When people talk about making money online and Instagram it is usually about how to use paid ads to target potential buyers. But there is another way to make money there, by monetizing organic traffic.
This method doesn’t require paying for ads, neither to create any content nor to show your face. It’s a relatively simple, low-risk business model. It’s called content curation (or “reposting”).
The best example is one of the most famous curators in the world – 9gag. Think about it – how much time do they spend on creating content themselves? None. Paid ads? Nothing. They focus on reposting content that was created by other people.
This type of content is also sometimes called User Generated Content (UGC).
If you’ve heard this term before, it’s because UGC is used in different ways in social media marketing. For example, if you see someone posting a picture of their outfit tagging the fashion brand they’re wearing, that’s a UGC as well.
Moreover, people LOVE doing it so much that they usually hope that the brand they tagged will share their posts. They might as well share the content you repost and tag them in which will bring you more free traffic.
Think about it, wouldn’t you proudly share on your Instagram story a post of yours that “was featured by 9gag”? I would. By doing it I will send my friends organically to the 9gag account to watch a piece of content they did spend a second to create!
OK. So you get the idea of what you’re about to learn about, but before talking about the how-to, I must answer an important question.
Can you really make money by reposting content on Instagram?
I used a collaborations pricing calculator to calculate how much I should expect to pay 9gag for one story and one post. The calculator said it would cost me up to $233, an account like 9gag can make a couple of these every day.
But I am quite sure that the calculator is wrong. I used it to show you 9gag from the example above, but in discussions with professional Instagram marketers I hear a different story.
I kept the identity of the marketer and the accounts he manages private. But I can tell you that these accounts have together, in total, less than 10 Million followers. I’m not saying it’s easy to get there, but if you do…
But it’s not only promotions, there are many ways to monetize a successful Instagram account. Even if all you do is curate (and not create) and repost content. This is, for example, a comment on my post on Reddit by a dropshipper.
“I’ve been building social accounts by reposting viral content since 2018. I make 6-figures by drop shipping products to my followers.”
Curation and reposting of viral content is just a great business model. It takes some time to get to the point you can monetize the account, but once it gains enough traction – the potential is huge.
Christien Bouc (@christienbouc) shared the organic reach of one of his repost pages. The screenshot shows a reach of 1M people in the last 7 days, He commented on it: “The fastest way to grow is by posting viral reels”
This article is going to cover all of the practical steps you need to take to get started and the reason behind them. You are going to have to understand the why behind these actions in order to do them properly.
Then, I will answer the most common questions people ask before they become curators and start reposting content on Instagram.
Before I start, It’s important for me to mention that I am not going to cover the basics of how to open an Instagram account. You can follow Instagram’s help center guide on how to signup and set up a creator account.
Instead, I want to focus on what to do right after you created a new account: start generating growth.
At the heart of every organic growth strategy lies the engagement of your audience. Similar to how you would optimize your ads to get the most clicks at the lowest cost, you want to get the most organic reach out of every piece of content you post.
As you are about to see, engagement is the best tool to get it. The process is conducted of 3 steps:
- Curating and reposting viral content
- Using growth tactics
- Monetizing the account
I want to share with you the best practices behind each of these activities. I will go over them one by one, starting with curating and reposting viral content.
There is an endless stream of content on social media, how do you know what to curate and repost? Should you just repost everything, the more the merrier?
The answer is that reposting without a plan is a big no-no. You will most likely end up harming your account if you don’t curate the right content to repost.
The data-driven approach
When you understand how Instagram works it becomes clear why it is so important to use a data-driven approach for the curation process of what you repost.
In an article titled “Shedding some light on how Instagram works” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, says:
“The more likely you are to take an action, the higher up you’ll see the post”.
The article was written for the users of Instagram, not for marketers. But it’s important for us as well, by understanding how Instagram works we can squeeze more organic traffic out of it.
