How to Monetize Your Instagram Following
Instagram, owned by Facebook, is the largest photo-sharing platform on the Internet.
Because it’s a channel that’s been designed primarily for photo sharing, you need to have a different approach when thinking about how to make money on Instagram.
For instance, while you don’t need a million followers to start earning money, this is a platform where numbers can actually help–but still, steer clear of fake followers! (More on that later).
So who makes money on Instagram?
People like you and I are making a lot of money on Instagram these days. In fact, because Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can expect the same level of dedication from Instagram with assisting its users in their monetization efforts.
But that doesn’t mean you should just create an account and start posting photos, even when you’ve boiled down your niche and want to start plugging away.
The branding principles we’ve discussed in the previous chapters still apply.
Even with “just photos”, monetizing Instagram doesn’t come easy.
Sure, you may be thinking it’s a platform where monetization is easier, because all you’ve got to do is start posting photos and you’re good, right?
With Instagram, money comes later.
First, we focus on building your following.
4.1 Before you go chasing that Instagram money…
One thing’s for sure.
To earn from Instagram, you need some followers.
Not a million followers, but you do need to focus on numbers a little here.
Sure, you can make more money with a larger group, but having a small following of 1,000+ members is enough to position yourself as a micro-influencer and begin monetizing.
Let’s take a look at a few critical elements that can help you grow your following.
How to grow your Instagram fan base
Instagram shares one similarity with Facebook that’s definitely worth noting:
We can surmise that the Instagram algorithm for determining how to promote a post is based on a similar logic as Facebook’s algorithm.
That means we need to pay careful attention to Instagram’s algorithm and its six ranking factors, which it recently revealed at a press conference in San Francisco. The first three are the most important, with the latter three being a secondary consideration.
- Interest: Based on all your interests, the Instagram algorithm determines whether a post will be interesting to you.
- Timeliness: Use Instagram Insights to check the times for when your Instagram audience is online as well as what your top posts are. Ask yourself why these posts are the top-performing, and study them. Then see how you can create better posts that are related.
- Relationship: What type of relationship do you have with your followers? Instagram seems to prioritize people you have a “real” relationship with, so do be sure to form some type of connection with them, for example, by sending them direct messages and liking and commenting on their posts.
The three less important ranking signals are:
- Frequency: How frequently do you post? Figures range wildly. The correct answer? It varies by business and audience. Just take a moment to think about it. If you post 10 times a day, and your audience isn’t engaged because you post too frequently for your niche, then you’re going to lose them. On the other hand, if they expect many posts per day but you’re only posting once a day or every 2 days, you risk losing them. That being said, the most important element in frequency seems to be consistency, so do stick with the number of posts you settle on.
- Following: This ranking signal is one that’s out of your control. That’s because it depends on the number of Instagram accounts your fans follow. If they follow hundreds, or even thousands of accounts, then your content is obviously less likely to appear in their feed. However, if a fan were to follow only 10 or even 20 accounts, Instagram is going to display your content quite frequently.
- Usage: How do your users interact with instagram? Do they spend a few minutes on it over several times a day? Or do they sit for an hour in one sitting per day? The way your fans use the app will tell instagram what content to prioritize.
Now that we’ve covered Instagram’s ranking signals, let’s look at a few other ways to make your images and content more engaging.
- Make sure your posts are high quality
- Use the captions as an opportunity to encourage engagement with your followers.
For instance, you could ask them a basic question like how their week is going, or even what they think of a particular design. (Asking someone for their opinion can make them feel appreciated and feel closer to your brand).
- Use high-quality photos that are interesting to your fan base.
- Use hashtag best practices.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram claims not to hide any of your posts. (Apparently, you’ll see all of them if you just keep scrolling).
Why you should steer clear of fake followers
This is the same principle we’ve covered in the previous chapters. That is, focus on engagement, not on numbers.
Many articles will tell you that on Instagram, you should try to grow your following as fast as you can, without having to pay careful attention to all the risks. Get yourself a bunch of fake followers, and it doesn’t matter how many you’ve got.
Even if you’ve got a million fake followers, when you post content they’re not interested in, they obviously won’t engage.
