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What Is An "Influencer" & How Do They Earn An Income?

The online influencer community is one that has grown exponentially since the dawn of social media. Millions upon millions of accounts have been created in hopes that their tiny plot of digital land can produce an income.

By Rhys McIntyrePublished 2 years ago 7 min read

Have you ever come across someone’s social media page to find a perfectly curated life. It looks like all they do for a living is look good and take pictures of it. WHAT DRUGS ARE THESE PEOPLE ON?

It’s called influencing, and it’s more complex than most people think.

There are 4 major types or categories of influencer, based on audience size.

Nano Influencers

Nano influencers are the smallest category of influencer. They tend to have a following of less than 10 000.

These types of influencers are still considered influencers because of the impact they have on their immediate communities. These people are often in positions of authority within their communities. Think government leaders, religious leaders, popular local shop owners, etc.

This category of influencer tends to have the highest relative engagement since their communities are much smaller and therefore easier to build relationships and trust in.

Brands that work with Nano influencers often seem more trusted. This is due to the personal connection that the influencer shares with their community members.

Clearly, the main drawback of working with Nano influencers is the small audience size. Brands looking to run large scale social media campaigns should not be collaborating with Nano influencers because of the sheer number of individual influencer partnerships required to hit the ideal audience reach.

Micro Influencers

Micro influencers have anywhere from 10k -100k followers from a vanity metrics perspective. These influencers have built a following or community around a similar set of interests, otherwise known as a niche. Micro influencers tend to be regarded as experts in their niches.

This group typically includes your travel bloggers, food bloggers, game reviewers, wellness experts, and a variety of others. Many brands prefer working with these smaller sized influencers because they have such high engagement and expertise within a specific niche.

The issue that tends to arise in partnerships with Micro influencers involves the investment vs. return aspect. Collaboration results aren’t ‘necessary for payment’, which means that regardless of the cost, investors are not promised a successful campaign.

Macro Influencers

Macro influencers are what most people think of when they hear the word influencer. They have likely used social media to build fame, and along with it a large following. These influencers have anywhere from 100K - 1M followers.

These influencers can be classified as the best of both worlds when it comes to brand partnerships. They tend to have both a niche following and a large following. This category would include someone like Jeffree Starr, who built his fame on MySpace and has since managed to transfer that fame to all other major social media platforms.

Many Macro influencers will be able to produce incredible results in brand partnerships because they have spent YEARS nurturing their audience. In addition to the great results, they are generally very professional and easy to work with. Since macro influencers are established brands, they too come with a team of staff that is familiar with contracts, professional high quality content production, and streamlined communication.

Mega Influencers

Mega influencers are the largest category of influencer, and they are more famous than influential. These accounts have upwards of 1M followers. This includes people like Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, and Jimmy Kimmel. These tend to be A and B list celebrities who naturally attract a large online audience.

Unlike the other categories of influencers, there will be much less of a common interest or obvious niche within the community. These audience members will have a wide range of interests and may be following this person for a variety of reasons, rather than expertise in one area.

They are not subject matter experts, but can absolutely provide brands with a large consumer reach. They often don’t have the real influencer conversion power, although some do. Despite the massive online audience they have, collaborations with these influencers often come with a hefty price tag. For example, Kylie Jenner brings in upwards of $1M for a single sponsored Instagram post.

Now that we have covered the main categories of influencer based on relative online reach, let’s get into the different ways influencers actually MAKE their money. There are a variety of income opportunities, but I will break down the most common ones.

Brand Partnerships

Brand partnerships are the most common way for influencers to make their living. The average rule for brand sponsorship is $100 per 10k followers for a post, but that number can go up significantly if the influencer has a strong niche and high engagement. Brand partnerships can include things like posting a picture holding their product with a caption about why it’s a great purchase.

Affiliate Links

Affiliate links are another common way that brands choose to work with influencers. If an influencer loves a brand and naturally promotes them, they may choose to set up an affiliate link. Next time they share the product on their feed they can tag the brand and offer any followers a product discount with a specified URL or checkout code. This lets the company know that a particular influencer converted a sale, and can pay them out accordingly.

Affiliate Marketing Companies

This is a great revenue stream for anyone with a very niche audience who does not want to create a business themselves. It is also great for people with existing businesses looking to add more revenue streams. An example of this might be a beauty influencer who partners with MONAT to start selling their hair products. Although affiliate marketing companies come with some stigma, the earning potential is incredible when you do it right! And truly, if you love the products and buy them anyways, why wouldn’t you make money selling them?

Offer Launch (E Course, E Book, Merchandise etc..)

This is the one that can require more work and more capital in the beginning, but in my opinion is the most rewarding! If you are someone who has gone through something and has an excellent solution for an audience dealing with the same issue, then this is for you! This is also where Nano and Micro influencers can scale to 6 figure businesses without massive followings. You just need a well positioned, results oriented offer. If this is something you want to learn more about, follow and connect with on Instagram to learn how.

Paid Collaborations

Paid collaborations are different than brand collaborations because the goal will not be a commercial promotion or advertisement, but instead for growth and engagement. Collaborations with other people in your industry will often come unpaid as they are mutually beneficial for audience engagement and follower growth, but this isn’t always the case. Many podcasts, blogs and larger influencers will have budgets for paid collaborations. This may include jumping on a live together to talk about a topic that interests both party’s audiences.


Here are some fun behind the scenes facts that may surprise you.

Influencers who post ‘clothing hauls’ can actually expense those as a business expense (if they are a registered business). So this means they might have only paid about $250 for that $6,000 Nordstrom Haul you are drooling over.

FREE TRAVEL! Yes, you heard me. If you have a large enough following you can email hotels, restaurants, and other exclusive venues asking them to hook you and your friends up with free meals, free hotel stays, and more in exchange for a blog post and a few tagged Instagram pictures.

So… much… mail. Many influencers have a mailing address to which brands will send their products for free, hoping they enjoy it enough to post about it on their page. Just search up “PR unboxing” on Youtube and you can see for yourself. There are people out there with 2–3 rooms in their home filled with unopened boxes of luxury product from brands all over the world.

This industry is a lot more complex than most people may understand at first glance. There are a variety of factors that contribute to an influencers success, and is in no way an easy way to “get rich”.

I hope you have learned a little bit about what it means to be an “online influencer” in todays social media driven world.

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About the Creator

Rhys McIntyre

Professional Online Content Writer & Editor

Canadian Born & Raised

Science Grad - Undercover English Major

Experience & Advice | Entertainment & Education | BSc

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