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How to Start Making Money With Sponsored Instagram Posts As a Newbie

Published: June 13, 2021 Updated: March 24, 2021

Instagram offers plenty of untapped potential for aspiring influencers. Its visually appealing interface and community-minded features make it an ideal platform for sharing highly curated content. And studies show that the majority of companies—particularly ecommerce brands—prefer Instagram over any other influencer platform. 

There’s data to back brands’ decision-making, too; according to RhythmOne’s 2015 influencer report, Instagram has nearly double the engagement rate compared to other social platforms. This means people are more likely to share, comment, and like sponsored Instagram posts. 

Many Instagrammers fail to learn how to attract brands and, consequently, how to get paid for Instagram posts. Often, new and growing Instagrammers don’t feel confident in their stature and falsely assume they aren’t “big” enough to get paid for Instagram. 

But the truth is, Instagram is, by nature, more accommodating to all types of influencers, including beginners. Even microinfluencers with just a few hundred followers can get a piece of the paid posts pie. 

The fact is, no matter how many influencers you have, your follower count and engagement rate can serve as a niche of its own. Nanoinfluencers and microinfluencers offer better engagement rates, while macro influencers have higher reach. Microinfluencers are ideal for local brands that need local reach, while macro influencers can work wonders for international companies. 

Regardless of your fanbase, there’s a place for you on Instagram. And when you take the right steps to leverage your influence and community, you’re more likely to score coveted sponsored deals. Here’s how you can start making money on Instagram with sponsored posts. 

Sponsored Posts 101

It’s important for you to understand how paid partnerships work from a fine print perspective. Any time you review a product and are paid for it or given free product, you MUST disclose it. The Federal Trade Commission requires every post that endorses a product to clearly label the post as sponsored. This helps establish the relationship between the poster and the brand and reduces the potential for biased accusations. 

Over the years, many companies and influencers have come under fire for engaging in a paid partnership without disclosing the paid component. This is because influencers often falsely believe that disclosing sponsored posts reduces the authenticity of the post, when in fact, it can have the opposite effect. Not only is it illegal to accept money or product and not disclose it on your post, but it’s also unethical; getting caught doing so can be more detrimental to your career as an influencer, and it’s not a risk worth taking. 

Incorporate a Hashtag Strategy

Hashtags make it easy for users to discover content, which is why they’re an integral part of the Instagram infrastructure. Research shows that using at least 11 hashtags generates 442% more engagement than using none at all. Another study conducted by Simply Measured found that posts with at least one hashtag generated 12.6% more engagement than those without.

Hashtags are like the search engine optimization of your Instagram page. Still, some Instagrammers don’t like the “spammy” nature of hashtags, and have resorted to various practices that allow them to use hashtags without compromising the authenticity of the post, such as placing dots underneath the main content, followed by hashtags, or by hiding hashtags in the first comment of the post. 

Create your primary hashtag list in a separate document that you can refer to and copy and paste over and over again. Start with topical keywords and branch out from there with more niche options. Take a look at hashtags from competitors and non-competitors. Pay attention to the number of types of hashtags they’re using. 

Here are some hashtag best practices you should consider each time you make a post: 

  1. Tag the brand you want to attract for potential partnerships. Many brands monitor their social mentions and they’re far more likely to notice you when you tag them. This is also an effective way to build an organic relationship with the brand
  2. Pay attention to community hashtags. Community hashtags are branded hashtags (typically slogans and phrases) that a brand uses to help engage their community. Use community hashtags to start and participate in brand conversations
  3. Pay attention to campaign hashtags. Brands running campaigns use campaign hashtags to track and measure the conversation around a particular campaign.
  4. Study trending hashtags. Trending hashtags change often and are typically dictated by current events. Analyze trending hashtags to leverage popular topics and join conversations that aid your discoverability. 
  5. Use highly specific hashtags. If you want to build your follower count and cultivate a community, don’t forget to use specific, niche tags that are highly specific to your audience. Although many people don’t follow ultra niche tags, you’re more likely to gain loyal followers and discover more niche brands. 
  6. Use social media tools to aid your hashtag efforts. Finding the best hashtags isn’t always a walk in the park, but there are several social media tools you can leverage to create an effective hashtag strategy. For example, Influencer Marketing Hub’s Instagram Hashtag Generator will scan your image using AI recognition and identify relevant and trending tags you can use. Other options include Hashtagify and Bundlepost.
  7. Use hashtags in your bio and in your Instagram story. Express who you are and use key hashtags to drive people to your Instagram account.

Sign Up for Influencer Marketing Platforms

Influencer marketing platforms are a great way to get your name out there. These platforms help connect influencers like you connect with brands of all sizes. Most platforms have a similar structure; simply sign up for the platform, connect your social account(s), set up a profile, and brands will contact you if you’re interested in working with you. 

