So you want to be an influencer?  What you Need to Know to Survive & Thrive in the Influencer Space

Being a paid influencer is hard work. Influencer agencies are swamped with applications from young creators who want to monetize their following. One of the CEO’s we met says he gets up to 200 applications a day! You’re going to need a 24/7 work ethic and some mad skills: business, budgeting, video production, negotiation, presentation skills, critical literacy skills and more! Here’s our take on the learning curve that will get you there.


You’ve built a brand:  Wahoo!! You’ve got a following. You have faithfully built a community of admirers one video upload, blog or photo at a time. You’ve put many hours into your artistry and content creation. You’ve established a niche. You’re ready to host branded content and move up to the next level. Going forward, it’s all about paid engagement!

Influencer Outreach: If you haven’t already been recruited, it’s time to reach out to an Influencer agency or Multi Channel Network. We’re one step ahead of you. Go here to learn more!!

Negotiation “Speak”: The language and terminology used by the marketing and media community is loaded with gobbledygook and “strategic” speak. Lot’s of young people struggle with what’s being pitched and what it all means. We’re here to help.

Influencer 101: Influencer is generally the term used by the agents, managers and marketers who hire “brand advocates” or “paid engagers”. Some MCN’s also refer to Influencers as “Brand ambassadors”. Influencers are organized by “vertical” (do you know what vertical you’re a part of?) generally described as gaming, lifestyle, beauty, music, entertainment, comedy and food. Within each vertical there are more narrowly defined categories i.e. tattoos, sewing DIY. Narrow is good, if you can find the right brand partner.

Sandbox: You are a “digital native”, “digital borne” or “cable-never”, also known as “Gen Z, Gen Next or a Millennial” (see: “cohort” and “stereotypes”). Your life revolves around generating views across social platforms “off the YouTube grid”, specifically Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, and “on the YouTube grid”.  Social is the air you breathe, so none of this is hard. Just do what comes naturally. 

Role: You are part of an industry that produces social and video “content”.  You also produce “native” or “custom branded” content – both, fancy words for advertising. Influencers represent the “next generation” of advertisers, so Hollywood – and the “traditional star system” are not exactly your BFFs right now, cuz you and your friends are taking their jobs (whatever…).

You are social and like to “engage” your “friends” aka “followers”.  Your sharing or over-sharing native behaviour (lol), makes you “marketing gold” (i.e. advertisers see the potential and so do you!). Because you’re seen as “content” and not as an annoying ad, your “audience” is less likely to “ad-block” you. Another reason advertisers are your new BF’s.

As an influencer, you are expected to take that advertiser’s message, post a “sponsored video”, subtle-y, and “amplify” it - so pull out that mobile!  The deal you strike is often referred to as a paid “brand sponsorship” or “creator partnership” because an advertiser is sponsoring your message using your “personal brand”.

Agencies also call the deal you strike – or that your agent, manager, MCN or parent (oh-oh) strikes on your behalf – as a “brand integration” or “creator partnership”. They will try to tell you exactly what to say as part of that deal; your job is to remind them that you’re all about “organic advertising” (more on that, later).

In addition to your title as Influencer, you’re sometimes referred to as “talent” or a “channel”; other times you’re a “vlogger”, “creator”,  “media asset”, “social content”, and on a good day an “artist”. If you breathe rarified air, and have attracted over ~1 million subscribers, you are referred to as a “digital celebrity” (tell your parents) are probably “Verified by Google” and chances are advertisers are already beatin’ down your door.

photo courtesy: entrepreneur

Your goal, in this enterprise, is to grow or “monetize” your “short-form” video/personal brand/channel/social messaging “stream”. The more you’re seen as a “high-value” channel, the more you can negotiate for “paid sponsorships”. Advertisers call this a “win-win”.

Do you “Scale”?

Are you big enough, influential enough, reliable enough, to make an “impact”? Will hiring you and a collection of other YouTubers, Viners, Instagrammers etc – help the advertiser “move product”? (Do they even need other influencers…perhaps you’re one of YouTube’s biggest and brightest and can go it alone….).

If you’re a smaller influencer (say, <10,000) chances are you’ve been “aggregated into a “network” of “channels” and are logged (knowingly or unknowingly) into an “analytics” or “database” program. Your humanity extracted (editorial comment), you are now one of thousands of youthful channels to be purchased as part of an advertising “reach” campaign. Channel management technology – aka an “algorithm” -  or a bunch of charts, allows companies to rank channels/brands/Creators/YOU!! and your “brand power” – through a series of filters (i.e. vertical, trending engagement, channel velocity, posting consistency, etc).

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell

Advertisers say they understand Influencer campaigns are all about quiet “evangelizing”, but in a recent research study with 60 Creators, Crowdtap discovered the biggest frustration Creators (you and your peeps) have is advertisers don’t understand the importance of the “soft sell” and matching audience to message. Too often, advertisers want “high-reach” influencers and they want to “call the shots”. Per Crowdtap:

When we asked creators what makes them partner with a brand more than once, 77 percent of respondents said that the brand consistently grants them the creative freedom needed to produce authentic content. This reason was cited more often that competitive compensation (68%) and when the brand’s mission aligns with their own values (47%).


