How regular people become ‘influencers’ and make their living on Instagram

Brooke DiPalma
Brooke DiPalma
An image from Camila Bravo’s Instagram page.

Three years ago, Camila Bravo didn’t even have an Instagram account. Today Bravo, a 24-year-old make-up artist in Philadelphia, has over 450,000 followers on Instagram and earns well over six figures — with potential to earn even more.

Influencers like Bravo are notoriously secretive about how much they earn by being on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook (FB). But Yahoo Finance spoke to a few who were willing to describe how the pay affected and changed their lives.

For her part, Bravo told Yahoo Finance she has paid off much off of her college debt, bought a new house, and invested money back into her own business — all thanks to her current career as an Instagram influencer.

I always thought of the app as a cool way to share my passion for makeup,” she said. When asked if she saw this as a full-time lucrative career, she said, “Never in a million years!”

Here’s how the average Instagram user becomes an “influencer:” When a regular Instagram user creates content focused on a particular market (health, fashion, beauty, etc.), they may begin to gain attention from brands. These brands, in turn, will pay Instagram “influencers” to place products within posts.

Bravo’s Hispanic roots have helped her appeal to advertisers, as she writes each of her Instagram posts in English and Spanish — which allows her to appeal to both the US and Latin American markets for beauty products.

Instagram Influencers are now getting agents 

Recently, Camila joined the JGO Agency, which manages influencers who make well into six figures. Other influencers the agency represents include Angel Merino, who has 1.3 million followers, and Aaliyah Jay, who has 1.2 million followers.

The agency has helped Bravo gain new sponsorships. “As an influencer manager, my number one goal for my clients is to always partner with brands who make sense for them and their audience,” Jennifer Gomez Holguin of JGO Agency told Yahoo Finance.

Originally from Colombia, Bravo has collaborated with Tarte Cosmetics, Ulta Beauty, Maybelline, and other brands. In addition, she’s been featured on Popsugar, Elle, Telemundo, and many other media outlets.

The amount of money that influencers like Bravo make per post varies depending on the size of their following and other factors. But Holguin told Yahoo Finance that the annual “earning potential for an influencer with a large following on multiple platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) can absolutely eclipse six figures, and some of the biggest have potential to earn over seven figures.”

Growing Instagram Influencer says it bought her freedom

Last July, Joelle Friend, a 25-year-old from Seattle, Washington, took some time off from her full-time marketing and sales position at a software company. She embarked on a 10-day trip as a Instagram influencer with Visit Finland, which required her to post at least six times. While she planned return to work the next week, she decided to quit her job after getting some more opportunities from other brands.

A year later, she says she’s enjoying life way more than when she was in an office every day. Today, she calls herself a freelance social media influencer, particularly for the lifestyle and travel industry, with over 103,000 “all authentic” followers.

Although she’s not making as much as she was at her previous job, she says she intends to match her previous salary. Friend told Yahoo Finance she earns enough as an Instagram Influencer to save, buy essentials, and pay rent for her two-bedroom apartment with her one roommate.

“It bought me freedom to do whatever I want, when I want to do it,” she says of her new gig. Still, Friend does have some obligations. She has deadlines to meet and many, many emails to answer. She also has to engage with her followers. On average, she’ll receive 130 comments per a photo and 9,000 likes, but she knows that her followers respond the best in the early morning or afternoon. She receives this information from Instagram Insights.

Friend has to devote some more time negotiating prices. In Friend’s opinion, social media influencers often sell themselves short and post for companies just to make a quick buck and gain legitimacy for their page.

“Some companies, you tell them your budget, and they just find someone who does it cheaper,” Friend told Yahoo Finance, “and that’s that just the nature of it.”

Patience is essential to be within this industry, Friend believes. “The money will come if it’s (the content) valuable and people like it,” she said.

Instagram as a “side hustle”

Over the course of the past seven months Corey Favino, an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island, has made $1,350 from his collaboration with six different brands. Each month, he was required to post one photo on Instagram. Though this may be a side hustle for him now, Favino says, “It’s just the beginning.”

Once Favino realized he wanted to pursue a degree in communications and media studies, specifically marketing and photography, he decided to combine his two hobbies — photography and social media advertising — in order to make money.

With only 2,811 followers, Favino can be considered a beginner in the Instagram influencer world. “I want to prove myself to a company. I want to show them what I can do, before I start asking for money,” he said.

However, due to Favino’s use of hashtags and tags within his photos, brands quickly began to reach out to him to capitalize on his audience of followers. From mid-May to July 4, Lokai sent Favino an array of bracelets to promote for its Wear Your World campaign. Lokai decided to use three of the photos that Favino sent in in exchange for $450 in compensation.

Favino has aspirations to travel the world as a photographer. For now, as he finishes up his senior year at the University of Rhode Island, he hopes to collaborate with different companies and continue to work with fellow up-and-coming social media influencers, like Ariel Laporte.

Meanwhile, he’s earning some extra money just by doing something a lot of other college students do — posting on Instagram.

More from Brooke DiPalma:

Here’s the next blockbuster acquisition Amazon could make

Why sparkling water sales could spike by 20% in 2017

“This is the time to treat myself”: Why so many millennials eat out 5 times a week