“Dollars Follow Eyeballs”: The Insta-Influencer Revolution

We all follow them. Whether it be for fashion, fitness, inspiration, cuteness or a quick laugh, Instagram influencers clog our newsfeeds with their sponsored content and obvious aesthetic appeal. Nowadays, being a full-time “instagrammer” has become a legitimate source of personal income. Oftentimes as I scroll through my social media accounts noting Kayla Itsines’ toning tips or bursting out in laughter at The Fat Jewish’s latest celebrity meme, I find myself wondering: How much money do these social media “personalities” actually make?

According to Yahoo Finance, depending on his or her number of followers, an influencer’s price per sponsored post varies.

  • 100,000+ followers charge $700–$900/ big-brand post
  • 500,000 followers charge $2,000–$3,000/ big-brand post
  • 1 million+ followers charge $50,000/ big-brand post

Not too shabby for a person that makes a living off of posting pretty pictures.

In fact the Huffington Post, stated that companies across all industries combined currently spend between $1 billion and $1.5 billion per year on sponsoring content on the platform. Clearly, Instagram promotion has become serious business.

What Exactly Is “Influencer Marketing”?

The Instagram platform has been a boon for online marketing. In order to adjust their overall brand strategy to accommodate the growing trend toward mobile, companies are starting to hire “influencers” that are able to display products to their large, loyal follower bases. Depending on a certain influencer’s social media beat, such as fashion, lifestyle, food, etc. a company can engage a more targeted audience, increasing brand exposure.

I would argue that an influencer marketing campaign is significantly more effective than traditional marketing strategies in that it takes advantage of the idea that when a person decides to follow an influencer, he or she most likely is doing so because he or she wants to engage in the lifestyle of that person.

Case and point being if I see my favorite social media “persona” repeatedly photographed with a certain brand, that endorsement alone will most likely prompt me to visit that brand’s website, follow/ like that brand’s social accounts, and perhaps make a purchase on that brand’s eCommerce site. Evidently, brands are taking us on a virtual journey that conveniently leads to their products’ “buy button.”

Instagram’s All-Star Line-Up

#1 Josh Ostrovsky (@thefatjewish)

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At 9 million followers and counting, Josh Ostrovsky AKA “The Fat Jewish” clearly belongs in the Instagram hall of fame. Essentially, Ostrovsky’s business model entails either creating or republishing internet memes featuring hilarious, and sometimes wildly inappropriate commentary. This comedian’s outrageous antics attract offers from brands like Burger King, Bud Light, Beats, and Virgin Mobile. According to a 2015 Business Insider article (posted when The Fat Jewish maintained more than 5.2 million followers), these product placements and event appearances run at about $6,000 a pop.

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For example, the Financial Times noted one of the influencer’s recent Bud Light campaigns in which he posted a picture of his friend tattooing his grandma’s back, playing up the beer’s motto “Up for whatever.” The Fat Jewish stated,

“I could have taken the brand’s money and posed in a photo holding a beer. That’s the kind of thing other big Instagrammers would have done. But I was like, ‘Let’s do this for real, let’s make this memorable’. I take the time to make this sh** really good. I’m a giver.”

Fun Fact: His insta-fame has not only made him rich, but has also allowed him to roll out his own line of wine, dubbed “White Girl Rosé.”

#2 Kayla Itsines (kayla_itsines)

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What’s #BBG? Thanks to this Australian native’s 5.6 million followers, the entire female fitness community is no stranger to her original instructional fitness manual known as the “Bikini Body Guide.” Itsines’ Instagram account combines inspirational memes, her enviable abs, wholesome snacks, and remarkable transformation photos of her devoted followers to make her one of the world’s top fitness influencers. Her message of uniting females through team motivation and self-love, regardless of fitness level, has clearly resonated with women of all ages. As a result, the influencer’s social media fame has led to lucrative brand partnerships with Cosmopolitan, Macmillan and Apple.
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Additionally, according to a recent Bloomberg article, online analytics company App Annie claims Itsines’ app “Sweat With Kayla” has generated more revenue than any fitness app this year, besting Nike+ and Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal. And to think the #BBG Empire started with an Instagram account and a girl who’s first social media-related question was “What’s a follower?”…

#3 Arielle Charnas (@somethingnavy)


Bloggers/ Instagram influencers have clearly reshaped the fashion and beauty landscape for multiple brands. One standout NYC fashionista, 29-year-old Arielle Charnas, has influenced women worldwide to drop their fashion magazines and start seeking beauty tips through her various posts, snaps, and tweets.

