Skip to main content
salary series

Alen Palander, a Toronto-based photographer, videographer and social-media influencer, has nearly 130,000 Instagram followers.

Job: Social-media influencer

The Role: The relatively new label of social-media influencer doesn't have a precise definition, and can be measured in a number of ways. Some believe it has to do with the number of followers one has on social media; others suggest it only applies to those who partner with brands to market or advertise to their followers, no matter how many they have; while others believe it applies to those who have committed to building, promoting and marketing their online presences full time.

Further muddying the definition is the fact that social-media influencers come in many different forms and speak to many different audiences: from fashion bloggers and makeup artists to travel writers, professional athletes, industry insiders, singers, chefs, connoisseurs, entrepreneurs, models, photographers and just about anyone else who has the attention of one or more audience groups via social media.

"That's the issue: It's very vague and it will remain vague for as long as it's not accredited or institutionalized," said Alen Palander, a Toronto-based photographer, videographer and social-media influencer with nearly 130,000 Instagram followers.

Different types of influencers will focus on reaching their audiences through different types of content and on different platforms, but most spend a majority of their time creating and promoting content and connecting with brands to partner with for sponsorship opportunities.

Salary: Because there is no agreed-upon point when a social-media user becomes an actual influencer, nor when an influencer becomes an actual celebrity, the salary can technically range from nothing to millions. In fact, by some definitions, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber is a social-media influencer, not only because of his significant social-media following, but also because he got his start posting music videos on YouTube.

"You can't just say, 'I want to be a social media influencer,' and start making money," said Mr. Palander, who built his social following over the past half decade. "The first step is creating that following, and that takes a lot of time; for some, it takes years, and others get lucky and amass that following in months."

Mr. Palander said what separates those who are making lots of money from those who aren't isn't just a matter of how big their following is. "The people who are making good money off of social media aren't just influencers, they're business people. They understand how to work with an industry, but also lead an industry," he said.

Mr. Palander added that salary ranges, based on perceived influence, partnerships and relationships with brands, and the type of influencer. For example, makeup, fashion and luxury travel influencers are supported by industries with significant advertising budgets and appetites for partnerships with influencers.

Education: While there are no educational requirements for being a social-media influencer, certain educational backgrounds can be of benefit. First and foremost is having an above-average knowledge of a field. For example, attending a culinary school would likely be of benefit to a foodie influencer, but is by no means mandatory.

"It's very important to have an educational background that teaches organizational and analytical skills," Mr. Palander said. "I came from a design and urban-planning background where we were taught many interdisciplinary skills, like how to create proposals and work with clients, but also manage our own business as freelancers."

While social-media influencers have a wide range of educational backgrounds, some training in business, marketing, social studies or communication can be beneficial.

Job Prospects: Social-media influencer is a very competitive job, and while some will flourish effortlessly, others can struggle to gain traction.

"It is a very competitive industry for anyone who wants to do it, but it also has a lot to do with luck," Mr. Palander said. "It's calculated luck: It's about following trends, but also breaking trends and starting trends. Those things take time, and sometimes people don't get lucky and do it for years and don't get anywhere with it."

Challenges: While some effortlessly fall into being social-media influencers by monetizing popular online presences, others set out to be influencers and ultimately fail to amass significant-enough followings.

Why they do it: Those who are able to earn livings as social-media influencers often feel like they're getting paid to follow their own interests and passions, while cementing themselves as celebrities of sorts among communities they care about.

Misconceptions: One of the greatest misconceptions about social-media influencers, according to Mr. Palander, is that it's not much more work than maintaining any other social-media account. "People think that you literally wake up, take a photo, share it and that's it," he said. "This is a full-time job, meaning that you spend just as much time on your phone and computer, if not more, than the average person with a nine to five."

'You have to have a strategy or else you don’t know where you are going, and then of course you have to be able to make it happen, call that leadership'

Special to Globe and Mail Update