Amid the sexy selfies, outfit pics, and snaps of tropical vacations, one of the hallmarks of popular Instagram feeds—that is, those endowed with follower counts hefty enough to merit a K at the end of them—is sponsored posts, in which influencers tout a product, service, or brand in exchange for compensation. You know the ones: whether it’s Khloe Kardashian singing the praises of her latest Fit Tea detox, a fashion blogger tagging their latest department-store haul, or an Insta-famous model posing with a particularly photogenic bottle of charcoal water, the posts are engineered to blend in with the influencer’s aesthetic, but with the telltale addition of a hashtag like #ad, #sponsored, or #spon.
The latter, also, doesn’t always make it into the caption—a fact that’s currently making headlines as nonprofit organization Truth in Advertising has called out the Kardashian-Jenner clan with an official letter to the Federal Trade Commission detailing their failures to disclose financial relationships with companies promoted in certain posts, including Estée Lauder, Mango, Revolve Clothing, Waist Trainer, and Waist Gang Society. If the FTC does take action, The Fashion Law explains in a post, they have the power to reprimand the family, fine them for the individual violations, or order them to pay back the profits made from the ads. But just how much are they getting paid? And how does that compare with influential ‘Grammers who have less collossal follower counts?
The field, you may not be surprised to learn, is changing as rapidly as the images you see scrolling through your feed. Mike Heller , CEO of Talent Resources, one of the leading digital marketing/advertising agencies brokering deals between brands and top influencers, says the company has developed an original algorithm to parse follower and engagement data for 2,500 accounts they work with, all of which can be used to find the ones that are best fit for a particular campaign, be that for a car company or a new teeth-whitening system.
In the four months since Racked ran an in-depth feature on the teatox industry, whose brands are among the most ubiquitous influencer advertisers, the figures Heller cited for tea deals on the platform ($3,000 to $250,000 per post) have already been surpassed.
“On the lower end, there’s always going to be those people that will be at that $3,000 range,” he explains. “Someone that has 200,000 followers today, three months later might have 500,000—so then they would qualify to get paid $3,000. On the higher end, the bigger names are now demanding up to $500,000.” He doesn’t name names, but the Kardashian-Jenner clan all have follower counts in the 40-80-million range—numbers that rise daily—and Khloe has posed with her Fit Tea (and, curiously, once with competitor Flat Tummy Tea) on several occasions this summer.
Learning the ropes of these negotiations has been an ongoing process for the company—especially given how ephemeral a social media post can be. “When we started out, we saw things that we never thought we would see before—where the talent gets paid and then two minutes later, they take it down,” he laughs. “And we’re like, ‘Wait a minute.’ And they’re like, ‘Well, it’s not in our contract how long we have to put it up.’ So, every single incident in the beginning has made us a stronger company, to make sure that both the brand and the talent know what they’re getting into before they take the deal.”
Beyond strict follower counts, the type of product or brand involved can swing whether an influencer takes a deal for a certain paycheck—if it’s something that imparts a degree of prestige on its own (say, a luxury car company or a high-end cosmetics brand), someone may be more inclined to accept a lower fee, especially if it comes with the possibility of a longterm deal down the road.
Last year, fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What opened up to Harper’s Bazaar about how much she charges per post on Instagram; at the time, she had 992,000 followers and rates of $5,000 to $15,000 through her agency, Next Models (who would also take a cut of the proceeds from deals they negotiated). Now, she has 1.5 million, meaning her fees have likely gone up significantly (the first million, she said at the time, is “a big milestone”)—though only a few of the apparently sponsored posts contain a disclosure like #ad.
Despite those impressive numbers, it takes a wide reach to make anything close to a salary’s worth of income from the ’Gram alone. According to a new survey conducted by lifestyle social discovery platform Bloglovin’ of 2,500 micro-influencers (read: those with up to 100,000 followers), 84 percent charge less than $150 for a branded Instagram post and 97 percent charge less than $500.
It’s also not always just about the paycheck: Heller recalls a deal with Beyoncé that reached sky-high figures—first a couple hundred thousand dollars, then half a million, and finally a round million for a Facebook promotion (on a page that currently boasts nearly 65 million fans)—but in the end, the pop star turned it down, saying it wasn’t a good fit for her brand. Ultimately, while it may seem counterintuitive, he says, he’s actually glad that not every deal works out.
“We get turned down a lot, a lot of times—and we have big budgets, and they don’t care,” he says. “A lot of them don’t believe in weight loss products. A lot of them don’t believe in certain apparel brands that they wouldn’t normally go out and buy or wear. And to me, I’m excited by that. Even though I’m losing money, I’m excited because it shows that when we do hit it right, they’re doing it because they care.”
Whether they care about the product or about their own brand is up for debate—though perhaps the two are intertwined. What’s certain, though, is that the world of pay-for-play on social media is getting bigger and more complex by the day—and every time we tap “follow” on a new account or “like” on a post, we’re increasingly a part of it.