Instagram is a force of nature.
What was merely a photo-sharing app initially has become one of the top social media platforms in less than seven years.
It just goes to show how well people respond to simple, visual-driven content.
And I highly doubt that it will be slowing down anytime soon.
No matter how you slice it, people love Instagram, and it’s one of the most popular ways to share photos.
In many cases, I even choose Instagram over Google Images when searching for photos.
It’s just so easy and accessible, and the vast majority of the images are super high quality.
The opportunity for monetization
But as with any major social platform, a marketer’s first instinct is to find ways to make money from it.
You may be asking yourself, “How can I leverage the inbuilt user base to generate legitimate income?”
In this post, I would like to discuss a few different techniques and ways to go about it.
Some are on the smaller scale where you may earn less than $200 a month.
Others are on the larger scale where you could potentially earn $10,000 plus a month.
Your earning potential is basically contingent upon the size of your following and how much time you’re willing to put in.
Most run-of-the-mill articles you read about making money on Instagram will tell you something obvious: Run ads! Announce products! Cultivate a following.
Look, I’m all about that stuff. I even wrote an article that explains how to get 300+ followers a day. Yes, a day.
But, really, most people I talk to just want to do one thing with Instagram — make money.
How do you go from zero to moolah with a few simple tactics?
Let’s get right down to it.
Tactic #1 – Sell your photos
Stock photo sites are huge these days.
If you run a blog or any type of website, there’s a good chance that you’ve used stock images at some point.
A while back I came across a website called Foap, which has dubbed itself “the next wave of stock photography.”
Rather than brands paying big money for photos from professionals or settling for those mediocre (and often cheesy) stock photo sites, Foap is becoming a popular alternative.
Here’s how it works.
- You sign up
- You build a profile
- You create a portfolio of your best images that you’d like to sell
- You earn $5 for each image you sell (you can sell the same image an unlimited number of times)
Here’s a quick overview of the signup process.
Click “Sign Up” from the Foap homepage.
Select “Photographer,” which indicates that you want to sell images.
Then, either download it from the Apple App Store or get it on Google Play.
Click on “Install.”
Then you’re good to go, and you can start selling your Instagram photos.
Here’s the thing about Foap.
You definitely need to have some solid “photography chops” to really make any money.
You can’t slap up some completely amateurish content and expect to make a killing.
It’s just not going to happen, and quality is essential.
So I really recommend that you develop your photography skills before attempting to sell anything on Foap.
But if you’ve got the skills, there’s most definitely money to be made.
One feature that you’ll want to check out is called “Missions.”
This is where you can connect with some of the world’s biggest brands and attempt to sell them your photos.
Here are a few examples of current Missions that are posted on Foap.
You’ll often be up against a considerable amount of competition, but it’s a chance to make some bigger money.
In this case, you would earn $100 if your photo was chosen.
However, there are some missions where you can earn $500.
The thing I like about Foap is that you don’t need to have a huge Instagram following to make money.
In fact, it’s one of the few techniques that’s totally plausible even if you have only a minimal following.
Being successful really just boils down to how skilled you are at photography.
On top of that, Foap can serve as a nice passive income stream.
Once you’ve taken your picture and uploaded it, it has the potential to keep bringing in cash.
And while you’re probably not going to get rich, there have been several Foap users who have made several thousand dollars a year.
Tactic #2 – Sponsored posts
Let me preface this by saying that this isn’t a viable strategy unless you have a significant following.
If you’ve only got say, 350 followers, this is a no go.
However, if you’ve got at least 5,000 followers, this is definitely a strategy worth considering.
Here’s how it works.
- You create a sponsored Instagram post (it could be a photo or video)
- You include a branded hashtag, mention, or link to promote a brand
- You share it with your audience
- You get paid
Of course, this is an overly simplistic breakdown, but it does work as long as you have a sizable and engaged Instagram following.
Let me give you an example to get a better idea of the concept of sponsored posts.
A couple of years back, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released.
To create buzz, Lucasfilm and HP used sponsored posts as an integral promotional strategy.
