If you have an Instagram profile, you might follow some major influencers. Their perfectly curated photos and posts tagged #ad, #promotion or #sponsorship might lead you to believe that netting serious coins from companies is an effortless gig. Think again. 

Influencers put serious time, effort, and hustle into their livelihood, and earning money on social platforms is a job. Can you make money on Instagram? Of course! But Instagram shouldn’t be viewed as a means to strike lucky and win big. It’s an app, not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Now that you are spending more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, how do you make money on Instagram? Can anyone make money on Instagram? 

Let’s break down the myths and stereotypes of the Influencer lifestyle and delve into the reality of how Instagram can be used by anyone for their career.

The Influencer: It Isn’t All Filters, Hashtags, and Stacks of Bills

Every influencer has a story, and every influencer likely has a unique skill set that helped elevate their account from visible to high profile. The biggest myth about the influencer lifestyle is that it is effortless.

Yes, some influencers were very lucky…maybe their fame, influence, and visibility happened because of a viral video or photo. Still, luck can only take you so far. Dedication, skill, and effort have to be part of the equation, too.

Others might have grown their following very slowly through the years. Maybe they used Instagram for social purposes and later decided to pursue it as a career. Success stories on Instagram are unique to each influencer. Reading the background of different influencers—and how they found success—is a great way to understand all the work behind these accounts.

Once a large following is amassed, influencers don’t get to coast through posts. Keeping hundreds of thousands of followers (or more!) engaged means constantly working to create unique content and exciting buzz. 

There also may be a very real pressure to take content to the next level, to push boundaries. Every influencer has to know their ethical and professional boundaries, and they have to define those boundaries. Some may not endorse a product or service that isn’t in line with their beliefs. Others might not care. Some may embrace crazy antics, others may just stay conservative.

Disclosure, too, is extremely important for influencers. FTC guidelines regulate what must be disclosed by influencers. These disclosures are why you’ll see the #ad, #sponsorship, or #promotion on posts. Not disclosing could lead to fines or other legal issues. The FTC is very explicit when it comes to these disclosure guidelines! So if you’re even thinking about pursuing life as an influencer, read up on all the FTC guidelines that outline how to disclose interests that could be seen as a “material connection” to any brand, company or other entity.  

Here’s How to Use Instagram for Every Day

Influencing isn’t the only way to use Instagram as a financial tool. Use your social media profile to draw awareness to your job skills. Do you have an Etsy or eBay resale business that helps you earn extra income?

Gain attention for your business by posting photos of new items up for bid (or sale). If you’re posting on your personal account (and not an account that is specifically for your Etsy or eBay business), just make sure you’re being transparent that these photos are related to your business (again…always disclose your interests!).

You also could use Instagram as a visual resume for future employers to see your skills and expertise. Trying to make it as a photographer? Showcase your talent and eye for images and post your best photographs to your account. Or take photos of other work that you feel is exceptional. Do you restore old cars? Take before and after snapshots of your work. 

Using Instagram to make money doesn’t necessarily mean that Instagram is your source of income. Instagram may simply be yet another way to elevate your work or professional profile.

Other features on Instagram also can help elevate your professional image. Use stories to delve into a unique project or professional endeavor. Videos can explore other facets of your work. Just be sure that whatever you post doesn’t feature anyone without their approval. And, again, whatever you post related to your work or business, be sure to abide by those FTC disclosures (if they apply) and always disclose any ‘material interests.’

How to Make Money on Instagram

The Etiquette of Social Media

If we’re talking about how to use social media—and especially Instagram—to help boost professional image or income, we also have to talk about online etiquette, too. The perils of social media aren’t isolated to Instagram. Social media—across all platforms—could be absolutely disastrous to your professional and personal life if used inappropriately or without care. And although it has helped bring people together during the coronavirus pandemic, it has also been responsible for the “coronavirus infodemic”

When posting on social media, always remember that the internet is forever. There are no exceptions to this rule!  While Coronavirus will pass and stay in our memories as a frightening experience, every post can be screen grabbed, saved or shared. 

Post with care, post with kindness and never ever use social media as a means to scare, defame, exploit, threaten or bully another person. Understand that your freedom of speech does not necessarily mean freedom from consequences. People have been fired over social media posts. People also have been sued for posting a negative Yelp review. What you post is forever…so think very hard about your digital legacy.

The best rule of thumb regarding social media is don’t post anything you wouldn’t say in public. Ultimately, a social media post is a scream into the digital space. Treat every post as something that millions of people can access.

How to Make Money on Instagram

Now Onto the Fun: How to Snap Great Images for Instagram

After you understand all the rules, disclosure guidelines and legalities, it’s time to start posting. Instagram is a visual platform. This means that it tells your story in photos and videos.

Keep photos interesting and engaging. Find unique backdrops and locations. It’s ok if you don’t have the budget to hire a professional photographer; ask a friend or family member to snap those photos! Don’t try to copy someone else’s photo style, though. Make your photos and your posts unique to you.

Need fun locations for photos? Try these cool scenic options:

  • Your own garden
  • Your front yard
  • A special place in your house

If coronavirus warnings allow you, also try:

  • The beach
  • A local park
  • A beautiful bridge
  • An open (rustic) field

Of course, there are also photo rules! Never trespass on private property to snap photos. Yes, that barn makes a beautiful backdrop. However, if you don’t have the owner’s permission, snap somewhere else. You also should never, ever put your life in jeopardy to take a photo. Understand your surroundings. Don’t take photos near a ledge or other dangerous landscape. Your life is worth more than a social media post!

Instagram also is known for its unique filters. These can enhance photos and create unique effects. Canva notes that the filter Clarendon is the most popular and that Juno, Gingham, and Lark also are top picks for photos. Canva also reported on the most used filters for food, fashion, and landscape photos. Yes, filters make a difference for food pictures, too!

Also, be mindful of copyright laws. Don’t post images that aren’t yours. Song lyrics, music, poems, professional photos (including paparazzi photos), and other intellectual property also can’t be copied and/or used without the owner’s permission. There are exceptions (like Fair Use); if you’re unsure if something is protected by copyright…don’t post it!

Always be respectful of landmarks. Use common sense before taking photos in places where respect is expected. Selfies on the railroad tracks at Auschwitz were so popular that visitors had to be explicitly told that this behavior was unacceptable. Use common sense…and treat places of mourning, places that mark tragedies, with dignity. Know when to put the camera away.

If you really want to become an influencer, you’re going to have to find ways to increase your followers organically. This is work…but if you are dedicated, you might come out on top. Now that you are staying at home, you might find the time you were longing for. 

Whether you use Instagram as a professional tool or aim to influence, be smart about using the ‘Gram. Remember that everything you post is forever. 

Always disclose ‘material interests’ and label posts accordingly. What you say online can have ramifications professionally and personally. Be kind, follow the laws and, most importantly, use common sense. 

Instagram is a visual platform, and pictures tell the story. Never put your life in jeopardy to take a perfect shot and don’t take photos in places that are solemn or sacred. Of course, copyrighted material also is off-limits…so don’t take photos or other types of intellectual property that isn’t yours. 

Instagram isn’t a get-rich-quick opportunity so be wary of anyone who promises you something that is too good to be true! Rather use wisely the spare time you may have these days to get into action.