My interpretation of Mosseri’s message is simple: if you want to get traffic, people must engage with your content. It’s true not only to your followers, but also to people who use the “explore” feed.
“we look at signals like what posts you’ve liked, saved, and commented on in the past. Let’s say you’ve recently liked a number of photos from San Francisco’s dumpling chef Cathay Bi (@dumplingclubsf). We then look at who else likes Cathay’s photos, and then what other accounts those people are interested in. Maybe people who like Cathay are also into the SF dim sum spot @dragonbeaux.”
You see, Instagram (and many other social media platforms) has multiple feeds in it. The first feed you see when you open the app is the feed of the accounts you follow. But right next to it the explore feed exposes you to accounts you don’t yet follow but produces content you might like.
Maybe you are familiar with the feeds already, as a user, but it’s time to change your perspective and look at them as a marketer. If you want to get that organic traffic from Instagram and translate it to sales, you will have to outrank other accounts who compete with you on the top placements of these pages.
Once again, my interpretation of the words of the head of Instagram suggests that if you want to rank, you need engagement. And that’s where viral content comes into the picture.
The number of likes, comments and views of content that was posted by other accounts is the footprint of how high their content ranked.
Since viral content has already ranked high, and since you anyway don’t create any content yourself, you should curate the content that has the highest chance to rank.
Moreover, what will happen if you repost low-engagement content? One of the ranking factors of Instagram is the history of interactions of your followers with your account.
The less they interact with your content, the lower new content will rank in their feeds. If you don’t show up in your followers’ feeds – you can’t reach other feeds like the explore feed. That’s how reposting the wrong content can harm your organic growth.
Enough with theory, where do you practically find those viral posts?
It is very simple to use, designed to save you time and provide you content to curate in no time compared to trying to do it manually. Here is how you curate content to repost in 3 simple steps:
Step 1: Collect hashtags and accounts
In order to create a report and gain insights from the entire niche all you need is one account related to it. For example, if your niche is dogs then @barked would be a great starting point.
But even a report of just one account includes a section of “similar accounts” and “top hashtags” which you can continue building the account from.
There are mainly 3 types of accounts that would be considered interesting:
- An influencer, in the Labradors case, it would be called a “petfluencer”)
- Other curators, like the famous pet videos channel @barked
- Brands, like @americankennelclub
Choose accounts and hashtags for the report and it will analyze them for you. You can create multiple accounts on different topics you’re interested in.
Step 2: Analyze the reports
Use a software that scans and analyzes the data of the posts of the accounts and hashtags you choose for the report. Doing so manually would take hours, which is exactly what makes it such a powerful tool.
The report aggregates all of the posts from the accounts and from the hashtags.
You can change the sorting by different engagement parameters:
- True-views will show you the top reels (a view becomes a true-view when users watch the video for more than 3 seconds)
- Comments will reveal the best topics to create discussions around
- Likes will show a mix of all types of topics, the reports are sorted by it by default.
For accounts, it makes sense to sort the list by the above average for the accounts. With an example it’s clear why:
Think of an account that gets on average 100 likes per post and suddenly one of its posts got 5000 likes, that’s 5000% above average. This post would be more interesting than a post that got 5000 likes by an account that gets on average 10,000 likes, which means 50% below average.
For hashtags though, the information on the average number of likes for the accounts is not part of the report. This list is sorted by the total number of likes by default.
The more accounts you add to the report and the more types or reports you create, the better chance you get to find the most trending content in your niche. All that is left to do is to repost it.
Step 3: Build a repost schedule
Building a schedule is not only the process of deciding what will be posted when. You are going to need to find new content every 1,2 or 4 weeks. I personally like to work in 2 weeks iterations, but it depends on your personal preference.
You can filter the report by date range. It is useful because you will analyze the same account again and again over time.
After you decide how often to update your reports and collect content, choose how much content you want to repost. Curation accounts repost on a daily basis, sometimes even 2-3 times per day.
