What is a 'social media influencer'?

'If you have around 100,000 followers and decent engagement, you're probably making well over six figures a year'

People have made livings from social media "influencing" on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter and other platforms.

But what is an influencer? How do they work?

Two influencers who have large presences on Instagram, the king of all social media influencer platforms, broke it down in interviews with FOX Business.

Michelle Reed has more than 66,000 followers on Instagram and more than 380,000 subscribers on YouTube. Reed is a "20-something"-year-old woman living in New York. Her blog centers on her faith, makeup routines, clothing and general lifestyle tips.

Michelle Reed (Photo by Michelle Reed)

Chloe Gallop has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram and also has her own website. Gallop is a Washington, D.C.-based influencer and pilates instructor. Her blog centers on fashion, general lifestyle tips and wedding inspiration, as she recently got married.


Chloe Gallop (Photo by Chloe Gallop)

Here's what they said about being influencers:

How did you become an influencer?

Reed: I definitely stumbled upon this by accident. I actually started YouTube in 2011 when it wasn't really considered a job. I made music videos with my sisters, kind of like what people produce on TikTok now. I shifted to more beauty and fashion content in high school. This is when my platform really started to grow and brands started to contact me about doing partnerships. I then transitioned to more lifestyle "vlog" content in college, which is what I currently do now.

Gallop: I created my blog in the summer of 2013 after graduating college and moving to Charleston, South Carolina, where I barely knew anyone. I originally started it as a creative outlet to document my exploration of this new city, and for an easy way to share the styling advice that I was already providing to friends and family. It definitely wasn’t by accident, but I never imagined that it would grow past a couple hundred followers, let alone become an actual career.

What does pay look like for an influencer?

G: Pay will differ based on engagement, provided deliverables, and of course, your following. For example, if you have around 100,000 followers and decent engagement, you're probably making well over six figures a year.


For a micro-influencer like me [with] 1,000 to 100,000 followers — and in my case, on the lower end of that spectrum — sponsored posts can range from $100 for simply a quick sponsored story, or ranging all the way to a $1,000-plus bundle combining a blog and Instagram post or IGTV post, YouTube video and Instagram story.

In terms of affording an influencer lifestyle ... companies will give you the product on trade for your post, or usually you’ll even get paid on top of that. ... But [for] the things you do have to pay out of pocket, you can add as tax deductions in many cases.

R: Influencers monetize their content through a variety of realms. For YouTube, I make money through Adsense, which are the ads YouTube places on my videos. I also make money through brand partnerships on YouTube, which [come at] a certain rate depending on the length of the sponsorship, the exclusivity, usage rights, type of integration [and so on].

I also make money through affiliate links. So, if I link a product I share, sometimes I'll make a small amount if someone clicks on the link or purchases the product.

For Instagram, influencers typically make money through affiliate links and brand partnerships. They'll have a rate for an Instagram post and an Instagram story. These rates can change depending on exclusivity, usage rights, if the brand is whitelisting the content, how many swipe-up links are included, how many story frames, etc.

What are the best aspects of being an influencer?

R: It's nice knowing I've created a community online. I want my viewers to feel a sense of calm and peace when they watch my videos. ... I really see my viewers as my friends, and it's nice knowing they have a place to go to!


[Being an influencer] has taught me a lot about the business side of partnerships. Since I don't have a manager, I've learned how to read and negotiate contracts, secure better deals for myself, and also build relationships with brands I truly love. I've met a lot of the people I work with in person, and it's really great to have these relationships since I do work on my own otherwise.

It also gives me the flexibility to work from home, meaning I can visit my family in Texas more often and have the freedom to create my own schedule. I'd rather work late or on weekends, but have the freedom to travel more.

G: For me, the absolute best part about being an influencer is the people. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some fascinating people in the creative industry, and have even met some of my closest friends through this community.

I also enjoy getting to “help” others, as silly as it may sound — whether it be style tips, affordable recommendations or things to do in D.C. If I can help someone feel confident, save money, or explore new places, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

What are the worst aspects of being an influencer?

G: The pros certainly outweigh the cons for me, but sometimes it can be a lot. Although the community is mostly amazing, occasionally you'll encounter other influencers that are rude or competitive, which is never a fun thing. I've always found that odd, since I think there's room for everyone in the creative space, but unfortunately some don't see it that way.

I've also had my fair share of sassy comments and DMs, which are few and far between since I have a smaller following, but you just have to brush them off.

Lastly, the pressure of looking a certain way and putting out more or better content can start to weigh heavily, but it's imperative to stay true to yourself and focus on competing to be your best self rather than with others.

R: You get many different opinions from people you've never met. Often, we receive constructive criticism in our workplace, with bosses and coworkers we know personally. It's a lot more challenging getting criticism from strangers. While I'm grateful to have a mostly supportive community, the consistent feedback can make it hard when your job, showing your daily routine, is ultimately your life. This has made me more receptive to the way others perceive me, which can be harmful to your mental health.


With any freelance or self-employed career, there isn't a lot of stability. You take things day by day and things change frequently. There's no consistent salary to rely on, and you really do chart your own career. It's a difficult job for someone who isn't self-motivated.