You won’t be reaching anyone.
On the other hand, if you focus on building a small but engaged following, you’re still building loyal fans, people who will find value in whatever you’ve got to offer.Find out how to grow your number of Instagram followers from 0 to 10,000 in no time.
4.2 The four main ways you can earn money on Instagram
Whatever your niche, on a more general level, there are four main ways you can monetize Instagram. Let’s explore each way closely.
1. Request shoutouts from influencers in your niche who post curated content on a consistent basis.
The image above is an example of someone you can send a private message to, and see if they’d be interested in giving your brand a shoutout in exchange for some of that sweet, sweet Instagram money.
If you’ve got some capital set aside, especially if you’ve got an ecommerce store through Shopify, Instagram influencer marketing is a surefire way to start testing your products immediately.
The risk is lower than advertising on Facebook, and it takes considerably less effort, especially if you can find someone who’s passionate about what you’ve got to offer.
2. Leverage your position as a micro-influencer and publish sponsored posts.
If you’ve already got a sizeable following, this is perfect for you.
(Remember what we said about fake followers?)
So, even with a small following of at least 1,000 fans, if you can show that they’re highly engaged every time you post, brands will begin to take interest, especially smaller brands.
If you’re worried or wondering why a “real” business would deal with someone like you, ask yourself: What have you got to lose?
3. Promote other brands’ products with affiliate marketing on Instagram.
If you’re nervous about being in front of a camera, but you still want to earn from Instagram without showing your face, this might be a good approach for you.
But it isn’t easy.
Instagram is a photo-sharing platform, and it’s a social channel, so people expect to see your face. If you consider yourself a savvy marketer though, you can get creative by hiring your friends to model products, or if you’ve got some sharp Photoshop skills, you can create awesomely manipulated photos that dazzle your fans.
The image above is an example of Instagram affiliate marketing.
Pay special attention to the shortened url (infl.co). The random letters at the end of that link are a tracking code, to see where the traffic came from (in this case, this Instagram post).
This is the affiliate link.
4. Utilize it as a branding channel to drive traffic to your blog.
This last option is the one I recommend.
It’s not only because of the purpose of this book. Creating a lasting brand is the only way you can be sure you’ll remain on track.
With everything else, you risk alienating your fans.
And because we’re focused on building a loyal and engaged following where you position yourself as a trusted authority, it’s best not to try to be too pushy with your marketing, at least until you have something of perceived value you can offer your fans.
Can you make money with Instagram videos?
As of June 2018, Instagram has announced that it has over 1 billion users.
And with that, they’ve introduced IGTV, which works a bit differently from Instagram videos.
There are three main differentiating factors:
- Each “channel” is owned by a creator, and when you switch channels, you’re actually switching creators
- Unlike Instagram videos, IGTV videos don’t have to last 1 minute. In fact, they can run for up to a full hour if you’ve got an account packed with followers. But for us little folks, we’ll have to settle for 10 minutes until we grow our following to a considerable figure.
- Instead of being displayed in box mode, these videos are shown in full screen.
But what’s obviously missing from this picture?
As of this moment, Instagram has not introduced any explicit monetization features for IGTV. That’s why, although there are still several ways you can earn from Instagram, I firmly believe you’ll get more out of the platform by leveraging it as a channel ideally for branding, rather than for direct selling.
4.3 Instagram monetization tools
As with all platforms, to monetize Instagram, you certainly have a wide array of tools available to you.
But don’t worry. You don’t need them all.
Here’s just a few you should definitely consider.
Buzzoole is an Influencer marketing platform that allows you to search and identify brands and influencers in your niche with ease. This way, you can partner up and explore mutually profitable opportunities.
But first, you’ll need to see how much influence you currently have, and that’s where Buzzoole can be a godsend.
When you first get started on Buzzoole, your dashboard will look something like this.
Once you determine your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll have a much better idea of the direction you want to take your brand, including what you might be worth to bigger brands wishing to gain exposure to your audience, where you should target more of your efforts, and so on.
