We’re going to break down different ways to make money with each account.
Let’s Get Started with the Basics - General Guidelines for Instagram
Before we break down how each different account type can make money, there are some behaviors that all accounts will have in common.
These are general guidelines for interacting on the Instagram platform which will help attract followers and encourage others to engage with your account.
Hashtag is life.
That’s how it goes on Instagram, so you gotta learn to love them.
I first joined Instagram when someone informed me that “only old people use Facebook.”
I refuse to become old and irrelevant, so I jumped on the Instagram trend train. It bugged the ever-loving crap out of me! Every picture had a zillion hashtags.
What is this??
I looked at a picture of my friend’s cat.
Instead of the description saying, “Mittens is so cute!” it read like this: #Mittens my #cat is #adorable! #catsofinstagram #instagramcats #kittens #catpic #catmeme #kittens #adorableanimals #adorablecats #socute #animalphotography #catlife #mycat #tabbycat #adorablekittens #catmom…
As obnoxious as that description seems, it showed up everywhere. She attracted dozens of new followers with her hashtag game.
It made Mittens quite popular. Why? Plain and simple - hashtags get searched. It’s essentially the Google of Instagram.
Are you looking for some cosplay ideas?
Let’s say you’re involved with a nerd (or better still, you are a nerd) and are heading to a major convention. People there will cosplay all day, but you’ve never really worn costumes outside of Halloween.
Search Instagram for cosplay ideas, and you will see everything that has been hashtagged with cosplay and cosplay ideas.
Someone scrolling through a hashtag list may like a photo. If they do, they may then click through to your account and like more photos.
Most of the followers I’ve gained have been people who found me from one of my hashtags and liked my account enough to follow me. The great thing about these followers is that they’re already interested.
So that makes things easier to get them to click that tiny little heart button on each of my posts.
A lot of sites will tell you to start following tons and tons of people and play a numbers game.
Several of them may decide to follow you back. In my opinion, this is a waste of time. You end up with a super crowded feed and your ratio will show that you follow way more people than you have following you.
This is not a great way to look influential.
I have about six followers for every person I follow. This is because I only follow people I want to interact with regularly.
I engage with the people I follow.
My followers engage with me. That’s more important than playing a numbers game to gain followers who still have no idea who you are or what you do and may or may not actually be in your target demographic.
Hashtags tailor your target market. Choosing relevant hashtags introduces organic traffic to your brand and account. Use them well. Wield them like your greatest asset because, at the end of the day, that is exactly what they are!
I use my Facebook account (because, okay, I'm getting old. I'm definitely not 16 anymore.) to post photos the "normal" way and organize them into albums for easy viewing. All of my pictures go here.
My Instagram feed is different. I take the best pictures from each album, edit and filter them to perfection, then drop those into Instagram and hashtag them like crazy. Put your best foot forward, so to speak.
I know it seems a bit of a cliché to say that filtering content is important when Instagram literally became well known for being the place to post your food pictures (that no one wants to see) online… but have you ever taken a look at most of the pictures that have been hashtagged with #foodie, #food, and #foodporn?
Most of them look like professionally set up shots that restaurants pay photographers to take for promotional marketing.
They are literally perfect AF.
Everything is centered, visible, well balanced, and delightful.
They’re not just slapping up a picture of mom’s spaghetti.
They’re making sure mom’s spaghetti looks gorgeous, has just the right sauce to cheese ratio, with a delightfully plump meatball resting on top!
Now that’s a spaghetti and not a plate of mess!
Save the amateur hour for your other social media platforms.
Boss up your post!
If you want to monetize your Instagram, you have to post content that makes people wish they were living life right alongside you.
But here’s the trick:
Don't over filter.
While you want to cultivate your image, you also want to seem sincere and relatable. No harsh filtering that it all looks so phony already.
If your page is too perfect or looks like a sales catalog, you won't engage followers.
Show a cute picture of yourself with a little bit of frosting on your face while you eat that fluffy cupcake.
People like that kind of realness.
Add a picture of yourself in natural lighting that looks super adorable where perhaps a downpour happened and messed up your hair, then hashtag it #rainyday #nofilter #selfie #wethairdontcare and let them see you being a real person.
When you regularly engage with your followers, you become a familiar face to them.
People trust familiarity. When you’re consistent and reliable, they start getting to know you. This increases interaction, which increases follower base and builds your reputation.
Stick to your usual subject.
If you’ve been posting vegan #foodporn stuff, stick to it.
Don’t mix it up with yoga pics or puppy pics or something completely irrelevant to your old content theme.
Keep your content consistent. If you have a personal page, this has more room for flexibility, but businesses and influencers need to remember that this is your brand.
This isn’t your fun spot.
Make sure your marketing messages are consistent. To a degree, personal pages also need to keep consistency in mind.
Followers like to get to know you. If your posts are all over the place, they don’t feel like they know you, which will cause them to mistrust you and eventually unfollow and disengage.
Here’s an example of consistency among different pages:
My personal Instagram page is where I can let loose around my friends. I’ve posted a lot of different things there, but it’s all about my interests.
