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You have an Instagram account and appear to be doing everything right, yet your following seems to be stuck in the hundreds. With over 800 million active Instagram users, it’s no wonder that many find it difficult to stand out on the social media platform.
People often see monetizing a blog or social media account as synonymous with having a large following. Thousands of followers can certainly help you get more leads, sales, and brand ambassadorships. But, it’s actually a lot more important to have quality blog and social media posts than a ridiculously high number of followers.
The same goes for Instagram. More brands will want to work with you and you’ll find it easier to sell products when you have a close-knit, super-engaged fan base, rather than a million followers who rarely interact with your posts.
If you’re looking to make money from your Instagram account but you haven’t quite hit the 1,000-follower mark yet, then this post is for you.
Why Instagram is a Tricky Money-Maker
Let’s start off by saying that Instagram isn’t the easiest channel to monetize. You can’t just run some ads and hope for your followers to grow and brands to start begging to work with you. Instagram doesn’t work that way.
Of course, Instagram is an excellent way to work with some of your favorite brands through brand sponsorships. But, to make the most money from your feed, you’ll need to think outside the box.
Instagram is great for behind-the-scenes monetization methods. Think of Insta as more of a springboard to other forms of making money rather than a primary way to make money.
Instagram’s algorithm is tricky, though, and it can take a while to understand and optimize your feed according to its standards. You’ll find out that, with Instagram, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.
It only matters how engaged your followers are. You need to find ways to keep up engagement to have money-making opportunities come your way.
You Don’t Need Thousands of Followers to Make Money on Instagram (Just Very Engaged Ones)
Before you start looking into monetizing your Instagram account, you should first focus on increasing your engagement.
Having 100 followers who consistently like and comment on your posts is so much better than having 10,000 followers with only a handful sporadically liking and commenting on them.
Brands you’ll potentially work with want to see that others love your posts, beliefs, and brand. You’ll establish yourself as an influencer the more your audience starts engaging with your Instagram feed.
Let’s look at some of the most important things you can do to increase your engagement on Instagram:
About 70% of Instagram posts never get seen! There are tens of millions of Instagram posts going out daily, which makes it easy for yours to get lost in the crowd. However, the more you post, the more likely it is that people will see your posts and start engaging with them.
It seems like the Instagram algorithm also favors daily posters who prove that they love using Instagram. If you don’t have time to devote to posting every day, then use a scheduling program like Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule posts for you.
You can pick one day each week to make the posts and then let the scheduler post them on the days and times you choose.
Post During Optimal Times
Not only should you post a photo to your Instagram account every day, but you should also find the optimal times to post for your time zone.
Just like other social media networks, Instagram has certain times of the day when more people are active, making it more likely that others will see, and engage with, your posts.
Through the workweek, right around lunchtime is the best time to post on Instagram. That’s when people take a break from work and check their social media accounts, so you may get more eyeballs on your posts.
If you choose to use a scheduling tool, you might have even more help finding the best times. Buffer, for example, can automatically schedule your posts for optimal posting times, leaving you free from doing the guesswork.
Use the Right Hashtags
A lot of Instagrammers do hashtags all wrong. They think that the more hashtags they use, the more people will see their posts.
However, recent research shows that using around five hashtags per post may give you more engagement than littering your post with them. Generally, though, using any number of hashtags besides zero can lead to more likes and comments.
But, you’ll want to use hashtags that will target the audience you want.
A good step to take is to see what other like-minded Instagrammers are using for hashtags. What hashtags will your target audience be drawn to? Those are the ones you need to focus on. Play around with different ones to see what works best for your posts.
Check out Tailwind’s helpful guide to Instagram hashtag research for tips and tricks.
Engage with Like-Minded Influencers
It may seem counterintuitive to follow and engage with competitors of your brand. But, when it comes to Instagram, you can’t afford not to do this.
Engaging with top influencers not only shows that you’re interested in making a name for yourself in the same industry, but it also sets you on their radar. People are much more likely to follow and engage with other influencers in their industry than random followers.
Take some time each day to find authority accounts in your industry who have mastered targeting your ideal audience. See what they’re doing well so that you can find some ways to improve your own account. Follow their feeds and engage with posts often and you might even get a follow back.
Create an Engaging, Cohesive Feed
Do you know any top Instagram influencers who don’t have a feed in which the photos look cohesive and have a similar style? Probably not.
The key to winning on Instagram is to publish beautiful, engaging images that are also styled in a way that matches the other photos in your feed. Focus on creating a brand style by using one or two filters in your photos and sticking to your brand’s colors to make your feed aesthetically pleasing to visitors.
Is your Twitter or Facebook accounts doing way better than your Instagram account? It might be time to use your more successful accounts to help grow your Instagram following and engagement.
If people follow you on other accounts, then they already are interested in what you post. They’ll probably also be interested in your Instagram posts, but may not know you have an account there.
Cross-promote your Instagram by telling your other followers that you exist there too! If you’ve built up an email subscription list, you can also send out an email with a link to your Instagram. Be sure to spruce up the email by adding some of your best photos.
Making Money on Instagram
While you work on improving your Instagram engagement, you can simultaneously work to make some money on Instagram. And, yes, these monetization methods can even work for you if you have as little as 500 followers if most of them actively engage with your posts!
Use Instagram to Boost Your Online Store Sales
One of the best things about Instagram is that it gives your brand some visual impact. If you sell products through an online store, then Instagram should absolutely be your go-to network for sharing incredible photos and videos of your products in action or on display.
Think of your Instagram account as an extension of your business and brand. You place all your products on your website and that’s also where your sales occur. Your Instagram account, though, is where you should focus bringing some personality into your products.
