Q&A making money on Instagram

I’m sharing the information I’ve gained over the past few years in regards to making money on social media. Here is the original post I wrote on Instagram followed by the Q&A:

The subject of instagrammers and bloggers being paid for ads or receiving free products seems to be such a secretive and taboo topic.  It's been going on for so many years but rarely ever talked about! Why aren't we talking and educating others around the subject of getting paid to create beautiful and inspiring content?  I've seen a few people start the conversation and I'm ready to join.
Instagram started out as a photo-sharing app. Anyone can join and anyone can share. But over time it has evolved into something more. Bloggers and designers are on there and they're making money. How. Why?
So, let's think about it: Why are you on Instagram? Why are you following the people that you follow? Maybe to stay in touch with friends and family, to keep up on news or to find inspiration. People like myself creating this inspiration are spending hours upon hours of time and money doing just that: trying to inspire. Additionally spending so many hours replying to questions, building relationships and trust with people who are following along.
We are surrounded by ads all the time. On TV, billboards, podcasts, radio etc. It's no different on social media. Except now, you're following someone who is giving inspiration on a daily basis. Giving out DIYs, opening up about personal struggles, bringing awareness to important topics. Plus they're sharing products that they care about and think you might care about and all of it is done in a beautiful thoughtful way. I think it's an amazing opportunity for 'normal' people who may not have been in the industry or have access to it to be able to get paid because of their creativity and talent.
So, when it comes to promoting a product and being paid for a job, the amazing thing about someone in my position is that I get to choose what I want to share. I get to work with brands who have gorgeous products that I would love to use or currently am using, or who are supporting people in small communities around the world. I also get to say no, I don't want to work with that brand. That is not something that I would put in my own house, not something I would wear, not something I would use in my life or I don't think it's good quality. I get to filter out the good and the bad so you don't have to.
Then, we get to conceptualize an authentic way to talk about that product whatever it may be. If you add up the hours it takes to brainstorm and create content (3-4 hrs per post) and the hours spent engaging by answering questions building relationships, Etc.(3-4 a day) that's a lot of hours! Plus there's the time it takes to write a blog, so consuming!
I do understand that we are building a relationship of sorts through social media and a relationship is give and take. It's so important to be able to offer more than just a product review and more than just an ad which I think a lot of us really try to do and really try to connect in an authentic way.

When I started this Instagram account a few years ago I had no idea there was even an opportunity to make money doing this. I was simply sharing our home. Now I get to partner with brands and get paid to do what I love! There's no space here for comparison or competition and I'm happy to share all information that I have to help anyone interested in pursuing this.
What are your thoughts? Questions? Ask them here and I will answer everything in more detail on my blog!
As always, thank you so much for your support!

Q: I'd like to know more about the process of collaborating on ads with another business. Do you contact someone because you love the product or do they see you use their product and then they contact you about a collab? 

A: It depends. If I'm starting a new project, like when we renovated the RV or if I'm moving into a new home, occasionally I will reach our to a company if they have a specific product I think will be perfect for our space. I will provide a proposal of what the outcome of the project will be including a design board. Depending on the value of the product I may ask for compensation or offer a trade of product for promotion. It's also important to include a media kit when contacting businesses. It's like a resume, showcasing your work, telling a bit about you and who you have worked with. 

In most cases the brand will contact me directly to collaborate and other times I get jobs through websites that I've signed up with that act like an agency. They have all my information on file and connect me with brands that I would be a good fit with. My favorite companies that provide this service are Collectively and Activate Social.  

Q: What get's you noticed the most amongst businesses?

A: If you want to be noticed by a brand start tagging them when applicable and when you're using their products. Most companies usually have a hashtag associated with their account that they may check on to discover people, start using that as well (example: @Rejuvenation uses #myonepiece) Once they find you, having a consistent portfolio of work is important to businesses, they want to know what to expect if they are going to collaborate with you. 

Q: How did you learn about photography and composition?