Followers can consistently expect to see vacation pictures and food reviews. I generally post selfies and scenery from vacations and local staycations on my feed. I allow for some sloppy pictures to be thrown upon occasion because I’m not using it for marketing at all.
I rarely add to my Story from this account.
My Influencer page is more streamlined.
I run a topical blog and this page is designed to drive traffic to the blog. Pictures all relate directly to my blog contents and a lot of them link to the entries. I will occasionally host live streams of large events from this account.
My business page is entirely sales driven.
The images that I post are products and they are showcased in the best possible light. This is like a digital catalog of all my items. People can place orders through my Instagram account for customized products.
However, I also want followers to feel like they're getting a less formal version of that catalog. I scatter some behind the scenes shots into my page and show the process behind creating new ideas. There are even a couple of tutorial videos.
Live streams always appear at the top of people's feeds and are usually automatically added to the Instagram Stories that are pinned to the top of feeds all day. These are the best way to encourage interaction.
Make others feel good about your posts…. Tag!
If you’re posting something that is relevant to someone you follow, then tag them.
If you’ve got something relevant to another business, tag it. This will expose you to all of their followers as well as your own, and when your content is similar and relevant, you may win a few of their followers for yourself.
The best part is that, as long as you’re not tagging offensively, it tends to be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
They won’t be upset with you for tagging because you have followers that they aren’t usually exposed to. Both parties have something to gain with this tag as long as the quality of content is high.
It’s the best and biggest option to make money on this platform.
Instagram has a special way to create business accounts. If you designate yourself as a business instead of a personal page, you will be using your Instagram feed like a catalog.
Sell Your Product
You got something to sell? Go do it!
This seems pretty intuitive, but you’d be surprised at how many small businesses miss out on this option. Even if you’re not a large company, you can still set up an Instagram business.
Thousands of photographers use Instagram as an online portfolio to encourage more photoshoot bookings.
Singers can post samples and clips of new songs to promote albums and book gigs. Whatever your product is, you can use Instagram to drive your sales by posting it on your account and linking to a place that people can purchase it.
The same can be said of any freelance service. Use makeup and hair tutorial videos to engage followers, then make it known that you are accepting clients. Showcase those beautiful haircuts and link to your salon booking page.
Become the AUTHENTIC product that you are. Don’t be a maybe. Don’t be a phony.
Instagram opens up a whole new set of merchandise options for a lot of businesses.
Even if you don't consider yourself a photographer, you may be more skilled than you expect. Turn your Instagram posts into products by using online marketplaces.
That high-quality image could easily be printed out on canvas or made into a shiny poster and framed as art. Make it available and you never know who might want to buy it. Memes make great T-shirts.
If you're witty and can caption your photos with memorable or comedic tags, then those would sell as great tees, tote bags, and wall art.
Track Your Progress
Getting there or stuck somewhere?
The great thing about business accounts is that they come with a lot of great tools.
On a per-post basis, you can see how many likes you received, comments that were left, how many people saved and bookmarked your post, whether the post generated additional actions (like visiting your profile or website), and where your post was seen the most.
This allows you to consistently hone and target your posts for more and more engagement. The Insights are updated every week, so you also receive nearly instantaneous feedback and are able to see how posts do over time.
Shout it out and promote it loud and clear.
Instagram works like Facebook when it comes to ads and posts.
Business accounts will allow you to pay a small fee to promote a specific post in lieu of running an ad.
Choose an image that represents your brand so that people can instantly associate your profile picture with your brand in thumbnail sizes feed scrolls.
Link to your website on your profile. Keep your text brief but relevant and engaging. Whenever possible, use your business name as your Instagram handle. If that is already taken, consider adding USA or Official to the end of it.
Competitions and Giveaways
Get people excited and answer their “what’s in it for me” question.
This is a great way for businesses to interact with followers and gain new ones.
Offering a coupon or giveaway encourages people to interact. An example of a popular Instagram contest style is to give away a free product to someone who likes the giveaway post, follows your profile, and tags a friend in the comment section.
There are lots of options.
You can even encourage people to promote your competition on their own pages by incorporating a hashtag.
These contests encourage people to like and follow your brand then enter the contest by posting a picture to their feed with a specific theme and hashtag.
Popular magician, Piff the Magic Dragon, uses this at each of his shows by encouraging his audience to post a photo with their grumpiest face and hashtag it #grumpypiff before each show. One winner from the audience will be chosen to receive a free piece of merchandise from his store.
We’ll get into more detail about Influencers later in the article, but these are people who have grown their follower base to very large numbers.
These people often have significantly more followers than the average user. They make their money by partnering with businesses in promoting products to their large fan base.
Engaging their services is an investment that often pays back with great returns.
You are able to reach far more people than you would otherwise in a way that seems more organic than a sales pitch. People see a familiar face that they trust to know trends using your product by name and linking to your account.
How to Make Money with Your Personal Accounts on Instagram
Most people will be starting out with personal accounts.
If you are using your personal account to make money on Instagram then your goal is to eventually win enough followers to be considered an Influencer.
This doesn’t mean that you have no options for making money while you build your base of followers.
