Everything you wanted to know about money as a new social media influencer

When I was starting out as an influencer, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

More than anything, I was confused about how much I should charge for content, when I should start charging and whether brands would even be willing to pay a rate I would be happy with. The influencer market isn’t the most welcoming space in terms of getting business advice. Most people don’t talk about how much they’re getting paid and a lot of the time they’re contractually obligated not to mention that information. It’s also one that seems super secretive and impossible to break through. With so much competition and thousands of new influencers every day, how does one possibly figure out what they’re worth? 

SEE ALSO: A message to the beauty industry: Black beauty boys aren’t going anywhere

As normalized as influencers have become in the age of social media, there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding how much they’re getting paid for their services. If you’ve ever wondered how much your social media posts are, look no further. Very Good Light looked into all the different factors that go into how much you, as an influencer can get paid and what brands look for. You’ll be surprised at just how this entire industry works. 

Small follower count? You still can be raking in the $$$

Instagram analytics tools like Hopper HQ provide estimates of how much celebrities are getting paid for posting sponsored posts. At the top of that list reigns Kylie Jenner, with a whopping $1 million per post and over 100 million followers. That means she’s getting roughly $.01 per follower. But fame and follower count isn’t everything – you can charge for a post based on a variety of factors.

According to Jennifer Li Chiang, co-founder and CEO of MuseFind, a leading influencer marketing platform, influencers are far more effective than celebrities at communicating with and engaging with their audiences. Brands are more than willing to pay for that sort of direct line of communication. In addition, smaller influencers are having just as much success in the influencer space as bigger ones. “More and more companies are working with smaller influencers,” says Jennifer to Very Good Light. “There’s more ambitious influencers on the smaller end who are more eager and likely to engage with businesses than those who feel they have made it.” That means that smaller influencers, who want to prove their worth, will probably have better content. Better content means more engagement for brand who’d want to regram their posts. It’s a win-win situation. Brands get great posts for a smaller budget and influencers get to add their collaborations to their resume. 

Ernest B. James, founder and chief managing officer of Noire Management, a diversity inclusive talent and marketing agency, says it’s not all about the numbers. Rather than the follower count, brands want to get the word out there. Meaning, nano-influencers – those with less than 20,000 followers – can sometimes be more engaging than micro-influencers, those with less than 500,000 followers.

Ernest explains that brands can effectively get marketing from nano-influencers who will post about them in exchange for free products. There’s both excitement on the part of the influencer for getting the opportunity to partner with these brands, he says, and excitement on the part of this smaller audience who wants to see the influencer in question flourish within that market.

Quality > Quantity

Jennifer explains that brands are getting smarter when it comes to who they choose for their influencer marketing campaigns. “You can buy followers and engagement but you can’t put a price on quality of content and professionalism,” she says. Brands are moving away from looking at follower count. Rather, she says, it’s “quality of posts, professionalism, and how well influencers know their fans.” Even if you have a lot of followers, what brands care about is whether your followers trust you and if you can quantifiably prove it. “These are things that go beyond reach,” says Jennifer.

Suzanne Droese, co-founder of Estate Five Media, a PR company for the influencer space that represents influencers like Diet Prada, agrees. Suzanne explains that micro-influencers might have smaller followings, but can be just as influential as bigger ones. “Their followings may be on the smaller side, but their followers listen to and hang on to every word they say,” she tells Very Good Light.

And if you thought your hashtags wouldn’t be seen by any brand, think again. They’re watching, scrolling and discovering – after all, that’s their job.

Ernest notes that these influencers will sometimes even put in substantial efforts to create better looking content than bigger influencers. According to Ernest, brands take note of that when it comes to who they select for their campaigns and how much they’re willing to pay. It all comes down to how seriously you take the influencer space. “Within the influencer space, we’re finding that you’re hot today and gone tomorrow because you’re only as good as your last post,” he explains. “Essentially, what brands are paying for is small advertising agencies.” So even with a big following, if you deliver something generic, in an oversaturated market like the influencer space, the brand is going to look elsewhere. The takeaway here: if you’re serious about the influencer business, have consistent content. 

Still need a starting point? Try this equation. 

As per mentioned, there isn’t a one size fits all charging scale for influencers, and it isn’t all about the follower count. According to Later.com, a marketing platform for Instagram, as a good starting point, a lot of influencers go by “$.01 per follower rule.” Meaning, for every follower you have, you can charge a penny. But that’s definitely just a guesstimate – it’s simply where you can budget where you can start out.  