The word “organic” is perhaps the biggest buzzword in the “paid sponsorship” social “ecosystem”. What does it mean? Essentially, giving Influencers creative license. No “hard sell”. No “overt brand plugs”….  limited in-your-face “logo placement” – the traditional advertiser’s branding security blanket.

In the kidsmediacentre’s interview with YouTuber Johnny O’s mom, Meredith Orlando, she describes how the family turns down many sponsorship opportunities so they don’t alienate fans. “This tea brand keeps coming after us,” says mother Meredith. “John is 12 years old. It’s not a fit.”

The smartest young Influencers understand if their audience “smells a rat” – i.e., greed and “content-building” that’s all about brand sponsorships vs. “genuine”, “authentic”, and “audience-tailored” – they run the risk of “audience drop off”, the most depressing word in the Influencer lexicon. 

Earnings potential: the critical metric

As awareness builds around this mostly under-the-radar phenomenon of young people being hired to “flog” brands, there appear to be mixed reports on how much money you can make in this “brave new world”. One of the high earners inspiring a generation of young fashion creators is Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat, a blog on Instagram. Danielle did an interview with Harpers in the fall in which she discussed her earnings. Her “rate card” for a single piece of “sponsored content” (i.e. one Instagram shot) ranges from $5,000 to $15,000. Bernstein also “accepts free product” and will occasionally feature it on her blog – for free.

Bernstein has clearly found her “vertical”and is a unique success story. The Crowdtap research (n= 60 creators) reports “high reach influencers” are often inundated with advertising pitches, many of which have no relevance to their audience. In the words of one creator: “We’re not just out here to shill product for you; we’re looking for mutually beneficial opportunities.”   

When we asked creators, “Which misconceptions do brands have about you?” the common thread across all responses was a perceived lack of respect. The most popular response was that brands think creators will “work for free or for samples alone” (40 percent agreed with this sentiment) followed by the misconception that short-form content takes “minimal time and effort” to produce (29 percent)…. In one telling verbatim, a content creator lamented that, “Some brands think we won’t say ‘no’ to job offers – they think we should be flattered to be asked to work with a brand in the first place.” Another influencer told us that marketers sometimes fail to treat creators as professionals, citing times when they were “shuffled around in terms of scheduling” and “under-compensated relative to the ask.”


Reality check

In a story in LA Weekly in August, 2015, Naomi Lennon, a social media talent manager is quoted as saying ”It’s (YouTube Influencer market) an industry that’s dominated by children and inexperienced people. It hasn’t been good for all the stars. There’s a lot of exploitation. There’s a lot of mismanagement of careers. There’s a lot of false promises.”

Lennon is one of the few “insiders” offering a reality check.  In general, headlines are less about exploitation and more about “the dream”. Forbes also recently ranked the top performing YouTubers – some of whom have joined the million dollar ranks. So yes, brand sponsorships are the real deal for some creators with a crazy entrepreneurial work ethic and a talent for broadcasting themselves, their talent, or their artistry. But most of these young people have been at it for 4 or 5 years, and they all say adjust your expectations if you’re thinking this will be fast and easy. 

Talent Management

Once recruited by a Multi Channel Network, young people are often handing off the business side of their “personal brand building” to a channel manager whose job it is to negotiate “brand development deals” and “brand alliances”. These managers or agents take a commission based on their client’s earnings so they’re generally motivated to bring home the big deals with big established brands and accordingly to LA Weekly, these deals can run into five, six or even seven figures.

To better understand the Talent manager or MCN/Creator “revenue split” read our New Math feature.

Before you get lost in the YouTube Dream Factory a few more monetization facts

  • Google – owners of YouTube – take 45% of whatever advertising revenue you earn on your channel. Learn how to monetize your videos here.
  • Vessel – a new streaming service is trying to lure Creators to their platform by offering a 70/30 split on ad revenue
  • Agents will often help the Creator negotiate “affiliate links”. An affiliate link connects to a website that features the product mentioned in the video. They are inserted in the video description or in the video itself. Compensation models vary but include paying the Creator a percent of each sale generated from the tailored link, which allows the brand to “close the loop” and determine an exact dollar amount generated by the Creator/endorser. 
  • YouTube has rules around paid promotions, and Creators who aren’t transparent and honest about their brand integration risk legal repercussions. The brand will also be called out and may be sued. The media loves to profile these stories, so working with a savvy agent or legal professional who understands YouTube monetization policies is recommended.


60% of marketers are going to increase their spend in ‪#influencermarketing." ‪@ricksong1   ZEFR  EVP of Media Solution Sales 

"I never want to trick my audience with a brand. I want to be upfront with them." ‪@Shonduras

"A lot of brands are still figuring it out, it's not a 100% controlled ad..." "It's changing the perception of what it means for brands to engage w/ audience." Jeff Wolfe of ‪@LiquidThread

"I don't think influencer content always has to be so polished." ‪@kim_yarnell of ‪@Macys on authenticity