Money and popularity drive Instagram teen influencers

  • The number of brand collaborations an influencer has depends on the number of followers
  • While for some it is about monetizing talent, for others, it is simply about acknowledgement and popularity

Bhargav Kheni, 19, has about 120,000 followers on Instagram and that makes him a social media celebrity. Kheni is known as an influencer in social media lingo given his follower base. The Surat-based teenager, who captures and attracts followers through photographs, started exploring the photo-sharing platform about two and a half years ago. By then, he had already learnt how to work editing software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom by watching YouTube videos and was editing his own pictures.

“I started off on Instagram by uploading pictures I’d clicked and edited of people and things around me," said Kheni. As his pictures started getting traction on his Instagram account, an opportunity caught his eye. “I saw others use Instagram to share their fashion ideas and I thought of giving it a try," said Kheni, for whom this became a turning point. He is now pursuing modelling as a career and has taken a break after completing school because he wants to focus on getting fit. “I am taking a break to get into the right shape for modelling. I am planning to do an undergraduate course from an open university so I have a degree," said Kheni.

Bhargav Kheni (19), Instagram handle: awesome_editor_
Bhargav Kheni (19), Instagram handle: awesome_editor_

One of the boons of social media is that young individuals get a ready platform to showcase their talent and build their brand value. The advertising industry, on its part, has been capitalising on such brands as part of its strategy to tap consumers through new media.

According to a recent study by Deloitte India, called Unravelling the Indian Consumer, 28% millennials purchase products due to social media recommendations and 63% of them stay updated on brands through platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Social media platforms form an important part of the millennials’ shopping journey as it influences their purchase decisions, said the study.

And this gives social media influencers such as Kheni a chance to monetize the craft. “Advertising products through Instagram influencers works out way cheaper for brands because social media marketing is still in its nascent stage. Plus, if you pick a new kid on the block, it’s even cheaper. However, in a typical media advertisement, brands have to pay a lot because ad placements in newspapers or on TV are very expensive," said Anil Talreja, partner, Deloitte India, a multinational professional services network and a consulting firm.

What they earn

Uploading pretty pictures is not what makes brands approach these teenagers for collaboration or business. It is the follower base that does it. As the number of followers increase, so do their collaborations with brands.

Kheni’s large number of followers has made him an ideal fit for many brands such as Fastrack watches, Revive beverages, The Indian Chai, TAGG, a consumer electronics brand, and Shein, an online clothing brand, among other brands.

Kheni is among the many other teenagers who are using Instagram to monetize their ideas.

Shilpi Saha, 25, a Kolkata-based fashion blogger and influencer, who has about 106,000 followers on Instagram, said that payments vary widely across brands and the number of posts. “Brands pay as per their requirement. I can make anywhere between 25,000 and 35,000 for multiple posts by uploading a few pictures or videos along with a couple of stories on Instagram endorsing the brand," said Saha. Her first collaboration was with Myntra when she was 21 and since then, almost all her posts are promotional content for brands such as Max Fashion, FBB, Grofers, Lakme, Westside and Budweiser, among others.

The rewards don’t always come in cash. Kheni, for instance, has a different deal with different brands. “If it’s a clothing brand, they just let me keep the clothes and give me a unique discount code which I attach with my post on Instagram. Each time someone makes a purchase using this code, I get paid about 10-12% of the total sale amount," said Kheni.

When Kheni had 50,000 followers, he charged 600 for a post. Now that his followers have increased, he charges upwards of 1,000 for a post. “For Instagram stories, I am paid 300-600 per story," said Kheni.

However, a part of what these influencers make is ploughed back into doing the photo shoots that keep the followers hooked and generating new content and ideas. Most teen influencers either invest in their own equipment or collaborate with studios to cover up for costs. Kheni collaborates with studios, while Saha’s brother is a photographer and does all her shoots.

Fame game

While for some it is about monetizing talent, for others, it is simply about acknowledgement and popularity.

Jaijeet Singh (15), Instagram handle: singhjaijeet_4
Jaijeet Singh (15), Instagram handle: singhjaijeet_4

Mumbai-based Jaijeet Singh, 15, has already collaborated with more than 10 brands, including Shein and Sunburn festival in India, for advertising on Instagram, but it’s not the money that excites him. He is in it for the popularity, and says that being a social media influencer is a part of his journey to become a cinematographer. “My father handles all my monetary transactions. I am here for the people who follow me and the appreciation I receive on my Instagram posts. It makes me happy to know that people like my style," said Singh, who has about 1.7 lakh followers on Instagram. He recently signed a deal with Skagen Mark for Holi.

What to watch out for

“Popularity trumps money for most teens but I’m not a fan of this trend. Kids are looking for validation outside. But the good thing is that they are earning at a young age. If managed well, this could give them a head start in life," said Shweta Jain, certified financial planner, CEO and founder, Investography Pvt. Ltd, a financial planning firm.

Some of these children seem to be striking a balance. Kheni has stopped taking pocket money from his parents and manages his lifestyle and gym-related expenses by himself. Even at a tender age of 15, Singh wants to upscale his skills so he can downscale on the costs. He has picked up various photo editing software so he can edit his own pictures and save money. He said the money he’s making now is being saved by his family to fund his higher education and future needs.

Though there are many success stories on how teen influencers are able to monetize their fan base, experts view the trend with a lot of worry as they fear it can lull the young crop into thinking that money can be made easily and this could become a long-term career choice. “It is not ideal to see this as a long-term career because Instagram promotions work today but this may not be the case 10 years from now because marketing strategies keep evolving every few years," said Talreja.

You’re paid but it’s also time consuming and if you don’t have your own equipment and ideas, it could end up becoming an expensive affair.

What you should do

Making money definitely gives you a sense of confidence but if you are making money early in life, then it’s only fair that you should give yourself a kick-start in terms of investments. “If possible, start investing because if you start now, the power of compounding will help you get great returns as you have time on your side," said Jain.

Parents also have an increased responsibility given that the child has been able to cut the financial strings early in life. As parents you need to help your child manage their money efficiently. Teach them how to prioritise their purchases or spends by giving them perspective. Most importantly, keep your communication lines open so that they can reach out to you without having to worry.

Close