Everything on Social Media Is for Sale

Welcome to the age of micro-monetization.

NO1 Noah understands the career-altering power of social media: The 22-year-old singer, songwriter, lyricist, and producer was initially discovered when people began sharing and re-sharing his work on Twitter and Instagram. But as he hurtles toward mainstream success, he still has to pay the bills. So he sells reposts on the music-discovery site SoundCloud, quote-tweets on Twitter, and swipe-ups on Instagram stories to other up-and-coming artists looking to promote their music.

For artists or producers trying to get their careers off the ground, money can be tight. Many work day jobs until they catch a big break, but more recently, they’ve found another way to supplement their income: not by doing traditional sponsored-content posts, but by micro-monetizing their every online move.

Noah wouldn’t tell me exactly what he brings in every month from social-media promotion, but deals such as the ones he does can quickly add up. “For a repost, depending on how long they want it up, it can go from $70 to $200,” he said. He charges $80 for an Instagram Stories swipe-up or a standard Twitter retweet, $100 to $150 for a quote tweet, and $150 for a tweet or a post to his Instagram feed. But everything is negotiable based on time: A post that’s live for only three hours will be much cheaper than one left up for 48 hours. He currently has 33,000 followers on Instagram and more than 80,000 on Twitter.

Alex Loyalty, a hip-hop-artist manager, brand consultant, and co-owner of Inzei Records, has worked with people who have used social-media promotion as a form of stopgap income. “A lot of these kids are not where you’d think they’d be with the placements they have,” he says. “It’s a way for artists to support themselves while they’re coming up.”

Monetizing an audience on social media is not a particularly new idea. What sets these fledgling artists and producers apart is the extent to which they sell every feature on every app: likes, comments, reposts, retweets, faves, Story shares, native Instagram posts, Snapchat shout-outs, all offered on a sliding scale based on how much you’re willing to pay to keep them up. Any social-media interaction is for sale, as long as someone is willing to pay.

Kid Hazel, a producer in Atlanta who has made beats for Fetty Wap and Bow Wow, and who is now signed to 21 Savage’s label, Slaughter Gang, says that before he was signed, he once paid a fellow artist $50 to promote unreleased music of his and tag him. “It got me some followers, some new fans, even potential clients that might want to purchase beats or a collaboration,” he says.

While Instagram Story reposts are currently the most popular form of cross-promotion, some artists even charge for comments. “People pay top dollar for that certain name to comment on their page,” Hazel says, adding that if an artist that he liked messaged him asking to buy a comment, he might be open to it. “If everything looked right, I wouldn’t charge that much. I’d probably charge 20 bucks. You want me to comment? Twenty bucks, I got you. As your name continues to grow, the price will go up. Some producers could charge way more ... And people will buy it all day.”

Because there are no standard rates and everything is negotiable, Loyalty says that he’s seen artists cash out for less than they’re worth. “When it comes to social media, they don’t always know the value of what they’re posting,” he says. “They don’t know what a CPM is or cost per conversion, impression.” Savvy micro-monetizers make use of Instagram’s and Twitter’s native analytics tools, and frequently use them in their sales pitch. Some even post screenshots of the Instagram insights dashboard to their Story. “They’re like, ‘Hey, you need a Story repost? Look at my insights; I have 600 views’; that stuff draws people in to pay you,” Hazel says. “They’ll get 150 people asking.”

The people asking are typically just starting out. “Mostly it’s indie underground artists who are buying that stuff,” says Hazel. Most of them are also extremely young. These artists and producers recognize how critical social media can be to success, and unlike more established artists, they don’t think buying or selling yourself out online is corny. “The biggest and best promotion is online promotion,” Noah says. “No matter where, just promote yourself online. The world is made up of the internet now; nothing else really matters anymore, just the internet.” And paying for internet promotion is easy. The majority of deals are negotiated via direct message and payment is accepted via PayPal or Venmo, which makes it easier for those buying, some of whom may not even have a bank account.

For the more established artists and producers who micro-monetize, maintaining a balanced feed is critical. Jay Storm, a 22-year-old producer, says that as an up-and-coming producer who wanted to make a legal living without a 9 to 5 job, selling reposts and Instagram shout-outs was critical. “It was really helpful,” he says. “But after a while, you don’t want to oversaturate your own page with other people’s stuff. When I was selling reposts, I had maybe 5,000 to 6,000 [followers]. Now that I got 10,000, I do it a little less.”

Taz Taylor, a hip-hop producer and founder of Internet Money, an L.A.-based producer collective, says that even though people have hit him up asking for promotion, he believes that the money wouldn’t be worth the potential dilution of his brand. “I’m sure there’s producers who are coming up and need extra income; people don’t necessarily have the opportunity I have,” he says. “But someone at my type of level or higher, it would just make us look cheap.” Still, he added, “I’m not against people doing it. I came up from the internet; I sold beats on the internet. I understand you gotta do whatever you gotta do.”