Strong search features make these platforms powerful engines for influencer collaborations, which is why it’s so important for you to take the time to create a well-detailed and thoughtfully curated profile. 

However, there are dozens of great platforms on the market, which makes choosing the best one tricky (feel free to sign up for multiple platforms). Some of the most popular influencer marketing platforms include Grin, Upfluence, and TapInfluence. 

Newbie Instagrammers are more likely to have trouble gaining traction on mainstream platforms, namely because they’re so oversaturated with influencers that your chances of getting discovered are slim if you’re in the process of growing your brand. You’ll also notice that many of these platforms focus on attracting and growing relationships with paying companies, rather than building their relationships with influencers. Some even require you to have at least 5,000 followers in order to be eligible to apply. 

Scalefluence’s influencer program was designed to address some of the common challenges that new influencers face and the platform is streamlined for influencers of all sizes. You set your own price (it can be $0 if you’re open to collaborating for free product) and any payment you receive is paid upfront by the brand and held in escrow until the deliverables are sent. This allows you to avoid relationship-detracting and awkward negotiations over pay. 

In addition to Scalefluence, there are a few other influencer marketing platforms that cater to small Instagrammers, including Tomoson and Afluencer. Do your due diligence and check out multiple platforms to see which works best for you. 

Tag Brands

After you’ve audited your profile and have maintained a steady flow of content, make it a habit to tag brands in content you think might be appealing to them. Because you’re new to Instagram, start small. For example, if you post content in the outdoor niche, don’t aim for REI or Patagonia right away. Instead, purchase products from smaller companies and tag them in your posts. Make sure your images and/or videos are high quality. Many brands, and small brands in particular, are more likely to share user-generated content and thank you for being a customer. From there, you can open up a dialogue about potential partnerships. 

This is a method that many influencers use to get attention from brands they’d like to work with. The idea is to get on their radar. 

Source: Hubspot

Create a Media Kit

A media kit is a digital portfolio of your social presence; it highlights your achievements, showcases your persona, and highlights your unique selling proposition. An Instagram media kit is necessary if you want brands to take you seriously as an influencer. 

Media kits can act as an invaluable promotional tool and are a great way to assert your brand. You can get as creative as you’d like. The fonts, colors, typography, and imagery you use all come together to create a professional image of your services. 

Fortunately, putting a media kit together is a fairly straightforward process. Conduct a search for “influencer media kit template” and you’ll find plenty of free and paid options, both of which will be fully customizable so you can plug and play. Both Later and Canva offer free templates. 

Alternatively, Etsy is a great place to start if you want premium templates. You’ll find highly-rated, instantly downloadable options and you’ll be supporting local, independent artists in the process. If you don’t have the time or aren’t confident in your eye for design, you can also work with an independent illustrator or graphic designer using freelancer platforms like Upwork and Fiverr. 

[INSERT ETSY SEARCH HERE]

Here’s what your social media influencer kit should include: 

  • Introduction about yourself
  • The number of social media followers you have for each social channel you want to target
  • Website statistics (if applicable)
  • Audience demographics 
  • Collaboration options
  • Previous partnerships / testimonials (if applicable)
  • Contact information 

Your about me/introduction is the first thing your potential clients will read. Take the time to create a short paragraph or two that embodies who you are and what your brand represents. It should show off your personality, talents, and passion. Include a clear, high-resolution photo that showcases your style. 

Next, your social stats are an integral part of your media kit. Of course, when you’re just starting out, it’s natural to feel as though your numbers are less than impressive. However, don’t be tempted to fudge the stats–it’s easy for companies to double check. 

Companies–and particularly brands looking for smaller influencers with higher engagement rates–are less interested in high numbers than you might think. This is especially true if you’re in an ultra niche category. You can also highlight growth rate if your numbers are on the lower end of the spectrum. 

For example, if you had 100 followers during your first month and have 700 followers in your third month, then it’s safe to say you’ve grown your traffic 3x over the course of three months. 

Engagement rate is very helpful for beginners. Engagement rate is a metric used to assess the average number of interactions that your content gets per follower. These interactions include The engagement rate formula is: 

Engagement Rate = Total Engagement (Likes and Comments) / Total Followers x 100%

Practice analyzing your engagement rate by picking a particular post. Let’s say you have 1,000 followers and one of your photos has 150 likes and 10 comments. 

80 (likes) + 10 comments = 90

Then divide this number by your number of followers and multiply it by 100 to find your engagement percentage. 

90 / 1,000 x 100 = 9% engagement rate

Typically, Instagram tends to have higher engagement rates than other social media platforms. The golden zone for Instagram engagement rate is between 3% to 6%. 

