Sarah Langa MacKay, Nandi Dlepu, Raya Rossi, Candice Lee Kannemeyer and more are all examples of women who are influencers and brands in their own right.

Whether full-time or part time, being an influencer is a very unique job that continues to rise in popularity in the last five years or so. Now the term is unavoidable in media-related strategies.

CNN reports that research firm World Wide Worx found that South African Instagram users increased by a whopping 32 percent between 2016 and 2017. And the World Wide Worx and Fuseware also revealed that Instagram grew faster than any other social networks in South Africa with an increase of 133 percent during the same period. 

So what does it involve? Paid influencers get compensated to share brand content on Instagram and on their blogs in a way that makes the products seem effortlessly part of their cool lifestyles. 

Their followers want this lifestyle and are persuaded to buy the products. 

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But how does it actually work on a practical level? I asked a number, a few questions.

1. How to do you make money as an influencer?

Influencing full time means running yourself as a brand. As a business. 

Sarah who has a whopping 148K followers on Instagram told us that "You will never be able to make money as an influencer if you don’t treat what you do as a business. The level of commitment and professionalism that you portray in your quality of work must reflect that of an established organisation and that is how you get brands and companies to take you seriously.

"Like any other business; innovation, diversity and adaptation is what will keep you growing so always keep an open mind and have the willingness to learn from your peers.” 

Like any other ad campaign, influencers are like the models, except advertising agencies don’t have to put the entire campaign together by themselves.

They can rely on cool micro-influencers like Keagan Kingsley who has 6.4K followers and Thithi Nteta with 32K to create lifestyle content for their brand and who will charge them less than a traditional ad campaign would’ve cost. 

Local curvy model and former Miss SA contestant Marciel Hopkins who has 60.9 K followers stresses that, “It's up to the influencer then to calculate an amount that they want to charge per post or they are happy to get products/treatments in exchange for social media marketing. It all depends on the influencer's personal choice/need when it comes to asking or receiving money.

I'm starting to move more to actual cash paying gigs, because there are just so many free things one person can get before needing to buy a closet to put them in.

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“Some influencer live off their Instagram income only because they make it their full time job. So it is possible but then you'll have to have a big following with high engagement stats of your followers.”

Kingsley and Nteta told CNN how much they generally charge per post: Nteta can ask between R5-10K per post while Kingsley's following might get her more in the range of R1-2K a post. And it’s not just about followers but engagement per post (comments, reach, etc.) and mainly whether a brand thinks you’re right for them.  

But influencers also often choose charefully, as they don't want to represent a brand they don't feel comfortable or ethically aligned with. 

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Kefilwe Mabote who has 489K followers says, “I’m in this industry for the long haul, therefore I am selective about which brands I work with, ensuring that everything I do fits my brand essence and profile so that I am still true to myself and my followers. Money is not instant in this industry, you need to build a name for yourself and a reputable platform. Monetising comes from my stylist/personal shopper business, retainer clients, brand partnerships and ad-hoc paid for brand campaigns across categories that match my profile and interests.”

Fashion Breed's Aqeelah Harron who quit her job in 2015 to do this full time says she has never looked back. She now has 43.1K IG followers and breaks down the main things influencers do to monetise their work: 

"Much like any form of media, be it newspaper, digital, radio etc, social media influencer platforms are made possible and kept afloat because of advertising," she says.

1. Sponsored posts to endorse a product or brand - these often stretch over a number of posts and you get paid per post. 

"So for example, a brand may commission you to do three Instagram posts, one blog post and a YouTube video. You get paid for each or offer them a package deal."

But she says she only works with products she believes in. "I value the trust I have with my readers - it is everything to me."

2. Paid-for appearances as MC or modelling for brand campaigns as an influencer

"For this you're usually paid a day-rate for the shoot and then usage rights over the brand's media and then still for your posts about being affiliated with the brand."

As examples, I'm currently one of the faces of Canal Walk with two billboards on their property (which is still so crazy!)" 