A recent Los Angeles Times article noted that in early June, within 24 hours of Charnas snapchatting  herself using Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell Bio-Repair Gel Mask, 502 masks were instantly sold, translating to $17,565 worth of product ($123,000 in sales in a week, $527,000 in a month or almost $6.4 million in a year). Not to mention, a public appearance at activewear retailer Bandier in New York’s Flatiron District prompted over 1,000 followers to wait in line in the hopes of catching a glimpse off their beloved influencer.

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According to Karen Robinovitz, co-founder of Digital Brand Architects, this revolution in influencer power can be explained by the idea that:


#4 The Kardashians

Let us give a quick shout-out to the experts of brand sponsorships. Under the management of mama Kris Kardashian, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall, and Kylie have created a remarkable branding empire.

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A prime example of how influencers’, in this case celebrities’, number of followers prompts mega-brands to shy away from traditional marketing strategies and bow at the feet of digital advertisers is Kendall Jenner’s partnership with Estée Lauder. Jenner’s 62 million+ Instagram followers alone make her an extremely attractive representative for any brand, perfectly aligning with Estée Lauder’s goal of shifting resources to advancing digital and social media initiatives with key influencers.


Stacy Mackler, vice president, public relations and communications at Lancôme mirrors this sentiment when she states:

“They’ve [digital influencers] become the next generation of beauty content editors. They don’t work for Condé Nast or Hearst. We treat them with an equal importance as we do our editors, and we know that the info they’re posting is extremely valuable.”


  • Times are changing: In order to keep a pulse on the marketing industry, CMOs and digital strategy officers must realize that traditional media just isn’t cutting it anymore. Adapting to the digital landscape by employing social media influencers and building unique brand partnerships is key to corporate survival.
  • Platforms have power: The social media frenzy has visibly influenced millennials’ purchasing decisions. Companies should look to this obsession with the social network as a unique opportunity rather than a challenge. In doing so brands can harness impressions and turn them into profits.
  • Take advantage of digital natives/ influencers: Whether it be through establishing partnerships through sponsored Instagram posts and product placements, paying Instagrammers to document an interesting event or experience, or asking an influencer to host a grand opening, product launch, etc., influencers should be a part of major brand campaigns and corporate digital strategy initiatives. Hiring popular, digital savvy influencers generates high ROI in an unparalleled way.
  • Influencer partnerships are mutually beneficial relationships: According to The Fat Jewish:”They know I won’t go along with their ideas. Yes, I’d like to get dirty rich and buy some exotic animals, but only if the content stays good.”


  1. My first takeaway is, time to really up my Twitter game. It’s amazing at the lengths that brands and marketing firms are going to in order to lure new eyeballs towards their products. It also shows that as a millennial generation we are just as likely to see an ad on social media, as on the TV. I wonder if the invention of the DVR and the ability to fast forward through commercials has made brands have to step out of their own comfort zone in order to find new ways in order to create growth for themselves. Cool article!

  2. It is wild how much money influencers can make with one simple post. I do wonder how their promotion of a product affects their own brand. I know when a person I follow moves into promotional posts, I am a little disappointed, and occasionally unfollow the account. It also seems that these posts get less likes than the influencer’s posts that are created with their own motives in mind. I do think that the Kardashians have artfully mastered this tension between promotion and self-image, as most of the products they promote appear to be incorporated into their lifestyle. Their brand is their beauty, and the items they advertise supposedly help others to copy their looks. Thus, I think certain influencers–those in fashion or fitness–can promote a product without damaging their personal brand, as followers genuinely want to know who they are wearing or what they are doing to look the way they do. But other influencers (specifically those “meme” accounts) have a tough time making the promotion align with their personal brand. I think even @thefatjewish had a tough time finding ways to make promotions seem natural or funny in the beginning, though he has gotten more creative as his brand has expanded. Overall this was an awesome post–really liked the incorporation of visuals and stats! Nice work, thanks for an engaging read.

