It’s no secret that Instagram has completely changed the way many of us share content, engage with friends, shop online, advertise products, and hell, even start a business. Reaching a targeted audience with one click of a button (or photo upload) has allowed bloggers and influencers the opportunity to grow their audience, engage with followers, and ultimately, make money through these engagements. So, what separates an Instagram influencer from the average user?
To find out, we hit up some Insta influencers for inside tips on how to partner with brands and transform your feed into a profitable biz, while still being your excellent self.
As in life, so on Instagram: Authenticity goes a long way. The same is true once you start working with brands producing sponsored posts. “People want genuine, innovative, and thoughtful content, so if your intention is otherwise, it’s very easy to see right through that,” says Jera Foster of @workoutbean. “I think that one’s primary goal should be about the content you want to put out into the world.
“What is the general theme of your account? Are you more about creating beautiful photos, or is there more emphasis on telling a story through your captions? Figure out what makes you and your account unique, be intentional in your delivery, and engage with your community. That is the basis for creating the foundation for a following,” she says.
Create original content
Chef and bestselling author, Candice Kumai says to “create your own original content and share what’s unique to you.” Putting original thought into your content is not just authentic, it’s what brands look for, too. “Your following is not what brands are looking at,” says Kumai. “They’re looking for quality content, credentials, user engagement, and your ability to captivate using quality and beautiful imagery,” she says.
Have a point of view and invest in your work
In addition to creating original content, having a genuine point of view—and ensuring that your account and content reflects that—is important on Instagram. “Go all in on what feels most you,” says Natasha Martin of @violettinder. “You have to create good content in order to get others to want to pay you for it. That means you’ll probably have to start by creating great content for little-to-no money, but think of it as an investment as a way to hone your skills,” she says.
Build your brand
Like any business, you’ll want to think about your Instagram as a brand, just like the ones on TV. “You really have to build your brand, and typically on Instagram, you are your brand,” says Brianna Traynor of @bskyfitness. “The photos you take, the captions you write out, how you portray yourself—it all matters,” she adds.
Invest in resources
Yes, you can do it all on your phone. However, if you want your work to stand out, you may need some equipment. While a phone works great, many Instagram bloggers like to up the ante with an inexpensive DSLR camera. “Since my primary work is as a photographer [and] content creator, I’ve definitely upgraded my equipment over the years,” says Martin. “But, if your goal is not to be a professional photographer, you can shoot some really great photos with an inexpensive DSLR, or even your iPhone,” she says.
You might also want to find yourself a light system, white foam boards to use as reflectors, and a self-timer remote to make your photos look more legit and your photoshoots more efficient. “My go-to Instagram hack is my bluetooth self-timer remote,” says Foster. “It makes taking photos by yourself so much easier, because you can click away rather than using the self-timer option on your phone—which, in comparison, takes much more time,” she adds.
Be transparent with your followers
Once you’ve found some brands to partner with, it’s important to be as transparent with your followers as possible. “Stay true to who you are and only promote products that you actually use and enjoy,” says Foster. “Sponsored posts are becoming more of an accepted part of social media, but there is still a lot of mystery around them. I like to have an open conversation with my followers about sponsored posts and why I do them,” she says.
Transparency in both why you are sharing a product and whether you received the product for free or are partnering with a brand will build more trust between you and your followers and help you grow a loyal following.
Interact with your followers
Interacting with your followers through comments, DMs, and even Instagram stories can not only help you build a meaningful relationship with your followers, it can make for better engagement too. “I use Instagram Stories to give a more personal look into my life,” says Amber Spiegel of @sweetambs.“I also use it to show behind the scenes or sneak peeks of upcoming YouTube videos. It’s a fun way to connect with people because they can respond to a Story through a direct message, which opens up a conversation that might not have happened otherwise,” she adds.
Use Instagram Analytics as a business tool
Did you know that Instagram has its own analytics? All you have to do is create a Facebook page for your blog and switch to a business account in Instagram settings. It’ll show you who your audience is, where they live, when they are on Instagram, and more. “Instagram’s analytics are very straightforward and easy to read, says Spiegel. “You can also gauge what type of content gets the best response from your followers, and then use that information to tailor your content to your audience.” Having the power to see when your followers are active is key for engagement, especially since the Instagram algorithm no longer allows you to see photos in chronological order.
Keep an eye on what works
“It’s important to pay attention to what gets great engagement and see if there’s a common thread there. That’s your audience telling you what they like,” says Martin. “Posts can perform poorly for a million different reasons, but figuring out what does work can help guide you in the right direction.” Martin also notes that it’s important to not put too much weight on figuring it all out. Trust your gut to produce content that reflects you, as that “will always resonate the best.”
Be passionate about what you’re doing
If you are starting your Instagram to make money and only thinking of ways you can make money, chances are you’ll burn out pretty quick. Having passion for a specific topic and engaging with people all over the world on social media not only makes you a more authentic biz, it helps keep you motivated, too. “Whether it’s through sponsorships or promoting a product or service, there’s really no magic formula for making money using Instagram,” says Spiegel. “I think it’s a matter of being passionate about what you’re doing, being consistent in the type of content that you post, and finding a balance of professional and personal content to connect with your followers.”
Now go forth, be yourself, and get that cash.
This story was originally published on July 18, 2017. It has been updated (and will continue to be updated) to include new tips, advice, and guidance, to ensure we are always giving you the best, most valuable resources.