A brand will be more willing to pay for what fits with their vision for their campaign than just any influencer with a lot of followers. Suzanne notes that every brand is different. “Some brands look to collaborations for brand recognition and awareness, while some are looking to convert to sales,” she says. At the end of the day, it depends on what the brand’s goals are which helps them decide what and who they’re willing to pay for.

Is it time for an agent?

In the long run, influencing turns into a much bigger job than just content creation, and that’s when looking into managers or agents becomes necessary. Ernest explains that when you get into a space where you’re booking about 5 to 6 jobs per month and being asked to do a greater scope of work than just content creation is when it’s best to start looking into a manager or agent. “A manager is going to help you manage all 6 of those jobs making sure you’re not running into any editorial calendar mishaps or you’re not missing deadlines,” he says. But be prepared to share some of your earnings with your agent or manager. The industry standard is 10% per pay check. 

When your platform grows even bigger towards the millions, Ernest explains that this is when you can really think about creating viable business. “A lot of influencers are parlaying into various industries instead of just influencer markets in the traditional sense.” Because of that, besides just looking into managers, bigger influencers need to look into agents that specialize in the industries that they’re getting into like television or literary. 

Here’s where you should start

Build your aesthetic and brand identity. For instance, are you a beauty boy, lifestyle, fashion, fitness? Try reaching out to smaller brands and creating content for them; this will not only highlight your content creation skills, but also show bigger companies you have experience working with a brand. And if that doesn’t work, go out and buy the products yourself and create content with them to get a brand’s attention. As Suzanne puts it: “good content combined with an element of ‘hustle’ are the most appealing. Like in any industry, hard work, talent, and dedication make for a winning combination.”

At the end of the day, think of this as a business. “Being an influencer is really the same as being an entrepreneur,” says Jennifer. “You’re building your own brand. Everything you do is building your professional profile. That’s what you should keep in mind if you own it and you decide to run with it.”

A message to the beauty industry: Black boys aren’t going anywhere

Since the rise of male makeup gurus on social media, seeing men in beauty campaigns is no longer a rarity.

Morphe tapped Jeffree Star and James Charles for collections, Manny MUA starred in a Maybelline campaign, MAC’s new “it” star is Patrick Starrr, Bretman Rock joined forces with ColourPop and Gabriel Zamora is a spokesperson for ipsy. But, while brands are welcoming plenty of men and even men of color like Gabriel, Bretman, Patrick and Manny in their makeup campaigns, black men seem to be missing from this new landscape.

SEE ALSO: Black masculinity and when you don’t fully belong

Arguably, being a black influencer of any kind comes with challenges, but being a gay black man working in an industry that constantly fails to be wholly inclusive is an uphill battle of its own.

Take Kameron Lester (@kam_lester), for instance. He’s an L.A.-based beauty influencer with nearly 25,000 followers on Instagram and more than 40,000 subscribers on YouTube, but despite his talent and healthy following, Kameron tells Very Good Light that he feels invisible within the larger industry.

“(Companies) don’t bother looking at you or supporting you. They just look past you,” he says of the imbalance between black and white beauty influencers. “It’s harder to get recognition from big brands being a smaller black talent. As black talent you grow a little bit slower and it’s harder to get recognized.”

According to Ernest B. James, founder of Noire Management, which exclusively manages black influencers, brands are hesitant to “pay what the influencer is worth.” In fact, in Ernest’s experience working with influencers and brands, though it wasn’t confirmed, “influencers of color are regarded best for gifting or lower rates.” If brands want to be inclusive, he adds, they have to be willing to pay.

The struggle to be acknowledged extends beyond getting paid. Kaliff Jones (@makeup.messiah), 21, says that people of color have to work ten times harder than other influencers for a brand to like or repost a photo.

L.A. influencer Victor Ramos (@vicmram), 22, who was featured in a Make Up For Ever Campaign, says the industry’s exclusion of people who look like him is obvious.

“There’s tons of brands that know who I am,” he says. “There’s tons of brands that are fully aware that I and other people exist, but they still don’t invite (black) influencers to events. People are so conditioned into thinking that black influencers don’t bring in the same amount of dollars.”

Inclusive brands achieving sold-out status proves black faces do sell

This notion that black faces don’t sell isn’t new, of course. Former Vogue UK editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman told The Guardian in 2017, after standing down from her position, that her “chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy.” In other words, putting black faces on her covers meant “you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.”

