How influencers actually make money

While the creator economy truly began in the early 2010s (we all remember the Zoella and Michelle Phan obsession, right?) it has seen a boom since the pandemic. Yet despite its boom, the way creators make real money still seems to be a type of taboo. Creators on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are now earning six figures or more annually through a variety of income streams yet few of us actually understand how the monetisation element works. 

Of course, how much creators earn can depend on factors like follower count, audience engagement, and type of content they post. Having said that, it is certainly possible for micro creators with smaller followings to make consistent and lucrative income by building a personal brand on social media. Furthermore, as we approach a multi-platform future, the ways influencers can make money have multiplied.

Let’s break down some of the main ways influencers today are making money. 

Brand Sponsorships

I have a friend from France who makes fantastic content as a trained makeup artist and vintage fashion lover. On Instagram, their Reels have an average organic view count of between 120 – 200k. For these reasons, brands like ELF Cosmetics might pay them between £600 and £1000 for a Reel on a makeup routine using some or all products from their range. My friend (who I’ll remain anonymous) is a full time creator and takes on these types of sponsorships between two to four times a month meaning they’ll make between £1,200 and £4,000 per month from brand sponsorships alone. Of course, for influencers a smaller following the pay won’t be as high and the frequency will be smaller. Nevertheless, it’s still monetised content. 

Affiliate marketing

Whenever you see an influencer post ‘use this link for 20% off’ or ‘use my code AMY25’ they’re making a cut either every time you click on the link or whenever you purchase a product using their code or link. This is affiliate marketing. So if your favourite influencer posts a Reel wearing a gorgeous leather trench from Zara, and you use their code AMY25 for 25% off, they’re most likely going to get a 30% cut from Zara for the jacket because they literally influenced you to buy it. 

Online Courses

Not all influencers are beauty and fashion influencers. In fact I have a good friend who is a travel influencer. They speak five languages and teach their followers how to get good at a language, especially on a colloquial scale. For this reason, they sell personalised online language courses. Some creators also update and strategically time the launches of updated versions of their courses to generate more interest among their audience. If you sell your course for £5 a week for an eight week course, you have 100,000 followers and 10% of them sign up, that means you’ll make £50,000 for the first week alone and therefore £400,000 for the eight week course. That’s some serious money. 

YouTube Ad Revenue 

When a creator posts longform videos on YouTube, they can become eligible to earn a cut of the revenue from the advertisements that appear before and during their videos. YouTube creators can monetize their content through Google-placed ads on their videos when they join the YouTube Partner Program, or YPP.

To qualify for the program, they must reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time on their longform videos. Then, they earn 55% of revenue from ads placed on their videos, with YouTube keeping 45%. Starting in 2023, creators who reach 10 million views in 90 days on Shorts — YouTube’s short-form video offering — as well as 1,000 subscribers will also be able to join the Partner Program.

Creator Fund Platforms 

Several platforms offer bonuses or “creator funds” that pay influencers money for the views they receive on their content, primarily short-form videos.

Some of these programs include a bonus that pays creators for views on Instagram Reels, the platform’s short-form video offering, and another one for Reels on Facebook. Similar programs also exist on YouTube and TikTok.

While some have expressed frustration at these types of funds paying very little money, being an unreliable income stream, or being unavailable in many countries, they can be a simple way for creators to monetize their high-performing content.

Speaker Engagement Opportunities

Some creators receive a payment when they are invited to events or conferences to speak, both virtually and in person. If you’re an expert in a niche or even just an expert in growing such a following, your expertise is valued and able to be monetised. 

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