How to make money on Instagram

“Does this match my theme?”

“What should I caption this?”

For most people, Instagram is something that they use for fun. Whether it’s making their feed “aesthetically pleasing” or sharing photos from you last trip, Instagram serves as a prime platform for interacting with not only users, but brands as well.

The app was originally released five years ago, though it started gaining popularity rapidly in 2012. Now, there are 430 million users on the app. But Instagram is not only for teenage girls; professionals too are using this platform in different ways.

Gary Arndt, winner of the SATW Central States Chapter, Travel Photographer of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015) and Lowell Thomas Award, Photo Illustration of Travel (2012-2014), uses Instagram not just because it’s a photography-based app, but also because users engage with his work more than on any other platform. “Right now Instagram is my primary social media platform. Even though it is the smallest platform for me in terms of followers, it gets the most engagement by a wide margin. With 155,000 followers on Twitter, a photo which does well might get 10 retweets. With 125,000 followers on Facebook, a photo might get 1,000 likes if it does well. On Instagram, with only 58,000 followers, my photos average 2,400 likes and I’ve had some photos hit 5,000,” he said.

However, the app is not used purely for creating a portfolio. Like other social media platforms such as  Facebook, Instagram has become a prime location for companies to advertise online. Users of the app get to directly interact with the picture or video by liking, commenting or even clicking on the individual account to see a 3×3 grid of advertisements.

Companies employ two main ways to advertise on Instagram. The first and most obvious way is by simply posting photos on their account. Many users may not know this, as these photos don’t seem like advertisements at first glance. These photos are typically staged and show everyday people or models using the products in their lives.

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The other way of advertising online is through affiliate marketing. This basically means that everyday users of Instagram can be chosen by companies to show their products in posts. One of the most popular products shown on Instagram is the Skinny Tea or Teatox trend. Affiliate marketing allows everyday users to promote and spread the brand to a wider range of audiences.

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Instagram user and SAS senior Jackie Wirt is no stranger to affiliate marketing. Like most people, though, she only used the app for fun at the start.

“I probably started using Instagram in eighth grade, I think it was, when all my friends were making them, and they were like ‘Check out this cool photo app,’ so I was like ‘Okay.’ Initially it was just pictures, like dumb pictures of my friends – if you scroll back far enough they’re still on there.”

Over time, Jackie explained, Instagram was “becoming more of a hobby.” Whereas before, it was purely for entertainment.

In terms of Jackie’s experience with advertising on Instagram, she said, “It was companies who started reaching out to me at first, but then eventually I became more confident, because I was like, ‘Oh if these people are contacting me, then maybe I should contact them.’”

Her last product promotion post was from three months, and recently she says that, “I haven’t been looking to see if anyone wants me to promote their stuff. Usually it’s local Singaporean brands or companies around Asia.” In the past, Jackie has also promoted products like León Swimwear’s bikinis and Ardee’s (previously Dunn and Tate) phone cases.

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In the past, Instagram may have just been for recreational use, but for the savvy Instagram user it can be an avenue for profit. If you’re wondering how to monetize your Instagram account, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Get a theme, post “aesthetically pleasing” photos and post consistently.

Think of your feed as a résumé – brands will most likely determine whether or not to reach out to you by the looks of your feed and number of followers. Most Instagram “influencers” have at least 5,000 to 10,000 followers to be considered by brands. Companies want to know that you can sell their product, and a big following means you’re “popular” and have power or influence on social media; therefore companies think people will want to buy what you have. With a good feed comes more popularity, more exposure on Instagram (usually through likes, comments and followers).

2. Be smart with your #hashtags

Although not used by all, hashtags are in fact helpful. According to Instagram, adding tags to your photos is a great way to find new followers and share your photos with more people. By adding tags to your photo you can increase the exposure you photos get on Instagram, meaning more likes, followers and comments.

3. Reach out to brands

Being recognized isn’t the only way to advertise brands. If a brand hasn’t approached you at this point, reach out to some. You can apply to be an “(unpaid) brand ambassador,” and have companies send you free products to promote.

4. Explore affiliate marketing

Another option is affiliate marketing – the process of promoting a company’s product and getting paid a commission per sale. These are more common on blogs. Bloggers often do this with sidebar banners promoting their partners (affiliates) or even though posts featuring a specific product.

On Instagram, you post photos highlighting a brand’s products and drive sales through your affiliate-provided URL. Affiliate marketing is popular on Instagram, because the account owner is pleased they earned a commission. In turn, the company is happy they have a new sale from a customer that they might not have normally been able to reach, and finally the customer is happy they learned about a product.

Author: Kristi Yang

Kristi Yang is a senior in her seventh year at SAS and is a third-year reporter for The Eye. She was born in New York but raised in New Jersey, Beijing, and Singapore—where she currently resides. Despite having lived in Asia for the past nine years, and in Singapore for the past seven, she still considers New Jersey to be home. You can find her running late to class (from Starbucks), leading painless workouts at House of Pain, or loitering around the media lab in the wee hours of the night (just ask campus security). She can be contacted at

2 thoughts

  1. I think everything should start with planning. Most people are too focused on the looks of their feed. They miss the strategy. I do use the app Plann and it really helps me a lot (designing, editing, analyzing etc.) when it comes to IG marketing.


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