But launches like Fenty Beauty’s stunning, inclusive foundation range and Jackie Aina’s (@jackie_aina) Born this Way x Too Faced Cosmetics collaboration both quickly achieving sold-out status prove Alexandra’s assumptions wrong. Black people want to see themselves and they will pay.

“I see brands make excuses such as, ‘Oh, no one would buy this,’ or ‘That’s not our audience,'” blogger Alissa Ashley (@alissa.ashley), who collaborated with NYX on an inclusive foundation line, told Refinery29 in 2018: “But when brands do provide these (darker) shades, most of them end up selling out.”

According to a 2018 Nielsen report, black consumers spend nine times more on beauty products annually than any other ethnic group. Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement commented in the report on the power of the black consumer: “Our research shows that Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color, but the mainstream as well.”

‘We’re conditioned to think that there’s only one spot for a black person’

Being overlooked and feeling undervalued has created an environment of tokenism and competition between black men in the influencer industry, says Victor. “I think that we’re just conditioned to think that there’s only one spot for a black person.”

Justin Marcus (@jay_lindoo), a 21-year-old influencer from New York City, agrees. “A lot of male influencers in the community don’t like to see others win. People will love you until they feel like you’re so successful they can’t reach you anymore, and start bashing you.”

Victor had a similar experience when an influencer with a large following “publicly told me they didn’t support me because I already got PR and went to events, but they were outwardly supporting huge white influencers who are damn well getting more than I am. It just goes to show how we pick and choose and put each other on a double standard.”

Though the feeling of competition can divide, coming together is more important, says Charlotte, N.C. influencer Tavaris Jefferson (@varijstylez), 24. “I wasn’t looking for people higher than me. I was looking for people around me who could build with me. We forget that there are other people around us that are in the same predicament we’re in. If we lift each other’s brand and build up, it’ll be a better look.”

And, throwing sexuality into the mix adds another dimension to black influencers’ fight to be seen. Despite the glam lives they promote on social media, being visibly queer can have repercussions.

Just existing as a gay black man can be life threatening, but wearing makeup pushes that even further

“Black men are fighting so many battles,” says Ernest. “Not only are they fighting people who see them just as black men and as a threat regardless, they’re also fighting their own people who don’t accept them because they’re gay and play in makeup. Within an already marginalized group, they’re marginalized even further.”

Dr. Pamela Valera, lead author of a study examining the relationship between police violence and media portrayals of black men, says that portraying black men in positive spaces can possibly banish negative stereotyping.

“We need to provide more positive spaces for people of color and for black men to be themselves and show all of themselves in a space that’s not going to assume they’re hypersexual or hypermasculine.”

The recent alleged hate crime against Empire star Jussie Smollett shows just how vulnerable gay black men remain in today’s society – even as they put on a brave face. “I’m always discriminated against in public – in or out of makeup – but I never let the negativity take over my mind,” says Kaliff, who lives in Mississippi. “I just smile and wave.”

But the beauty industry that has the ability to normalize portrayals of black men in cosmetics by utilizing the power of black beauty influencers to make cultural change.

Brands have the power to make the beauty industry a safe space for black men

“(Brands) definitely made it more of a safe space for me,” says Kenneth D. Senegal (@heflawless), an L.A.-based influencer featured on Fenty Beauty and MAC’s social channels, among others. “Brands have the power when it comes to making a space acceptable for a creator. The more they share my posts, the more it makes it acceptable to an audience in general.”

But, inclusivity must be authentic, says Kenneth. “You can always tell who’s being fake. If I was messy I would just name brands, girl.”

“You have these companies who never made shades for black people, and suddenly Fenty Beauty came out and it’s like ‘Oh we’re seeing how much money Fenty Beauty made with all these darker shades, let’s get on it and expand our brand,'” adds Markevious Harris (@poetic_drugs), a 21-year-old influencer from Lagrange, GA.

Tavaris agrees: “A lot of beauty brands think diversity is a trend, and think it’s cute to put darker complexions in a campaign for shits and giggles. It’s not funny. It’s pandering,” he says. “Work with more people of color, and don’t work with them by just sending them products. Work with them by asking, ‘What could I do to help make our brand more diverse? What could I do to make a product not so ashy or not so orange?’ I think brands need to take into consideration that in order to make a change, you need to talk to the people that are affected.”

Fortunately, black beauty boys aren’t waiting around for corporations to finally get “woke” and make sweeping change a priority. They are more than prepared to take on the industry and speak up for themselves and their community, says Kenneth.

“The world might not be ready for black boys to forefront makeup campaigns, but black boys are.”