Everyone wants to know how to make money on Instagram. We’re all on it all day anyways—usually spending money instead of earning it.
In the past few years, Instagram’s endless feed of gorgeous photos has evolved into something between a glossy magazine, your best friend’s taste, and a boutique shop.
With over a billion monthly users, 71% of whom are under 35, Instagram is the platform of aspiration, inspiration—and now, in-app checkout.
There are three major ways to make money on Instagram.
- Work as an influencer to post content sponsored by brands
- Be an affiliate marketer selling other people’s products
- Become an entrepreneur and sell your own products
Read on for our best advice on all three tracks.
How to make money on Instagram
Strategy 1: Post sponsored content
Sponsored posts might be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘Instagram influencer.’ There are over 500,000 active influencers on Instagram as of early 2019.
The base requirement here is a decent-to-impressive follower count and a competitive engagement rate. In other words, this strategy is for you if you’re good at making strangers on the internet like and trust you.
The appeal of this strategy is that it involves marketing without any of the headaches of e-commerce: it doesn’t require you to create a product or fulfill orders. In a perfect world, all this entails is just being yourself and posting about the products, services, or brands that make your life what it is.
Of course, there’s a downside: not all brands are born equal, and it might not be Bvlgari knocking on your door at first. Plus, there’s a wealth of scammers out there targeting aspiring influencers.
Even if you succeed with the sponsored content route, you’ll probably need to reflect on the balance between your integrity and your revenue. It’s your personal brand on the line, after all. And people trust authenticity.
You’ll need to put every brand who wants to work with you through a rigorous “does this fit my brand?” test. Read more about how one Instagram influencer knows which opportunities are right for her.
Here’s how to get started as an Instagram influencer.
Step 1: Choose a niche
If you really want to get paid on Instagram, you’re going to be living and breathing your personal brand. Make sure you truly love it.
And consider how your potential partners see things. Brands will be comparing your audience to their target market. According to a recent study, 55% of brands say they prefer micro-influencers, who they perceive to have a more authentic connection with their audience.
That means the more specific you get, the better. ‘Vegan’ is saturated, so why not try ‘sober vegan ultra-marathon runner dad who interviews famous people on his podcast’ instead? (Or don’t, because that one’s taken.)
Meanwhile, if you are a European heiress/model with an Instagram husband, your brand is ready-made.
Step 2: Build trust & grow your audience
81% of Instagram influencers have between 15,000 and 100,000 followers. If you’re not there yet, don’t panic. There are no shortcuts to growing your follower count, but there are tried-and-true strategies.
Commit to posting consistently. And commit to posting content that is exactly what your audience wants. For instance, @Pedalboard_of_the_day posts a pedalboard every day for his 102,000 followers, just like the name promises.
Step 3: Partner with brands
There are two main routes to linking up with brand partners:
- Find them by pitching them directly. Contact the brands you admire yourself and tell them what you can offer. Your brand pitch needs to provide plenty of compelling details about your audience and approach.
- Help them find you by signing up with an influencer marketing platform. There are a lot of these marketplaces. AspireIQ, Upfluence, and Famebit are good places to start.
On a positive note, brands are eager to seek out effective influencers. If you’re curious about how they view this whole endeavour, check out our guide to working with influencers for some insight into a brand’s perspective.
Step 4: Post transparently
As an influencer in America or the UK, you are legally obligated to make it clear when you are posting an ad. The American Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines require your disclosure to be obvious and easy to understand. Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK doesn’t care for any coy allusions: say #ad, not #gifted.
To stay on the right side of the law, use the #ad hashtag above the fold (i.e., in the first three lines so people don’t have to click around to find it.)
Even better: use the Paid Partnership tag, which Instagram created back in October 2017.
Strategy 2: Become an affiliate marketer
Unlike sponsored content, this strategy is less about spreading awareness and more about making sales. This is because you only make money when your followers actually buy the product. On the plus side, as an affiliate marketer you don’t need to worry about producing that product or fulfilling orders.
The downside is that this strategy requires a solid strategy if you want to grow without annoying your audience. Also, the term ‘affiliate marketing’ has a bad reputation. It can be associated with scammy promises of seven-figure monthly incomes and… yachts?
Approached ethically, affiliate marketing is actually a smart, and well-established angle on marketing. You recommend your favourite pens, or mascara, or dog food, and provide either a link to buy the product, or else a promo code with a small discount. Both link and promo code are unique to you, so the merchant can track sales back to your efforts. You earn a fee or percentage for every sale.
