Christina Mack/E! Illustration
You see it all the time. A celebrity's Instagram post that looks ever-so-slightly different than the rest.
Maybe it's the way they're posing just so (or rather, it's a posed shot that looks posed) or the fact that the caption reads just a little too much like an informercial. Most of us pay them no mind, simply scrolling past to yet another engagement announcement ("Can't wait to spend forever with my best friend!") or vacation humble brag ("Just my view for the next week. NBD."), but little do we know, those Instagram posts are subtly making their way into our subconscious, influencing us to choose differently the next time we're on the market for teeth whitener or detox tea.
And what's more, those posts are actually windows into a secret (okay, maybe kind of secret) and lucrative world of celebrity incomes. That's because while we plebeians of the world are lucky if we receive a few dozen likes for our social media activity, the stars are raking it in. In the interest of full disclosure—and not to make you jealous, because we're not jealous at all that people get paid just to post Instagrams, right?—we're pulling back the curtain to let you in on how this fascinating system works.
First, how did this all get started? Did A-listers simply begin demanding money for their already-heavy social media habits? It just so happens that branding experts wised up to the fact that advertising on Instagram was an untapped gold mine. According to Mike Heller and Matt Kirschner, the founder and partner, respectively, of Talent Resources, a digital branding company, it all began because of, well, numbers.
"With Instagram we have analytics and metrics: Tracking mechanisms," they told E! News. "That allows us to measure...who's seeing what, and report to the brand and say, these are the types of people you're reaching."
Brands began to realize that not only could they find out how effective Instagram posts actually are, but that they could get instant results—and sales. When consumers (that's us!) see something on social media, we tend to buy it immediately. Yes, we're all suckers.
Even more than that, paying a celebrity to post an Instagram is just plain easy. "For a TV spot, you've got so many people involved," note Heller and Kirschner. "There are writers, talent, marketing. It takes 50 people just to get one message out." It doesn't take a lot of insider knowledge to imagine that the amount of people required to think up an Instagram caption is a whole lot lower.
Once the tradition got going, the industry had to decide just what a sponsored post actually is. The waters are a little bit murky when you're paying a celebrity to endorse something, so there are some pretty strict rules. There are several hashtags that come along with these big-money posts, and A-listers need to use at least one of them. We're probably all familiar with them by now: #ad, #spon and #partner, to name a few.
"If they don't include those required hashtags, that can really backfire," warns the team at Talent Resources. "We won't do a deal without them."
So how does a star get set up with a deal like this in the first place? According to Heller and Kirschner, it happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes a brand uses what's known as "seeding," which is sending their products out to different celebs, letting them try it out, and then approaching them about being paid to post about it. Sometimes the brand and the celebrity's team get together and make a deal, and then the celebs get the product to post about it.
Either way, brands will always try to choose celebrities that are fans of the brand before they get paid the big bucks to be. According to Kasia Pandyra, Senior Talent Buyer for Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, that's often the most important part of the process. "We are vigilant in monitoring celebrity hobbies, favorite products and food preferences so that we can find organic partnerships for brands," she told E! News. "We know that if it comes across as inauthentic, the fans won't buy it."
Once all the fine print is in place, it's time to actually 'Gram. Most stars have a full social media team (or at least a manager) who handle the actual posting and work with the brand's reps to craft the caption—Pandyra describes it as a collaboration with "mutual approval."
This social media manager gig can be a lucrative one, but it can also go very, very wrong; we all remember what happened with Ashley Benson's team. They posted a sponsored picture of the Pretty Little Liars actress in a lion-themd Halloween costume and mistakenly called it Cecil the Lion, as in the one who had just been killed by a hunter (yikes). Cue the backlash and the subsequent apology post in which Benson not-so-subtly put the blame squarely on her managers. Ouch.
So now we've come to the moment we've all been waiting for: The numbers. The moolah. The cashish. Just how much are these people raking in? Well, of course, the fee for sponsored social media posts varies by a star's caliber, among other things. (Remember, the most a-list of a-list are typically social media shy, and you don't see Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney on Instagram.)
According to Ketchum, items that affect a star's salary include how many followers they have, their relationship with their fan base (in other words, are they BeyHive or Swifty level?) and the timing of the post. Throwing up a 'Gram during the Super Bowl, the Oscars or a series finale will cost a brand much more.
The partners of Talent Resources tell us that a reality star from, say, the Real Housewives or Vanderpump Rules could fetch somewhere in the range of $2,000 to $15,000 for a single post. But, the kinds of celebs who pull in the biggest figures are among the ranks of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber—names with international appeal.
And, if your last name happens to be Jenner, there's a could chance you could rake in up to $150,000. For taking a selfie, writing a sentence or two, and hitting "share."
Now sure, there's probably a tipping point with this business; it's not going to be this lucrative forever. But until the appeal runs out, let's just say we're going to have some strong feelings the next time we're on Instagram.