Making Money on Social Media

Photo by Quinn Saunders

Photo by Quinn Saunders

This is the thought on many people’s minds, because realistically, how nice would it be to profit off of something that you spend a lot of time using anyways and would continue to do regardless of whether or not you got paid for it… This was my very thought process, at least. It was the dream of earning money for essentially doing… (in my eyes, at the time, at least) nothing and spending nothing. The dream of being able to earn money from posting about things that I would be doing throughout the day anyways. The dream that arose after watching many of the top personalities on YouTube and later finding out the insane amount of money they pull in for posting one video a week… Ah, yes the dream.

I’ve been in the equestrian niche on social media a long time. I quite literally grew up in some sort of public eye, growing and changing as a rider and frequently (and, in some cases, regrettably) sharing that online for however many people at the time to see. I started out posting on a blog on Tumblr and from there decided to join YouTube first by posting edits of my riding. With Instagram, I was slower to join, initially and albeit vehemently opposed to the idea of “just sharing photos without captions” when Instagram first begun to gain popularity as I was going into high school. Eventually, I did decide to join Instagram, first starting with a personal account and then eventually making an exclusively equine account in my senior year, after overcoming the paranoia about being made fun of by those I went to school with (who cares, most of the bullies from back then who didn’t become better people are… unimpressive… to say the least)… Don’t let this stop you from making a horse account, just do it.).

I would be lying if I said I was profiting off of social media in the beginning… Or the middle for that matter. In fact, it was not until I started a new YouTube channel a mere 3 years ago as I neared my 20th birthday. I decided to give up on the edits, make an AdSense account, link it to my YouTube and create a vlog style channel where I could monetize my content. I didn’t particularly enjoy making edits anyways, vlogs were far more up my alley and the ability to monetize my content was really just the push for me to create the new channel and start sharing my real experiences instead of trying to portray the essence of me utilizing popularized music that vaguely exemplified whatever I was trying to put out to viewers. The edit account I ran for a few years prior to creating the new one and I only ever amassed 1,200 subscribers on that channel. This is important to keep in mind, because this will all go into my discussion on branding and being yourself, not trying to emulate the personalities of others and what you perceive to be popular online.

So, anyways, back to my Tumblr blog. I was active on Tumblr for several years and amassed a following of about 9,000 before becoming less active and turning my focuses to Instagram and YouTube. The 9,000 followers were useful in helping me to develop an initial following on both Instagram and YouTube, but the growth to said following was a slow one. It can take time and the content you share may be more suited to other social media avenues, it really depends. My following on Instagram grew fairly steadily over the years I used it. I knew a lot of the local horse people and was able to make connections this way as well as following the “big” riders at the time on Instagram, along with professional riders and companies. I made 2 new accounts over the years, restarting and thereby creating the account now known as “sdequus” about 3 to 3.5 years ago. My goal on Instagram was fairly simple, document my journey with my green (3 at the time) rescue horse and post fairly detailed captions rather than the short, fairly superficial captions that frequented a lot of Instagram postings. I wanted my account to follow a blog style and almost read like a scrapbook when people looked back on it over the years. I wanted people to really get to know my horses. This stylistic element probably crossed over from my blogging days on Tumblr as well as my personal interests in writing.

Anyways, this is what started the “brand” that has now expanded to YouTube and other social channels, this is what really pushed my interest in sharing online and is still something I try to do today online. I try to share the realistic parts of my journey while offering people insight on what I do, my thoughts and feelings and mine and my horses real personalities. So, the first step in creating your social media is creating your brand. As an influencer, your brand is yourself. This is why ripping off other people’s content or personalities (other than drawing inspiration for videos or using common internet trends, memes etc. Think plagiarizing, not utilizing social media themes) doesn’t generally work as it comes off as insincere. Especially in the horse world, think of what makes you different. You do not have the same horses or overall riding image as someone else, no matter how similar you may be in discipline or area. Do not try to be someone else. Be yourself. What made another account popular may not work with your own, this is so important to remember. Each person who amasses a following often does so by having something that is specific to themselves and their individual riding career. You don’t need to show or jump huge or have a ton of fancy horses to do this, people from all areas of the horse world have created a following for themselves. Use what is unique to you and stay true to yourself, don’t become someone you’re not in an attempt to achieve someone else’s social image.

