How to Make Money on (Almost) Every Platform
Influencer marketing is barely a few years old, but already, according to a Morning Consult poll from November, more than half of millennials and Gen Z aspire to become influencers themselves. As the influencer and creator spaces have matured and become more crowded, the path to fame may be getting steeper. But for the skilled, tenacious, attractive, and/or charismatic, the hope of a decent side hustle is not far fetched, especially on YouTube and Instagram, but increasingly on Snapchat, TikTok, and some upstart platforms. And increasingly, there’s a “middle class” of influencers speaking to niche communities and broad demographics alike, and who can parlay their modest followings into better-than-modest incomes.
“Monetization” should not be thought of not as the only track for a social-marketing career, however. Digital marketing guru Neil Patel recommends that creators use YouTube and other platforms to promote their brands generally, and not to be solely dependent on someone else’s ad revenue. “I hate monetization,” Patel says, especially when it comes to AdSense-type programs. He suggests that creators need to be industrious in making their own products to sell and directly profit from—be they e-books, premium website content, or a skin care line. In other words, your brand probably shouldn’t begin and end with videos or pictures of yourself if you’re not already a celebrity.
And of course, like so many others, influencers and creators must contend with an economy that’s gyrating wildly due to the pandemic, and in particular, brands slashing their marketing budgets. (A new report from Izea explores just that.) But there’s still money to be made, as this highly unscientific ranking shows.
YouTube has the backing of the marketing monster that is Google/Alphabet, and it also benefits from being the second most popular website in the globe after Google itself. YouTube creators have multiple avenues for monetizing their channels that don’t always require huge audiences. That said, one needs a pretty considerable audience to make the labor of high-quality video production worth the effort over the long haul—so it had better start as a labor of love.
Google/Alphabet pays out $68 on every $100 in AdSense income it receives, but rates for creators will vary based on both their audience size, the length of their videos—longer videos can take more ad breaks—and how affluent and/or engaged their audiences are.
For example, a creator whose videos get 25,000 daily views (9 million per year) with 50 percent engagement (a calculation of likes, dislikes, and comments divided by subscribers) can hope to make a side income of up to $22K per year, per Influencer Marketing Hub. Boost that to 50,000 views per day (18 million per year) with 75 percent engagement, and you’d be making a nice income of $90K per year, before even talking about sponsored videos.
Sponcon is a primary revenue source for influencers on multiple platforms. The general rule of thumb for YouTube influencers, according to Digiday, is that you can charge $20 per 1,000 subscribers for a sponsored video. But creators will tell you to be careful not to flood your channel with sponsored posts if you don’t want to lose subscribers who just think you’re there to sell them things—and many, wisely or not, choose to bury the revelation that a video is sponsored until a few minutes in.
A monetizable subscriber base is typically 1 million or more, something that more than 2,000 YouTube channels currently have. Swedish gamer PewDiePie launched his channel in 2010, and he’s now one of the most successful YouTubers of all time with 103 million subscribers, making a reported $12 million per year through AdSense and sponsorship deals.
Channels with more modest subscriber bases can also make money by directly appealing to fans. The Comedy Button, a comedy collective, reportedly pulls in $13,000 per month from Patreon supporters, despite only having 23,000 YouTube channel subscribers. And creators who are just starting out can make a few dollars through affiliate programs—you add a link to your video that gives you a kickback from purchases your viewers make of whatever product you’re reviewing—although Amazon recently cut their rates.
Instagrammers with followings between 10,000 and 50,000 can command between $250 and $500 per sponsored post. It’s a nice side hustle, but not enough to quit your day job when you can only shill so many products in a given month. If you’re Selena Gomez, who has 122 million followers, you could just do one sponsored post a year and make over $500K, per DigitalMarketing.org. (Though in Gomez’s case, Instagram posts are part of larger promotional deals with brands like Coach and Adidas, whose products she promotes, and she’s not getting paid for one-off posts the way influencers with more modest followings might.) With a following of 100,000 people, you’re looking at around $1,000 per piece of sponcon.
