Research shows how social media influencers can make their work pay

By our African Marketing Confederation News Team | 2024

Reality is that most influencers are doing it for free, or settling for gifts-in-kind or promises of future exposure.

Social media influencers who want financial remuneration for their content must focus on three key areas to lift themselves out of the gifts-in-kind trap and to protect their pursuit of meaningful work, new research from the University of Bath in the UK shows.

Photo by Nappy from Pexels


“There are around 50-million influencers worldwide and it is increasingly seen as a desirable career for people who want to pursue meaningful work and also get paid for what they love doing,” says Dr Sarah Glozer of the university’s School of Management. 


“But the stark reality is most are doing it for free, or settling for gifts-in-kind or promises of future exposure. The big challenge is making it viable.”  


The study, co-authored by Dr Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich from Leuphana University in Germany, notes that this is also complicated by some influencers struggling to reconcile the pursuit of pay with work that may have started as a hobby or a personal passion, and failing to understand how to value their contribution commercially. 


Dr Glozer says the study identified three key elements that enabled influencers to move away from producing commercial content for free: authenticity; relationality (building connections and networks); and quantification. The latter is effective use of data and metrics to assess impact and make the case to big brands and companies. 


“The key is to combine all three elements. Our research suggests commercial success won’t follow if only one or two of these conditions are met,” she explains. 


Importance of authentic content 


“Authenticity was highly prized. We found this emerging profession to be strongly characterised by a widespread commitment to creating ‘authentic’ high-quality content. Influencing provided personal fulfilment, enriching their lives and, in some cases, safeguarding their mental health.  


“This also is attractive to companies engaging with influencers, who put a high value on who the influencers are and the content they produce.”  


Authenticity also had a strong bearing on the second factor for success: relationality. 


Says Glozer: “Influencers were vividly aware of their roles as ‘hybrid salespeople’ and the need to build connections with their followers to enrich the market worth of their work and to keep those engagement rates high. But it’s a tricky balancing act; their followers are wary of them becoming too commercial and losing their authenticity.” 


She adds that their research showed authenticity and human connection mattered deeply to many influencers, who talked passionately about the friendships they had built with their followers, connections that made the influencers more commercially viable but also enhanced the meaning of their work. 


Thirdly, successful influencing demands quantification. Glozer notes that most influencers consistently, even obsessively, measure social media metrics facilitated by platform algorithms such as ‘follower counts’. 


“There is, however, a dark side to this quantification. The Holy Grail of influencing is passing the 10,000-follower mark, when influencers can use the ‘swipe up’ feature on Instagram to add links directly to their stories. This can lead many to feel that they can’t demand payment for their work before that point,” Glozer states. 


The findings are published in the academic journal Human Relations. 

Dr Kin Kariisa

Group CEO - Next Media

Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

  • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
  • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
  • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
  • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.