Last week I was called to speak about the influencers market in two occasions: at the Photo Schweiz fair (where the organisation was interested in knowing how to grow an Instagram, and especially from a photographer’s point of view), and on the Swiss national radio in Italian language, Rete Uno, where the focus was more on the differences between the main social media platforms.
Personally I have a good knowledge of the current Swiss market only (especially about fashion and lifestyle), and I can’t answer for all influencers and all social media. But I do know the Helvetic digital scene enough, so I thought I can resume its main characteristics in a blogpost.
There are a lot of things people ask me again and again, or misunderstand, or they are very curious about. I hope to debunk some myths and clarify the basics of this job – by the way: yes, it’s a real job. Many people – particularly white, old, successful men – ask me that.
1. How do you make money on Instagram? Does Instagram pay you?
In general, you make money with product placement: a brand wants to advertise something, so it offers you money to photograph their product/show their service/include it in your photos more or less openly.
But we also get paid with a percentage on sales, or with a pre-decided (very small) fee for each comment and like.
Often we can receive free products and services (I could have my lips filled up or botox for free once a week, if I said yes to all the offers I receive!)
Instagram is not involved in all this and rather tries to stop it, because it wants to do the job itself (i.e. to make money by sending you advertising). That’s why, for example, one cannot copy paste a link on Instagram. It doesn’t work because any external links can be a private form of advertising, that Instagram doesn’t approve (it works only in a private message).
Finally, many people who work on Instagram also have a blog. If they have enough clicks, they get offered money to post a link on their site, or get paid per click, or receive money to write an article.
Many bloggers also get asked to help organising events or campaigns, to consult brands, to give their name to a collection or to design it, etc.
2. Do you sell something?
But some others do/ try to.
I get asked again and again, but I don’t believe in conversion.
Yes, you read it well: I don’t believe a blogger or Instagrammer can sell, and I explain this in every meeting or email, when a brand asks me to. Here’s my point.
When you see a TV commercial of, let’s say, a toothpaste, you certainly don’t rush to the supermarket to buy that toothpaste. For some reason this is totally accepted in TV advertising, but it isn’t with digital ads. Maybe it’s the name influencer, suggesting that we influencers are supposed to make everybody dumb and are able to force them to buy things they don’t need? I don’t know.
If you see the TV commercial again, two days later….again, you don’t rush to the supermarket to get a toothpaste.
But if, on the weekend, for example, you finally go to the supermarket and need a toothpaste, then see ten different toothpaste brands you’ve never heard of, and also the exact toothpaste you saw on TV…well, now it’s very likely that you will buy the one you saw in the advertisement.
We do the same thing online: we familiarise people with products or services. Ultimately, we sell. But our followers aren’t stupid and they decide when and how.
3. Can you make a living with Instagram and blogging only?
Switzerland is a small country so not many bloggers are big enough/have a big enough audience to be able to monetise well. Most girls work online and offline, often part-time or in marketing.
As a rule of thumb, I could say that one starts to get paid well with 100’000 followers on Instagram (for that, one can charge CHF 1’000-2’ooo per post plus stories). Alternatively, one can offer a combination of blog/Instagram/other social media (this is what I do. My blog has just been named the n.1 Swiss blog in fashion and lifestyle by seekahost).
Since 100’000 followers is a bit of a threshold to be paid well, many people cheat and pretend to have that audience, by buying fake followers. We’ll get there later.
4. How can you grow an Instagram?
I always start my presentations with the following sentence:
Instagram is like Coca Cola: we all know, more or less, what it is. But nobody knows exactly what’s in it.
So beware of experts. Nobody has the final answer, also because the Instagram algorithm changes all the time.
Unless you go viral or are a lot in the media, I think one needs to work on three main areas:
- spending time on Instagram
Content needs to be authentic, regularly updated, entertaining, or informative, or telling a story – one can’t expect people to follow them just because they exist.
Photos need to be of high quality – sharp, with good light, good resolution and looking nice all together in the feed (I use three apps. One to preview how photos look like in which position, before I publish them – called Mosaic. The second one to edit light – Lightroom. The third one to make myself prettier – Facetune).
Spending time on Instagram is necessary because Instagram is happy with that and encourages it. What does that mean?
Instagram wants to make money. And how does it make money? By sending you advertising. How can Instagram send you advertising? By having you on the phone, logged in Instagram and actively watching it. For that reason, when you stay a lot on the platform, liking/commenting/answering/watching other posts, Instagram will also show your posts to other people more. If you switch your phone off all the time, your photos won’t be shown around much.
5. Why are you so small? Chiara Ferragni has millions of followers!
The Chiara Ferragni phenomenon is almost impossible to replicate nowadays.
Instagram wants to make money – we know it now. So years ago, when it started, its interest was having as many people as possible on its platform. Therefore, if you were good (and Ferragni is very good at her job, no doubt), your photos and publications were shown around much more. Today, Instagram wants to monetise the fact of having such a huge audience.
If you want your stuff to be seen by a great number of people, you now need to pay. A big brand with a big budget can have a big Instagram account also thanks to paid advertising. Having millions of followers would cost a really lot for a private person and is almost impossible to achieve, or,better, it’s not much in our hands.
6. For sure a brand doesn’t pay anybody with fake followers?
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of brands paying people with fake followers.
I assume some don’t realise it/see it/understand it. But I have also heard from many marketing people that often the person who does the campaign knows it. His or her boss asks for big numbers and wouldn’t pay without that, so the marketing person chooses profiles with big numbers, even knowing they are a lie.