  3. It’s definitely interesting to look at how influencers are changing how marketers reach the millennial demographic. I think another interesting aspect of the influencer space is how influencers choose to promote products. Do you think certain influencers choose which brands to promote based on their own personal brand? Could these products be adding to their personal brand? For example, does Estee Lauder’s partnership with Kendall Jenner make Kendall look more mature because it is a brand that has historically targeted older women? Or does Estee Lauder boost their brand because of Kendall’s following? I wonder if it is a combination of both. Definitely interesting to think about why these influencers get involved with the brands that they do!

  4. Really nice post. The only way I know about most of these influencers is becuase you guys write about them. I also liked the stats of how much influencers could make based on their following. I’ve got a long way to go!

  5. This is an awesome post that speaks to how a lot of advertisements are shifting away from traditional TV and print ads. I really see the movement toward creative digital advertisements and social media marketing as the new shift in the advertising industry. Targeting the right demographic by using influencers is a great way to reach the market that your brand wants to market toward. Along with Instagram, it is also so interesting how more and more YouTubers are getting sponsored everyday to make their video content. Influencers on every platform are getting paid and targeted by brands so those influencers can help target products to us, the consumers. I’m not going to lie…I have tried some brands out because I’ve seen my favorite bloggers and YouTube channels use it/wear it in their content.

  6. vicmoriartybc · ·

    Like you commented on my post, we have similar themes this week, and it’s super interesting to read your blog and get a closer look at people who make their living from Instagram, rather than blogs. It’s funny that DJ Khaled is in The Fat Jewish’s post that you included here, because I think he’s a perfect example of dollars following eyeballs. Since the soaring success of his Snapchat account during the past year, he’s earned lots of sponsors both on social media and in TV commercials. While most influencers seem to have built a presence from Instagram or YouTube, DJ Khaled is probably the #1 Snapchat influencer.

  7. This post was extremely well done! I really liked the layout and how you included takeaways at the end, not to mention how knowledgable you are on the topic and well-versed with so many articles to support your post. I was most intrigued to see the actual numbers that The Fat Jewish generates. I follow him on Instagram and I know that he makes a lot of money off of his content and that a great deal of it is outlandish but I had no idea just how much money social media influencers like him are making with each sponsored post! It’s a funny parallel to draw but becoming a famous blogger or Instagram personality is almost like making it big in the sports world. For every athlete or Instagrammer who makes it big, how many have tried but not succeeded? Social media has become a league of it’s own. Thanks for a great read!

  8. Really well done post, very thorough and informative. Provacative title dragged me in. It reminds me of the sneaky ways advertisers try and hide the fact that they’re advertising and make it feel like a more organic experience. In the Fat Jewish Bud Light Instagram photo, I would have never realized that we were being advertised to simply because the Bud Light wasn’t the central focus, it was just there. The old platform for this was movies. James Bond would drink a certain beer or drive a certain car. It would seem like just another small movie detail to us but when it comes time to order a beer or buy a car, you don’t even realize why you order the Bud Light: you’ve been advertised to.

  9. daniellep2153 · ·

    Awesome Post! I do agree that an influencers marketing campaign can be more effective if done in the right way, but with the increase in paid influencers, consumers are becoming less trusting of their favorite video or Instagram stars. For example, when people see the word ad under a buzzfeed video, they tend to not watch or not pay attention to the content as much. Our generation is becoming great at avoiding advertisements, including those done by their favorite influencers. These companies and influencers must be aware of this in order to not scare off their target. The line-up you put above are greats of successful use of influencers. Thanks so much for sharing

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