Hashtag Cash

Unless you have been living under a Wi-Fi-free rock, you are probably aware of the terms ‘instagrammer’ and ‘influencer’, even if you are fuzzy on the details of how it works.

To make it simple, these terms refer to job titles.

In the same way that your nephew is an ‘Engineer’ because that is what he studied at University and it is what he is paid to do, that same nephew could be an ‘Influencer’ or an ‘Instagrammer’, and that would be his job title.

The biggest difference would be that he didn’t learn his job skills at any school for tertiary education, and he would be earning a metric ton more working online wearing his sponsored shorts and t-shirt than he ever would in an office.

To give you an idea of the buckets of cash out there, take a look at this.

Cristiano Ronaldo earned a lot of money playing Football (Soccer), it is true. Millions.

Yet, according to the BBC, even as we speak, every picture he posts on Instagram earns him a neat 975,000 USD. Per picture. Per Post. Per day, per hour, if he feels like it.

True, he has 177 million followers on the platform, but…come on.

And he is not the highest earner. The same article says that Kylie Jenner earns 1.2 million USD per post, and Ariana Grande 966,000 USD per post.

So what is it that they do, and how do they make money?

Back in the day, before it was a job, we used to call this type of person a trendsetter. People who influence other simply by being cooler than others, or flashier, or richer, or more noble or having nicer teeth, or whatever.

A neighbour who always knew where to get the best ham and could hook you up. Everyone went to that same butcher because it was the best ham, and your neighbour was the link.

A friend decides she is going to wear her grandmother’s earrings. You also own some old earrings and try them on. Your daughter steals them and shows her friends and, BAM, 1920’s jewelry is back.

Influencers influence. They have a certain je ne sais quoi, or I don’t know what, and people want to be like them.

That is what they do.

Where they do it has moved online. The internet means that your neighbour can talk about the best cured meats they have encountered every day and, because they are a trusted source, people will feel a connection and click ‘follow’ and the business end of being trendy has begun.

So, how does this online influence turn into actual money?

Firstly, you do not need to be famous before you start making money, you simply need to get enough followers, and you do not need to have millions of them. On average, an influencer with 100,000 followers will earn between 700-900 USD per photo. If you have 500,000 people watching you, expect to earn up to 3000 USD every post.

It is not only about the numbers of followers you have, by the way.

Getting more followers can be done in a cheating way- you can buy them- BUT, the people who pay know that ‘engagement’- either by likes, heart emojis, comments or hashtags, is where the real goldmine is. Every time someone makes some kind of virtual contact with another human online, cash registers around the world ring up another sale. However, even someone with 1000 followers can start to cash in. The first thing you can do is create an ‘affiliate link’ with a business.

There you are in a well-lit photo on the beach looking amazing in your plain white t-shirt from the shop down the road, when it occurs to you that, if you mentioned to the t-shirt shop that you have 1000 friends online who loved your photo, they might give you your next white t-shirt for free.

So, you create an ‘affiliate link’ under the photo with the words ‘T-shirt from XXXX click the link’ and every time someone does, you either make a few pennies, or you get stuff from the shop for free. But why stop there? Your shorts, your camera, your phone, your haircut, your sun cream, the hotel in the background, the beach itself (think local tourism board) all have a price tag.

From there we move into sponsored photos. If you have enough of a following, just a couple of thousand will do, then you will hear the magic words, “Come to our beachside café and take your super cool white t-shirt pics and we will pay you 100 USD for your time” or 1000, or 50,000. This is a high stakes game.

With enough people listening to you (or actually just admiring your fluffy cat – affiliate link to the pet store below- on your- also affiliate linked below- sofa), you will be approached to endorse products. This is the same as the old days. Actresses have been flogging hair care products since time immemorial. Everyone will recognise this business model; it is not new. You will be sent XXXX and if you wear it, eat it, use it online, cha-ching $$$$ cha-ching $$$ and, you will either get some money upfront, or be due a percentage of the sales. Although this form of advertorial is as old as the hills, we do have one new thing to contend with.

The internet provides instant global marketing all day, every day.

This is advertising and promotion that never, ever sleeps and doesn’t even need language to make it work.

Influencers and Instagrammers, Tik-Tokers and all the rest, know their worth.

Time is still money, only now we are measuring it in clicks. No one is reading about how exceptionally soft your t-shirt is or why you decided to endorse it. No one has time for that. The time that is making money is only a couple of seconds long. Slick doesn’t even begin to describe it. Seamless seems like an archaic insult. This is guerrilla marketing via alien tech stealth.

You are being sold a lifestyle in order to sell actual stuff, but you would never know by looking at the photos. The photos are all about ‘sharing a moment’, you shouldn’t ever feel you are being flogged anything. That would be a tad insensitive, and influencing is all about sensitivity and inspiration. There is a reason why you will often hear the word ‘Guru’ linked to the words ‘online marketing’.

In reality, it’s all about the hashtags.

Every time you use one of these #, you are creating a link to other people who have used # plus a word. For example, if you put #whitetshirt under your picture, it will go to a gigantic holding bin of pictures with #whitetshirt. Other people will see your picture in the giant file of #whitetshirts, and maybe they will love it, click on it, love your other pictures, decide to follow you and, voila, you are influencing. This is why pictures appear with 500,000 #’s. #white #tshirt #whitetshirt #lovemywhitetshirt #inspiringwhitetshirt …you get the idea.

Making money by making other people wish they were you is the very backbone of the capitalist system.

But times, and the words, have changed.

Influencers don’t ‘sell’ you anything, they simply influence you to buy things.

You can’t be truly happy with what you have when there are cooler, richer, flashier people out there wearing whiter t-shirts while eating better ham than you with better teeth than yours.

For those in the Advertising game, it used to be called ‘aspiration’. It still is aspiration, only now it is referred to as ‘inspiration’ and it is making thousands of people millions of dollars with the simple click of a button.


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