There are now one billion Instagram users worldwide. That’s just under a seventh of the world’s total population. Which begs the question: why on earth don’t you get more likes for your dog pictures? Well, hold that thought for a moment, because these days, Instagram is about more than likes.

From the mega-influencers to your mate’s start-up, savvy marketeers are utilising the picture platform to boost sales and generate income. For some, it’s a legitimate career option. If your name is Kylie Jenner, it’s a $1 million-per-post side hustle.

And while you might not quite be able to achieve those heady heights, there are ways to make your Instagram posts work for you, reaching a new audience ready to part with their hard-earned readies.

“Instagram plays an important role in our profession, it helps broaden our audience and keep our customers up to date with the newest stock and promotions,” explains designer and business owner Jen Kaye.

Don’t believe us? Over 35% of online adults use Instagram, and (in the US at least) 42% of these earn upwards of $75,000 per year (£59,000), meaning there should be lots of disposable income floating around. However, it isn’t limited to the US; 80% of all Instagram users reside outside the USA, meaning with the right tweaks, your posts can reach a truly international audience.

“My Instagram is my life and I upload nearly everyday across my social media accounts. I’m paid to do endorsements for clothing brands such as boohoo and New Look,” says microinfluencer and entrepreneur Zack Smith.

Face it; we’re all addicted to Instagram anyway, so you may as well be earning money during those hours spent scrolling on your phone. Which is why we’ve gathered a collection of professionals, from micro influencers to creatives and small business owners to offer up their tried and tested tips for making real money from Instagram.

The Microinfluencer

At just 23, Zack Smith is paid to promote brands including boohooMAN, Palmers and Nivea on his Instagram. He also runs an event company and PR company. His 40,000 plus followers provide a ready audience.

“Sponsorships are an amazing way to show people which companies you are working with, and which companies have actually paid you promote products and items. It’s as simple as uploading pictures at certain times of the day, and using relevant hashtag.

“It all depends on how many followers you have. More followers equals more money per post. You have to follow people whom you actually interact with, as there’s no point following people who don’t like your posts or comment. I have to be very selective. Many of my followers view my stories but don’t like my pictures. It baffles me.

“In terms of refining your feed, Instagram has a new tool that allows you to ask your followers questions such as ‘What would you want to see more of on my Instagram?’ It helps with marketing and growing your followers, and is very useful.”

Advice To Follow

Get your ratio right: “I have 44k followers and I’m following 4k as it looks good for business so ratio is important as an influencer.”

Manage your time: “I think the best time to post would be around 6 o’clock Friday as everyone will be finishing work and using their phones. I have a schedule on my phone to remind me.”

Never over-tag: “Never use too many hashtags as it makes your page look unprofessional and amateur.”


The Auteur Author

With the publication of Hings, Glaswegian Chris McQueer announced himself as one of the UK’s most talented short story writers, earning praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, and Limmy. With his new book HWFG out this November, McQueer is doubling down on online promo.

“Instagram is really important for me as a writer. It lets me get across my personality, which is important for an author as we’re often seen as faceless, old recluses. It’s good for me to show I’m not like that.

“A lot of value gets placed on the ratio of following to followers, but I don’t think it matters too much. I’ve never been put off following someone or thought any less of them because of the number of people they follow. Your feed will be clogged with a load of shite you don’t care about if you go daft and follow everyone though, just follow people you like or are interested in or admire.

“Asking questions is a good way to increase engagement. Instagram stories is a great tool and when used well they really do help increase sales. I’ve done a couple of giveaways of books: ‘Share this picture and follow me for a chance to win a signed book…’ I’ll post wee snippets of my readings sometimes as well. A writer who uses Instagram brilliantly is Daniel Piper, he should give out lessons to writers, he’s a genius with it.”

Advice To Follow

Have a day off: “Sunday evenings tend to be prime time for posting. Everyone’s lying about on their phones. That’s when I post any promo stuff, including pictures of my new book, upcoming readings and signings etc.”

Know your audience: “A lot of people take my books on holiday, so I’ll repost the best pictures they send me of the book in exotic locations, which obviously increases the visibility and increases sales as well.”

Hashtags can do the work for you: “They’re really good for growing your account at first. They seem to work really well for photographers and make-up artists especially; my girlfriend uses lots on her make-up Instagram, and it’s a great way for her to get noticed by other artists, brands and bloggers.”


The Small Business Owners

Earlier this year, Brighton-based designers Jen Kaye and Rose Waterson joined forces to open Moxi, Brighton’s most stylish art, design, and homeware boutique, showcasing the duo’s work, and that of talented local artists. With a growing business, online engagement is more vital than ever, as Jen explains.

