Why Instagram Creators Need to Turn Their Content Into Commerce

Instagram creators, we need to talk. This is very important, so I’m going to tell it to you straight.  You need to stop making quality content and giving it away online for free.  Immediately.  Take a deep breath and hear me out. At this point in Internet history, we all know the value of good content. Think about it. Instagram shells out billions of dollars a year to provide a platform for literally anyone to create and distribute content.  Why? Because that content is worth billions more!  The missing piece is that the people creating the content, YOU, are not getting a fair share of it.  But you can stop that at any time, and get in the game for yourself.  

Okay.  I know that’s a lot to digest, and trust me, I know exactly what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking 3 things:

First: Why would anyone pay for my content?

I get it. The Internet is full of free information, why would anyone pay for content?  The simple answer is that people pay for content all the time.  They always have, and they always will.  And the reason is that not all content is created equal.  Don’t believe me?  Look around you.  Take the recipe industry, for example. Everyone knows that the Internet is bursting at the seams with free recipes.  From Allrecipes to countless food blogs, there are free recipes of all types for all occasions.  And yet, curiously, the cookbook industry is booming!  By 2018, cookbook sales had increased 21% over the year before. But, why?  Why would people pay for recipes when they’re so freely available?  Simple answer – quality and value.  That’s it.  

HBO had the audacity to launch a pay-for-tv network. Why?

Here’s another example. Do you remember when television was once absolutely free? If you’re old enough, you remember when it was unthinkable for someone to pay to watch tv shows.  The thinking was: why would anyone pay for tv shows when I can just turn on any of the network television stations for free and watch?  In the 1950s and ‘60s, television became a cultural force in the United States.  And, then, in 1972, with free tv broadcasting into nearly every American household, HBO had the audacity to launch an actual pay-for-tv network.  And pay-tv absolutely took off.  Why? Because the content was good.  

Others have since taken their example. At the hight of free Internet streaming, Netflix entered the market and became an unstoppable force of paid entertainment via the Internet.  Nowadays, nearly every media company has something available for purchase.  Even the old school network television companies have launched Hulu, Disney+ and other services where customers pay for what was once free.  It’s just not at all uncommon or unheard of for people to be willing to pay for something that offers high quality, high value and convenience. In fact, it’s pretty standard.  And the Internet hasn’t slowed that down, instead it has made pay-content more widely adopted, if not outright expected.

Still can’t see how this applies to you? 

The ads and SEO nonsense were getting in the way of the valuable content she wanted. 

Well, you may recall this little brouhaha when actress Mindy Kaling kicked the food bloggers hornets nest with this tweet. What was her crime? She made the mistake of questioning why online recipes are riddled with excess, irrelevant information.  Well, food bloggers from all around the world dragged her all the way through the Internet streets for that one.

But she was saying something very valuable for anyone paying attention.  The ads and SEO nonsense were getting in the way of the valuable content she wanted.  Well, there’s an easy way around that and it’s a win for everyone.  If she was annoyed by the extra information, narratives, pop-up ads, and other things, surely she’d be willing to pay a couple of bucks for the recipe without all the extras.  A wise food blogger might have taken that as evidence that there is a market for one-off or small-series online recipes.  Here’s a great example here. And another one here.

By being creative, a food blogger can create a win-win for users who are interested in high quality content without having to wade through countless ads and extras.  If it’s a good enough model to sustain an entire cookbook Industry through the Internet age, it’s good enough for all of us.  

Second: But, I still want to get lucrative brand partnerships with my content. I don’t want to risk that.

An interesting social media economy has emerged where Instagram creators can monetize their content by partnering with brands.  That’s great!  And the good news is that there is absolutely room to do both. If you’re clever, you can still ratchet up your views and likes YouTube and Instagram while also making some extra income for yourself from the very same content. How?

Listen closely, because this may be a new concept. What you do is segment your content into two categories: (1) Product, meaning things you can sell, and (2) Promotion, things that get the attention and engagement that brand partners are looking for.  And if you’re really smart, you can simultaneously use promotion content to sell your own products. This is a very fine distinction so you should really take a look at this article to more thoroughly explain the product vs. promotion to get a sense of how to strategically create and monetize your content.

Fact: your content sales will be fewer than the number of people who watch your videos or peruse your IG or whatever for free.  But that’s not exactly a problem.  The trick is to be strategic about what kinds of content you make available for free, and what you need to reserve for sales.

Third: Ok, I’m convinced it’s probably worth my while.  How would I even do that?  

That will help you to be more strategic about how to create and distribute your content.

So, here’s what you do. First, you have understand that your content is intellectual property. And then, you need to treat it that way.  That will help you to be more strategic about how to create and distribute your content. Take a look at the chart above to illustrate the investment/return relationship for a variety kinds of content and knowledge.

In the Internet economy, social media (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook) is the main way creators share their knowledge.  As you can see, it’s pretty labor intensive. There are costs associated with acquiring knowledge, creating good content, editing and post-production, sharing and promotions. And the payoff is very small if anything.  Sometimes it can take years of consistent work before Instagram creators get anything. Instead of all that, what Instagram creators need to do is to take the most marketable portions of their content and turn them into digital products. In other words, find ways to share your content that are both low in investment and high in value.

The number one reason to stop giving away your valuable content for free is that it is marketable and can become a solid, additional income stream for you. By turning your social media posts into digital products, you can actually start to get in the game for yourself and harness the value of your knowledge, skills and hard work.  Read this article about how to go about doing that, and don’t look back. You’ll thank me later.  

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