The Road Less Taken


Virat Kohli earns close to ₹3.2 Cr for a single Instagram post as per Forbes, while Bollywood A-listers charge ₹10-12 lakh for a single tweet. Needless to say, social media has become the place for advertising and endorsements, reaching more users than print, radio or TV media ever could.

But while celebrities and sports stars take home the major chunk of the social media advertising money, there’s still plenty left on the table for the smaller players to make a living out of. Over $35 billion was spent on social media advertising globally, which means even the crumbs of that share are worth a lot.

Take Lily Singh for instance. Singh, aka Superwoman, was the highest paid female YouTuber in 2016. She earned close to $7.5 million from her YouTube channel alone that year; not to mention her earnings from the endorsments of products, books and fan-tours on the basis of the ‘Superwoman’ brand.

Image not found. 'A Trip to Unicorn Island': The documentary on her global tour

What you really need to pay attention to here is that Lily isn’t doing rocket-science: Her channel comprises of mostly comedy sketches and music videos. And despite the fact that those things don’t seem to have a $7.5 million value on the surface, her legion of followers ensures a user base large enough for viable targeted advertising.


A ‘social media influencer’ is a person or a group of individuals who have a considerable following online on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap, or even sites like YouTube and Medium. The influencer is (generally) an expert in some particular domain, because of which the content s/he puts out attracts a large following and consumption.

Many influencers then monetise this attention that they have attracted by accepting sponsorships from companies for their content or by advertising products.

At the core, an influencer is just someone who is really passionate about something, and who then puts out content in the form of images, videos or articles on various platforms as an outlet of that passion. So each of them is, essentially, a content creator. And it is because of the content that the influencer has a following. Such content ranges from tips to improve your phone’s performance, or a recipe to bake the perfect chocolate cake, to an entertaining video about your favourite movie/book/video game, or the rendition of a popular song - depending upon the field/domain of the influencer. It doesn’t matter whether the content is practical and useful, or simply entertaining, as long as it resonates with the consumers of the content.

The livelihood of an influencer depends heavily upon having a meaningful following on these platforms. Keeping this goal in mind, they engage heavily with their followers. Comments, competitions, content requests, etc. – anything which can help them acquire and retain followers.

The reason why these influencers are able to earn a living is pretty simple. The basic principles of selling anything involve building a good product/service, and then bringing it to the attention of potential customers. For decades, the latter was largely achieved through ads on billboards, print media, radio, and television. Early 2000s saw the adoption of Internet as a viable option. In today’s world, it’s not uncommon to have companies choosing to advertise only over the Internet – with roughly 2.3 billion smartphone users across the globe, it’s not a bad idea.

Image not found. Social Media has put the world at the tip of our fingers

Additionally, most of these users spend over 2 hours daily on these platforms; clocking as many as 40 mins each, on average, on YouTube and Facebook alone. This total is made up of multiple 10-15 social media “breaks” the user takes throughout the day. As a result, most of the content put out on these platforms is customised for this – photos, 5-min videos, or short articles you can quickly read while you’re waiting in the chow-line, or for the next lecture to begin.

Such usage trends make influencers look like fairies-for-hire compared to the idiot box which essentially tries to sell the same product to everyone watching it at the moment – from the pre-schooler crazy about ‘Chota Bheem’, to the retiree looking for a new hobby. The platforms these influencers put out their content on, allow a level of indivually targeted ads which has never been possible before.

But the most critical point to understand is that each of these influencers is a ‘brand’ in his/her own right. It doesn’t matter if everyone in the world doesn’t know them, because close to everyone that does know them is a consumer of their content. These people enjoy the content, and also associate themselves with the ‘brand’ of the influencer. This connect between the two is gold for attracting potential customers, because of which clients get their money’s worth; as everyone they reach out to through the appropriate influencer (depending upon the product/service) is likely to atleast find out more about it. Leveraging the brands of these influencers is just about as much as one can achieve in targetted-advertising, without having every potential consumer followed by a private investigator.

So even if an influencer doesn’t choose to monetize the content s/he is putting out, the following does help build their personal brand, which comes in handy for doing endorsements or even selling their own products. For instance, Casey Neistat doesn’t monetize his vlogs on YouTube. But his 8.7 million followers give him the status of a pop culture god, which comes in handy when he’s endorsing a product or selling his own official merchandise.


Social media has simplified how a person can reach out and share their content with people around the world. It’s easier to do something that you are really passionate about and earn well on the side more than it has ever been, thanks to the plethora of social platforms, each catering to a specific type of content – from articles (Medium, Wordpress) and podcasts (Soundcloud, iTunes Store) to photos and videos (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube). So if a 9-to-5 job isn’t for you, 2018 is definitely a good time to take a dip in the waters of social media influencer business. Because if you can attract the users while doing something you enjoy, then remember the Joker’s advice - “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

Image not found. "If you're good at something, never do it for free."