How to make money as a social media influencer

Could you be the next blogging or vlogging sensation? If you’ve got a knack for producing compelling content then this is the business opportunity for you...

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What is an online influencer and who is the business opportunity suited to?
Creating an online influencer business plan
Online influencer rules and regulations
How much does it cost to become an online influencer?
How much can you earn as an online influencer?
Tips and useful contacts

What is an online influencer and who is the business opportunity suited to?

In the last 20 years, the internet has changed the world of business and commerce beyond recognition, opening up opportunities for budding entrepreneurs that would have previously been unfathomable.

Not least in the blogosphere, where those that are digitally-savvy can conceivably make millions without ever leaving their bedrooms.

Becoming an online influencer means you can use different social media platforms to promote products and services to your followers, which could be in the form of a direct endorsement, review, paid advertising, partnerships and much more.

Different personalities choose to express themselves in different ways depending on their skill set, giving brands and marketing companies a range of options when it comes to using influencer marketing for promotional activities.

If you have a popular blog, video blog or an active presence on social media and don’t yet monetise it, then you could make the jump to become an online entrepreneur and influencer.

So, how can you become a successful online influencer? There are several different routes to take:


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It may be worth considering seeing if you can get a Business Loan to help you with financing your startup idea.


Blogging

Which usually take the form of written content, uploaded frequently to a hosting site. Blogs are often focused around a single topic and target a particular audience – a useful platform for brands wishing to promote a niche or specialist product or service. A blogger should have excellent grasp of the English language and a creative nature; you’ll need to be able to produce compelling and concise content regularly.

Also see: How to make money from a blog using e-commerce 

Vlogging (video blogging)

A form of visual content where you upload videos which resonate with your followers/fans. Usually uploaded on YouTube – now the second most visited website in the world – vlogs have the potential to reach huge (and usually young) audiences and can turn vloggers into hugely influential, and profitable, business men and women as brands look to partner with these vloggers and maximise on their fan base. Just look at the success of Alfie Deyes of PointlessBlog and Zoe Sugg of Zoella fame for example. It is essential that you are comfortable in front of a camera and have the ability to engage your audience with exciting and unique visual content.

Become an Instagram entrepreneur aka ‘Instapreneur

One of the hottest business ideas in 2016, in recent years we’ve seen the rise of budding entrepreneurs who use image sharing site Instagram to create a brand around them. While these Instapreneurs typically use Instagram to promote an existing blog/vlog or business – there’s also the potential to create a business on Instagram organically (for instance you could take pictures while you travel, gain a following and then look to travel brands to sponsor you). The advantage of using Instagram lies in its simplicity, you can share beautiful photography and short, snappy video content to engage users. Judicious use of hashtags, the ability to create eye-catching photographs and short but compelling videos is imperative.

To find out what it takes to become a successful social media influencer, we asked three people from the emerging sector to share their knowledge, advice and insights:

Matt Donegan, CEO of London-based marketing agency Social Circle defines online influencers as “social media stars with a large and loyal following across social media platforms”. He explains that brands partner with these influencers to “create content that engages with their audience and delivers a brand’s message”. In particular, using social influencers is a great way for them to connect with the “the hard to reach under-25 market”.

Donegan says that it’s “a nascent sector with huge shifts, often on a month-by-month basis”, which makes it an “exciting environment to work in”.

One such influencer is Beckii Cruel, a creative liason with Social Circle. According to Cruel, “an influencer doesn’t have to be someone with millions of followers – it can even be someone with a few hundred followers. As long as their audience is engaged, the message will be effective”.

Donegan agrees: “We’ve worked with influencers with millions of followers, but also niche influencers who have highly engaged but smaller audience – which is often more valuable for a start up / upcoming brand”.

But what kind of person has the right skills to be an influencer? Well, “anyone” both Donegan and Cruel agree. Cruel: “It’s all about finding a community and sharing something you are passionate about, rather than the traditional means of celebrity, in that you had to know the right people and be in the right place. For YouTube and social media, it feels a little more democratised in that the viewers are the ones who choose who to support and therefore who is successful”.

However, she warns that not just anybody “should go into  an influencer role for the sole purpose of getting brand deals and monetising their platform. The most important thing is believing in the content you are making”, Cruel asserts.

Bill Warren, global head of sales at BzzAgent says influencer marketing is essentially the oldest and most trusted type of marketing” as it relies on word-of-mouth: “Influencer marketing is a shift away from brands using advertising to promote themselves and a move towards having their consumers, from celebrities to your next door neighbour, market for them”.

Put simply, Warren states “it is the most authentic way for brands to tell their story because people trust people” and he argues that you have the opportunity to “highlight benefits of a product in a more authentic manner than a traditional advertisement”.

“Every person with a smartphone and a social presence” has the potential to be a social influencer Warren concludes.