3. Guest writing, advertising banners and then sales commissions

4. Using your blog/following to gain clients relating to your initial expertise

"So for example, perhaps they’re a personal trainer who posts about fitness. That gets them clients but having a following opens them up to other fitness-related endorsements too," says Harron.

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But not all influencers do this full time. 

A Cape Town based influencer with over 4.9 K followers, says, “I'm not a full-time influencer. I work a 9 to 5 that pays my bills and also the Uber trips and petrol to events. When I do work with brands/companies they either pay me actual cash (per post) or in freebies/half cash and half clothes. I've also done a gig that paid me in a R5000 voucher.

I'm very picky about what I will and won't promote.

"I'm starting to move more to actual cash paying gigs, because there are just so many free things one person can get before needing to buy a closet to put them in. I'm not knocking freebies but I'm starting to want a perfect balance. I also do get paid in commission for referring people to a hair brand that I work with. 

“I do understand that other influencers get crazy paying gigs but I also understand that I'm a different kind of ‘influencer’ and my blog isn't a fashion/makeup blog. This then makes me more of an acquired taste."

2. What about the ‘free stuff’?

Leigh van den Berg who has 9.2 K followers on Instagram and runs Lipglossismylife.com says “I run one of South Africa's most visited beauty blogs. Because of my large readership I can charge brands to advertise their campaigns or run competitions on my blog. If I didn't have scruples I could probably make a lot more money than I do but I'm very picky about what I will and won't promote.

“I also don't accept money for reviews as my opinion can't be bought. There isn't a payday in the world that would be worth my readers' trust. Still, I view my blog as a business run by passion and enjoy working with digitally savvy brands that allow me to pick and promote the best of what they offer. I like that bloggers are no longer viewed as 'freebie grabbers'.

Curating and creating great content is very hard work and that requires payment.”  

This is kind of an archaic way (in social media terms, like 3 years) of seeing influencers, as just wanting ‘free stuff’. 

A clever business model for influencers who are not being remunerated for their time during a press trip.

Surely this perk is appreciated, think free bubbly all night, beauty products and maybe the odd power bank. But those who make it their business, literally, to make influencing a career don’t want no free stuff. Free stuff doesn’t pay the bills. 

Yet there are also those with large followings who aren’t paid for micro-campaigning. It's all about where your priorities lie.

There’s this case for example where Big Ambitions and the Seychelles Tourism Board Carlinn Meyer (Camps Bay Girl) and her partner, Michael Eloff (The Lawry), were treated to business class flights, tours of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, as well as spa treatments, etc. 

Yet they received no additional payment. But while in the Seychelles Mike and Carlinn successfully ran micro-campaigns for other non-travel brands, including Watch Republic and GoPro to monetise the trip. "A clever business model for influencers who are not being remunerated for their time during a press trip," says Big Ambitions.

3. Do you approach them or do they approach you?

Marciel Hopkins says that, “Making money off your social media accounts is all about how you run it and what you're using it for. Some influencers contact brands and send out a price list of what a post will cost them to do a product placement on their profile or to promote a certain brand. In many cases you have the brands themselves contacting influencers that they like". 

While Jade Robertson of Just Jade Blog who has 39.2 K followers on Instagram often approaches brands, she says “I make money by initially marketing myself as a business, I show clients what it is I can do for them and what it would cost them. This involves sharing your blog reach with them and your social media insights. 

“Not all companies are willing to pay or able and if I find that a proposal suits me and my brand, I’ll do it either way if I find it worthwhile. Your fee should also be based on your following and reach. “You also shouldn’t be afraid to forward your rate card to companies. A lot of them approach you without an offer or budget, so it gives them an idea of what it is your work is worth.”

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4. Is it worthwhile to join an agency?

4Influence, a division of 4Elements Media, works as an influencer booking agency (similar to how you’d imagine a modelling agency to work). There are two project channels in this division. One being influencer campaigns or influencer/PR trips booked by brands, which they then conceptualise, manage and execute with the suitable influencer mix for a client.

They work closely with influencers to manage jobs that come in, assist in rate card development, campaign negotiations etc. 

Sound like an ideal job or side hustle for you? Go for it!

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