The Insta-celebrity confessed she was addicted to likes, accepted money from designers whose outfits she wore in photos, and staged photos.
Her claim of how fake social media is, and how miserable the social media influencers are, has since been pulled to shreds by the YouTubers who let her couch-surf at their place while she was vacationing in L.A.
Canadian fashion blogger Ania Boniecka, who herself has amassed a major following online, chalks the whole thing up to a cry for attention from someone who’s known nothing but social media. O’Neill, who’s asked people watching her YouTube videos for financial help, admitted she doesn’t know how she’s going to make money (or pay rent) now.
“This alone is a sad failure to recognize what an amazing place we are in right now, literally a new frontier,” Boniecka said. “She is in a place where she can either stay and be part of that discovery or throw it all away.”
There are likely plenty of people who would be happy to step into O’Neill’s shoes. After all, the ability to make a living off Instagram posts and YouTube videos (with free clothes and products as work perks) isn’t exactly a hard sell.
So how do you turn what many would consider a dream job into a reality? Those who’ve figured it out say it takes major dedication.
“The problem with people starting out now is they want things to happen right away, and are less willing to put in the work,” said Boniecka.
“They right off the bat think, ‘Oh I have a website, I should be getting paid.’”
The ‘Insta’ industry
The Calgary-based model and photographer has been crafting her “AniaB” brand into a money-making machine since 2010. At the time, she was working as an accountant. Three years later, she decided to ditch the security of a regular salary and work on her blog full-time.
The risk paid off. She and her photographer husband, Tyler Stalman, just returned home from a whirlwind couple months of fashion weeks in New York, London and Toronto — with some work in Paris and Montana in between. Regardless of where they are, the majority of the power couple’s time is spent taking photos.
It can be a 24/7 job.
“My phone is my most prized possession…I Instagram from it, I Snapchat from it, I answer emails from it,” Boniecka said.
The best shots make it onto her blog and her Instagram page, where she has amassed more than 100,000 followers. The social network is always top of mind for the two, even when they pick a place to eat.
Boniecka admits they’re more likely to cough up a little more dough to dine at a place that’s fancier, has better food presentation and lighting if they’re going to take a photo for Instagram.
“If we’re not shooting for Instagram, we’ll go to a Chinese restaurant in the middle of the night or just eat at home.”
Those Instagram posts, after all, are where her bread is buttered. A single Instagram photo featuring a brand (like a clothing company or cosmetics company) can earn her $500.
In the U.S., she says that figure would easily be double.
Her business acumen has no doubt helped her pave a path in what was, when she started, uncharted territory.
“Now it’s like everybody has a blog. Everybody’s a photographer too.”
“In the end, it’s whoever is willing to put in the work that is going to succeed. And knowing that you have to put in a lot of work.”
So you want to be a YouTube star
For Sara Lynn Cauchon, it sometimes feels like two full time jobs. When she launched “The Domestic Geek” on YouTube in 2014, her initial goal was to hit 10,000 subscribers by the end of the year. Instead, she hit 150,000.
Her following on the “all things food and home” channel has continued to steadily climb, and now sits at over half a million. That translates to a lot of dollars.
“It’s a really viable business option,” she said.
“It’s created a new platform for a new generation of entrepreneurs. But every one of their businesses looks completely different. So some people make their money entirely from AdSense, which is an entirely viable business and is based on volume. Some people make their money from brand deals and working with great advertisers.
“Others will make their money off-platform – so books, merchandise, that sort of thing. It really depends on the creator and the kind of content you’re creating.”
Cauchon has managed to generate revenue from ads, sponsors and e-books which feature her recipes. She hopes to one day branch out into books and television.
As for those aspiring social media stars who feel they’ve missed their golden opportunity? Cauchon has some encouraging words for you.
“I definitely do not consider this late to the game. There’s no time like the present. It’s a really exciting time.”
5 things you’ll need to make money on social media
Success certainly doesn’t come overnight. “So much time and effort” goes into it, Cauchon said. Your heart definitely needs to be in it.
So find something that you’re truly passionate about and keep at it.
Have a focus. And if you’re not sure what style your creative outlet should take, look at what other successful social media stars are doing.
“Fake it until you make it,” Boniecka said.
Despite how “easy” it may seem, not everyone can do this.
“It would be really tough to succeed at this if you only dressed well. Actually, you couldn’t. If all you have is style, that’s not enough,” said Stalman.
If you think you can run a successful blog, “you have to have taste in photography,” he added.
“Once you start posting, I think what ends up happening is you make four videos and then you don’t post for a few weeks and fall off,” Cauchon said.
A consistent content strategy is key.
Both Boniecka and Cauchon agree that their audience is everything.
The tip Cauchon was given when she first started: reply to every single comment. The advice appears to have worked well for her.
“It’s all about the audience.”