Do you think you've had a positive influence on other people's lives?

R: I like to think so. My faith is a big part of my platform, and I know many of my followers have expressed how they appreciate how I share more about my personal foundation of God. The spiritual element of my content seems to have the great positive impact on my viewers.

G: I hope so! I know it’s nothing groundbreaking, but if I’m able to provide a genuine voice on an often contrived platform, then I can feel good about what I’m doing. I try to encourage people to create a social media feed that inspires them and promotes positivity in their life, and to weed out anyone that doesn’t do that — even if that means influencers like me.

Do you work closely with other people or is your work mostly independent? 

G: My work is mostly independent, but I’m such a people person that I do love when I get to collaborate more closely with a brand or other influencers. It’s really easy to get stuck in your own bubble in this community, but like I mentioned the people can be the best part, so I think it’s super important to get out there to attend events and workshops.

One aspect that’s very collaborative is taking photos, which I do the majority of the time with blogger friends. We’re able to take high-quality images for our platforms without having to shell out a bunch of money for a photographer and make it feel like more fun than work.

R: I work closely with many brands virtually, and sometimes I do meet these brands in person. I also meet with many different PR agencies in NYC who connect me with brands for future partnerships. I'm launching a podcast soon, so I work with other individuals who I interview as well. I work with a graphic designer who helps me with logos and branding for certain projects. But from day to day, it's typically me working independently.

Do people have misconceptions about influencers and bloggers?

R: I think people assume it's an easy job. While easy is relative and some jobs are definitely more taxing than others, a lot of work does play into creating content. Especially for those without management, we're editing videos for hours, creating content, sifting through lengthy contracts, and going back and forth with brands for a month before coming to a deal. Self-employed taxes are also a pain.

When your income comes from multiple streams, sorting through finances is a lot more difficult. Budgeting inconsistent income is also tough. While it feels more like a hobby than a job, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, it does have tougher sides too.

G: Absolutely! Without sounding too “first-world problems” because every influencer should thank their lucky stars that they get to do what they love every day, running a blog really can be a lot of work!

It’s not all trying on clothes in front of a mirror and talking into your phone like a crazy person; there are also tons of contracts, invoices, photo editing, writing/editing blog posts, pitching brands, and staying afloat in your email/DM inboxes, just to name a few. Can it be really fun, with tons of flexibility, and way less pressure than other people’s jobs? Of course! But it’s still a job, and unless the influencer is complaining about it constantly, I think that should be respected.

What kind of feedback have you received?

G: I think the majority of folks follow me for my easy outfit ideas, affordable recommendations, fun spots to explore, and genuine personality. I’ve received really sweet feedback from followers on being able to keep it real and honest while still remaining positive, being one of the “funnier" influencers they follow ... making sure to always respond to questions, and sharing fashion that is relatable/accessible. With that said, I also lose followers nearly every day, so there must be a lot that people dislike [my blog], too! Which is totally fine of course, but I’d love to be able to give them an exit survey.

R: Most people seem to like my channel for how it makes them feel. Even if people don't agree with my stance on certain topics or they don't share my faith, they like that my videos make them feel calm and at ease. My videos offer a distraction from their personal struggles. At the same time, my viewers say my content inspires them, making them want to be more productive.

While a lot of influencers live extravagantly, I really try to share how our normal, daily lives are sufficient. I talk about good habits — like having a consistent sleep routine, not idolizing work, eating healthy and exercising. I live a normal life and want my viewers to make their lives as purposeful as they can.

As you get older, how do you see your blog and followers changing with time?

R: I like to think my followers are growing up with me. As I get older, they do too. Now, many of my followers are graduating from college and getting their first jobs. My content just evolves as I grow older and my viewers do, too. I'm also getting married in 2020, so I'm excited to share about marriage in the coming months as I enter a new season!

G: I’ve already made the transition from early-20s blogger trying to figure out life to newlywed “adult” — still trying to figure out life — and in a few years, [I] will probably shift again to hopefully include some baby content (with less of a clue than ever on figuring out life).

I’ve noticed that my followers have really grown up with me, too, and many of them are in the same stage of life.

Can anyone be an influencer?

G: Anyone can start a blog, absolutely! I think keeping it going [is something] that not everyone can do. It can be more time-consuming than anticipated, too much pressure or not what people imagine that lead many to quit.


If it ever stops being fun, don’t do it anymore! But ... for someone who does enjoy it, stay as consistent as possible, engage with others — on social media and in person — find your niche and what makes you different than everyone else and then stay genuine and true to yourself. At the end of the day, that's all that matters.

R: I do think anyone can, but I'd encourage everyone to really search for the reason why they want to be an influence to others. I take my job very seriously in that I want my content to be purposeful and meaningful. I don't want to throw out something that doesn't represent me or isn't beneficial for those who follow me.

My biggest tips are to be consistent. Post frequently. Social media is supersaturated, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for more influences! It takes a while to build a following, but don't let that deter you from posting often. You should also know your why. Why are you doing this? What value do you want to give others? If your why is unique, it'll show through in your content and be set apart from the noise online.