Your brand is what attracts people to follow you and that is the first part to earning money on social media. Building a brand. Even with selling merch, unless you’re marketing an actual business, people are a lot less likely to purchase your product prior to you building a brand. Even if you do produce products that aren’t necessarily specific to your social media channels, having a following allows you to have an audience to share whatever products you’re selling, it can make a huge difference in the startup of a business. It gives you a voice. It is important. Especially with Instagram, your brand is really the only way you can profit. By selling merch or selling ads. Instagram does not have the same ease of monetization as YouTube so your “payout” on Instagram is often in way of selling your own products or receiving sponsorships from other companies.

This is why a YouTube channel, in my opinion, would be the preferrable way for an equestrian to profit off of social media. YouTube has made monetizing your channel more difficult nowadays, due to their view threshold and watch hours one most receive prior to being granted their AdSense membership, so once again, building your brand and thereby your following is really the only way to do this. Even if you get one viral video, it would take a while prior to being granted ad status, so the continued viewership of subscribers is important. In making a YouTube channel, equestrians also offer more readily available riding footage for brands to view, thereby offering opportunity in way of sponsorships or riding gigs. You never know. Having videos readily available to send out for clinics, sponsorships, etc is always convenient, at least. So, anyways, if you ever want to profit off of YouTube, start before you’re super ready to be active and share your content as much as possible to get those watch hours. In this way, utilizing multiple social channels is important for advertising your other medias, as one of your platforms will likely become more viewed and more popular than the other.

YouTube can be lucrative. As far as YouTubers go, I’m fairly small and do not get a ton of views but the ad revenue from YouTube is a great addition to my income as it stands and it only serves to grow as my channel does. For riders this is so important! You likely video a lot of your rides as it stands and being able to have the potential to earn an extra profit from that could be how you pay for shows or the other crazy expenses that come with riding. It certainly isn’t a bad idea to try to join the YouTube community, in my opinion. There are also a lot of amazing people to meet! Now, while I do not earn a paycheck specifically from Instagram, it is important to note how important my Instagram is for my brand. It allows me a place to share every single new YouTube upload as well as to represent the brands that I am sponsored by. Without the following on Instagram, it would be a lot harder to get the same amount of support and collaboration from equine brands. Horse brands are VERY much a part of Instagram and as such, do a lot of their selection for sponsored riders and ambassadors from advertising their searches on Instagram or finding and contacting riders from Instagram. For this reason, I would say that Instagram is one of the must have social channels due to the sheer popularity of it. Brands are a lot less likely to find you on YouTube. Especially before your videos become super viewed.

Gaining followers online on both Instagram and YouTube will not be fluid. I had months or years where I would gain many each day, week or month but then there would be months where my follower count would remain much the same or even go down. YouTube grew incredibly slowly for the first two years. Just this year, my channel has really seemed to grow at a faster rate. Currently, my analytics show 3,000 subscribers a month, but in a mere couple of months this could cut in half or even more. Hitting the tipping point where your account hits an upward trend can be a matter of weeks, months or years. It varies so widely and there is really no guarantee. My first year monetized on YouTube yielded only $250 annual earnings, with some of the months yielding less than $10 monthly earnings. AdSense minimum payout amount is $100/monthly. This means I only got paid twice between 2015 and 2016. By 2017, this revenue had gone up to $1,800 annual earnings. 18 Adsense payouts (1 payout of at least $100 per month). But, $100 really still isn’t much. It sounds like a lot to earn from YouTube, especially for people who may have not had a monetized channel, but with the amount spent planning and editing videos, you aren’t even making anywhere near minimum wage especially after factoring in camera costs and other costs associated with creating videos. Anyways, my channel has continued to expand this year and we are coming up on the end of 2018. This year, my AdSense earnings have increased to over $6,000. This is more than I ever could have imagined earning from YouTube, however, it is super important to keep in mind how very much these monthly earnings fluctuate. I’ve earned 1/6th of that total income in the last month, the beginning and middle of this year yielded less income from YouTube. My monthly income can also drop at any point, as views do. If my content stops being viewed and enjoyed as much or my fan base stops engaging, the income will suffer as a result. This undoubtedly has been influential in helping pay for school and horse expenses, however, it would be a lie if I were to say that it were anywhere near my main income. The AdSense payouts have really only served to help cover towards major vet bills or huge and unexpected expenses whereas my main income from riding is what I use to pay for all regular bills as well as the vast majority of the unexpected ones… In fact, when taking my budget into account, I really cannot rely on social media earnings because of their lack of reliability.

