Meghan Young is a professional Instagram star. She gets paid to climb beautiful mountains, photograph their glittering summits
and post about her adventures to her fans. “My job is to make it look effortless, to look like it’s the most fun ever and it’s never a job,” she says. “But it is a job.”
Young, 33, makes money from companies that pay her to endorse their products on her Instagram feed, and she’s part of a burgeoning ecosystem of social media influencers—made possible by the billions of users eager for their content, and advertisers hungry for new ways to a youthful audience.
Companies may end up spending $1.6 billion this year on this kind of marketing on Facebook’s Instagram alone, and as much as $6.3 billion when including other platforms like YouTube and Twitch, according to estimates from Mediakix, a marketing agency. That money has fuelled the rise of influencers around the world, flooding Instagram with millions of #sponsored and #ad posts a year. But the majority of people declaring their sponsorships are unlikely to be earning enough to be making a living from it, Mediakix Chief Executive Officer Evan Asano says.
Young is an exception: She’s on track to earn between $50,000 and $100,000 over the next year as a full-time influencer, from sponsorships as well as photo licensing fees. It’s not the income of a megastar, but it’s enough for her to pay her bills. Young promotes a variety of products and destinations related to mountaineering. The process starts with landing sponsorship deals. Companies do reach out with unsolicited offers, Young says, but she turns down the majority of those. Many such offers have nothing to do with the outdoor adventures she posts about and others are from companies that are direct competitors with her biggest sponsors.
That means she spends days or even weeks researching potential clients’ planned marketing campaigns and then tailoring the proposals she sends out to match their needs. She estimates that about 70 per cent of the pitches she sends to potential partners end in rejection.
Young, who is based in Seattle, had thought for years that she would become a lawyer. She graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University’s School of Law in 2015, but she decided she didn’t want to become an attorney and never took the bar. Her parents were shocked by the decision. “They were worried about what I was going to do,” Young says. “How was I going to find career stability?
But her legal skills haven’t gone to waste. Once companies express an interest in working with her, there’s the tricky task of negotiating the terms. She goes through each line of the contract, crossing out certain specifications. When it comes to the money, most companies start with a lowball offer, kicking off a process that can stretch out for weeks. Her floor is $1,500 per post to her lasting feed, or $200 per day for stories that disappear after 24 hours.
And the work is still unfinished even after she’s done taking the photos. When Young returns from her adventures, she carefully edits the images and drafts captions to go along with them. Then, once the posts are public, businesses sometimes don’t pay on time. That’s when she needs to follow up and send new invoices with a late fee tacked on. Her least favourite hurdle is when she discovers that a company used her photos in a way that violates the contract, leading to tense and time-consuming email exchanges. The biggest stars on social platforms outsource this kind of work to an agency.