On Getting Paid
I write this with full acknowledgment that most of you will feel I'm whining, or trying to legitimize frivolity, but I'm doing it anyway. Probably because I feel like I'm overdue a good long rant, and because I think there's an educational opportunity. Many of you want to know if I'm getting paid for what I do on Instagram and how it happens, and then there is the segment of marketing, PR, and social media managers all working under the umbrella of advertising for brands (hereafter let's just call them brands for brevity) that I am really hoping to reach. I am doubtful of my impact or influence in that area, as this busy year of Instagram life has proven to me that this latter group only wants to hear from me when they want me to do something for them, namely promote something - they want access to my audience, my following, my instagram, and you'll find that I'm quite protective of that. And then there is the third group of people that I'd like to consider what I'm saying, and those are the Instagrammers that the brands have dubbed 'micro influencers'. (The definition of micro influencers depends on who you talk to, but here's some reading that reflects what I've been hearing about it. I'd say that on instagram I see more of it happening with accounts under 15K as the algorithm changes prioritize smaller and new accounts.) You guys are the big target right now, and sadly it's because brands know you are talented and they know you will work for free.
How's that for an introduction? (I'm not sure I'll be able to convey the information accurately without the use of emojis though, which is worrying on several levels.) Let's get to it then.
The answer is yes, sometimes I get paid. Emphasis on sometimes. How are people making money through Instagram? I'd say a combination of the following:
Sponsored posts: I think most people are aware of sponsored posts, when there is obvious product placement. (You'll see a lot of interesting things being added to flatlays for this very purpose.) I do not do a lot of sponsored posts, and I only feature products I would recommend to a friend or buy for myself. (If I am paid for a post, I will always use #ad in my caption.) In this scenario, most instagrammers have a fee per post, and it varies according to the size of their audience and the amount of work involved in creating the post. This is where people usually think they will start monetizing, but quickly realize that Standard Operating Procedure is bartering. The brand gives you a free product and in exchange they want a glowing post from you. Buzz words include: collaboration, partnering, campaign, and project. Very few will be straightforward about what they want or mention that they have a budget for advertising. (They're just testing to see what you'll do for free.) Some will ask about your fee, and the smallest percentage of savvy brands will tell you outright that it's a paid opportunity and how much they are willing to pay you for working with them. Emphasis on work. They are hiring you as a freelancer, they give you a brief, and ask you to sign a contract. There are smaller brands that are very clear that they don't have a budget but really want to work with you and aren't sure how to do it. These are not to be overlooked. There are definitely situations in which I will do things because it creates a good working relationship with a brand that I value and we both benefit from the partnership.
Press Trips: These kind of trips have been around since before social media, reserved for journalists in the business of travel, reviews, or photography for various publications. They now include bloggers, youtubers, instagrammers, and other social media personalities referred to as "influencers." You get a trip to a nice hotel in a destination spot and have an itinerary created for you that's meant to give you the full experience. You don't have a lot of control in these situations - meals, sightseeing, events, your group - your time is very managed. That's not to say it's unpleasant, it's just that it's often not relaxing for the Instagram group. The journalists will go on a trip, take some mental notes, snap some photos, and rely on the press information emailed to them, and sit down a week later to write about it at their own pace. Instagram expectations are just that - instant. The PRs are your escorts for these trips, and they keep a close watch on your accounts and offer a lot of reminders about posting. So, that enormous soaking bathtub or private spa pool you see in my Stories? Chances are very unlikely that I ever use the luxury items in the hotel because I have to prove that I am constantly creating content during the trip. We get up early to make sure we get the best light for photos, scout out the locations that will work best, often there's a significant amount of styling for a photo, we need time to edit them properly, and we take a lot of photos because we want to provide the best content we can. We are considering our audience, the aesthetic, the accessibility, and all of the details, which is what instagrammers do best.
Most Instagrammers are not getting paid for press trips (but I'd be happy if I'm wrong about this). They are viewed as perks and the brands will often total the value of the trip (not what it actually costs them) as a reminder of what you're getting. Keep in mind that the other people I've mentioned, the PRs and the journalists are getting paid for their time, whether it's their salary or a fee for an article, and a majority of them also get per diem for meals and travel expenditures. It is a business trip. I do not do a lot of press trips, because they are my time and work. It's difficult for me to schedule child care for a "free" trip when the cost of doing so often exceeds the value of said trip. (Obviously it would be a different situation for a single person with only their schedule to consider, but I'd like to see everyone's time and work valued regardless of marital or child status.)
Appearance Fees: Yes, there are people getting paid just for showing up. There are instagrammers that are so popular they are offered money just to attend an event. No, I'm definitely not in that category. You're looking at accounts that are greater than 500K and pushing a million followers. They've reached a quasi celebrity status, and many of them have agents. (I'd say that most of this group are fashion based.)
Content Creation: This is kind of a fuzzy concept. Everyone talks about content creation - and everything is content. See? Not exactly crystal clear. For me, content creation is defined by the industry it accompanies. For Instagram, creating content means making images for my own feed, but also for other accounts or brands. For example, I will spend a few days at lovely cottage sponsored by Kiehl's and take photos of the experience and the products that are then used by Kiehl's for their social media channels. Sometimes I am credited for this work, sometimes not - it depends on the contract - the same with getting paid. I have recently decided that I will only do content creation for a fee, because I've been undervaluing my time and my abilities.