Tapinfluence: A worthy Buzzoole Alternative
Since here at Oberlo, we’re all about providing value, here’s one of Buzzoole’s top competitors, Tapinfluence.
Tapinfluence comes loaded with tons of powerful features.
For instance, if you know anything about data, you know your data tool’s only as good as its segmentation features, and in turn, its filters. It also provides awesome visualizations, allowing you to gather insights fairly quickly and with ease.
Look at how easy Tapinfluence has made interpreting how these influencers in the image above prioritize their social channels. (This should give you a pretty good idea of ways to connect with them on a meaningful level).
Linkin.bio is hard to define. It’s not a plugin, nor is it a program.
What it does though is turn your Instagram images into a clickable, shoppable feed.
Once your followers who are browsing through your feed click on any of these images, they’ll be redirected to either the appropriate product page, where they can purchase the product, or to a piece of content, like an article.
You can even track your followers’ analytical data through Linkin.bio, making this tool simply a must-have for anyone who takes monetizing Instagram seriously.
You can read more about Linkin.bio here.
Bitly is without a doubt the world’s most famous url shortener, but that’s just one of many features Bitly has to offer.
The brand actually refers to itself as a link management platform.
Links are essential on the Internet. They’re addresses that allow us to travel to another destination instantly.
The problem is, it’s nearly impossible for a brand or business to track all those links and where all the traffic’s going. And that’s only on the business side.
For the customer (or “traveler”), a series of disjointed links could disrupt the customer experience.
If you can track where your prospects and customers are going, if you can see what content your fans engage with most, you can most assuredly deliver a better-tailored experience for everyone.
Bitly makes this easy, so as you can see, calling Bitly merely a url shortener is doing it a great disservice, because url shortening is quite possibly the least impressive out of all Bitly has to offer.
I wouldn’t call Linktree a direct competitor to Linkin.bio, even though technically they compete for the same space.
See, if you’ve used Instagram at all, you know you only have one link opportunity, so you have to make it count.
That means, if you have a shop, it makes sense to link with Linkin.bio.
But if you have, say, a blog, a store page, and you also want to showcase a separate service you offer, then Linktree is perfect.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Monica Reinagel is a nutritionist who makes money on Instagram in the health niche.
With a little over 3,000 followers, she fits comfortably into our definition of a micro-influencer.
A click on her link in her description takes me to her Linktree page, pictured below.
On her Linktree page, I’m greeted with four options:
- I can listen to her latest podcast (great for branding and authority building).
- I can receive her “best ideas on healthy living in your inbox”, which is a cleverly disguised email capture.
- I can have my “nutrition Qs answered live”, which is yet another clever disguise; this time, it’s an invitation for a consult.
- I can find out how to work with her. (Translation: I can find out how she can help me solve a related problem I have that I’d be willing to pay her for). In fact, when I click on it, it takes me to yet another page, where she offers her services: Coaching, Consulting, and Presenting.
But what you should really hire her for is to teach you how to build a brand and a loyal following, because she obviously gets it.
But without Linktree, could setting all this up have been this easy?
I doubt it.
4.4 Ideas to make money on Instagram
If there is a best niche to monetize Instagram, I don’t know it.
I know this is the kind of thinking many people approach Instagram with, and that’s fine. It’s smart, after all, to want to take the shortest route to success.
But choosing to focus on the best niche, instead of considering what the best one is based on your own strengths and weaknesses, is a disaster waiting to happen.
So forget about a best niche.
Instead, focus on what you’re interested in enough to want to post photos and share related content on it for years to come.
That means you’ll have a much easier time focusing on what may be considered a more difficult niche to break into by many, but one you’re more comfortable with.
Whatever your niche, it’s your target audience and their interests and needs that must remain your main focus.
That said, let’s go over a few popular ideas and examples to earn money on Instagram. Money making isn’t the primary focus of several of these examples. (They’re not so in-your-face with their promotions).
The examples I’ve selected are of influencers who might not have a massive following, but are still making money on the platform. Let’s pay particular attention to their branding practices and how they use Instagram to drive traffic to their links.
As we’ve reiterated several times throughout the book, you don’t need a million followers. To make money as an Instagram influencer, you don’t even need 100,000.