“We’re a little way out of the main hustle and bustle of town, so Instagram is essential in order to build our business and let people know we are there. We rely heavily on the local custom but also on people coming out of their way to visit the shop, so Instagram allows us show people why it’s worth making the extra effort to visit. Often we have someone come into our shop and ask for one of the products they saw from our Instagram.

“We’ve found making sure our posts look visually complementary all together as a whole, as well as looking at them in the individual sense is important. It gives the page a more professional look and gives us brand continuity.

“In terms of engaging with people, we find it’s as much about commenting on others posts and stories as it is trying to get feedback on your own. We have used Instagram stories to help us make decisions on products sometimes, knowing what your audience likes and doesn’t like is so important and being able to directly ask them without having to do a survey is pretty revolutionary for businesses.”

Advice To Follow

Think like your audience: “Just being aware of when we are on our phones most and assuming that other people probably are too, helps us decide when is best to post.”

Bend the rules: “Thinking about the things that are currently trending and being a bit less literal with them works. For example if we have a new print that’s a tattoo style illustration, we will hashtag #tattoo because we know the type of audience searching for that hashtag might be interested in the artwork.”

Tell a story: “Insta stories are becoming more and more important; they are so easily accessible people sometimes only tend to watch these over the actual posts. They also allow you to start conversations with your followers, get immediate feedback on products and gain real time statistics.”


The Foodie

Alongside his personal account, photographer Jack Oughton is paid to edit the feed of food and drink aggregators Tasting Britain. Here, he expounds on the importance of growing a business in a crowded marketplace.

“Instagram is a very big part of Tasting Britain. It’s difficult to run a food and drink website without a #foodporn presence. Hashtags can be difficult. Over the last few months I have noticed a decrease in average likes, something I think could be around new hashtags becoming more prominent. I might be using the right whisky hashtags, but the wrong steak hashtags, and what worked last week might not work next week because the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing.

“In terms of my approach to following, I don’t have a huge number of followers, and I tend only to follow people I actually know or have some history with. Friends and family are one of the most important things in life. And it’s hard enough to keep up with them as it is! That said, people obviously still judge your follower to following ratio as important, along with your total number of followers. I did some work in influencer marketing and these were all key metrics that we tracked.”

Advice To Follow

Give the people what they want: “People love pictures of fancy whisky and sushi. They seem to respond less to pictures of haute-cuisine dishes and steaks.”

Do one thing, and do it well: “I’m not very niche. If I were, for example, a guy who only shot interiors, or a whisky blog, people would follow me for that exact subject and be happy when I posted about it. As it is, I know I’m a bit too general.”

Drive traffic both ways: “As for promotions, I run them on Tasting Britain, but not on Instagram. They work very well for increasing newsletter opt-in. There’s an unwritten law of marketing that basically says ‘Everyone wants free stuff’.”


The Illustrator

Model and illustrator Jack Hughes’s Mad Men-meets-GTA style of illustration has been featured in campaigns from the likes of Global Blue, The Washington Post, and Vogue. As his reputation grows, his relationship with Instagram has adapted.

“In the beginning, Instagram helped garner clients and establish relationships with people in the industry, now it’s more about maintaining a friendly rapport with my followers and friends with a sprinkling of illustration. I used to upload almost everything I created: client work, old work, sketches – even work I hated. It wasn’t until about three years ago when I started posting more about my life outside of my work, and began posting the work I liked.

“I very rarely engage with my followers in such an open and direct way as asking questions in my posts or stories. Instagram can be good for opening a debate, but I rarely see people respond to their followers in the comments sections of the posts where they asked a question. To me if feels disingenuous.

“Everyone has their own way of engaging with Instagram, but I hate the idea of following too many people – to me it begins to feel impersonal. And there’s a good chance you’ll miss the content of people you actually know and like if you’re following 3000+ accounts. In reality, the amount of followers you have really shouldn’t matter. The only people it should be of utmost importance to are influencers, who make money based on the number of people engaged with their social media.”

Steps To Success

Don’t overthink it: “After years of losing followers and middling likes, I’ve given up trying to understand the way Instagram works. My illustration posts vary, some can receive up to 900 likes, whereas others may barely reach 150.”

Giveaways can boost your audience: “I will occasionally run a print giveaway. Both Twitter and Instagram are great at facilitating this, and getting your work out there.”

Ignore the noise: “I’ve never really seen anything beneficial in hashtags. You get a lot of generic comments such as “great content!” and “love your page!”, left in the hopes of garnering a follow from you.”