Instafamous: How to make a living from Instagram

You've probably heard the term 'social media influencer'. 

Like 'the cloud', you know vaguely that it exists but might not be quite sure what it really is. 

Social media influencers are people who have massive online followings and have made that into a full time career. They get paid by brands to post on their social media channels. 

In some cases, they're real world celebrities who have huge followings. 

In 2016, 23-year-old Kiwi entrepreneur Iyia Liu reportedly paid Kylie Jenner $300,000 to wear one of Ms Liu's Waist Trainers - a corset-like garment which purports to improve your figure.

Her company is praised by experts for its heavy social media influencer strategy. 

It's working: Ms Liu's company Waist Trainers New Zealand Australia sold $3.5 million worth of waist trainers within one year of starting up. 

But influencers come from all walks of life. They also include normal Kiwis who have become 'Insta-famous': Simone Anderson (500,000+ followers); Johnny Danger (316,000 + followers) and Jessica Quinn (132k followers). 


So if anyone can be an influencer, how do you become one?

Firstly, you need high post engagement.

"We don't pay anyone who has less than 1000 or 1500 likes per photo," says Ms Liu. "But for people with 500 likes plus per photo and good content, they could get free product."  

According to Ms Liu there aren't many super influencers in New Zealand capable of drawing 1000-plus likes. 

But there are a couple of exceptions, and they can earn big: "People like Shaanxo and Simone Anderson... you'd get maybe $2000 a post if you were someone like them." 

But that's nothing compared to what you can earn in the United States. There, 20-year-old girls can make US$50,000 a post.

But even in New Zealand, the trend is moving towards brands being increasingly willing to pay influencers big bucks. 

It's becoming such a powerful form of advertising there are now companies that exist solely to help brands capitalise.

Georgia McGillivray is the co-founder of Auckland-based The Social Club, a platform which connects brands and influencers directly to each other.

The company started one-and-a-half years ago and has the largest database of influencers in NZ - around 1500.

Big-name brands like Les Mills, Cookie Time, Ecoya and Uber are already on board.

Ms McGillivray worked in influencer marketing in the USA, UK and Australia before coming back to NZ. 

She says that in 2012, US brands were spending about 10 percent of a campaign budget on influencer marketing. Now they're consistently allocating 30 percent.


But how effective is it really? According to research company Nielsen, influencer marketing provides 11 times the return on investment, which far outstrips traditional forms of advertising. 

The Social Club will work with anyone who has more than 2000 followers, provided that they have at least a 10 percent engagement rate.

These so-called 'micro influencers' can earn $50 - $250 a post, compared with somebody with more than 100,000 followers, who could earn up $800 - $1500 with just a 1 percent engagement rate.

Get enough of those and you've got a full-time occupation.

The life of a super influencer

Simone Anderson is one of New Zealand's full-time super influencers. In May 2016, her weight loss story went viral and her social media following exploded. 

She has just quit her day job to be a full-time influencer.

"I spend maybe eight hours a day on social media content - making posts, replying to comments, replying to messages."

Ms Anderson admits it is very easy to become obsessed with your phone. 

"At one point I was on my phone 24/7!" 

Now she doesn't check it after 8pm.

"My phone is my job - you have to have boundaries and schedule it like a 9-5 and still live a balanced life." 

So how do you start?

"Get high quality images by investing in a good camera," says Ms Anderson. "Engage with people, do things like asking questions in your comments - and do it because you have a passion and a drive for it. If you do it for the money you'll never be as successful!"

But this isn't an easy route to fame and fortune. Firstly, you can't buy your followers using bots because companies know.

Secondly, it's going to take time. If you put in maybe two hours a day for six months, Ms McGillivray thinks you could gain 5000 followers. 

So even though it might look easy, it's still hard to achieve.