So you’re connected to an audience and think you have what it takes to create compelling content, and look to monetise it? Well, before you start, it’s time to plan exactly how you’re going to maximise your chances to succeed in this still nascent but increasingly competitive space…

Creating an online influencer business plan

Still an emerging industry and yet to establish rigid conventions, businesses born on blogging or social media platforms platforms are somewhat more nebulous in their origins than traditional commercial operations.

As such, the template for creating a business plan to become an online influencer is fairly loose but it’s still important to plan out a thorough business plan to give yourself a guide for growth and set targets.

Social Circle’s Donegan and Cruel are both of the opinion that you don’t need to spend a lot of resource developing a business plan to be an onlinece influencer. However, Donegan argues that you should “learn the social media channels, and learn to build audiences quickly.”

If you’re serious considering entering the blogging/vlogging/Instapreneuer industry and making a commercial success out of it then you should ensure you have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the merits and downfalls of different social meida platforms and how they can be used to reach your audience.

Before you start reaching out to brands, make sure you know how to grow and retain your audience so they can see you’ll be a worthwhile partner. Provided you know how to do that, you just have to “be original, and be yourself. Social media is in many ways the ultimate democracy. Only if you are interesting, engaging, original and authentic will you build an audience”, Donegan suggests.

BzzAgent’s Warren says that companies will be looking for “what kind of online influencer will be the most valuable” to their brand: “There are various types of influencers in the current marketplace and you want to match the right type of influencer to meet your consumers where they are. This might be a celebrity, a social media star, a micro-influencer etc.”

As an online influencer, you should look to reach out to brands that align clearly with your ethics and principles and show them how you can add value to their brand as a promoter. They may well be inundated with partnerships requests so you need to differentiate yourself from the competition by showing that you understand and care about their core values. Make sure you hone your sales pitch techniques.

Warren explains that once a company decides on an influencer type that aligns with its brand, it will look to “solidify its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)”.  He says that “knowing the KPIs before reaching out to an influencer company is critical” so think about what the company is looking for – are they looking to generate great consumer content, increase reach, or drive sales?

A comprehensive discussion of what your partner brand’s goals are will helps you develop a marketing strategy together that suits both your skills and their ambitions. After all, recent research suggests that when it comes to marketing businesses, social media influencers are “the next big thing”.

Warren adds that brands will “have everyday influencers participate in activities that are contextual to their life”. If they are working with a celebrity or social media star, they will research into who they are before working with them to ensure that they are not working with too many other brands. This is to prevent their posts or products looking inauthentic or too ‘salesy’.

Planned out where your blogging or vlogging is going to take you? Now take a look at the rules and regulations you’re going to need to abide by…

Online influencer rules and regulations

For anyone looking to become an online influencer and considering making money from a blog, vlog or social media, you will have to adhere to industry regulations.

Social Circle’s Donegan asserts that “it’s wise to understand the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidelines, particularly around declaring advertising, and advertising products to minors.”

The ASA is the regulatory body for advertising across all media, offering guidance on the application of advertising codes in specific sectors or on particular subjects to ensure advertising is responsible. Failure to properly adhere to their guidelines could result in legal action and even harsh financial penalties. For instance, if you publish a vlog on YouTube where you discuss a product that you are being paid to promote, you should clearly highlight that the post is sponsored; using the phrase ‘Spon’ or ‘#Spon’.

For Donegan, the most important rule for a successful blogger, vlogger and online influencer to follow is to be transparent: “Your audience will know if you are advertising a brand or product. If you don’t declare it you are disrespecting your audience which is the fastest way of losing them.” Your online presence is a powerful platform and can give you a great deal of influence with your followers. Followers trust you to provide information that, to the best of your knowledge, is true and useful. Don’t abuse that trust.

“Don’t rely on the brands to know all the rules either”, warns Donegan, “This is a fast changing sector and new rules and guidelines are coming into play all the time which some clients and poorly informed practitioners are unaware of”.

Just as traditional media has advertising regulations, so does social media”, adds Social Circle’s Cruel: “Last year, one set of rules were issued by the ASA called the Code of Non-broadcast Advertising (CAP Code). These rules apply specifically to online influencers and must be followed when working with brands, and they are quite strict”.  These rules are essential to learn if you want to enter the field of influencer marketing and cover everything from misleading advertising to advertising to children, making environmental or medical claims and gambling.

Cruel illustrates this with the banning of Joe Charman’s Hooch advert: “It was deemed that his behaviour by a pool with Hooch was ‘juvenile’ and inappropriate. Whether Charman thought this or not, it highlights the need for online influencers to be extra vigilant with the nature of their content, which isn’t a bad thing, and acts as a safe guard for both viewers, and influencers themselves”.