A few years ago now, I started the brand “Milestone Equestrian” which first came out in my merchandise designs, sold through Teespring. What started out as a few simple designs has expanded to much more than that. I still choose to use Teespring for much of my merchandise marketing because of the fact that they handle all printing and shipping services. I am far too busy to reasonable handle that much shipping and on top of that, the costs associated with buying clothing in bulk and selling and shipping it drew me away from that, despite the freedom that would come with self sourcing my own merch along with the fact that the profit margin would be higher. Teespring is a lot more risk free, I don’t lose money because I don’t initially put out my own money to buy products that may not end up selling. For this reason, it is super appealing to me and I would recommend it to anyone starting out or wanting to market their own designs. In the future, as I become more financially stable and grow my brand, I would like to do my own merch so I can offer more unique clothing styles or perhaps have someone design garments specific to me, but the cost and risk associated with doing so is a barrier for now.

Anyways, to date I have brought in over $13,000 CAD from Teespring. This sounds like a lot but costs associated with advertising the merchandise, buying camera equipment for instagram and YouTube, web hosting etc are also fairly high. I was losing more than I was making for a little while because of this. The profits for the first few years were also extremely low, this is really the first year that my company has really started to blow up and make a lot of sales. So, it is important to make it clear that this is not something that happens overnight nor something you can count on for an income. Sales are not fluid, they vary a lot and the ability to sell something depends on having people to sell to. Not all products will sell, many of my designs have failed but the ones that did succeed are what allowed me to earn money off of merch sales.

Most recently, I created this website and this resulting blog, another way to profit off of social media. In writing a blog, I can partner with other companies as a writer, for reviews or also represent the brands that I am currently partnered with. On top of this, I can also monetize this website with AdSense, which brings in ad revenue from hosting Google ads, just like my YouTube videos. My blog posts also serve as another way to share my thoughts and opinions and potentially have them be shared by lots of other riders who can relate. This really only serves to further promote my social channels, which are also linked to this website. Another way to help expand the reach of my brand while feeding my passion of writing and sharing my opinion on a variety of horsey topics. If you enjoy writing, starting a blog can be a very relaxing past time that allows you to share your thoughts with those who may be able to learn from them or relate to them, it is also a good way to let those who follow you get to know you further. Wordpress is a free way to start your own personal blog. Domains like the one I have this blog on are expensive. I spent over $300 USD just for a year of hosting this website. This is the first year that this site has paid for itself. That does not include the cost of paying a graphic designer, who designed this whole site for me. This does not come cheap and I am so lucky to have friends willing to help me with this and offer me a price point that I can afford.

I’m sure by now that this sounds like a fantasy. Social media does not come free. Costs associated with marketing, branding and purchasing necessary equipment like cameras, camera accessories and so on to continue to allow the posting of videos and photos are not cheap. Often times, creators have to put out a lot of money before they’ve actually earned it, meaning that money intended for expanding their brand may end up going nowhere if the brand does not succeed. I have spent thousands on cameras, tripods, memory cards, editing softwares and so on to allow myself a better shot of producing desirable content. For many years, all of this money went absolutely nowhere but I didn’t complain because I simply enjoyed doing it regardless of the payout. Now that I am actually seeing a real income, it is really exciting but I feel the need to warn people that this does not come easy and none of the money that comes in from this is consistent. Ad revenue can fluctuate greatly, as can merch sales or brand deals and so on. Going into social media with the sole goal of making a fortune would be ridiculous. Share your life online if you so choose and because you enjoy it, earning money off of it is simply an added bonus, not a guarantee.

Please be smart and do not set your income reliance on social media or set your hopes to high. I work 3 real jobs off social media that are the largest factor in affording the lifestyle I live. Maybe going forward social media will allow me to live more luxuriously than I am currently but for now, it really just serves as a pleasant surprise and an addition to an income that I absolutely do rely on. The opportunities with brand connections and income that social media has offered me have truly changed my life, but more importantly, the relationships I’ve built with people and companies that I’ve been introduced to due to my presence on social media have really changed my life. I can guarantee that would not be the rider or the person I am today without the crucial people I encountered on social media who helped me to continue to learn and grow as a person and who still help me today. I am forever thankful for the brands that have partnered with me and offered me opportunity, allowing me to further myself as a rider and the ability to use and try products that I otherwise would not have been able to have. I am so thankful for everyone who has contributed to my growth and for everyone who supports my pages and enjoys my content. It is truly humbling and I honestly cannot believe that I am where I am today.