Can you hack it making your living as an Instagram influencer?
The “profession,” if we’re ready to call it that, is an increasingly popular one, idealized especially by millennials afflicted with acute cases of wanderlust and a yearning for independence from corporate drudgery.
The money companies are pumping into it is steadily growing, too. It’s a $500 million industry today, and corporate muscle will bolster that to $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020, according to Mediakix estimates.
That money isn’t going exclusively to celebrities. “Microinfluencers” who have between 50,000 to 200,000 followers are taking a not-insignificant share of the pie as well, according to a recent profile in The New Yorker by Rachel Monroe.
Monroe spent a week hanging out with Emily King and Corey Smith, the itinerant duo behind the account Where’s My Office Now, which has 147,000 followers and counting. The account essentially documents the couple (and their dog) living out of a Volkswagen van as they travel from scenic mountain range to idyllic beach (#vanlife is a popular hashtag — more than 1.3 million photos have been uploaded to it — that King and Smith and countless others use).
But Instagrammers like King and Smith, with a sizable yet close-knit following, can be more appealing to some advertisers than accounts with over 1 million followers because they tend to generate more loyalty and interaction among their fans.
“Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of ‘celebrity’ to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs. Advertisers work with people like Smith and King precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers. Krishna Subramanian, the co-founder of captiv8, a company that has helped Where’s My Office Now connect with advertisers, said, ‘Their followers know what they’re doing day in and day out.'”
The best of the best social media influencers can earn tens of thousands for a sponsored post. Users with a few million followers, like the couple Jack Morriss and Lauren Bullen, make six-figure incomes and as much as $9,000 per post traveling the world and snapping eye-popping photos.
At this point, King and Smith only make between $500 to $1,500 per sponsored post.
But the couple, who are picky about the companies they’ll endorse (“We see every dollar as a vote,” King told Monroe), appear to be gathering steam. They had already booked $10,000 in endorsements two months into 2017, compared with the $18,000 they earned in all of 2016. They’ve gained more than 7,000 followers since the piece in The New Yorker published mid-April.
Their posts tend to get a few thousand likes each. Although, perhaps predictably, shots featuring King in a bikini or semi-nude will bump that up by a factor of two or three. From Monroe’s profile:
“King clicked on the account’s most successful post, which has more than eight thousand likes. In the image, the back seat of the van is folded down into a bed; King faces away from the camera, holding a sheet to her chest, her hair cascading down her naked back. The second most popular post was of King wearing a bikini, standing on the van’s front bumper. In the next most popular, King is in a bikini, slicing lemons.
“‘People really want to see beautiful locations,’ King said.
“‘They want to see Emily in a bikini, they want to see a sun flare, they want to see the van,’ Smith said. ‘Ones of Emily in the van waking up with Penny, they crush it.’
“‘It’s real and it’s kind of moody—’
“‘It’s a naked female,’ Smith said. ‘If I’m in that picture, it gets three thousand likes.'”