On the heels of fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, it’s likely that if you follow fashion creators on Instagram, you saw stories of runway shows, posts of street style and maybe even vlog-style videos recapping the weeks on IGTV.
The relevance of fashion week has been in question for some time now, and this season, with Tom Ford’s abrupt exit to Los Angeles, there was even more room for influencers to shine outside of the traditional fashion week structure. Some worked with brands to borrow clothes for the shows, some were paid to attend shows, and TikTok even sent three influencers to fashion week to create content.
As the conversation about pay transparency in the influencer space continues, it’s important that brands hiring influencers to create content are aware of what they’re investing in and what they can expect in return. James Nord, the founder of influencer marketing agency Fohr, has spent the past decade trying to make the question of pay easier to navigate for both brands and creators.
“My general back of the napkin is a $10 or $15 CPM (cost per mille, meaning cost per thousand impressions). So for 100,000 followers, you can probably charge between $1,000 and $2,000 for an Instagram post,” Nord told HuffPost. “That’s generally probably where you should be, and then there are caveats. Is there exclusivity? Do they want usage rights? What is your reach right now? Do you have an audience or do you actually have influence over that audience?”
Fohr was one of the earliest influencer marketing companies to look beyond the number of followers on an Instagram account and try to figure out if an Instagram following was authentic. In August 2017, Fohr came out with a follower health tool that allowed creators to see what percentage of their followers were real active users and what percentage were bots and lurkers. Today, Fohr has created a Verified Reach tool since engagement is easier than ever to fake.
“We try not to work with people with over 25% of their feed being sponsored because it gets to a point where you’re just like … I don’t believe you.”
– James Nord, founder of influencer marketing agency Fohr
For brands trying to figure out if a creator is worth hiring for a project, Nord has some advice.
“I think that if you want to pay someone and determine if their audience is real, for one, ask for a screenshot of their [Instagram Insights] on three posts,” he said. “Pick them yourself and pick three that have average engagement. The next step is asking yourself, ‘Why do I think people follow this person?’ What is it that this influencer is doing that makes them worth following? Are they doing a good job storytelling? Are the captions compelling? What percentage of your feed is sponsored?”
A heavily sponsored feed might mean lots of money for an influencer, but Nord cautions brands to determine if the influencer is truly promoting brands they love.
“When hiring influencers, we look at what percentage of their feeds are sponsored. We try not to work with people with over 25% of their feed being sponsored because it gets to a point where you’re just like … I don’t believe you,” Nord said. “We’re pushing clients so much to do year-long ambassador programs and to really go deep with a small number of people that really represent your core customer.”
We profiled four fashion influencers to learn what they were paid for recent social media and blogging campaigns they worked on — without naming the brands that paid them — as well as project details like exclusivity (if and how long the influencer was barred from promoting a direct competitor) and usage (how/how long the brand was allowed to use the content the influencer provided).
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
Opal Stewart (@opalbyopal)
Opal Stewart is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle influencer based in New York City. She has an Instagram following of 42.7k and has been blogging for seven years, with her first paid project in May 2018.
Deliverables: One in-feed IG post and one IG story with a minimum of three frames
What she was paid: $1,000
Usage: Indefinitely for social media use only
How long the image needed to stay live: Not specified, but I don’t remove images from my feed.
What she was initially offered: Initially I was offered $400. I counter-offered with $1,500. The brand came back with $1,000, which I accepted as I wanted to build a long-term relationship with them.
Associated expenses: None; they sent the product and I shot the project with my boyfriend, who is also my photographer.
Her two cents: I think negotiating and upselling are both important skills to have in this industry, especially as a woman of color. A lot of female bloggers are hesitant to push back on initial offers from brands, especially when starting out ― I know I was. However, just like any other industry, you have to know your worth and not be afraid to speak up when a brand is trying to take advantage of the relationship. A good way to push back on an offer that might be below your rate is to upsell a brand on additional deliverables and value that you can provide — be it extra IG story frames, stock images or inclusion in a blog post. This way, you make life easier for a PR manager, marketing manager or whoever else is doing the negotiating to be able to advocate for a higher budget on your behalf and present your ideas to their higher-ups.
Amber McCulloch (@stylepluscurves)
Amber McCulloch is a plus-size fashion influencer based in Chicago. She has an Instagram following of 38.2k, has been blogging for 10 years and got her first paid project after three years.
