Hip Berlin is the perfect subject for Instagrammers, Youtubers and bloggers – but can they make any money with it?
Social media has created a new class of celebrities. Instagrammers such as Kayla Itsines, Sophie Hannah Richardson, Murad Osmann and even Marnie the Dog are household names, showcasing their enviable lifestyles to a huge online following. Unsurprisingly, brands have caught on to the potential of these social media stars. With a strong following and high engagement rate, many bloggers and social media users – aka inﬂuencers – provide trusted content to shape the opinions and purchasing decisions of their loyal followers. Top inﬂuencers such as Kim Kardashian are rumoured to earn over €200,000 per post. Clearly, “inﬂuencing” has the potential to be a lucrative business.
In Berlin the graﬃti-lined streets, achingly hip people and perfectly formed ﬂatwhites make for an Instagrammers dream. But is it really possible to make it as an inﬂuencer here?
One recent Saturday morning a small group of aspiring self-publishers have headed to Charlottenburg to find out how they can make their fame and, hopefully, fortune on social media at the Influencer Marketing Academy. Today’s topic: “Influencer basics: how to market oneself professionally, grow and make a living from Insta & co.” Opened in September, the Influencer Marketing Academy was established by Sascha Schulz and Niko Martzy in response to a growing demand they had noticed for social media and influencing expertise.
Their influencer courses are “for people who are either already active in publishing on social media and want to convert their voluntary work into a business or people who are about to start and want to get a bit more background in perhaps how to create photos or films for YouTube or how to set up a media kit and contact a company in order to receive a booking,” says Schulz. The goal here is not to make people stars, but to train them in how to make money with social media publishing.
While one might expect the Academy to be filled with scores of manicured Kim Kardashian lookalikes posing for selfies, it’s not entirely the case. Yes, the room is predominantly young and female, but each of the pupils brings more than model looks to the table – they all have their own area of expertise that they’re hoping will help them stand out in the online world. There’s a Lufthansa flight attendant who has created a platform for vegan recipes and nutrition, a cosplay fan who offers tutorial videos on make-up and body paint, three young fitness bloggers and a self-described business influencer. As we go through the introductions, the modest, common goal is to earn a bit of extra cash from sharing the things they love.
Leading the course, Schulz starts by setting some basics. On the whiteboard he draws a pyramid. At the top are the big earners, the two to three percent who can make a full-time living as a self-publisher or influencer. The rest can expect or hope to earn some money but should hang on to their day jobs. He suggests a monthly sum of around €600-800 would be feasible – hardly life-changing and, as he points out, the trajectory from the bottom of the pyramid to the top can take two to three years, requiring some level of dedication and a great deal of time. One way of making money is product placement, with Schulz pointing to tools for helping to monetise posts, such as Berlin’s ReachHero, an online marketplace bringing together brands and influencers. While the average earning varies enormously according to the platform and number of followers, as a rough rule of thumb, ReachHero’s founder and COO Philipp John says influencers can earn between €50 and €120 per one thousand contacts on YouTube and between €5 and €15 on Instagram. But Schulz is also keen to stress that being paid to promote a product is just one aspect of influencer marketing: there are many possibilities for “increasing social media value”, such as long copy blogs, opinion shaping campaigns, such as public health campaigns, and events.
To be considered for such paid campaigns typically requires a following of at least 1000 followers or subscribers, depending on the platform. But it’s not all about the biggest channel. “Having a large number of followers is not a sign of quality,” he says. “It can be the same as printing a magazine with a circulation of 100,000 and trashing 90 percent of the print copies. Today it’s more about the degree of involvement and credibility.” Smaller channels, with between 1000 and 40,000 followers, tend to have higher engagement rates (the total amount of likes and comments). “For companies to create impact, it’s best to build networks of smaller, lesser known channels in order to have the same reach, for less money and with higher credibility.”
