So you want to be a social media star? Some are ‘barely scraping by’

So you want to be a social media star? Some are ‘barely scraping by’

YouTube, Instagram and other social-media platforms might be lucrative some content creators, but others find themselves struggling.

When online personality Essena O’Neill “quit” social media, she gained a wave of media coverage for her change of stance against the negative realities of becoming “social media famous.”

The 19-year-old Australian revealed how she earned close to $2,000 per post on her social media channels, without being a conventional celebrity.

In fact, the number of YouTube channels earning six figures is up 50 per cent from 2014, according to a company spokesman

O’Neill’s profile and brand was built entirely from her posts on Instagram and videos on YouTube. She wasn’t earning money from endorsing products online because of her status in the worlds of entertainment or sport, such as Toronto Raptors’ guard DeMar DeRozan’s tweets in favour of Klipsch headphones.

By 2012, trade publication Adweek said video creators were making “millions of dollars” and South Korean singer Psy earned $5.9 million for his viral hit, Gangnam Style.

Three years later, more people than ever are making a living online, and YouTube says their partners’ revenue is up 50 per cent for the third year running. How much are they banking — and how are these social media entrepreneurs cashing in?

Platform: YouTube

How can you make money?

If you create your own content, you can become a YouTube partner and receive a small percentage of ad revenue from clips that appear before your video or on in-video banners.

The videos of those making big bucks frequently include video game walkthroughs, fashion tutorials or comedy performances.

Once you have a large subscription and audience base, sponsored videos or paid product endorsements can also be a lucrative avenue.

“100 per cent, making videos online can be a career,” said Nicole Arbour, who rose to prominence earlier this year with her video ‘Dear Fat People’.

“I haven’t found it difficult to make a living. I work my butt off. Honestly, it’s like trying to work in any other industry. It’s not my fault if other people suck,” she says with a laugh.

“But you’ve got to be a hybrid now, everyone has to. Kevin Hart is the biggest comic in the world and his career is a hybrid. You’ve got to be doing everything. I’m shooting a feature film in January, I’m choreographing and making videos behind the scenes.

“I’m exhausted all the time but I’m having so much fun.”

Crowdfunding site Patreon also allows fans of particular creators to commit to monthly funding.

How much can you make?

Using Patreon, the Hillywood Show, which creates parody videos, receives more than $7,000 per month. To some degree, the amount of money creators earn directly from YouTube is shrouded in mystery.

“I honestly don’t know how much a million views is worth. There’s no conversion chart,” Arbour adds. “I’ve had sponsorships where I’ve been paid for the video before we even shoot it.”

In 2013, Adweek estimated banner advertisements were worth about 80 cents for every 1,000 views, and pre-roll videos make about $5 for the same number.

James Dodds III of sketch comedy group said he received roughly $1.57 per 1000 views. At that rate, every million views would earn creators roughly $1,570.

For someone like video game enthusiast PewDiePie, who received approximately 18 million views over one week in December, those rates translate into about $1.47 million (U.S.) in revenue from YouTube alone. PewDiePie has more than 40 million subscribers.

But not all video makers are so successful. Just Between Us, a comedy channel run by Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, has 500,000 subscribers. That’s substantially less than the top YouTubers, but still a tremendous number.

Yet Dunn recently wrote an article claiming the duo are “barely scraping by” and the money from YouTube was “unpredictable” and “not enough to live.”

“I’ve walked a red carpet with $80 in my bank account,” she said.

Part of the unpredictability of YouTube revenue stems from the different types of advertising, and whether viewers are using an ad blocker to prevent the lucrative sponsored messages from playing at all.

YouTube also takes around 45 per cent of ad revenue, according to sources quoted in a New York Times article in 2014.

Platform: Vine

How can you make money?

The short-form video platform doesn’t run ads like Youtube, but that hasn’t stopped creators from apparently earning six-figure salaries.

Mainstream brands are increasingly turning to Vine stars for content creation to engage with users as naturally as possible.

“Brands are increasingly doling out dollars to content creators due to their unique ability to produce relevant, authentic stories that resonate with consumers’ evolving media consumption habits,” said Claudia Page at Crowdtap, speaking to

How much can you make?

Cody Johns, who has 3.6 million followers and more than a billion Vine views, told Business Insider that one video campaign can net him upwards of $20,000.

Rob Fishman, who co-founded digital advertising group Niche, says the top creators can receive $50,000 for one six-second clip.

Platform: Instagram

How can you make money?

Similar to Vine, Instagram users can make money from gaining huge followings and offering that audience to advertisers.

Typically, creators make money on the platform through product placement or being hired to garner publicity by posting event photos.

How much can you make?

Canadian style, fashion and travel blogger Ania Boniecka, who has just over 100,000 followers, said a single photo could net her $500.

Anthony Danielle, co-founder of the Mobile Media Lab agency, has said more than 100,000 followers can net $700 to $900. More than 500,000 followers could be worth $2,000 to $3,000, and $4,000 is the most these Instagrammers have been paid, says a Yahoo article.

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