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How to turn your Instagram obsession into your day job

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Yes, you can make money on Instagram (without being a total scam artist)

Some 200 million people use Instagram, the addictive photo-centric app, to share their photos with friends and strangers alike. And while most play around with the many filters for fun, some users have found ways to make a serious living off the social media outlet.

Using mainly their phones, these photographers are often earning thousands of dollars per photo just by uploading and sharing them on their personal feeds. So how do they do it? What makes their Ludwig-filtered photo of the Brooklyn Bridge more lucrative than yours? The answer boils down to sponsorship interest.

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Over the past five years since Instagram's inception, brands have become more and more interested in advertising through Instagrammers. There are two reasons for this — one, because it allows them to reach a more targeted audience in a way that doesn't feel like advertising, and two, because it's much cheaper than traditional advertising. It's especially helpful if the brand in question is looking to target a millennial audience (aka age 35 and under), because they make up 90 percent of the app's users.

As such, the Instagrammer business has grown exponentially and several social media companies have begun to emerge as liaisons between popular users and brands. Much like managers of successful actors, these companies foster a roster of these photographers, helping to match brands with the ones that complement their style.

One such company is Dash Hudson, which is described by its CEO Thomas Rankin as a "one-stop marketing platform." Rankin tells SheKnows brands seek out certain Instagrammers "to help them tell the brand story. Brands benefit because their products get featured in original content, in an organic way, and presented to a new audience."

What are brands looking for in an Instagrammer?

According to Rankin brands are looking for two things when it comes to choosing an Instagrammer — someone who has a strong, unique voice, and a large audience. Now what they mean by large can vary from company to company, but many social media agencies are now looking for users with 10,000 followers or more.

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A prime example of this is Instagram star Brian DiFeo, who joined Instagram a few weeks after it launched in 2010. While he had little to no photography experience, the app and its users fueled his passion for it. As far as his "influencer status," that developed rather organically.

"Instagram asked a few of its users to start Meetup groups, so I hosted an Instagram Meetup in March 2011," he told SheKnows. "About 50 people came and 5 people presented on mobile photography and the Instagram community. Over the course of 2011, the Meetup group grew to include hundreds of people, which led to brands asking to sponsor our events. I also became a suggested user, and Instagram featured me in a blog post."

By 2012, he was asked to take photos for Fashion Week, and a month later, he started his social media agency, Mobile Media Lab.

How do I get my photos noticed?

According to both Rankin and DiFeo, it's all about delivering consistently compelling, creative content, and following up by engaging with the targeted community. DiFeo told SheKnows, "if I post a photograph for a travel brand, I will go to the #travel tag (and similar tags) in order to engage with all the recent photos that used that tag. The theory is, the people who just posted with that tag are probably looking at Instagram at that moment so if I like and/or comment on their photo, there is a good chance they check out my account and like what they see."

Of course, DiFeo's exemplary photography skills don't hurt either.

Happy Friday! #beaconny #latergram

A photo posted by Brian DiFeo (@bridif) on

Walking Shea in the snow #blacklab #labradorretriever #dogsofbeacon #ourgirlshea

A photo posted by Brian DiFeo (@bridif) on

Not to mention having an adorable puppy.

What does it take to get picked up by an social media agency?

At Mobile Media Lab, DiFeo says, "we are open to any talented content creators who has something unique about their account: a passion, a theme, a talent, or an interest." Of course followers in the five figures helps considerably.

As far as Dash Hudson goes, Rankin feels similarly, but a "growing, engaged audience" is the emphasis, as well as a "professional collaborative attitude" for both photographers and brands.

How do I make sure my feed doesn't start looking too commercial?

You always want to pair yourself with brands that complement your feed. That way, your followers won't feel like they're being advertised to. However, backlash can happen because you have to be candid when your taking photos for sponsors. It's all about being as subtle and creative as you can be, while still getting the job done.

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What's the best way to approach this business if you're just starting out?

Difeo says posting consistently good work, and remaining actively engaged with the community is key. "Make sure you have an email in your bio so brands and agencies can contact you. I suggest you sign up for all of the influencer networks out there, which will increase the amount of job offers you get. Keep posting your best images, and be consistent in posting (once a day is good)."

On the other hand, Rankin suggests not to push it if it doesn't happen right away. "Don't overthink it or try too hard. Be yourself and create something meaningful, and hopefully you will find an audience that digs what you do. Only then, and only if it makes sense, should you think about turning it into a business."

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Yes, you can make money on Instagram (without being a total scam artist)
Image: Kirt Edblom/Flickr

Yes, you can make money on Instagram (without being a total scam artist)
Image: Designed by Terese Condella/Sheknows, Image: Morsa Images/Getty Images

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