Deliverables: Two Instagram posts featuring product and highlighting a gift card giveaway; four Instagram story frames featuring product and directing followers to the in-feed post.
What she was paid: $1,500
Usage: Three months after completion of project
How long the image needed to stay live: Did not specify
What she was initially offered: $1,500
Associated expenses: Purchased product with gift card provided by the brand; hired a photographer to take the pictures, but was not required to do so.
Her two cents: Even though this particular project was well-compensated, the overwhelming majority are not compensated at all, or pay just enough to cover my photographer expenses (about $150-$300). In my experience, paid campaigns are very few and far between and are always a cause for celebration.
“We are a legitimate marketing channel for brands to reach their target audiences, and I hope more brands will recognize our contributions and compensate us for the services we provide.”
– Amber McCulloch, fashion influencer
I truly appreciate the brands that do invest in their influencers and recognize the amount of work that goes into every post. We handle everything — from the initial product selection to styling, to planning shoot logistics, hiring and collaborating with the photographer, selecting images, writing content and then pushing the finished package out to our audiences and engaging with them on the posts. We are a legitimate marketing channel for brands to reach their target audiences, and I hope more brands will recognize our contributions and compensate us for the services we provide.
Morgan Jones (@morganmariejones)
Morgan Jones is a fashion, travel, health/wellness and lifestyle influencer based in Brooklyn, New York. She has been blogging for three years and got her first paid project after six months.
Deliverables: One in-feed post and one story with 3-5 frames, both sent to the brand for approval. (Whether it is required or not, I like to send the brand 3-5 photos for them to choose from so that I don’t have to shoot something twice if it’s not approved for any reason.)
What she was paid: $400 plus $150 clothing credit
Exclusivity: No collaborations with their competitors (listed on agreement) three days before or after the post went live
Usage: Whitelisting my account (the brand puts dollars behind sponsoring my post to get more eyes on it)
How long the image needed to stay live: 30 days
What she was initially offered: I was originally offered clothing, and I negotiated for additional compensation
Associated expenses: I pay my photographer (boyfriend) 20% of what I get paid for the endorsement
Her two cents: Sponsored content can be a huge win for brands and influencers if done right, and if genuinely seen as a two-way street. I feel lucky that, since blogging isn’t my full-time job, I can be very selective with which brands I work with, often turning down more opportunities than I take on, and creating meaningful, long-term relationships. While offers that come through my inbox can be tempting for the money, I usually think about how my community will receive a partnership like that because (in my mind) they know me well enough and trust me to only be endorsing brands that I truly believe in.
I often see on both sides of my work (being an influencer and leading social and influencer strategy at a start-up) that both brands and influencers can have attitudes that one of them is better than the other, rather than working collaboratively. My favorite collaborations have not been my highest-paid, but they have created relationships with brands that I 100% believe in and want to support for years to come, and those relationships are what make me passionate about continuing down the influencer path. Plus, when I’m passionate about a brand, my followers become passionate about it, and it is a winning combination for both the brand and myself.
Olivia Muenter (@oliviamuenter)
Olivia Muenter is a fashion and lifestyle influencer based in Philadelphia. She has been creating content for five years casually and for about one year as part of her full-time job as a freelancer. She got her first paid project after about two years, once she started taking her Instagram account more seriously.
Deliverables: Two in-feed grid posts on Instagram
What she was paid: $1,000 per post
Turnaround: I had about a month from the initial proposal to the first post going live, and about two months until the second went live.
How long the image needed to stay live: N/A
What she was initially offered: Was initially offered $1,200 for one post and eventually negotiated two posts for $2,000 total.
Associated expenses: None
Her two cents: I think that it’s important for everyone to keep in mind that every influencer approaches sponsored content differently. Personally, I’ve found the only way to be sustainably successful is to tune out what everyone else is doing in this space and simply say yes to the partnerships that make sense for me and my audience, say no to the rest, and set my rates in a way that reflects this. Part of this means I’ve made the choice to keep Instagram partnerships as a smaller part of my income, rather than building it out and pitching brands nonstop.
I don’t feel particularly connected to or engaged with influencers who only post sponsored content, so I’ve made the choice not to do that myself, even though I could probably make more money if I did. However, I still respect the hell out of the influencers who make their full income on sponsored posts, because it certainly does take a lot of work and creativity. All this is to say — there are different ways to do this whole sponsored content thing, and I think these differences are what will keep the space interesting and engaging.