While many might scoff at the very idea of “social media influencer” being a legitimate job title, there’s no denying it can be a lucrative and rewarding career path. The influencer marketing industry was worth around $1.7 billion in 2016, but its value has soared to $16.4 billion since (an 865% increase in just 8 years).
With that in mind, more and more people are turning to social media influence to supplement their incomes, or even launch a new career. But just how do social media influencers make money?
In this post, we’ll explore 5 of the most effective ways to generate income as a social media influencer in 2023 and beyond. Let’s begin.
Posting sponsored content
Often the most common way for influencers to make money is through sponsored content, and this is particularly true of those just starting out on their influencer journeys. Sponsored content simply means that a brand has engaged an influencer to create content featuring the brand and share it with their followers — for which the influencer is paid, of course; hence the term “sponsored”. In exchange, the brand has the opportunity to generate exposure and build brand awareness.
Sponsored content can take a couple of forms:
- Sponsored social media posts are the most common form of sponsored content, where a brand pays an influencer in exchange for mentioning them — or more likely one of their products or services — in a social media post.
- An influencer can also generate income through sponsored blog posts. Creating a blog is a great way to offer your followers more in-depth content, while brands can increase exposure and click-through rates to their products by sponsoring an influencer to mention and link to their product in a blog post.
Becoming a brand ambassador
Many influencers generate income by becoming an ambassador for certain brands. It’s generally a win-win relationship between a brand and an influencer because the brand gets exposure for their products or services, and the influencer gets paid for mentioning the brand in their posts. Brands tend to hire social media ambassadors on a long-term basis and pay them a retainer fee (rather than per post) so it can be a great way for an influencer to generate a regular income.
Of course, brand ambassadors will generally already have a large number of followers — as the brand will want to reach as many social media users as possible — so you’ll need to build up a significant following first, but the key to grabbing brands’ attention is consistently posting high-quality content that aligns with their niche and values. Brands will typically work with influencers who naturally fit with their identity and will appeal to their target audience.
One thing to note, however: consumers appreciate honesty and transparency when it comes to brand affiliations and sponsored content. In fact, 1 in 5 social media users say they’d unfollow an influencer if they were not upfront about advertising or sponsorships, so it’s important to let your followers know when you’re being paid for content — rather than trying to pass it off as content you’ve generated organically.
Selling digital products
An increasingly popular way for influencers to generate additional revenue is by offering digital products in exchange for a fee. This could be anything from recipe guides to web design templates, workout plans to online webinars. Digital content is usually fairly inexpensive to produce, so there’s potential to make a significant profit if your content is of high quality and you distribute it well.
Say you’re a marketing influencer: you could sell educational content (downloadable ebooks, guides, or access to a series of webinars) to followers who are willing to pay for your expertise. Perhaps you’re a fitness influencer, and you could generate income by charging a fee for workout guides and diet plans. Whatever your niche, there’s likely an opportunity to generate digital content that your most loyal followers would be willing to part with their cash for.
You could even offer your digital products on a subscription basis — where subscribers pay a monthly or annual fee for unfiltered access — to generate a long-term, predictable revenue stream. You can make it easy for your followers to pay for their subscriptions using a payment gateway such as Stripe, which integrates with the subscription platform Chargebee to make managing digital subscriptions a breeze.
Starting a podcast
In the US, more than 3 in 5 consumers listen to podcasts (that figure has doubled in the last decade) and if you’re an influencer with an already healthy following, chances are your audience would lap up some additional podcast content. A podcast is a great way of forging a closer connection with your followers, but it also might have the added benefit of opening you up to a new audience that may have previously not been aware of you as an influencer.
With a podcast, you can muse about any subject you like: you can keep the chat quite general, or you can focus on your specific niche — if you’re a food influencer, for example, you might talk about your favorite recipes or restaurants, or interview others about their culinary likes and dislikes. A podcast can generate income for an influencer in a number of ways:
- By offering paid membership via a service such as Patreon, you can charge listeners for exclusive content that those listening for free don’t have access to — exclusive interviews, podcast ‘swag’, or the ability to watch the show as a video.
- Many podcasters earn money through advertising and sponsorship (“this episode is brought to you by [insert brand name here]…”) and the more listeners your show generates, the more you can charge brands for advertising via your pod.
- If your podcast becomes a hit, your listeners may be willing to pay for tickets to a live version of your show. This is riskier, of course (as live events are expensive to run), so you’ll need to be confident you can attract a sizable audience.
Using affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is another way influencers can earn money from their content. It’s essentially a referral strategy where the influencer receives a commission on any sales or leads generated which can be directly attributed to their content using a unique and traceable affiliate link. Brands may use an affiliate marketing platform such as Upfluence to create affiliate programs and tap into an influencer-based marketing model.
Affiliate programs typically work on a performance-based arrangement, and commission is calculated using one of three main models:
- Pay-per-click means that the influencer will receive a commission based on the traffic generated to the brand’s website — or a specific page — from the influencer’s post, which can be traced using a unique affiliate link.
- Pay-per-lead means that the influencer will earn money each time a user becomes a new ‘lead’ — for example, they enter their details into a sales enquiry form on the brand’s website — where their visit can be traced back to the influencer’s post.
- Pay-per-sale, as it sounds, means that the influencer will generate revenue each time the brand makes a sale as a direct result of the influencer’s post. The commission will usually be calculated as a percentage of the sale value.
Clearly, a career — or even a ‘side hustle’ — as a social media influencer can be a lucrative one if you know how to monetize your content. By posting high-quality content and building a large following, you can encourage brands to sponsor you for posting about their products, become a brand ambassador or affiliate, and boost your income further by creating exclusive content and digital products.