Tamara Peterson stands on a Manhattan street, peering into the screen of her iPhone as she waits for a woman carrying a “I love New York” bag to pass in front of a Brownstone.
“These shadows are beautiful,” she says, composing the shot.
Later, she posts it to her Instagram feed, where hundreds of people like it within just a few minutes. Her photos of New York cityscapes have attracted roughly 70,000 followers.
Social media sites like Twitter and Instagram are increasingly placing ads in users’ feeds – and so, too, are the people who have built large followings on those sites. YouTube’s top star has reportedly earned over $4 million dollars from ad sales. But companies are also interested in more modest followings.
Peterson earns between $500 and $1,000 per sponsored post from big companies like Home Depot, as well as smaller ones like Blue Apron, a subscription meal delivery service. She’s represented by two companies that help her broker deals with advertisers: Niche and Mobile Media Lab.
But Peterson maintains that Instagram is just a hobby and she doesn’t want to leave her full-time job as a professional organizer.
“I’m picky about the jobs I take because I want my feed to look a certain way,” she says, nixing alcohol brands and visible logos.
She’ll often take down sponsored posts if the company doesn’t require her to leave them up.
On the other hand, Sara Hopkins, aka SayHop, could imagine social media eventually becoming a full time gig. She also uses Niche to book ads and has a bigger following – roughly 350,000 followers across a handful of different social networks. Her posts range from selfies (half goofy, half glam) to videos featuring an eerily accurate dolphin voice.
Hopkins is a local TV reporter, but she doubles her salary by posting ads to her followers, whether it’s a six-second video on Vine or a photo on Instagram.
So what do her followers say?
“It varies between people saying, you know, ‘if you’re going to make money off of it, cool,’” she says. “As long as you don’t do it every day, all the time.”
On one of her recent paid posts, only one person commented that he was unfollowing her because of the ad, but the rest of the nearly 40 comments defended her right to post it.