How Much Money ‘Influencers’ Really Make: The Reality

You might not want to throw out those college degrees just yet.
August 14, 2019
9 mins read

Influencers are taking the world by storm. Wait — what’s an influencer, you ask? The term “influencer” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the item on social media.”

On a more casual note, influencers are people who produce content on social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who have a large enough following to deem them as capable of “influencing” a large fraction of consumers and are paid by brands to promote products.

So, some people are popular enough to make money on social media. Who cares? As it turns out, a lot of people are intrigued by this occupation, particularly today’s youth. A 2019 study reveals that when asked what career they would like to have when they got older, 17% of children answered “social media influencer,” coming in second to doctor at 18%.

A close third was YouTuber, a similar, if not identical, occupation as influencer. Additionally, when asked why they chose a particular career, children’s top two answers were “for money” and “for fame.”

Clearly, a lot of kids and young adults want to be influencers and make a living solely from social media. But, should parents be concerned when their children’s aspirations revolve around an online platform? Is being an influencer a sustainable career? Does it bring in enough money to sustain someone without a side job? Here’s what I could dig up on how much money influencers really make.


On Instagram, popularity matters. An interactive chart was created by influence.co using voluntarily-inputted data from the influencers themselves. Here, you can see that the fewer the followers, the less money made per post, with the average revenue per post by someone with less than 2000 followers being $167.15, and that of someone with more than 1 million followers being about $1,873.32. So, it seems followers are key.


I couldn’t find any instance of an Instagram influencer revealing how much they make or how much time and effort they give. However, I’d bet Zoe Sugg’s 9.7 million followers keep her bills paid. But don’t forget that not everyone can gain enough followers to support themselves.


Influencers are not only present on Instagram. YouTube is also a popular way for individuals with a high volume of followers to make money both from brand sponsorships as well as ads placed on their YouTube videos.

YouTuber Shelby Church (1.2 million subscribers) made a video on how exactly she and her fellow YouTubers make money on videos alone, titled “This is How Much YouTube Paid Me for My 1,000,000 Viewed Video (not clickbait).” In the video, Church reveals that videos make “adsense” that are determined by a combination of views and how many ads are in the video.

She continues to relay that she has multiple videos with the same number of views “that make very different amounts” of money from adsense. However, Church calculates that 1 million views earns creators an average of about $2,000 when the video is under 10 minutes long, monetized and is “family friendly.”

After some digging, Church concludes that the amount of money YouTube influencers make has nothing to do with the actual number of views alone. The amount of money made from adsense depends on where the viewer resides. For example, U.S. viewers tend to bring more revenue than viewers halfway across the world, because those in the U.S. are more likely to purchase the product.


She also found that videos over 10 minutes long make up to three times more money, simply because YouTubers can add multiple ads to videos that exceed 10 minutes and, therefore, make more money. So, it really is more of a science than “influence” when it comes to making money off ads.

YouTuber and aspiring Instagram influencer Keltie O’Connor (145,000 subscribers) also made a video about her experience trying to “make it” on YouTube titled, “I Went VIRAL on Youtube THE SECRET to how I did it.” Although she never labels herself an influencer, O’Connor reveals that she was already “doing Instagram” before deciding to launch a YouTube career, which she felt was the right thing to do at the time. However, she does refer to YouTube as a temporary thing.

O’Connor, although afraid, took the risk, straying from the traditional track of school, more school, then high paying job. She admits she needed another job on the side and that it did take quite some time to earn her first check from YouTube. Eventually, O’Connor had one video go viral, which jumpstarted her YouTube career, earning her that first payday.

So, is it enough?

For some, yes, but it isn’t for everyone. Not everyone can have millions, or even thousands of followers on Instagram. Otherwise, the whole world would follow every account out there, which just isn’t plausible. Unfortunately, the concept of popularity does not die in high school — some people are just going to be better liked than others, especially on social media. Let’s face it, no one wants to try to live off $167 once or twice a week.

In terms of YouTube, the amount of money influencers make is a bit cloudy. As we learned from Church, money made off YouTube adsense is inconsistent and kind of a gamble considering influencers never know exactly how much they’re going to make.

Also, we learned from O’Connor that, although some people can break through the difficult barrier between being a nobody and an influencer, it takes time. She didn’t receive her first check from YouTube for a long time, meaning she had to find other means to support herself. So, if you want to be an influencer, you either need to be willing to have a job (or many jobs) or financially stable enough to support yourself with no income for a while.

Is it worth it? That isn’t for me to tell you. What I can say is that, logistically, not everyone can make it as an influencer, and without proper financial backing, it’s easy to crash and burn. Here’s my advice: Don’t quit your job and throw away your college degree just yet.

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