Since you don’t create the content rather curate it, it will take you far less time to schedule content in advance. 3-4 hours of curation and scheduling can fill up 2 weeks, maybe not the first time you do it but within a couple of cycles you could easily do it as quickly as that.
In order to schedule your posts you will need to use the Meta Business Suite planner which you will need to set up. There are also many free scheduling apps like NapoleonCat, Later and Buffer which are useful if you plan to post on multiple social media platforms at the same time.
When you schedule the post, decide whether to use a similar caption to the post you are reposting or to create one of your own.
In this article I am not going to cover the topic of caption writing. I will just mention that there really isn’t just one way to do it, the best captions depend on what feelings you want to trigger within your audience.
Trigger an emotion – and you are more likely to get a reaction.
Make sure to schedule different types of content: videos, carousels, single pictures and stories.
The biggest advantage of curating and reposting content in advance is that what you get to do with the rest of the time. That is, focusing on growth.
After building 6 theme pages with over 600K followers, @socialwithpedro said in one of his posts:
“Instagram is completely dead. It’s dead for those who undervalue the power of community building, for those who undervalue the power of creating meaningful relationships. Those people will never grow a loyal audience”
The reason I start this part of the article with his quote is because posting content by itself is not enough if you want to maintain growth and get serious traffic.
The social accounts you build are part of your online business, and just like any business – you must be able to attend to be in conversation with your potential customers.
How to do that?
Talk to your existing or potential followers. Once you obtain a large number of followers you will get many comments on your posts that you could interact with, but as a complete beginner you should focus on interacting on others’ posts.
There are a couple of ways to to that:
- Comment on posts of the accounts you monitor, if you make a meaningful comment other people will like it then the comment appears as a top comment and get you exposed organically
- Comment on posts of people that interact with the accounts you monitor, literally enter the accounts of people that commented on these accounts and comment on one of their posts.
- Comment on “recent” and “top” posts of the hashtags that you use.
Make sure to leave a contextual comment, not a spammy one. It will help you in two ways: first, it will expose your content to potential followers. I met Pedro who I quoted above by commenting on a post of another Instagram marketing expert, he saw my comment and we started a conversation around the topic of Instagram growth.
Second, you will start building relationships with influencers and big accounts which you can later collaborate with.
There is another reason to engage with your audience, you are going to get valuable feedback from them that will help you understand why some of your content works better and what to curate next.
In a reel about how she gained 8,000 new followers in one month I asked Britt Havens (@havencreative_co) if she performed research of viral content in order to come up with data-driven content ideas.
In her answer, she mentioned another data source for her content ideation process – the feedback she gets from her audience. By engaging with your audience or in conversation with followers of accounts in your niche you can understand better the reasons why certain content performs better than others.
But manual interactions depend on the most expensive resource at hand – your time. That is why many social media marketers use automated engagement solutions.
There is a debate whether you should or should not use bots to automate the growth of Instagram accounts.
The most common type of growth automation is using a bot like Jarvee or Nextpost to follow targeted accounts, and then unfollow them within 24 hours. This way the accounts you target get a notification that you started following them and are likely to enter your account to check you out.
Those against saying you shouldn’t do it explains the risks involved. In short, these bots can raise the security alarms of Instagram and can impact your account.
The impact varies, it could get you “shadow banned” which means a reduced reach for your content or the disappearance of your account from the search results. In some cases, it can get you completely banned from Instagram.
Those in favor say that if you learn how to operate these bots the right way the growth you will experience is worth a hundred times the risks. Using 4G mobile proxies, tuning the bots to imitate human actions and taking a moderated number of actions per day.
Take in account that it’s a bit tech-savvy, it doesn’t require coding or anything but it is still somewhat technical. If you don’t feel comfortable with learning it yourself, use the community to hire an expert to set it up for you.
There are other types of automations you will learn about throughout the journey. For example, chat bots that engage with anyone new that like, comment or follow your account. It is an interesting topic to dive into as you start your growth journey.