Calculating your own engagement rate can be time-consuming, but there are several tools that can calculate your engagement rate for you, including Keyhole, PlannThat, Buffer, and Hootsuite. Each of these tools can help you track your engagement rate, growth rate, demographics, and other metrics necessary for a strong and accurate media kit. Start tracking these metrics early so you can have a holistic, long-time view of your growth over time.

Source: Later

Ideally, you would have already worked with some brands and can include them in your media kit. Consider covering some brands for free (just to get your feet wet). This way, you can include their logos and/or testimonials in your kit. If you have any friends that have started their own companies, ask to collaborate with them.

Audit Yourself 

Before you start pitching companies, take some time to audit your own Instagram page to ensure your ducks are all lined up in a row. You wouldn’t apply to a job without making your resume and/or portfolio weren’t up to date, and the same careful conduct applies here. 

Take inventory of your current profile. Hide/archive any older posts that don’t align with the brand image you want to cultivate. If you’re left with just a handful of photos, take some time to grow your content before you start reaching out to brands. 

Create a content calendar to help you organize your content efforts. For example, as a parenting blogger, you might schedule a kitchen post, an outdoor post, or a traveling with kids post. Instagrammer plannors like Planoly and Later offer great content planning tools that include visual Instagram boards to show you what your content will look like before you publish it to your profile.

In addition to cleaning up any photos you don’t want to include and ensuring you have a strong arsenal of content, don’t forget to incorporate your hashtag strategy into each of your photos as you see fit. 

Start Pitching

You don’t have to wait for brands to come to you to start putting yourself out there. Now that you’ve built your media kit, you can start pitching companies on your own. 

“Pitching” in social media marketing simply refers to the process of presenting an idea to a brand in order to facilitate a working relationship. A great pitch can land you a deal and help you build relationships with different companies. Ideally, you’ll send your pitch via email, but there may be some cases where sending a pitch via DM might prove more effective (such as if the company is small and less likely to lose your pitch in a flow of dozens of other direct messages). 

As previously mentioned, start small by working with local brands to help build your portfolio. Begin curating a list of companies that you’d like to work with, noting their contact information, industry, number of followers, and other noteworthy items that will help you as you create customized pitches for each. 

You should also pay attention to influencers that they’ve already sponsored. Sift through the brand’s reposts and tagged photos to find other Instagrammers who have worked for the brands you’re interested in. You can also click on campaign hashtags the brand has used in the past and follow the trail that leads to the influencers that used them. Pay particular attention to the type of content these paid influencers produce. After you’ve located a few paid influencers, you’ll notice a pattern in the kind of influencers your potential sponsor likes to work with. 

This process can also be reverse engineered. Instead of searching for brands, search for regular Instagram accounts in your niche that have smaller followings and go through their photos to search for sponsored posts. This way, you can identify brands that typically work with micro Instagrammers. This might be time-consuming, but it’s worth it to locate companies you know are open to working with beginner influencers. 

After you’ve identified several brands you’d like to work with (including smaller brands), it’s time to start pitching. There’s no hard and fast course on pitching because every pitch should be different. Each time you send out a new pitch, it should be customized to that brand and include original ideas on how you can help boost their marketing efforts. Your pitch should include: 

  • An introduction 
  • Explains who your audience is
  • A request to collaborate
  • Includes 1-2 sentences about what you like about their brand/product
  • Includes a short outline that lists what you can do for the brand
  • Includes your media kit (if you have one) 

Here’s a sample pitch from Tom of GettingOnAPlane.com:

Keep in mind that smaller brands may not have the budget to pay their influencers much, if anything at all. Many brands will simply offer product, but don’t be deterred. Some of the most profitable influencers got started by accepting and reviewing free product. Once you’ve worked with several brands, you can build out your portfolio and accept higher paying partnerships. 

Consider offering to write a blog post in addition to your Instagram posts. As a newbie, this “combo package” could give you the leg up. Brands care a lot about search engine optimization, so throwing in a blog post helps you not only assert your value, but grow your personal blog or website as well. After you’ve written several blog posts, you can switch to an Instagram-only collaboration if you’d like. 

Don’t be afraid of rejection when you start contacting brands. If they don’t respond or tell you they aren’t interested in a partnership right now, you didn’t lose much. But if you say anything at all, you won’t get anywhere. You can typically find brand contacts on company websites by searching for pages like “Press,” “Contact,” and “Media Inquiries” on the footer of the page. 

Conclusion: Know Your Worth 

At the end of the day, there are two important things to keep in mind; know your worth and having a thorough understanding of how paid partnerships work on Instagram. Success doesn’t happen overnight and any influencer will tell you that they received plenty of rejections in the beginning. But if you put in the time and dedicate yourself to creating content, eventually you’ll score a paying gig and before you know it, getting sponsored posts will come much easier. 

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