In fact, the methods available for making money as a personal user can often aid in growing a follower base.
Instagram Affiliate Marketing
If you want to know an easy way to make money, this should be your first stop.
Affiliate marketing is something you can do even if you only have a handful of followers. The basic concept is that you will promote someone’s product to your followers and, in turn, you receive a percentage of the profits that they make as a direct result of your post.
They provide you with an affiliate link to give out and track your earnings by counting purchases made using your personal link.
There are several affiliate marketplaces out there to choose from.
It’s impossible to run out of one, really.
Amazon is a great place to start if you've never done this before, a total newb in the Instagram money-making scene.
Anything sold on Amazon is covered under this program.
Use your referral code to market these products on your site for up to 10% of its profits. This makes it pretty easy to integrate sales naturally, too. Instead of being blatant, you can post some cute pictures in that gorgeous sweater, or riding that new bicycle.
Post a video from game night with your friends and link them to the board game using your affiliate site to invite them into the fun. This organic sales method keeps your followers engaged without them feeling like they're being targeted for marketing campaigns.
Niche affiliate programs are also great for specific branding.
If you have a specific hobby that your Instagram page tends to feature frequently, consider hunting down some affiliate programs within your niche. My personal account tends to focus on Disney, tabletop gaming, and Vegas magic.
My followers expect my content to have a lot of this, so it won’t be a surprise if I have some products peppered into my account. I’m regularly sharing pictures of my game nights, so it would make sense to partner with a tabletop gaming company to share their games through affiliate sales.
Get creative and start selling!
Turn your hobbies into sales with shoppable posts.
People spend a lot of time curating gorgeous pictures for Instagram.
Even if you aren’t a business, you can still make money by putting these images onto marketable items like shirts, canvasses, bags, coffee mugs, and more. Use your creativity!
Research your target audience and stay relevant. If your niche is surfing, then find out when and where the competitions are.
Focus your posts on beaches, surfing techniques, and gorgeous pictures of waves and oceans.
If your niche is Disney, then keep up with all their renovations, tourist seasons, events, and merchandise. Be the first one there when the Food and Wine festival opens and take gorgeous shots of the food with accompanying reviews.
The more relevant you are, the more likely your target audience will engage and grow.
Once you've built up enough relevance, people will begin looking to you for advice. You will be their go-to person for learning the new trends. This is how you become an influencer. When people trust you to find the trends, you can begin setting them yourself.
Engage Your Audience
Your audience fuels your success on Instagram. Period.
This is true for every category, but especially personal pages that want to grow.
The more you engage with your audience, the more they will begin to trust you. Having 400,000 followers is useless if only 100 of them interact with your page regularly.
When you sponsor contests, giveaways, and promotions, you will draw in more followers. Your current followers will do your marketing for you by tagging their friends into the contest.
At the Influencers Level? Here’s How to Succeed Even More on Instagram!
Influencer phase lets you go for the big #win.
If you’ve reached the influencer phase, you are likely already well aware of how to make money.
I’ll just hit a few topics briefly for those of you who are still growing into the influencer status.
Small, but not too small.
When you make the jump from several hundred followers to a few thousand, you become what is known as a micro influencer. The important thing is not to throw it all away when you get to this point.
Businesses will begin noticing you and paying you to promote their items.
You need to stay balanced. Keep a good head on your shoulder and continue to employ the tricks you’ve used to grow your follower base.
Don’t go too fast or you’ll get burned.
If you sell out too hard too quickly, your fans will lose faith in you…especially if you try to pretend that you’re not being paid to promote to them.
There are some great programs out there to work with.
IndaHash allows you to participate in their campaigns with paid posts as long as you have 700 fully engaged followers. It’s a great place to start.
Grapevine is another option for micro influencers. Once you reach 5,000 followers, you can list yourself there and allow businesses to contact you if you're in their niche market.
Connect with Influencers
These people have 100,000 followers or more.
Larger businesses begin taking notice of influencers at around 25,000 followers.
These influencers can make a few hundred dollars per post. Influencers with over 100,000 followers can drastically increase that rate, nearing $1,000 for a single post.
This is a more organic way to market to your followers. Instead of a blatant ad post, you can subtly “shout out” a brand.
These posts will feature you looking fabulous and, in the comments, you can say: “Shout out to @brandrep for the amazingly comfortable sweater!”
If you’re more of a landscape photographer, you can post a gorgeous scenic view and say: “Shoutout to @brandrep for the amazing lens! Really makes a difference on the lighting here!”
You don’t want to take chances when it comes to your followers.
They’re the reason for your success. They are keeping your business afloat. You want to make sure that sponsored posts make up a small portion of your overall posts.
Keep doing the things that earned you this status to begin with if you want to stay on top of the game.
Consider including #sponsored in every post you make that you were given money to promote.
This lets your followers easily differentiate between the things you’re being paid to say and the things you’ve come up with on your own. It ensures that they can completely trust you to be authentic with them.
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Miles is a full time internet marketer who sells information products and a niche membership program with his wife, Melanie. Together they have created a lifestyle business that allows them true location independence and this blog where you get to see behind the scenes and see how they have built their online business from scratch.