Stylist.co.uk investigates the lucrative world of Instagram and how to make a business out of your pictures.
"You're looking at around £500 per image. If you get to the 500,000 figure, you could charge around £1,000 - £2,000 per image."
This might sound like a typical exchange at a modelling agency or national news picture desk, but these are the numbers one social media manager reeled off when we asked him about the money that's being made by users on Instagram.
Since launching in winter 2010, the photo sharing app has catapulted to social media stardom, now with 300 million users across the world who collectively share 70 million photos (and videos) a day. For many of us, the Instagram homepage reel has replaced Facebook’s news feed, providing minutes (OK, hours) of entertainment and escapism. Instagram is good old fashioned picture flicking at its best.
But for some innovative users, Instagram is generating more than just a few appreciative likes and comments.
In may this year, Danielle Bernstein of the blog We Wore What took the internet by storm when she lifted the lid on how much she makes through sponsored posts and brand sponsored_longforms from her Instagram account @weworewhat in an interview with US Harper's Bazaar. With over 1 million followers (992,000 at the time of the article) she earns anything from $5,000 (£3,255) to $15,000 (£9,767) for a single Instagram photo.
Above: American fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein runs Instagram account @weworewhat.
Fashion Instagrammer Eugénie Grey gained fame for posting images of her outfits daily at @feralcreature (she has 327k followers), and recently told Buzzfeed that 46 percent of her income comes from Instagram-only sponsored_longforms with global brands such as Acura, W Hotels and Puma.
"Just like the success Zoella experienced on YouTube, where sales and traffic for a brand would sky rocket whenever she released a video offering a positive review, many successful Instagram users who focus on fashion are helping brands to increase sales and brand awareness," says Tom Bourlet, a social media analyst, digital marketing manager at Eventa and the aforementioned expert.
"I have also witnessed that these type of posts help to push flash sales, a product launch or an event, increasing the amount of eyes and then instigating cross channel promotion, such as on Twitter and Facebook. This makes Instagram a liable full time job for anyone who has experienced this level of success," Bourlet adds.
It's certainly true, even in the UK. British fashion vlogger Patricia Bright, 27, exclusively told Stylist.co.uk, 25% of her earnings come from sponsored_longforms on her Instagram page @thepatriciabright (she has 272,000 followers). She tells us she's approached by brands on a daily basis: "It can involve anything from taking a picture with a product, attending an event and taking pictures there, to wearing or styling something in my own way to showcase a brands product."
Twenty-six year old British beauty vlogger Fleur De Force has 558,000 followers at @fleurdeforce and told us, “For a long time my Instagram wasn't monetised at all and people were only really interested in video or written content, but over the years as it's grown I think people have started to realise the power of Instagram, and more sponsorship opportunities have arisen on the platform." She has worked with Urban Decay, House of Fraser and Revlon to name a few brands. "I think Instagram is becoming a strong platform upon which to develop and grow a business,” she adds.
Above: British fashion and beauty blogger Patricia Bright's Instagram page (@thepatriciabright) is a huge success for her
But it's not only fashion and beauty aficionados who are cashing in on this surprisingly discreet money-making avenue. Julie Falconer, 32, of travel blog A Lady in London, has an audience of 70,000 followers on Instagram @aladyinlondon and she told us she's regularly approached by lifestyle and travel brands such as Tia Maria and luxury travel agent Best At Travel to post Instagram-only content and be paid for it.
“An increasing percentage of the revenue of my business comes from these sponsored_longforms," says Falconer. "Normally they involve posting relevant images and including hashtags and handles in the captions."
"The key things Instagram gives brands is an opportunity to present their product and brand in a different, less commercial style," says Chris Moon, head of insights and analytics at Telegraph Hill which provides social media strategies for brands and broadcasters. "Other channels lead brands or people into traditional advertising led messaging, such as call to actions and price points. However the artistic and premium nature of the content on instagram, allows brands to paint a different picture of themselves," he adds.