Freelance work: This is the work that comes as a result of people finding you through instagram. Whether you're an artist, or a wedding photographer, or a graphic designer. I don't get hired for paintings or logos, but people do hire me as a photographer. They book photo walks with me to learn about mobile photography, and I also get paid to consult about Instagram - how to use it and strategies to grow an account organically. This is the way I prefer to make money, because it's more comfortable with my own hangups about getting paid. It's straight forward and all parties understand the transaction taking place. There are a lot of people offering e-courses as well, with instagram as their sole target audience. Basically, there are a lot of ways to find work through a well curated account with relevant content and it seems the most reliable way to get paid.
All of these streams combined are not enough income for a family of five, which is why I have discouraged a few people from quitting their day job to become a full time Instagram Sensation. There are definitely people that can do it, but the percentage of people in that group is small and real talk - the vast majority of them are beautiful and young. It's a hustle trying to get jobs, manage them, and often payment from brands is slow - they give you 48 hours to complete your end of the brief, and they'll pay you in two months time.
This is the point at which you will be rolling your eyes repeatedly and tell me that anyone can do what we're doing, so just enjoy the benefits. But that's exactly my point, not just anyone can do it. If anyone could do it, then the brands wouldn't need content created and everyone with an instagram account would have a huge audience. It's taken me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that I have a skill and knowledge base that has taken me years to develop. My instapals and I know our shit. The opinions about Instagrammers getting paid remind me of the fervor and bewilderment from 10 years ago about bloggers getting paid - people don't understand why and they feel okay demanding the details. I honestly cannot think of a time that I've asked someone to explain to me why or how much they are paid, but the age of social media has changed society notions about work and the world in many ways, so I understand the curiosity.
We are often contacted by social media managers for brands to grab a coffee, or chat about a campaign, or figure out how to collaborate. We take these meetings frequently, and during these meetings we are asked a barrage of questions about Instagram, strategies, content, what filters to use, you name it, people have asked us about it. So, the people that are getting paid to run these social accounts get a wage, their PRs get a wage for finding them instagrammers to promote the brand, and they pump us for information about how to do a major part of their job. The fact is, they are asking us to consult with them in return for a cup of coffee and some rehearsed flattery. This is not meant as a slight, I understand that the PRs and the social media managers are doing their jobs, but I'd ask them to consider that so are we, and support our position when liaising with brands. They are asking us for our time and our expertise, but I think the major disappointment is many of these brands have big budgets for advertising that they will spend on print ads, televisions ads, photographers, social media personnel, or other services, but they will balk at the idea of paying an instagrammer.
But wait you say, back the truck up, didn't I just say I get paid to consult? I do! The people that pay me are individuals and small business owners that want guidance about how to improve their accounts. And they don't blink an eye about paying me for this, they just book a time and get on with it. They understand the value of creating a cohesive and styled feed, they value my time, my experience, and my understanding of instagram. Brands want to be on instagram, they understand how relevant it is even if the aging management doesn't get it, but they do NOT value it. Which is funny, because it seems all of the instagram business related advice I hear emphasizes the effectiveness of instagram campaigns at reaching consumers. Any article you read will tell you we are far more likely to buy something that's been recommended by someone you know. It's the ultimate word of mouth. Not to mention that of all the social media platforms, Instagram has the highest engagement rate. (Yesterday, I bought a cardigan that I saw in someone's instagram post, and I knew that was exactly the point of the post - I saw something I liked, that fit my aesthetic and I wouldn't have gone to the shops to find this cardi if I hadn't seen it on instagram. It bloody works on any of us!) This is why I have sympathy for most of the social media managers - they also have to continually prove that they should have a job with the brands, and they have to explain instagram to people fully entrenched in the old guard of advertising. Their managers want them to win instagram without actually spending any time or money on their content. There's not a number on a piece of paper or an ROI staring them in the face - it's a difficult concept for a lot of people. It's a grey area - an intersection of personal and public space, marketing, promotion, documentation, and social matters all jumbled in a virtual world adorned with peonies and coffee.
Can you imagine a different scenario? What if I asked a house painter to come to my house and paint a few rooms for me and when she was finished, I told her thanks - I will definitely tell all of my friends about you. (#somuchexposure) Or you just ask that painter to meet at your house, bring all of her painting tools, and then ask her to guide you through the entire process of painting those rooms? Of course you will thank her and recommend her to your friends, but you really did all of the work, right?
The bottom line is, I pay people that provide a service for me, freelancer or not. I pay for my hair cuts, I pay a graphic designer for my Angry Baker printed materials, I pay my babysitters. I pay for their time and their skills.
Maybe you're wondering why I don't just get a real job. (Yes, I do read minds) This is incredibly flexible for my mom life, that's why. I think I'm allowed to find something that works for my family, the same as anyone else. I really don't like the prevailing notion among brands that asking to be paid makes us greedy divas or, my favorite, "difficult to work with." I think it's reasonable that I ask to be compensated when I've been asked to work.
And now a plea to my fellow Grammers - we need to commit to asking for fees. They don't have to be the same across the board, as we clearly have different accounts and audiences. It would ensure that brands don't take advantage of micro-influencers or others they think will work for free. We don't even have to hold hands; we can just make it the new standard operating procedure. It would make a big difference if we all banded together and agreed that we are worth it.