected.”

How much is the industry worth?

The amount of money that companies are prepared to spend on influencers is soaring. According to estimates from influencer marketing agent Mediakix, the industry is now worth $500m (£380m) and looks set to grow to between $5bn (£3.8bn) and $10bn (£7.6bn) by 2020.

Crucially, that money isn’t going exclusively to the likes of Jenner and her celebrity friends. So-called “microinfluencers”, who have between 50,000 and 200,000 followers online, are taking a not-insignificant share of the pie as well, according to a recent article in The New Yorker.

“Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of ‘celebrity’ to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs,” the magazine continues.

“Advertisers work with [microinfluencers] precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers.”

That view is echoed by Joe Gagliese, co-founder of Viral Nation, an influencer agency that boasts the ability to “create the most viral and captivating social media influencer campaigns for global brands”. 

Gagliese told Vox: “We actually believe influencers are more impactful than athletes and TV stars because they are more relatable and so their audience is more tapped in. So it’s like, why pay a celebrity $50m for a deal when that can be split up among influencers and make real impact?”

How much can an influencer earn then?

According to Business Insider, the best of the best social media influencers “can earn tens of thousands for a sponsored post”.

But Kat Richardson, creative director of influencer marketing agency WaR, told the BBC that users need around 10,000 followers before they can “start making anything”.

“Once you get to 30,000 followers, for a fashion or beauty post, you could be looking at around £750,” she said. And if you manage to garner around a million followers, you could command £10,000 for a one-off post.

Could anyone become an influencer?

Dr Mariann Hardey, author of an Insta Index assessing potential influencer earnings, told the Mirror: “For the first time, ordinary people with a passion and flair for photography can commercialise their talent - actually earning a living doing what they love.”

For every 14 million Britons on Instagram, one in ten could earn £4,160 a year through photos, according to estimates from Takumi, an app that specialises in influencer marketing.

Viral Nation co-founder Gagliese adds that “you have a great chance of being an influencer if you do something new or trending”, but notes that you’re “more likely to succeed if you’re already privileged”.

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