Take a guess how many active monthly users Instagram has.
5 million? 100 million? Way off. The answer is a whopping 300 million.
To put that number in perspective, that’s more than Twitter, Tumblr or Snapchat — and it eclipses Pinterest’s 70 million. In terms of active users, Instagram grew by 64% in 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing social media platforms around.
Clearly, Instagram is BIG — and businesses are taking notice. Translation: They’re willing to pay for popular users to post about their brand.
Do you love taking photos and sharing them with the world? Then this could be a great side gig for you. Here’s how you can make money with Instagram.
How to Grow Your Following on Instagram
The first step to making money with Instagram is getting people to follow you. Unless you have — at the very minimum — a few thousand followers, it’s going to be difficult to convince any brands to sponsor your posts.
Here are some best practices for growing your following on Instagram:
Post Every Day
This is the most important tip on the list: If you want to build an Instagram following, you need to post every day — if not several times per day.
In 2012, Liz Carlson started posting three photos per day to her Instagram account @YoungAdventuress. She now has more than 40,000 followers and credits her success to consistency: “You can’t leave it alone for days or weeks at a time and expect it to grow. You have to be proactive.”
“For the first couple of years we only posted when we were on a trip and then we’d let it go when we weren’t traveling. Last year we decided to really take Instagram seriously so we started posting every day.
We have seen tremendous growth since posting regularly. We find that the key to all our social media accounts is consistency and Instagram is no different.”
Use Relevant Hashtags
Hashtags are more than just an opportunity to be clever; in fact, they’re an important marketing tool. Adding relevant hashtags to your photos allows you to be found by users interested in the type of content you post. You can find, copy and paste the most popular hashtags by category from websites like TagsForLikes, but don’t overdo it.
Carlson advises using five to 10 hashtags per post and ensuring they’re relevant to what you’re posting — rather than only using popular hashtags like “love” and “photooftheday.”
Post Beautiful Photos
It probably goes without saying, but publishing beautiful images is instrumental to gaining followers on Instagram. In addition to posting consistently, Bouskill credits their success to the quality of the photos they shared:
“We also started to post only really incredible images. We are a travel account so we want people to start to dream about travel so we want to show them the most striking and beautiful images. Once we started to post really great images, we were featured by many media outlets.”
Don’t Post All Your Photos at Once
Though it’s important to post photos on a regular basis, don’t post them all at the same time. If you want to post more than one photo in a day, spread them out by sharing one every three to four hours.
As Bouskill advises: “Spread out your Instagram posts so that you don’t oversaturate your followers with images… Make your followers want more.”
Develop an Insta-Style
Many of the most successful Instagram users have a signature style for their photos. Whether you choose a specific filter or technique, make sure your photos stand out.
Someone who’s done this successfully is Melissa Hie, the hand behind the incredibly popular @GirlEatWorld account. Though she only started her account in May 2014, she’s already amassed close to 91,000 followers. Her signature photo features her hand holding local delicacies in destinations around the world.
Surprised by her success, she says: “I didn’t know it then, but I guess people love food and people love pretty pictures from travels. I happened to put the two together.”
Another famous user is @MuradOsmann, whose #FollowMeTo photos feature his partner leading him by the hand through beautiful destinations. Clearly, his strategy has worked, as he has a cool two million followers.
Focus on Engagement
You can have a massive following on Instagram, but without an engaged fan base, your photos aren’t going to be worth much. It’s important to interact with your followers on a regular basis; show them you are a real person (or other creature) and that you care about their feedback.
“Take your time to really grow an engaged audience… That involves work on your end. We have always been firm believers that social media is social so we interact with our followers and the people we follow. The more you engage with others, the more eyeballs on your work,” Bouskill explains.
How to Make Money with Instagram
So, once you’ve grown your following, how can you make money with Instagram?
Sell Sponsored Posts
Most people earn money on Instagram by publishing sponsored posts, which are images featuring and tagging a product or service. If you have a large and engaged following, brands will pay you handsomely for this publicity.
Brian DiFeo is the co-founder of the The Mobile Media Lab, a company that connects Instagram users with brands. “On average, an Instagrammer that’s got a good 100,000 followers, is consistently putting up great photos and their audience really likes what they’re doing, can be making between $5,000 and $10,000 a month,” he says.
One majorly successful example is @NewYorkCity, an account run by 25-year-old Liz Eswein. On top of a fee for taking a specific number of images, she charges $1 per like gained on each sponsored post. To give you an idea of what she earns, many of her sponsored photos gain over 20,000 likes each.
Offer Brand Takeovers
Instead of sharing sponsored posts on your own account, you can earn money by doing an “Instagram takeover.” Just like it sounds, this involves posting photos on someone else’s Instagram account. Either the brand gives you temporary access to their account, or you simply supply them with the photos and accompanying descriptions and hashtags.
For travel accounts, this works particularly well. “We supply 5-7 amazing images to a company or tourism board and they feature our photos showcasing how we see the destination,” says Bouskill.
Sell Your Account
Once you have a hugely successful account, you can sometimes even sell it for a profit. “Accounts that have 500K to a couple million followers can be sold for six figures,” according to Carlson.
Learn From These Successful Instagram Accounts
Aside from the success stories we’ve featured in this article, here are some other top Instagram accounts to admire and emulate:
- @GaryPepperGirl: One woman’s fashion and lifestyle photos (1 million followers)
- @JoyTheBaker: Food and baking photos (181K followers)
- @PurposeOfEnvy: Gorgeous landscape shots (894K followers)
- @TheFatJewish: Funny photos and quotes (2.9 million followers)
- @JenSelter: Fitness model famous for her rear end (5.3 million followers)
- @MannyTheFrenchie: French bulldog adorableness (640K followers)
Can You Make Money with Instagram?
If you’ve got creativity, a photographic eye and a smartphone, then you’ve got the tools necessary to become a successful Instagram entrepreneur. (A selfie stick might come in handy, too.)
But don’t forget about the most important elements: time and effort. Making money on Instagram is about more than just taking beautiful photographs: You need to post consistently and engage with your followers.
Once you do, Bouskill says: “There are so many different ways that you can make money from Instagram, the sky is the limit.”
Your Turn: Do you use Instagram? Would you like to make money from the platform?