There’s also IGTV, which has had some trouble gaining traction since its launch two years ago. But as Social Media Today recently reported, Instagram has been reaching out to some top video creators about an ad test for IGTV videos, offering them 55 percent of ad revenue. It remains to be seen when that program will be available to all influencers.
Influencers on Snapchat typically appeal to companies looking to move niche products for a younger audience or established brands looking to stand out with Gen Z. And because the world of sponcon on Snapchat is still fairly small, brands have a chance to enjoy the spotlight a bit more — though reportedly only 22% of marketers consider Snapchat their primary target platform, according to Linqia. Influencers can potentially command up to $10,000 per 24-hour campaign, per DigitalMarketing.org.
Figures may change as Snapchat continues to mature as a platform, but for now, influencers with between 50,000 and 500,000 followers can hope to charge around $1,000 for a single snap, on average, according to influencer marketing startup Captiv8. ($10 per 1,000 followers, or $100 per 1,000 views.) Snapchat users with over three million followers, meanwhile, can charge upwards of $75,000 for a sponsored snap. For certain brands, being a micro-influencer on Snapchat is worth more than the above figures—like if your 10,000-person following is uniquely relevant to that brand.
And, eventually, we may see more of a creator class emerge on Snapchat Discover and monetize unique video content there, but that program doesn’t yet exist, and Discover is reserved mostly for established publishers and broadcasters.
The world of TikTok influencers is still new and relatively small, but growing every day. A New York Times piece in December described hype houses of TikTok influencers popping up in LA, with newly famous teens collaborating together and reaping sponsorships. Influencer Marketing Hub says rates for sponcon on TikTok range from $200 to $20,000, while some top TikTok influencers with eight million or more followers are getting $50,000 and up for a post.
As with Instagram or YouTube, popular TikTok creators can leverage their followings to sell their own products and promote links to their own stores—featuring, for instance, a t-shirt inspired by their most viral video.
TikTok-ers can also monetize their followings with coins. A user can buy 100 TikTok coins for 99 cents and give those coins (in the form of emoji conferring specific values) to creators they love. TikTok and the operating system (Apple or Google) keep half the dollar amount, but TikTok-ers keep the rest and can cash them in for up to $1,000 daily.
The new short-video platform from Vine co-creator Dom Hofmann is taking a novel approach as it gets off the ground, offering a pool of $250,000 to its first group of creators to drum up the most viewership. As The Verge reported in February, up to 100 creators who post high-quality content frequently will share in that fund, earning a percentage correlating to their viewership. And for the time being, the company is pledging to pay 100 percent of its ad revenue back to creators.
Pinfluencers are an elite group. Power Digital Marketing reported that, as of January 2019, there were only around 400 of them, many of whom had built followings on the platform over years based on their impeccable taste. Those with around 2 million followers are making $250,000 a year. (Over 70 percent of Pinterest’s users are women, with men making only about 8 percent of pins.)
Pinfluencers monetize their boards through sponsorships and Buyable Pins, using platforms like Shopfiy and Magento to turn their boards in bonafied retail spaces. More brands are coming around to Pinterest and its unique combination of social sharing and intentional searching for products to buy. In other words, users come to Pinterest looking to shop, not just passively scroll through feeds—and Instagram has taken note with its own nascent Collections feature.
7. Facebook & Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are not primary revenue drivers for influencers as much as they are places to maintain a presence and generally promote one’s brand or perhaps to point audiences to other work.
Social marketing expert Tony Tran tells marketers that Facebook and Twitter should not really be looked at as influencer platforms at all. He suggests that organic reach (the number of people who see a user’s content without paid distribution) on Facebook is notoriously bad, saying, “You should never pay for a Facebook-only influencer” because it’s only useful for content amplification.
As for Twitter, Tran says, “Forget it, stop, turn around, and RUN,” calling the entire platform a “sinkhole for marketing dollars… unless you’re getting a free shoutout.”
That said, like YouTube, Facebook offers video creators a way to monetize their Facebook Watch videos with ad breaks if they have at least 1,000 followers and 15,000 post engagements per month. Videos have to be at least three minutes long to take an ad break, and the payouts on average are small, according to Social Media Examiner: less than $10 per 3,500 ad views, or about $250 for 100,000 ad views.