Even a small but engaged following of 1,000 is large enough to begin to leverage and monetize.
Now for the examples.
Earn money on Instagram with photos
Let’s start with the most obvious one. Since Instagram is a photo-sharing platform, here’s an example of how you can sell your photos, like Scott Wyden.
Scott is a professional photographer and chief community officer at Imagely. When you click back to the Imagely link in his description, it takes you to Imagely’s Instagram page, where Scott’s face is on full display.
His other link is back to his website, where you’re presented with the question, “Why are you here?”, followed by three buttons:
- I need a photographer
- I am a photographer
- My family is adopting!
The first link leads to his samples, where Scott offers his photography services.
The second link leads to a display of affiliate links from Amazon’s collection of photography gear.
The third link is interesting: A personal story about Scott and his wife Melissa’s adoption adventure.
Scott is a proud father of Layla, and he and Melissa are looking to adopt, so Layla can become a big sister. The entire site is extremely personable and endearing. There’s no hard selling; just a link at the very bottom to the adoption agency.
You can follow him at @scottwyden to check out his stuff.
Make money selling your art on Instagram
Jenny Liz Rome is an artist who sells her art online, with Instagram being one of her monetization channels. As shown in the description below, with a little under 10,000 followers, she’s a micro-influencer.
The description also shows that she’s got her own page on Society 6, a brand that features a small gathering of exceptionally skilled independent artists on its website.
On her Society 6 page (pictured above), she has more followers here than on her Instagram. Granted, there’s a good chance that the two audiences overlap, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It means she’s got loyal fans, and they hang out where she displays her work for sale.
Make money as an Instagram model
With nearly 2,000 followers, Heather Lynn is a micro-influencer who’s worthy of a case study.
She’s got a background in social media marketing, and a look at her feed will immediately show you that she’s someone who knows what she’s doing.
WIth product reviews, personal photos, video clips, and articles that link back to her blog, just by looking at the comments she receives, you can tell she’s got a whole fan base of adoring fans.
Not only that, just take a look at the image above:
Kat Von D is paying her to promote one of their lip liners. The post has garnered 279 likes so far. I encourage you to go take a look at her page and study her followers’ comments too. They love her, and they absolutely love the stuff she promotes.
How to make money on Instagram with dogs
People are passionate about dogs, especially dog owners. (I know I am).
With over 2,000 followers, Sarah Wilson is the author of nine books. Most of the photographs on her Instagram account are of dogs, and it’s awesome. They’re not all professional photos, which actually lends an air of authenticity to her brand.
Interestingly enough, her blog is jam-packed full of helpful content, and I couldn’t find any mention of her offering her services. Instead, her articles contain the occasional relevant Amazon affiliate link.
Although I personally feel like she could promote the products a little more blatantly, the fact that she keeps her account clean and friendly does enhance her personal brand’s sense of authenticity, which is an endearing quality many brands invest millions to attain.
Make money on Instagram while you travel
This is our last example.
Veera Bianca is an Instagram travel blogger based in Helsinki, Finland. One look at her feed, and it’s just full of gorgeous photos of her travels.
The link in her description links back to her blog, which is in Finnish.
Sure, it’s intimidating to look at the number of followers she has, as well as her number of posts. (Nearing 2,000 posts!)
But guess what?
I left this example as our last one because I want you to see what’s possible if you keep your eyes on the long game.
Veera also had to start somewhere, and build her following up from nothing. If you go through her posts and her blog, you’ll immediately be able to tell that this traveler has a solid understanding of how to brand herself for her target audience.
Now you do too.
Chapter 4 Takeaways
In this chapter, we covered how to earn from Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.
Specifically, we went over:
- How to grow your Instagram following, and to stay away from fake followers.
- Several ways you can begin to monetize your Instagram account, and the advantages and challenges that come with each option.
- IGTV and Instagram’s recent move to start focusing on its video creators
- Several powerful Instagram monetization tools
- Numerous relatable examples of micro-influencers and how they manage to monetize their Instagram accounts.
In the last chapter, we’ll go over how you can monetize your Youtube channel, the original video-sharing platform.