Meanwhile, as Instagram rolls out product tags and Instagram Checkout, marketers are no longer limited to saying ‘link in bio.’ As customers find it easier to buy on Instagram, affiliate marketers may well see their sales increase.
Step 1: Choose a niche
An affiliate marketer’s niche differs from a sponsored influencer’s niche in that they can be more product-focused. For instance, affiliate marketers sometimes start as product reviewers.
If you’re just starting out, you have the luxury of choosing an audience with specific material desires, e.g., dog owners who want guidance and deals on the best dog food. (And the best collars, the best dog bowls, the best dog goggles, et cetera.)
Step 2: Find merchants to affiliate with
You can affiliate with a brand directly, or you can join what’s called an ‘affiliate network,’ or both. (The answer is always both.)
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
Affiliate networks are intermediary platforms between brands who run affiliate programs, and marketers like you. They exist because, while a solo entrepreneur selling online courses might be eager to expand their reach to your audience, a Fortune 500 company must scale and automate their efforts. Affiliate networks are designed to give you a huge range of products to choose from. And you aren’t limited to just one network, either.
Amazon Associates is the most obvious place to start. The limitation is that they don’t offer codes; you have to use the affiliate link they provide. While that’s great for Pinterest, blogs, or email newsletters, on Instagram you have to put that link in your bio, or—if you have a business account—your Instagram Story.
Step 3: Post about the product
As with influencers, affiliate marketing also falls under FTC and ASA rules, so be clear about the nature of your relationship with the product. Fortunately, 54% of people say they appreciate transparency when marketers divulge their relationships, and the #ad hashtag doesn’t offend them.
Strategy 3: Sell your own products
The third strategy for making money on Instagram goes beyond marketing and into the realm of actual e-commerce.
Rather than using your personal brand to sell other people’s products, sell your own. This might be a coffee-table book of your most popular photos. But it could also be your time and advice as a consultant; or your high-end fashion line. And if you already own a business, selling on Instagram is an obvious addition to your marketing strategy.
Turning your audience into your customers may well be a natural fit. And with the rise of e-commerce platforms like Shopify, and print-on-demand services like Printful, it’s increasingly simple to run an online business that delivers real-world products.
Step 1: Imagine your product
Models sell clothes. ASMR slime accounts sell slime. Marketing experts sell online courses. Your product might be a natural, intuitive extension of what you’re already doing, like @rad.slime’s slime shop.
Meanwhile, model/influencer Alexa Chung created her eponymous high-end label, and model/influencer Jeanne Damas founded @rouje. (So now please refer to both of them as ‘model/influencer/fashion designer.’)
Step 2: Build your product
If your business plan involves selling your own products (as opposed to, say, dropshipping—but more on that later) you need to build it. Find a supplier.
Step 3: Set up your account so it’s shoppable
In the past few years, Instagram has been rolling out all sorts of shopping-focused features: the Explore tab, product tags, shoppable posts, shoppable Stories, and Instagram Checkout.
In order to take advantage of them, you need a business account. You also need to create a product catalogue. Check out our step-by-step guide on how to sell products with Instagram shopping.
Step 4: Build out your e-commerce infrastructure
Set up a website to provide more information to your customers. Consider running a few ads to build awareness. You’ll probably also need to build a landing page to guide people through the final purchasing steps. Keep your audience’s experience at top of mind.
Step 5: Post your products
You can hype your products using regular Instagram posts or Stories. Instagram analytics tools will help you measure your success.
That said, if your Stories aren’t converting into sales, you might want to check out our tips.
Step 6: Fulfill your orders
Depending on your product, you can handle inventory yourself, outsource to a third-party logistics company, or live the dropshipping lifestyle (which is when the manufacturer sends it to the customer themselves.)
The more orders you have, the more time you’ll be spending on this, so be realistic. Here’s a back-to-basics guide on how to delight your customers with shipping, delivery, returns, and everything else.
Tips for earning money on Instagram
Ready to try one of these strategies out for yourself? These best practices will save you some time.
Know your worth
Influencers need to know: what’s the going rate for posting a Story (with swipe up) to, say, 27,000 followers? How much do people charge for running a product giveaway to a niche audience with an impressive 5% engagement rate?
When it’s time to negotiate rates with brands, you need solid information on the landscape. Check out our complete guide to Instagram influencer rates.
Keep tabs on your competitors
Use social media monitoring (and listening) to stay on top of the conversation in your field, and among your competitors.
Set up Instagram-specific search streams in Hootsuite to watch what’s happening on the platform. Then set alerts using Hootsuite Insights to monitor what your competitors are up to everywhere else.