Blogging for fun and cash
One Berliner who fits this criteria is Mary Scherpe, the brains behind food and fashion blog Stil in Berlin. Founded in March 2006, the blog started out as a side project to document Berlin street-style “I studied art history and Japanese studies, which is very theoretical – you write papers and they’re read by your professor and that’s more or less it. I wanted to do something that had more to do with the rest of the world,” explains Scherpe. Today she has over 120,000 Facebook likes and almost 38,000 Instagram followers Content includes a mix of her own recommendations for food, travel and shopping, as well as the occasional guest contribution, combined sponsored content, for example a Tanqueray-sponsored post on twisted gin & tonics, and on-site advertising.
It’s with some reluctance that Scherpe describes herself as an influencer: “The term ‘influencer’ was just invented two or three years ago. Influencers have a presence on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever, but don’t necessarily publish their own long-format content. However, I have to market myself as this, because it’s what agencies sell to brands, the whole influencer model.”
When she started back in 2006 the blog scene was completely different: “The whole area of lifestyle and fashion and food and consumerism wasn’t a thing,” she says. “There was a blog in Helsinki back then who did street style photos, there was one in London and that was kind of it. I had an idea that it would probably interest some people, but I wasn’t entirely sure.”
For the thirtysomething German, the key is to remain open and diverse while concentrating on your own thing: “Obviously there are also a lot of projects that aren’t necessarily visible on the blog, but did come through the blog. It’s always a mix of things,” she says. “You’ve got to find your niche in a way, you’ve got to find a point of view that sets you apart from the rest. At least that’s what I would hope that people who want to earn money in this way would do, because otherwise we’re just going to end up with the copy of the copy of the copy. Since 2009 however, the blog has been a full-time job.”
For her it’s crucial to remember that when you make channels like Instagram or Facebook your main publishers, that you’re always at the mercy of these companies’ decisions: “That’s what is happening right now, they are restricting the reach of people because they obviously want to sell advertising,” she says. “My main tip would be to keep that in mind. You shouldn’t focus all your energy on one channel, but have a plan B. And I think it’s always healthier, or business-wise a better decision, to establish channels that you have full control over so if anything should happen, you can still find your audience – or vice versa.”
Another money-making Berlinfluencer is Tulio Edreira. The Brazilian native from Goiânia came to to the city after a 13-year stint in São Paulo. Every month an average of 55,000 people visit his website Awesome Berlin to check out his tips on food, drinks and nightlife. He has 44,000 followers on Instagram (where Edreira’s photos of Berlin landmarks or people hanging out in parks attract thousands of likes), and 29,000 Facebook fans.
I personally treat my platform like a’Tamagotchi’. I give it some love every day!”
Edreira first came to Berlin to “live an adventure” and was inspired to launch the site in 2014 by his friend Shoshannah Hausmann’s site Awesome Amsterdam. During the first year, he made no money with the site. But with a background in business it didn’t take long for Edreira to close his first contract: “In my second year I was contacted by an agency to create a guide to hidden Berlin for Wrangler,” he says. “Initially I felt surprised that I got that kind of an opportunity so early on. After my first face-to-face meeting with the agency, I realised that what I had to off er was a great match to their campaign.”
For him, enjoying what you do is a critical part of success. “No matter what the trend is, stick to what you enjoy doing,” he says. “People will get inspired by you when you do it with pleasure. Plus, that in itself is a good way to establish a long term self-satisfying business model. Focus on what you truly like and create continuous good content. Be consistent. I personally treat my platform like a “Tamagotchi”. I give it some love every day!”
With Stil in Berlin, Awesome Berlin and other contemporaries already established, is there room for another Berlinfluencer? Back at the academy, Schulz explains that being an influencer isn’t necessarily about trying to create something new. For him it’s more a question of direction, rather than topic. In this sense, and, judging by the hopefuls at the academy today, there are surely still opportunities within various fields – be it travel, food, business or lifestyle – to earn some level of income from living an enviable, photogenic Berlin lifestyle. But, if this writer’s failed attempts to turn her dog (@jackiederhund, just in case you’re wondering) into an Instagram sensation have proved anything, racking up the likes and followers can be an extremely time-consuming and laborious process. While the real pros make it look effortless, there have got to be easier ways to earn some free money. ■