More specifically, they asked musician, Rudy Mancuso to create his own version of the Star Wars theme song.
Here he is with his dog that looks a lot like Chewbacca.
As you can see, this post received over 66,000 likes!
Now Rudy is not some big name celebrity the likes of Kanye or Taylor Swift, but he’s got a huge following.
He was able to capitalize on that to receive a nice payday.
I’m not sure what the exact amount was but I would imagine that it was pretty good.
This isn’t to say that you need to have millions of followers to make sponsored posts work for you.
But you definitely need to have at least 5,000.
Fortunately, this is by no means impossible to achieve.
With a little patience, perseverance, and of course great content, it’s totally feasible.
Check out this other post I wrote about how to build a killer Instagram following.
It will walk you through the process of amassing a solid audience.
Finding sponsored posts opportunities
There’s one more important thing I need to discuss — how to get in touch with brands that are looking to promote on Instagram.
One of the best ways to do this is to use a site like Influenz.
This is a third-party site that connects brands with influencers.
What happens is that brands set up campaigns to promote their product/service and pre-select influential Instagram users.
If you’re pre-selected, you choose the brands or products that you would like to promote on your account.
You then have two days to post a picture of the brand in a positive way.
Once it’s been validated, you get paid.
Here are a couple of examples of successful campaigns that were run on Ifluenz.
Here’s Nabilla Benattia subtly promoting Skinny Mint Teatox.
Here is Monique Trips promoting the GoPro.
To get started, click on “I am an influencer” from the Ifluenz homepage.
Enter your Instagram username to verify your eligibility.
As I mentioned before, you need to have at least 5,000 Instagram followers to be eligible and a valid PayPal address.
If you’re verified, you can then get set up and start looking for brands you would like to promote.
But here’s a word of caution. Don’t promote just anyone.
I strongly recommend that the brands you choose are relevant and it’s something that you genuinely believe in.
In other words, don’t promote crap just for a quick payday.
This is important for maintaining your credibility and boosting your long-term equity.
Tactic #3 – Affiliate marketing through Instagram shoutouts
Let’s now look to the other end of the spectrum where you pay influencers to promote an affiliate product.
It involves using Instagram shoutouts, which are defined as “a screenshot of another user’s profile page uploaded to your account to show support and give exposure to the other user. Shoutouts can increase a user’s followers and provide advertising to small businesses and websites.”
Here’s how you can take advantage of this tactic.
First, you need to have an affiliate product to promote.
If you’re new to affiliate marketing, I suggest checking out this post on ThemeLocal.com and this post on Quick Sprout.
These will get you up to speed on how the process works and how to get started.
Some popular affiliate networks where you can find products include:
Or you can check to see if individual brands offer affiliate programs (many do).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, choose a product you want to promote.
Of course, there is a lot of criteria to examine when choosing a product, but at the end of the day, be sure that it’s high-quality and has a solid conversion rate.
Most affiliate programs will provide you with some sort of metric that indicates how well (or poorly) that a particular product is performing.
For instance, Clickbank will provide you with a gravity score, which shows how many affiliates have earned a commission by promoting a vendor’s product in the past 12 weeks.
Here’s what you want to do once you’ve found a suitable product.
Go to Shoutcart.com.
This is a marketplace where you can find quality influencers who have large followings and “buy shoutouts” from them.
It’s an incredibly effective way to get the word out on an affiliate product in a short period of time without having to do a lot of heavy lifting.
Here’s how it works.
You browse through Shoutcart’s list of featured Instagram influencers to find someone who’s in the right niche that matches your product.
Here are some examples.
You then look for an influencer with the reach you’re looking for and that’s within your price range.
Shoutouts can be as cheap as $5 and as expensive as several hundred dollars.
You can also use tools to refine your search.
For instance, you can search by category.
Or you can select the minimum number of followers you want an influencer to have or their quality score (this determines the authenticity of likes and followers on an account).
Examining key stats
So here’s the deal.
You don’t want to buy shoutouts from just anyone.