BzzAgent’s Warren says that in order to keep influencer marketing successful it is vital that it remains authentic: “This is done through disclosure. Consumers want context, therefore, letting people know that you #GotItFree does not undermine the potential sales lift. It helps the influencer remain credible and ensures the brand is adhering to the guidelines”. Again, being honest with your followers about whether you were given a product free of charge helps to maintain a trusting relationship with them.

So you’ve written a business plan and you’re aware of the rules and regulations you have to follow – but how much is your operation going to set you back?

How much does it cost to become an online influencer?

One of the most tempting aspects of starting a business via a blog, vlog or social media channel is that it can be a very lean start-up opportunity. If you have a laptop or computer, a creative mind, and access to a good internet connection you can, effectively, get going straight away.

For blogging you’ll need to think about where you host your blog and associated costs, you may want to use a free hosting site or work with a designer to create your own website; this can be expensive so consider whether you want to test out your blog business idea first and then get a designer involved.

Testing is crucial, Social Circle’s Cruel agrees:  I always say to start making content first, and invest later. Try it out and see if you like it – the fancy cameras and lighting can come later, a lot of people actually prefer ‘raw’ and ‘genuine content.”

If you think vlogging is the business opportunity for you, then are likely to need to invest in some high-quality video and audio recording equipment, which can set you back more but it’s worth it. As with low-quality writing, poor quality videos will make you look like an amateur and is unlikely to drum up views and create an engaged audience.

View our free guide on how to create professional quality videos on a start-up budget here.

But, consider trialling your video skills on your mobile phone first. Social Circle’s Cruel insists that “you can make a really decent video from only a smartphone nowadays and, in the end, your personality should shine through no matter the equipment”.

After that, the only recurring cost is your time – as long as you’ve got the ability and motivation to produce compelling content that is.

“Whatever you do, don’t “buy” followers or views using a click farm or bots”, forewarns Social Circle’s Donegan, as brands can “pick up anomalies and flag “bought” activities”. Buying followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has become easy and relatively affordable in recent years, making it all the more common. It is now quite simple to find out who is being followed by fake accounts, resulting in lost integrity and a bad reputation.

So you’re all set up and ready to start producing killer content to become an online influencer – but how much is the business opportunity worth? Read on to find out…

How much can you earn as an online influencer?

It’s completely up to you: you can take as much time as you like building your brand and can scale your profile as you see fit. Provided you took time crafting a thorough business plan beforehand, you should have a good idea of what direction your headed in and where you should focus your efforts.

According to Social Circle’s Donegan, the amount ‘everyday’ online influencers earn “varies massively from £50,000 to £100,000 annually depending on audience profile”. Obviously, if you are going to be marketing luxury goods to high-net worth individuals, you’re likely to be earning significantly more than if you’re working with a niche brand and a small audience.

Be realistic about where you’re talents lie as an influencer: vlogging or blogging relies on a relationship between like-minded people to create trust and loyalty.

Social Media’s Cruel agrees that earnings varies greatly: “Generally, you will earn more from brand deals rather than pre-roll ads. It’s all dependent on your views as well as your experience – it can be anywhere from £1 a month to the millions”.

She continues: “The more established you are as a public figure, the more deals you attract. However, in my experience, a targeted and loyal audience is the key to attracting brands you like, and audiences they want to connect with”. In other words, don’t pursue high value deals and opportunities at the expense of all else and before you’re ready, instead focus on building your audience and the rest will follow.

Cruel adds that you shouldn’t “do what everyone else is doing; you should carve your niche. The trends come and go so it’s best to have some substance once the latest fad has faded”. And finally: “Don’t fret over numbers (traffic to your site, number of social media likes and shares etc.) as the algorithms are always changing and even the biggest and best channels suffer from time to time. Focus on your content and your community”.

BzzAgent’s Warren says that influencers shouldn’t always expect to be paid either: “Although some influencers are paid by brands or agencies BzzAgent does not pay our agents. We work with brands to send them a free product or coupon to purchase the product to try”. These are still good opportunities to take if you are just starting out.

And “do not participate in influencer marketing just to participate”, advises Warren, “participate if your consumers will find relevance and connection to you”.

Most importantly, Donegal says you “shouldn’t expect overnight or viral success”… While famous YouTube vloggers have gone on to achieve superstardom, with countless subscribers, book deals and incomes estimated to be in the millions, these influencers represent significant outliers in the vlogosphere. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t achieve these stellar heights.

As long as you focus on the quality of your content, follow the guidelines and enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be on your way to success; however modest. 

Also see: How to make money from a blog using e-commerce

Remember:

  • Provide full disclosure: Always be honest and genuine with your followers – they don’t want to feel like they’re in a transactional relationship
  • Find out what your followers respond to and tailor your content accordingly
  • Be proactive about reaching out to brands and fellow bloggers for collaborations – don’t expect them to come to you
  • Don’t be disheartened by slow progress – most people don’t become an overnight success
  • Learn the Advertising Standards Authority’s rules inside and out
  • Don’t buy followers!


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