While some teens spent the summer of 2018 babysitting, bagging groceries, or scooping ice cream, thousands of others made hundreds of dollars—and in some cases, much more—the new-fashioned way: by doing sponsored content on Instagram.
With “jobs you need to do a lot of training,” says a 13-year-old Pennsylvanian who asked not to be named. “Then you have to, like, physically go out and do the job for hours a day. Doing this, you can make one simple post, which doesn’t take a while. That single post can earn you, like, $50.” Last month, she started posting brand-sponsored Instagrams for her more than 8,000 followers. So far, she says, she’s earned a couple hundred dollars.
Young people are still struggling to compete with older workers for seasonal minimum-wage and retail jobs, and increased academic demands have left them with little time for shift work. Still others are eager to earn money of their own, but at 12 or 13 aren’t old enough to legally do so. Instagram is the one space where they have a competitive advantage, and, as Mary, a 14-year-old from California, told me, it’s “pretty much the easiest way, without becoming famous on the internet, to make money.”
Indeed, according to teens, all you need to do to make money this way is make at least one of your Instagram accounts public, amass a thousand or so followers (an easy threshold to meet), and reach out to brands you like on Instagram. If you have enough followers, the brands—typically small clothing and accessories start-ups aiming to court Generation Z—will even come to you.
Negotiation usually takes place entirely over Instagram direct message, and teens rarely sign formal contracts. Some companies send an article of clothing for the teen to wear in a picture; others just send images of items to be worked into a post. Sometimes they offer guidance on how they’d like their product featured and when the post should go up, but most brands trust the teen to create and post something that will resonate with their peers.