Five steps to making money on Instagram

26 June 2018

Snapping and sharing photos – and getting paid for it – is many people’s dream job. But is it really possible to earn an income on Instagram? Moneywise shows you how to get started

For the uninitiated, Instagram is a social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone. Similar to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, users create a profile and post content. You can follow other people’s accounts, see their photos and videos, react to content, leave public comments and send private messages.

It may sound like a fairly enjoyable waste of time, but Instagram has become big business, with thousands of Instagrammers earning money from their photos, either full-time or as a lucrative hobby.

Fancy joining them? Here’s a five-step guide to how to do it.

Understand how Instagram works

In short, it’s all about ‘influencer marketing’. Traditionally, people were influenced by celebrities – copying what they wore, where they went or what they ate – as well as by journalists or broadcasters who could reach a high number of readers, listeners or viewers.

But social media means anyone now has the potential to become an influencer. The key is to grow your social media following to the point where companies will pay you to picture, plug or mention their product in your posts.

“It’s all about how much people like and comment”

People seen as having influence over what their followers wear or do, and the things they buy, are known as ‘micro influencers’. This term typically refers to social media content creators with a following of between 1,000 and 100,000 accounts.

How much influencers are paid to mention a company or product varies from a few quid to hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Set up your account

To be a successful influencer you need to pick a subject you’re passionate about and that has visual appeal, such as fashion, travel or pets. The aim of your posts is to build a loyal following of other people interested in the same subject.

“Consistency and specialism are key if you are looking to make money from your Instagram,” says Emily Austen, chief executive of PR company Emerge. “The most successful pages are dedicated to a particular area – be that travel, beauty or fitness. This both ensures you are seen as an expert in your category, but also that your followers are more legitimately interested in your content.”

As Instagram is a picture-led platform, the number one rule is to post high-quality images on a regular basis. Pay special attention to your account bio (biography) as this is the first thing people see when they click on your page. Your bio is also the only spot on Instagram where you can insert a clickable link – most people link to their blog or business.

Don’t be tempted to buy followers or use a bot (an automated robotic tool) to boost your followers. While the numbers might look impressive, it doesn’t fool brands looking for influencers to collaborate with. Authenticity is an Instagram buzzword and it applies to your followers as well as content.

Understand engagement

Engagement is the name of the game on Instagram. It’s not just about your follower count but how often people interact by ‘liking’ and commenting on your photos. As engagement increases, so does your earnings potential.

“To grow engagement, it’s important to be consistent and post regularly on the topics that you are genuinely interested in, as your followers are most likely to be following you because they share those interests,” says Barbara Soltysinska, chief executive and founder of, a platform that connects influencers with brands.

She adds: “Video content also helps people to get to know you and follow you more regularly, and create a sense of community. Instastories [images or videos that appear on your account for 24 hours only] are also growing in popularity, so don’t underestimate it as it allows you to present a fuller picture of you as an influencer to an audience.”

Instagram hashtags (#) – topic labels you give to your posts – are another key way to encourage engagement. Using the right combination of hashtags can help expose your feed to large and targeted audiences.

Philip Story, chief executive of marketing agency Enchant, suggests asking your followers a question or asking people to comment and give you their ideas. “Be super-active in commenting within your community, not just on your own posts. Search for the hashtags that you are active within, and contribute to the community. This will help you grow quickly,” he says.

Connect with brands

Once you’ve built up significant engagement on your feed, it’s time to start building relationships with brands. Once again, interaction is crucial – follow brands you like, view their stories, comment on their posts and follow similar people. You need to be seen as both ‘on brand’, and also with the potential to open the brand up to new consumers through your following.

“Connecting with brands on social media can be as simple as commenting and engaging with their posts, interacting with their stories or striking up a conversation – essentially becoming a brand loyalist that’s known to them,” says Doone Roisin, co-founder of influencer platform Sweet P Social.

“Your aim is for brands to pay you”

Your aim is for brands to pay you, either by offering you a freebie or cash, for a ‘sponsored post’ or collaboration. Make sure you stick to Advertising Standards Authority rules though, by using hashtags such as #ad, #sp or #sponsored if you’re paid for a post.

Exciting as it may be, experts advise new influencers against taking every paid opportunity that comes their way.

“There will be brands and agencies which offer money for influencers to post something that might not necessarily suit their personal brand, and the money can be understandably tempting,” says Fiona White, head of PR at digital marketing agency I-COM. “But remember your post will be there for future brands to see, and if it doesn’t fit in with their ethos they are unlikely to partner with you further down the line.”

Use a third party

The past couple of years has seen the launch of several websites and apps which connect brands and influencers. These include Buzzoole, Indahash, Sweet P Social, Takumi and Tribe. In most cases, you need a minimum of 1,000 followers to sign up. All five of the platforms listed above are free for Instagram influencers to use, as they make money by charging brands commission on top of any posts they purchase.

There are various ways the platforms hook up companies and influencers but, as an example, Tribe works like this: brands upload their brief to the Tribe app and influencers respond by producing relevant content. The brand can then pick the creators it wants to work with, and the two parties negotiate the pay rate.

As a rough guide, Tribe suggests an influencer with up to 10,000 followers would earn £50 to £100 per post. The big bucks are reserved for those with the biggest followings – an influencer with more than 50,000 followers could earn £250 to £350 per post.

Instagram types

Sebastian Smetham, 34, from Bristol, and Finn Paus, 29, from Norway (pictured above) didn’t plan to become Instagram stars. They quit their jobs to walk the 497-mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain with their pug Bandito and cat Luigi.

“The walk took us through tiny villages. We took a dog trolley for the pets, and a tent,” explains Sebastian, “We met loads of people along the way who were really interested in whether we made it to the end of the walk.

So we set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so people could follow our journey.” The pair posted regular videos and photos of their pets and their following grew – their Instagram account Pug and Cat (@pugandcat) now has more than 116,000 followers.

The pet pair caught the attention of a literary agent and pet product brands, which paid Sebastian and Finn for advertising and sponsored posts. “We also got approached by online news community Newsflare about licencing our videos and the payments started coming in,” says Sebastian. “Then we set up a website and started selling merchandise. Our earnings vary from month to month, but we have earned about €10,000 (£7,200) in total, including earnings from Instagram and Newsflare.”

Sebastian says the key to Instagram success is doing something original. “There are plenty of dog accounts on Instagram, but I think we’ve done well because we’ve done something a bit different by going on a long walk and camping with our pets for three months.”

Bandito the pug passed away over Easter after a short illness. He’s sadly missed.

Harriet Shearsmith

Harriet Shearsmith (pictured above), 29, set up her Instagram account @tobyandroo three and a half years ago to go alongside her parenting blog of the same name. She now has more than 115,000 Instagram followers and earns about £10,000 a month from her blog and social media channels.

One of her more lucrative Instagram brand collaborations has been with Birds Eye. “I’ve worked with it on a number of campaigns now, creating recipes for it and endorsing its products. It’s a natural fit for us as we use the products and through this collaboration we discovered more of them,” says Harriet.

The mum-of-three from North Yorkshire says the key to attracting followers is to provide engaging and consistent content, and building relationships with followers and other accounts.

“You can’t sit back and hope that the followers will come, you need to get out and grab them – promote yourself and build relationships, be social,” says Harriet. “Never buy followers. You might think it’s a great plan and no one will notice but they will and it’s such a bad idea. On top of that, as influencer marketing becomes more prominent I really believe there should/will be legal ramifications for fraudulent marketers.”


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