Which leads us to the last growth tactic for today…
Collaborations expose accounts to each other’s audiences. If you ever tagged a friend in a post and they shared it in their story, you have experienced it yourself. Your friends were exposed to the person you tagged and you to the people who watched their story.
Notice the two accounts tagged at the top left corner
As a curator you’re in luck. The bigger and the more popular your account gets the more likely people are to share the posts you curate and repost.
You are reposting their content anyway because you don’t create content yourself, wouldn’t it be nice if they share it in their stories?But no one will share your reposts in their stories unless you are a known brand or you have built a relationship with them first.
I already emphasized the importance of contextual comments on posts of other accounts in the niche you’re building your account in. Getting your reposts shared in stories is another reason why you should do it.
There are endless collaboration opportunities out there and they come in many forms, I only mentioned one kind. As you go through this journey of growth, keep your eyes open and follow social media growth content creators (like the ones I mention in this article).
New methods are being created all the time.
The mix of pre-scheduled viral content together with growth tactics like building a community or using automation bots is the way to generate growth. Now let’s talk about the endgame, how to turn this traffic into money.
How to monetize Instagram traffic
There are many ways to monetize your Instagram account, Here are some examples:
- Paid collaborations – an example for that is models that get paid by brands to post pictures of themselves wearing clothes of the brand
- Affiliate marketing – Sending the traffic outside Instagram using an affiliate link and getting a commission from the sales
- Selling digital products and services – Selling online courses and different kind of services
- Dropshipping – Selling physical products using the dropshipping model
There are a couple of methods you can use to drive traffic to the offer you promote. The simple ones are through the link in the account bio, by placing links in stories or by tagging other accounts in your content.
A more sophisticated approach professional marketers use is building a netfork of accounts using a master-slave architecture. 9gag for example has also “Barked by 9gag ” and “8fact by 9gag” all of these cross promote each other.
But there is something more important than the technical how-to. I want to focus on your promotion strategy, which is relevant no matter how you monetize the account.
How to promote your offers on Instagram
I call this strategy “value-value-value-value-offer”. It means that as you plan the content schedule, you include offers you want to promote in a ratio of one to a big enough number of value posts.
What are value posts? There are a couple of ways to look at it. Some marketers would consider their reposted content as the value content and simply add promotions every 10-20 posts.
Another approach is to use a value-based “build up” to the offer. It’s popular among creators that sell their own digital product such as online courses (less common among curators that repost content). The idea is that you build up a story before you share the promotion.
A good example is this carousel by @istacoachmike. The first 4 slides speak about a new feature by Instagram. Then, he relates them to his product by pitching the idea of making money online. Last, he presents his students’ success use cases and calls for action – to contact him to learn more.
With the knowledge on how to find viral content, growth tactics and monetization tactics – you can practically start your own curator account on Instagram. But before concluding this article, I’d like to answer some of the most common questions people ask before they get started.
Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to get a lot of followers on Instagram
It’s hard to give an exact estimation because the growth of accounts depends on many factors. Like I showed in the Tinder Swindler, Simon Leviev Instagram account use case, trending topics gain followers quickly.
But one-time trends or seasonal trends also tend to pass.
For example, I analyzed the topic “Fidget spinner” using Google Trends. Notice how it peaked in 2017 and since then struggled to get any attention.
Evergreen niches are ones that have demand throughout the year. It is unlikely to expect that the topic of digital marketing or dogs will experience a sudden dramatic decrease of interest.
Having said that, these evergreen niches usually come with higher competition. There are no free meals as they say, let me share with you my personal decision making process for my businesses.
I focus on topics related to making money online using digital marketing business models because it’s been growing steadily for many years. I don’t think it would drop sharply anytime soon, hence even as the competition grows – so does the demand.
Within the massive niche of digital marketing I chose, over the years, to focus on different sub-niches, money-making business models.