There are a few things in particular that you should look for, which include:
- The number of followers
- Number of likes an account gets per post
- The bio and description of the account
I think that this article from IFTI SEO hits the nail on the head in terms of specific stats to look for.
The bottom line here is that 50,000 followers should be a bare minimum, and you’re looking for plenty of engagement.
After all, it doesn’t do you any good if no one’s actually engaging with the Instagram account.
Once you’ve found the perfect fit, you’ll want to add the influencer to your cart, create your order, schedule, and pay.
You should receive an influx of traffic.
And if you’ve chosen the right product, you’ll see some great-looking sales figures.
From there, you can rinse and repeat by experimenting with different combinations of products and influencers.
Let me also say that there are other alternatives to Shoutcart.
Some others worth checking out include Buy Sell Shoutouts and Plug Hype.
They all operate on the same general premise but have slightly different policies and features.
Buying shoutouts vs. PPC
These two tactics rely on the same basic idea.
And that’s paying for nearly immediate exposure and getting a product in front of a widespread audience by shelling out some cash.
But the thing that I like about buying shoutouts is the massive audience you can reach essentially overnight.
Although the initial cost tends to be more for this tactic than PPC, the payoff can be much bigger.
Here’s what I mean.
You could pay a single Instagram influencer $30 for a shoutout.
That’s going to probably cost you much more than it would for a handful of clicks on PPC advertising. That’s true.
But you could potentially get the product you’re promoting in front of half a million or more prospects.
So when you think of it like that, buying shoutouts can be incredibly cost-effective.
Tactic #4 – Sell from your own online store
In terms of time investment, this tactic requires the most by far.
However, this can also net you the biggest returns.
Here’s the basic process that you’ll follow for this tactic.
- Open an online store (e.g. sell clothing on Zazzle, sell products on Shopify or on Etsy)
- Create an Instagram account that’s built around your niche
- Feature your products on your Instagram account
- Earn money
Here’s what I love about the Internet.
It’s created an immense amount of opportunities for those who are clever enough to use the right resources to their advantage.
For instance, there are on-demand printing companies like Zazzle that allow you to design and sell your own clothing, hats, bags, stickers, etc. with absolutely no investment and zero overhead costs.
You can then use other free resources like social media to promote your products and create a nice side hustle for yourself.
In fact, I’ve heard of multiple people earning five figures a month from this type of business model.
An awesome example
I would like to show you one specific Instagram page that’s completely killing it.
It’s called Doug the Pug.
As the name implies, it’s all about the life of one of the Internet’s coolest and cuddliest pugs, Doug.
This page chronicles Doug’s life and takes followers along for his adventures.
As of March 2017, Doug the Pug had 2.4 million followers.
Doug has his own book entitled Doug the Pug: King of Pop Culture, which is pretty impressive considering that he can’t actually write.
There’s also the Doug the Pug Official Store, which contains shirts, hats, mugs, plush dolls, and more.
He even does appearances all around the country.
In other words, Doug’s owner has created a massive brand.
And guess what?
It’s all basically centered around their Instagram page.
With 2.4 million followers, you can bet that they’re driving plenty of high-quality traffic to the store and consequently getting paid handsomely for it.
I personally think that this is a brilliant example of how Instagram can be used to build a brand from scratch.
I also think that Doug the Pug is definitely a template you could use to launch your own brand and sell from your online store.
Just use your creativity and come up with an interesting angle that will get people excited and eager to invest in your brand.
There’s no doubt a significant time investment involved, but it can pay dividends if you’re able to establish a large and loyal audience.
The best part is all of the different ways you can monetize your brand later on.
I truly believe that Instagram is teeming with money-making opportunities.
Having success simply demands that you use the right resources in conjunction with one another.
Whether it’s selling your photos, sponsored posts, paying for mass exposure via shoutouts, or selling from your own online store, there are a ton of options for users with different-sized follower counts.
And with a massive audience that’s only going to get bigger, Instagram should continue to be a great money making platform for years to come.
Can you think of any other ways to monetize with Instagram? What are your most lucrative tips?