"Calvin Klein recently launched a digital campaign encouraging people to post #mycalvins selfies. It used digital influencers in the form of fashion bloggers, as well as models such as Miranda Kerr (6.7 million followers). Kerr was reported to have earned £30,000 for that one selfie."
Naturally, there's one question on the tip of our tongue: How easy is it to get a slice of this new bankable platform? Or is it limited to the super bloggers and celebrities of this world?
"It really depends on the type of campaign and whether Instagrammers are using the channel as a commercial platform," says Moon. "Instagrammers with around 30,000 followers have been reported to earn around £800 per post. For bigger projects they can expect to earn about £5,000. As the followers increase, earnings increase."
So, how exactly can we build a business out of Instagram? We asked the experts who have been there and done that and summarised our findings below.
How to grow your Instagram followers and make a little extra cash
Step 1: Carve out a niche
"Decide exactly what niche you are after and make it a topic you will feel comfortable posting about on a regular basis," says Tom Bourlet. "If you don't enjoy the subject then forcing yourself to post proper images everyday will become tiresome."
Step 2: Learn from others
"You then need to find the influential figures within your niche on Instagram and take notes on how they have achieved success," adds Bourlet. Ask yourself the following questions: How often do they post? What type of posts do they make? Do they interact with others? What time of day do they post?
Step 3: Quality and consistency is what makes growth happen
Above: UK-based Patricia Bright paves the way for success on Instagram
"Have a clear strategy on what you are aiming for," says Chris Moon. "It isn’t a case of sharing random posts, it has to have a particular strategy that you need to abide by and follow strictly."
Patricia Bright says three aspects are crucial to her growth on Instagram: consistency, honesty and having a theme. "Quality thought-out content and consistency is what I know makes growth happen. I post pics I know my audience would like, things I like, quality pieces and content that's inspirational to make people feel good."
"Also inject some fun and personality," she says. "Everyone is sooooooooo serious! A funny face once in a while, rather than smouldering at the camera is a breath of fresh air."
Step 4: Use the right photography and editing tools
Above: Singapore-based Melissa Hie gained thousands of followers within weeks of setting up her Instagram page
Melissa Hie created her food and travel Instagram account @GirlEatWorld in May last year but she's already amassed 155,000 followers and a sponsored trip to Hong Kong. She credits free photography app VSCO Cam for her high quality images. "I swear by only one app - VSCOcam. When I’m editing the picture, I try to choose filters that enhance rather than overwhelm, and to make sure the food-to-background ratio is balanced.”
Eugénie Grey of @feralcreature uses the app's retouching tools to get rid of stains, dust marks and any other blemishes in her photographs.
Step 5: The more you upload, the better
Above: British fashion Instagrammer Fleur De Force averages approximately 15,000 likes per post
Fleur De Force says it's all about volume and consistency. "The more you upload, the more opportunity there is for people to find your pictures. A select number of relevant hashtags can also be a really useful way of growing a following in the early days too, but don't overdo it!”
Step 6: Communicate with your followers
"You also need to remember that communication is two way, or at least in the early stages," says Moon. "Comment on others' posts, build up a rapport with your followers and create a community feeling."
Step 7: Stay authentic
Above: British Instagram account @symmetrybreakfast has a cult following
UK-based Michael Zee of @symmetrybreakfast (337,000 followers) tells Stylist.co.uk authenticity is the greatest tool on Instagram. "Don’t get sucked into it. Create great content". He says the dishes he features "has to fit in with my mood and what I want to eat. If they’re a small local brand then they’re far more likely to have the same goals and values that I do. Saying that so do some larger companies."
"Learning how to say no is a powerful thing as is being the bad guy," adds Zee, who is still yet to make money from his Instagram page, but was gifted the entire range of Heston Blumenthal's Sage Appliances thanks to an ongoing relationship with the brand. "Sometimes as an individual you can feel like the big brands have all the power. This couldn’t be further from the truth."
Words: Sejal Kapadia, Images: Instagram