You see someone post something on Instagram that says #sponsored. Or you read a blog post with a “this blog contains affiliate links” disclosure. If you're not familiar with how bloggers and influencers make money, this can be confusing! When I meet people and they find out I have a blog or a social following, the brave ones will ask: “so, how exactly do you make money?” Fair question!
This summer will mark my 10th year of blogging. I'm a dinosaur in this world and have seen a lot of changes over the years. I'm also in a unique position not just as an influencer, but also as a marketer who has worked on the brand side of the equation.
I always champion authenticity and transparency. When I post something that is sponsored or I make money from in some way, I've put hours into that work. I'm proud of that work! Since this space can be confusing to the general public, disclosing is a way for you to see that I got paid for that content. Plus,
How I make money
Since 2012, I've been self-employed as the owner of my company, Authentically Social. The company was founded in 2011, but it was a side hustle until I felt comfortable enough leaving my corporate marketing job. This blog is one segment of my business, taking up about 20% of my time.
The following isn't an exhaustive list, but does make up the most common income streams for bloggers or influencers.
Blogger and Influencer Income Streams
- Sponsored posts with content creation
- Affiliate links
- Social shares/content syndication
- Blog advertising
- Events and appearances
- Products: digital or physical
Sponsored Posts with Content Creation
A brand or representative of the brand (such as a PR agency) contracts with a blogger/influencer to create content and post it on specified channels.
Sponsored posts can be
Blogger or influencer creates content and then uses affiliate links to drive people to a product or site. An affiliate link is a special link that is formatted so a sale can be traced back to a referrer. If someone purchases something from the linked site as a result of clicking through, a percentage or flat fee of the purchase is then given back to the influencer. The buyer doesn't pay anything different by purchasing through an affiliate link. Tracking of these affiliate sales takes place via a cookie or pixel that is dropped when someone visits a site from an affiliate link. The amount varies vastly based on the retailer linked. Some places offer affiliate commission around 1%, whereas others may offer 20%+. Services and subscriptions often have a flat fee payout versus a percentage payout.
Different retailers are on different affiliate platforms such as ShareASale or Pepperjam. Service providers and small businesses can even have affiliate programs they run through their site. It's all about hoping people share the links in hopes of earning a kickback. This is performance-based compensation: you only earn if someone purchases.
If you've seen captions on Instagram asking you to visit Liketoknow.it for details, this is an affiliate play through sub-network RewardStyle. Linking items is easy on that platform as it doesn't require you to join affiliate programs of each retailer individually. ShopStyle is another sub-affiliate.
Of interesting note: The items purchased don't have to be the ones that are linked in order to get the commission. For example, if I link a maxi dress on Amazon and you go look at it through that link and end up buying 10 other random things in your cart, I will get a commission on all things purchased, not just the maxi dress. Also, there is usually a long window of time that has to pass before the commission is “finalized” – this is to accommodate any returns. So if you buy $500 worth of ELOQUII dresses and return them all, that commission is removed from my “pending” balance. This can be anywhere from 30-90 days for a commission to lock, and then another 15-60 days to get it paid out. Also, you don't always have to purchase right away for that blogger to receive credit. The cookie that is dropped on your site stays active for a certain amount of time. If you go back to that site directly later and order, and the cookie is still active, the blogger will get the commission. If you click on the blogger link, fill up your cart, and then go back with a different affiliate link, then the sale goes to the “last touch” – whichever person got you there last is the one who will get the commission.
Examples of affiliate-heavy blog posts:
Social Shares/Content Syndication
Sometimes, brands want the content they create shared across your channels. This way, they get control of the asset and messaging, and they can spread it across a lot of channels to create more reach than simply posting it on their own channels. It's easy work for the blogger/influencer because they don't have to create any content, but it also means that they don't have control over the content. I don't do much of this type of content amplification because I don't want to bombard my audience. The last time I did this was for P&G and the Olympics, who wanted to get their hashtag more visibility. I love the Olympics, and really liked the campaign.
Many blogs choose to host banner ads on their site. These can come in many formats as they sell available “inventory” (space) on different parts of their site. This could be the sidebar (on a computer, my sidebar is to the right of this blog post and appears on all pages) or banner across the top, or if you want to get wild, it could be an entire “skin” of the site. Most banner/display ads on blogs are paid on a CPM basis – cost per mille (thousand) views. So the higher your blog traffic, the higher your potential ad income. For this display advertising/CPM model, you typically offer up
Some bloggers choose to sell ads directly for a flat fee per month, or offer them as an add-on to other sponsored content.
Also, some items that look like ads could be affiliate banners.
YouTubers also have advertising income based on views, which is why you see ads before or during videos.
Events and Appearances
Brands can hire influencers to appear at their events. The hope is that the influencer's audience will be excited and come out to interact with them: bringing the online interaction offline. The contract for these events usually includes a certain amount of posts and event promotion, as well as social sharing during the event. Occasionally, a recap is requested. Compensation can range from product to a flat fee to a percentage of sales during the event – or a mix of all of these.
Products: Digital or Physical
As bloggers and influencers look to diversify their income, many are creating physical or digital products for sale to their audience.
- Lightroom presets
- T-shirts, mugs, or other items
- Digital printables
- Digital courses
With the consulting side of my business, Authentically Social, I focus on digital marketing consulting for fashion and lifestyle brands. My consulting is rooted
The services Authentically Social provides varies by client, but the main services include social strategy/roadmaps, content creation, community management and designing influencer campaigns. If you want more information on the business side of things, you can sign up for emails on the company website. Over there, I am working on some posts about mistakes businesses make when hiring influencers, how to detect influencer fraud, and questions to ask before joining a new social network.
I know this was a lot of information, and I hope it was helpful. Would you like to know more about the business side of things? I have some content in the works about expenses, and the time breakdown of creating content and maintaining channels.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or feedback!