The team of DSM Tool is working these days on a Facebook Marketplace dropshipping product and already started releasing guides on how to dropship on Facebook. When I got started Facebook dropshipping barely existed, today it’s almost as big as eBay dropshipping.
Just look at what happens when I add the keywords “social media marketing” to the Google Trends comparison from above.
It is finding a small enough sub-niche to start from, and then going up in small steps that got me to this point. Growing one sub-niche at a time.
But the niche you’re active in is only one thing that will impact your growth. Your curation skills, community building skills, collaboration skills and automation skills will impact it as well.
But the most impactful factor is yourself.
Commitment is going to be your best friend if you plan to make money online. It’s true for any business, you’re building a digital asset and it takes time. Look for ways to enjoy the journey and try to set goals that are bigger than just seeing profits within 30 days.
How about becoming a professional digital marketer as a goal? If you take one account to 100K, what would stop you from taking 10 accounts to that number and then even selling some of them for profit?
How much does it cost?
Can you grow on Instagram at no cost? It is definitely possible. But there are a couple of things you should consider investing in if you want to grow faster
- Jarvee – to automate engagement with potential followers
- Canva – to create promotional content
- Manychat – to create chatbots
I probably miss a few, but using software to pump up your growth is a common practice you should take in account.
Training programs and services
A lot of the knowledge about Instagram growth marketing is shared for free on YouTube (like this one), Facebook communities (like this one), Instagram growth influencers and blog posts like this one.
But you might find a paid training program you wish to take. Many of the creators that share free content also offer an in-depth training program or a done-for-you service.
By the way, one nice thing about becoming a professional digital marketer yourself is that you could do the same as you grow.
You might decide you want to pay for shoutouts or boost some of your posts to grow quicker. I am talking in this article only about organic growth, but as you become more experienced with Instagram marketing you might encounter paid tactics you’d want to use.
What is the master-slave method?
As you’re gaining skills in growing Instagram accounts you are going to be able to implement more complex growth architectures. The idea behind this method is that you grow a page by promoting it with other pages.
By using this approach you could build not only repost pages, but also brands. In the repost page you could monetize the traffic in various ways, one of them being promoting your brand. For example, a dropshipping store.
Professional Instagram curators that manages multiple Instagram accounts refer to this architecture as the “Master-slave” method. It is also sometimes called the mother-child method.
One of the advantages of it is that it gives you further freedom to take risks when it comes to using Instagram automation bots. You can use the bots for the “slave” accounts and keep the risk away from the “master” account, while still promoting it.
(Note: I do not know if Keylie Jenner uses this method or not, I did not create the illustration below)
What are Instagram theme pages?
In this article I stood on the difference between curator and creator accounts. But there is another way to differ between Instagram account types:
- Theme accounts (aka “faceless” accounts)
- Influencer accounts
A great example of a theme account is @awarenessofsuccess, it was created by Gilad Hanina (@thegiladhanina). Gilad is a creator, not a curator, but the content he creates in his theme page is mostly “faceless”.
Gilad also turned the success of his page into a growing social media marketing agency.
Actually, everything I’ve mentioned above on how to generate growth fits for building any kind of social media account.
Eventually, social media accounts are communities and they are monetizable because people who take part in the community trust its leadership to only provide them with relevant and curated offers.
If you think about it, it’s quite similar to what you’re going to do when you curate for them the most relevant content they’re going to love.
It’s one thing to build a business that makes money, and another thing to build a valuable digital asset you can one day sell for a lot of money. Not that you have to sell anything, there is a wide range of monetization opportunities available to you when you choose to become a professional curator.
Let me know in the comments below what questions you still have after reading this article. But even if you still have questions, don’t be afraid to just go ahead and get started.
Make the decision and commit to the process, take a pen and paper and write down your plan and goals. Believe in yourself, they say “the only way out is through” and I say “the only way UP is through”