Social media influencers are creating a new class of celebrity. They may not come from the entertainment industries like traditional celebrities, but many of them have millions of fans and some of them have found a way to translate those massive followings into millions of dollars each year.
By getting creative with brand partnerships, patronage, advertising, and more, plenty of influencers are making a living on social media. Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Snapchat accounts have launched entire careers and acted as springboards for major entrepreneurial ventures. There are a wealth of opportunities on social media, many of them quite lucrative. To get a better sense of the potential revenue streams open to influencers, see our guide below.
Sponsored content on social media is familiar to most audiences, brands, and creators by now, and it remains one of the top ways in which influencers make money.
With product placement, reviews, event coverage, and more, influencers partner with brands to promote brand awareness as well as specific products and services through social media in exchange for payment or products.
Instagram, in its dramatic growth over the last year, has seen a major uptick in sponsored content on the platform (often in the form of photos, videos, and Stories featuring brands and products).
Influencer marketing on Instagram alone will be a $1 billion industry within the year and a $2 billion industry by 2019. But it’s far from the only home of sponsored content on social media. Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, blogs, and livestreaming platforms all see their own form of sponsored posts, photos, and videos.
Affiliate links are often a bit more passive than most forms of brand partnerships. These links give followers and audiences an opportunity to purchase featured products, download apps, visit specific web pages, or sign up for services.
Brands and marketers use these links to track where traffic is coming from and who’s driving, then often reward those traffic drivers.
Amazon’s affiliate link program is likely the most well-known, and gives influencers a portion of the revenue made from sales generated via affiliate links. By posting affiliate links for products that are relevant to their followers’ interests on social media or alongside their regular content, influencers can promote products without dedicating entire posts or videos to the products themselves.
Affiliate links can be posted wherever links can be posted, though influencers should be aware of FTC requirements regarding proper disclosure.
Many influencers also draw a significant portion of their revenue from shares of ad revenue.
Services like Google’s AdWords allow bloggers to capture a share of advertising revenue from things like sidebar and banner ads. With enough traffic, bloggers can earn a decent amount of money through AdWords.
Similarly, AdSense allows YouTubers to capture a portion of revenue from programmatic ads (like pre roll ads, along with sponsored banners and sidebars). YouTubers keep 55% of ad revenue generated by their pages and videos.
These ads have been the foundation of internet advertising for almost as long as internet advertising has existed. But they’ve fallen off in effectiveness in recent years as ad blocking software has become more ubiquitous and more sophisticated.
The decline of programmatic ads is a major motivating factor in advertisers turning to influencer marketing. Even so, for influencers who see a lot of traffic and have a lot of reach, ad revenue share may still be lucrative. What’s more, some influencers are earning some ad revenue share with the success of native ads on publisher websites.
Some revenue streams are more direct. Platforms like Twitch and Super Chat within YouTube Live allow users to tip creators financially directly through the platforms. Many blogs also have tipping options that give users the opportunity to donate customizable sums.
Designed to let fans support creators by contributing small amounts for outstanding posts, videos, and streams, tips probably aren’t influencers’ sole source of income, but they make the prospect of creating for a living more feasible for creators who have loyal, engaged, and supportive followings.
Another direct form of audience contribution, Patreon is its own platform that allows fans to support their favorite creators with regular pledges. Something like subscribing to a creator, rather than a specific service, Patreon is like Kickstarter without the finite campaigns and singular project focus.
Instead, Patreon is ongoing and emphasizes the continuing backing of a creators artistic endeavors.
Podcasters, painters, filmmakers, comic book artists, musicians, and more use Patreon as a major, maybe even primary, source of revenue for their work. Patrons can pledge amounts in tiers ($1, $5, $10, etc.) either monthly or per project to form a base of ongoing support.
Related Post: Top 10 Patreon Creators Funded By Their Followers
Successful influencers might also make money by striking out on their own, forming their own companies, merchandise, apps, and more.
Kayla Itsines leveraged her social media fitness empire to launch her Bikini Body Training Company, along with several ebooks and a fitness app called Sweat With Kayla.
Other influencers like Tyler Oakley, Joey Graceffa, and Grace Helbig have written books, starred in films and television shows, and launched merch lines.
As influencers become more popular, they become valuable partners outside of their massive social followings. They have appeal as personalities and celebrities, not just as social media accounts. Large influencers might appear in television commercials or on billboards advertising products.
Akin to traditional celebrities in terms of their popularity and, in some cases, even more impactful when it comes to communicating with younger audiences, influencers have the power to become highly sought-after for appearances in promotional materials.
These influencers are being paid not for posting or creating content, but as talent, taking the place of traditional actors and actresses.
As influencers begin to move into more mainstream stardom, appearances in traditional advertising help brands amplify marketing efforts with popular figures and help influencers become more recognizable to a larger audience.