A: For me that happened over time and with a lot of practice. I've been on Instagram for about 4 years and have shared over 1265 photos. It's definitely been an evolution. I like to avoid really heavy filters and distorted pictures that create odd angles. It's just my preference but I think a room that is shot at eye level with straight lines is the most appealing. Luckily Instagram makes it very easy to adjust things like that right before you post a picture. Otherwise I use VSCO to edit my photos and most of them are taken with my Canon Rebel T6. I use a tripod and the cannon connect app to take all the photos that have me in them.

Q: What are some things you wish you knew when you started this commercial and creative process on Instagram?

A: I wish I had done less work for free. I find it very frustrating when I see people promoting products that have very little value (socks, watches, etc.) for free (trade) Companies obviously see value in having products showcased on social media and it costs them very little to give these products out. However, the person promoting this product is spending time and sacrificing a space on their page for an ad that they didn't even get paid for. In saying that I have no problems helping out small shops that are just getting started and makers working from home that don't have budgets to be spending on advertising. My frustrations lie with bigger companies taking advantage. 

Q: How can businesses know that working with you was worth it?

A: Usually a business will provide the influencer with a specific link that is associated to them so when traffic is driven to the website they will know where it came from. These links are usually used in story swipe ups and on blogs. Other times they provide a discount code for the influencer to give out (example: LIZK20 which would give a discount to people and also let the brand know how many sales were made)

Q: How did you get started? How do I get started?

A: I was never a social media person, actually disliked it a lot, so it's pretty ironic that I spend most hours of my days on Instagram now. I started my account in 2014 because I was doing home staging and wanted quick access to something that would have all the homes I've worked on so I could easily show prospective clients. Instagram seemed like the thing to do. 

Slowly I started sharing our home on there and that's when things started rolling. I discovered that groups of people had hashtags that they asked people to use (example: #finditstyleit or #currentdesignsituation, those used to be big) As a group they would select a winner to feature amongst all of their accounts. That is a great way to gain exposure (if your are selected and featured). Start paying attention to these hashtags and use them, it really helped my account grow in an authentic way reaching people who are interested in the same things.

You can also submit you home to websites like The Jungalow, Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge and try to get your home featured in their home tours section.

As far as making money goes, start by signing up with the agencies I mentioned above and don't limit yourself to just those. There are a lot of good companies out there that provide this service, do your research and find reputable ones. LIKEtoKNOW.it is also a great one to sign up with. You can make money through them by sharing the products in your home and you get a percentage of all sales made.

Another thing to note: paying for followers or comments is a terrible idea. Businesses can recognize it right away. Plus what is the point? You want real people following and commenting. Some people are into comment pods as well, that's where a group of people all agree to comment on each others posts to boost the activity and visibility of their posts. I don’t participate in these either, I think much like paying for followers comments pods come off as inauthentic and businesses can see that. That is just my opinion though and some people may have seen some success from these pods (I'm not an expert just sharing my thoughts).

Q: Should it be mentioned in your post when you get paid or receive free product?

A: YES it is actually very important according to the FTC you must include #ad or #sponsored and from what I've read recently you can use the brand name followed by partner (example #airbnb_partner) using #partner alone is not enough. These tags can not be hidden amongst other tags where they may not be noticed. You need to be very upfront and clear about paid AND trade collaborations. Really just be honest, and be proud! You've been paid to create something and it's your choice to work with the brands that you want to promote so you should be confident in sharing that with your audience.

Q: How do people gain an audience with all the new algorithms?

A: Ugh, good question. This algorithm makes no sense. Keep trying to get features through hashtags so you show up on multiple accounts maybe? I haven't got any good secrets to spill on this one. Sorry! Stay active on Instagram, comment and like other posts are a few things I've heard... who knows.

Q: If a brand comments on your posts asking you to DM them to work with them is it worth responding or is it spam?

A: I never respond to brands that do this. It's probably just a generic comment left on your post or a brand who doesn't really value you. If they aren't taking the time to properly reach out via email or at very least a DM then they aren't worth working with.

Q: Do you have to have a big following to work with brands?

A: I don't think you need a big following to start partnering with brands. In fact I've read that it's more valuable to have a smaller audience who are more engaged with you than a large audience that doesn't seem to interact.


I hope you found some value in this and can start making that money!