Don’t forget that the big boss of a big brand is often a white, middle aged, male guy. He probably doesn’t understand the concept of fake followers, but does understand the number 100’000.
7. What are fake followers? How do you buy them?
Every day I receive emails or direct messages offering me all sort of apps to either automatically like, follow, or comment on Instagram. I also receive offers to buy fake followers, and even – so they claim – real followers. I have never bought any, so I’m not an expert about prices. But I see from the messages that one can invest also very little (30 or 50 CHF) to see one’s number of followers artificially grow.
8. How can I see if someone has fake followers or fake likes?
There are tools to do that, and some companies have them. It’s basically software you need to pay, usually a certain fee each month.
Other firms ask you to link your Instagram to their platforms so they can control your data.
Finally, there are free online tools, but in my experience their quality is very low and they don’t tell you much.
I prefer my practical, manual method. It really gives you an idea of the authenticity of a profile. You will need 5 minutes to see rather well what’s going on. Here’s how to do it.
- Go to someone’s profile.
- Click on a random picture.
- Click on its likes.
- Scroll down (the first ones are likes given by your common friends or by people with common interests, so they are probably real).
- Click on some of the profiles to observe them
- When you see a profile with a strange name, or a strange photo, or an incomprehensible language, probably no stories, click on it.
- Watch it. If it is a fake, you will see it immediately (it will have no posts, or very little, or random pictures from the internet, etc).
- Try at least thirty different profiles. If all thirty look strange, it’s clear the profile has no value.
Finally, do the same with the person’s followers: scroll down for a minute and click on followers you’ll find rather “down”in the list. Repeat what you just did while investigating a random picture and observe at least 30 followers. You’ll immediately see what’s going on, and if the followers are fake.
9. If you show yourself half naked, sure you get a lot of followers?
I wish! (smile)
Beauty and sexiness do help, but really to a point. Also, an aggressively sexy picture might bring you likes, but it doesn’t bring a lot of engagement or business. No serious brand wants to link its image to a soft porn star.
But there are exceptions.
10. Instagram is finally removing likes and fake followers, isn’t it?
We did receive notifications about that, but I see no changes yet. I still wonder why it’s so difficult for Instagram to do that – it must have its reasons.
Maybe the privacy issue makes Instagram unable to implement too many changes.
11. How important it is to have a “winning” image?
People love dreaming and relaxing by watching good or positive pictures and content on Instagram. I do find that being perceived as cool, or rich, or strong, or somehow a winner etc, does help to gain followers and inspire people.
In my case, I know that many see me as privileged, and also strong and positive. They see the places I visit and that I’m so much into running and adventure racing, and they are mostly intrigued by it.
On the other hand, nobody loves perfection. We all love stories, to see how people really make it, to identify.
We bloggers and Instagrammers need to be very careful not to make people feel inadequate by comparing themselves to impossible standards which are not real anyway, because they are only a portion of what we really do.
Social media do portray incredibly beautiful, thin, rich women dressed with the best outfits. But they also show intelligent and inspiring content that is valid and authentic.
As with anything else, one can choose between the good and the bad.
Personally, I try my best to show myself in an authentic way.
13. How do you find jobs?
There are mainly three ways to find jobs:
- A brand writes to me (by email or directly on Instagram)
- An agency writes to me because it’s organising a campaign for a brand (they normally get a percentage)
- I write to a brand (very rarely, only if I have the right name or I know that they are doing a specific campaign that might fit)
14. Are brands transparent about paying you?
Unfortunately, in my personal case, this isn’t always true. Big brands tend to be very transparent and ask me to use #ad or similar hashtags routinely.
But it also happens to me that I have to ask companies to allow me to use the paid partnership feature on Instagram, and they don’t authorise me. The authorisation is also kind of cumbersome and doesn’t always work, so I don’t manage to use it very often, or as often as I’d like.
15. What’s the worst thing about blogging?
Every day I receive at least one mail asking me to work for free.
There is always a startup with no budget telling me I will love their product, or an environmentally friendly company that claims I should support their cause, or a new service I should be so enthusiastic about, that I should try, photograph (professionally and in a good location of course, well dressed and enthusiastic looking), write about (in perfect English, SEO friendly), record for Instagram stories and show all the audience I got in years of work – that follows me exactly because I don’t bombard them with continuous advertising – all for free, of course!
But doing all this is a process that needs preparation, time, competence, other people’s help, and “using” my audience.
Sometimes I answer to these people that even a cleaner earns CHF 25 per hour. They seem to understand the argument, and normally stop writing (in some cases, they even paid me, after reading that).
16. What’s the best thing about blogging?
I love blogging.
I work from home and I’m there for my family.
Also, I get invited to events where people wait outside in the cold just to see the red carpet guests for a moment – it can be glamorous.
I get to know very interesting people in Switzerland (sportspeople I admire, people in key positions, interesting artists or volunteers, etc), can decide my schedule and subjects, have very diversified days, have the privilege of talking about themes I care about.
Many of the people who follow me also write to me directly and sometimes really get inspired by what I do. This is a great privilege I am aware of and try not to blow with stupid content. Finally, these people inspire me and motivate me with their thoughts and passions too.
If you are a freelance at heart, like me, and love being seen online, I do recommend the job! And since nobody knows how long the Instagram trend will last, I try to enjoy every day of it.
As quoted in the cover picture, I hope 2020 is a year of storytelling above showing off. So I’ll keep posting about my passions, and you are very welcome to write or criticise if you feel I’m going in the wrong direction. Let’s keep it honest, and fun. Happy new decade!