Unfortunately, Instagram isn’t the best platform for linking to your website. The only place you can put a link is in your bio. You might notice a lot of Instagrammers saying something like, “Link in bio!” on their posts, and the link then directs you to a specific product page.
There’s a better way, though, that I discovered recently: Linktree. Linktree gives you one simple link to place in your bio, but that link can link to other links.
The free plan gives you unlimited links, so feel free to add links to the products you mention in your posts without needed to change your bio link constantly.
Direct Brand Sponsorships
One of the ways you’ll see Instagrammers making money the most on the platform is through direct brand sponsorships. This means that they work with another brand to promote its products or services that align with the Instagrammer’s own brand and interests.
Many of your favorite celebrities probably do this (have you seen all the people promoting the FabFitFun boxes?). Depending on how large and engaged their audiences are, they make a lot of money doing it too.
I’ve had large and small Instagram accounts over the years and I’ve been just as lucky with both of them to have brands come to me for Instagram sponsorships.
You can always reach out to your favorite brands, too, even if you don’t see them working with Insta-influencers yet. There’s no harm in asking.
Finding Brands to Work With
What brands are most likely to work with you for Instagram sponsorships? How do you find them?
If you’re just starting out and have zero sponsorships under your belt, you might want to see what brands are very influencer-friendly. Follow your favorite influencers and see who they’re working with.
When you start pitching your favorite brands, it helps for you to have one or two sponsorships completed so they can see that you know what you’re doing.
You can also set up a Fohr Card for yourself. This website lets you create a social media “card” to which you connect your social media accounts. Brands can find you and decide if they’d like to work with you.
Instagram Influencer Programs
Another excellent way to find brands that work with influencers is through influencer program. This is my favorite way to connect with brands.
It’s simple, brands can find you instead of you searching for them, and it gives you a chance to work with some up-and-coming brands you may not have heard of before!
Through these programs, brands will connect with you if you’re a fit for upcoming campaigns. Campaigns can be one-off, quick projects. Or, they can last several months, and you may be required not to work with competing brands throughout that time.
You’ll get a quote for compensation for the full project, so there’s no guesswork when it comes to how much you’ll make.
Here are a few influencer programs that have Instagram campaigns:
Some Instagrammers choose to monetize their accounts by becoming affiliates for other brands they love. This is the same as using affiliate links on a website. Link to products or services using an affiliate link and receive a commission when others purchase something via your link.
Again, this method of monetization requires links in your bio. If you haven’t yet signed up for Linktree, you should do it now! In addition to your own product links, you can add your affiliate links to your Linktree profile.
It’s a good idea to post some original photos of the products to your Instagram. Try to stick with products and services you personally use so that you can add a personal touch to your photos.
However, if you don’t have the product available, you can ask a brand for photos that are okay to use on your profile.
Sell Your Photos
Some photographers choose to sell their photos on stock photography sites. Most people don’t know that they can do the same for their Instagram photos!
Or, you can always be like Daniel Arnold, an Instagrammer who decided to offer prints of his photos to his followers and ended up making $15k in one day.
That’s unlikely for most people, though, so here are a few places you can sell your Instagram photos:
- Printful (turn your Insta photos into cool products, like t-shirts, mugs, and more!)
Manage Other Instagram Accounts
If you’re not having enough luck with your own Instagram account – or, perhaps you are having so much luck that you want to expand! – you can manage accounts for other Instagrammers.
Social media management is becoming one of the most popular freelancing gigs. As an Instagram manager, you’ll take over the accounts of other individuals or businesses to post photos, captions, and hashtags.
The individual or brand might also want you to actively engage with their fans to help grow their following.
Alternatively, you can take original photos for brands based on their needs. This is a good solution for individuals or brands in need of photos for their Instagram that may not yet want to outsource the management of their social media accounts.
When you see some of your favorite Instagrammers screenshotting photos from other accounts or tagging other influencers, it can mean one of three things:
- The Instagrammer genuinely loves that person or brand and wanted to call organic attention to it by giving it some love on her own account
- The Instagrammer created the shoutout as part of a paid sponsorship between her and the brand or person
- That Instagrammer sold a shoutout to a person or brand who wants some attention
You can absolutely sell shoutouts on your Instagram account. Shoutouts can be as simple as a tag of the brand’s Instagram account or the use of a special hashtag.
Some shoutouts will require you to repost a photo or screenshot a brand’s Instagram photo and caption and then place it on your Instagram feed.
Advertise Your Digital Products
Selling digital products has become a popular way to increase income and give digital business owners more longevity.
Sell courses on Udemy, write eBooks about your favorite topics, or create a webinar that teaches others how to do something you do well. Whatever you choose, use Instagram to sell it.
If you create video courses, provide a sneak peek to your Instagram followers with a video or story. Or, provide them with a teaser of a few pictures of your eBook pages. Include in your Linktree the links to your digital products and make sure your captions point your followers to the link in your bio.
Sell Your Popular Feed
This step will likely come only after you’ve had a lot of success with your Instagram account, either by growing your follower list or gaining some incredibly engaged followers.
Maybe you’re rebranding or moving onto another project and will no longer have a need for your Instagram account. In that case, selling it may be an option.
This money-making method is one to take at your own risk, though, because selling an account is against Instagram’s Terms of Service. However, at the time of this writing, there is no legal code that states that you can’t sell your Instagram account.
There you have it: nine solid ways to make some money with your Instagram account even when you don’t have thousands of followers. Engagement is crucial to Insta-success, so take some time to build up a close-knit group of followers before working on boosting your income.
Do you currently monetize your Instagram? What methods are your favorite? Let us know in a comment!