Have you ever purchased something online after you saw it on Instagram? Have you clicked through to the #linkinprofile to shop a purse, a dress, a pair of shoes, a lipstick or a pair of earrings, mostly because you loved how it looked on someone you felt connected to? That’s the power of online influencers, and they’re wielding that power not just to become someone you trust to tell you the truth, but also to build their own careers.
The idea of the influencer is still relatively new, but it’s ballooned in the same way bloggers took over online media circa the early 2000s (in 1999, there were a recorded 23 blogs; by 2006, 50 million blogs existed). From 2014 to 2016, the increase in influencer marketing mirrored the decrease in print publication, effectively establishing content creators as the new media. So how does one become an influencer? And what does it mean to monetize social media as a career? At the WELL Summit Boston in April 2018, four successful influencers shared their tips on making the most of social to supplement your income.
How to Monetize Social Media for Your Business, According to Four Influencers
Chinae Alexander, entrepreneur, lifestyle personality, writer, speaker and wellness expert based in Brooklyn, New York, says that she “loves IRL. Cobranding, events, sponsorship, speaking—I want to partner with brands on experiential content.” Part of her personal mission is to help women empower themselves to be the best version of themselves, which translates to more than posts on Instagram about brands. The Adidas ambassador says that she strives to “make ads way better,” by building her social presence based on two people: her online presence because she is social, and her offline presence because she’s also not just social.
Ksenia Avdulova, founder of Breakfast Criminals (and purveyor of the adorable heart-shaped acai bowl), says she started BC as a passion project—and was working a full-time job in social media for an image consulting business while building her brand. “The reality was that I was working until 4 a.m. on Breakfast Criminals,” she says. But she leveraged her FT job to begin working with brands. They started by hiring her to consult on their own social media strategies, and Ksenia built the relationships necessary to construct long-term partnerships with them, simultaneously crafting her position as an expert and bolstering Breakfast Criminals. “That led me to bigger, longer-term partnerships,” she says. Now, she does events and retreats all over the world, sometimes because of those original partnerships.
Holly Finigan, founder of Nantucket BlACKbook, says she established a “I choose you, you choose me” mentality from the beginning, with a membership program. That allowed her to recommend brands she loved, and charge for ads on the side of her site. Working in a smaller capacity with brands on the online advertising side translated to brands paying for social placement. They saw the value in Holly’s members, since they’d very clearly opted in, and that made social placement more enticing.
What They Wish They’d Known Before
Says Chinae, “I say no a lot more than I say yes. You have to have a vision for who you want to work with, and say no to the ones that aren’t the right fit.” She shares that her ideal partner was Adidas, saying that “in person, our visions aligned so well.” In order to get to a place where she would become one of only 25 worldwide ambassadors for the brand, she says she “pressed on with who I was, and they ended up reaching out to me.”
She crafted her image to fit who she wanted to be and who she wanted to work with so that, when the time was right, she fit with the image her ideal partner would get excited about. “Having the bravery to say no to other brands put me in the right place to work with Adidas,” she says.
She follows that up with a little tough love: “If you’re not willing to do this on the side to start, the entrepreneur life isn’t for you.”
How Many Followers Do You Need to Have to Get Paid?
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have enough followers,” says Holly. “If a brand isn’t excited about your niche, then they aren’t for you.”
Ksenia concurs, saying she started working with small brands who couldn’t always pay, but they aligned with her mission so well that it worked. “And, as they grow, they’ll begin to pay you more because you were willing to work with them at the beginning,” she continues.
Says Chelsea Williams, founder of That’s Chelsea, “If you get really clear on your niche and deliver consistent content, you can get paid. Keep building your portfolio with brands that align with you really well, and be true to who you are.”
How Do Brands Find You?
Before she had management, Chinae says that she did no outreach to brands. “I wanted them to know me and be excited about me,” she says. “I’m not in the business of selling myself—I’m in the business of being myself.” She adds that if you talk about what you like, the right brands will come to you.
Niche hashtags, like #onairtalent, got Chelsea where she wanted to be. “Be as specific as possible with your content,” she says.
Ksenia adds that you need to put yourself out there, and be vocal about what’s important to you. “You can’t expect brands to go through three years of your posts,” she says. “So put what’s most important to you at the top.”
Chinae follows up with advice to invest in yourself. “As soon as you can, hire out what you’re not good at, so you can be freed up to work on your creative vision. Investing in yourself is like putting your money where your mouth is.”
Want more tips on entrepreneurship? Follow our The Business of Wellness series, and check out what four female founders had to say about redefining success for themselves.