Anatomy of a Sponsored Post

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I get it. Ads in general are annoying. When we watch tv, we mute commercials. Or on Hulu, we pay a few extra bucks a month to get the commercial free version. While reading magazines, we flip past the ads to get to the next article. So Instagram isn’t really any different. We want to follow people, consume information, laugh at memes, and feel inspired without ads filling up our feeds.

And I think that on top of the general feeling of annoyance when it comes to ads, followers get even more worked up when they see their favorite creator posting more ads than usual.

I’ve heard and seen over and over again:

“Too many ads!”

“I miss when you didn’t post sponsored content.”

“Geez, another ad?! You’re such a sell out.”

I believe that this judgement comes from a place of misunderstanding. Partly because people don’t always understand how influencers make money, and if they do understand how they make money, they don’t really understand the inner workings of a sponsored post or branded partnership. When we don’t understand things fully, it’s easy to quickly pass judgement. 

So I’m here to clear the air a bit. I want to give you a better understanding of how influencers make money, how sponsored posts work, and why you should think about double tapping when you see #ad or #sponsored.  


Here’s the order in which things progress, give or take a few items depending on the depth and length of the campaign, as well as how thorough or specific a brand is.


The initial process of the beginning of a partnership looks like this:

A company reaches out to me about working with them.

  • They could ask me to promote a specific product

  • They could ask me to promote a service

  • They could ask me to promote their brand in general

  • They could ask me to participate in a specific campaign they’re launching

  • They could ask me about partnering on a longer term partnership

OR, I could reach out directly to company/brand about working with them and pitch them a specific partnership or deal.

I decide if I’m interested in working with them. Some things I consider:

  • Is this a product/service I already use?

  • If not, I need to try it out and make sure it’s something I like and would use

  • Does the company/the campaign they’re promoting fit into my values?

I pass it along to my manager to get more information and potentially begin negotiations.

When it comes to discussing the partnership, the different deliverables could be:

  • Single sponsored post

  • Multiple posts 

  • Stories

  • Video

  • Post + story combo 

  • Blog post for their site 

  • Blog post for my site 

  • Event attendance 

  • Production shoot 

  • Long term partnership 

Other elements that have to be considered:

  • Exclusivity for a week, month, year, or more

  • Usage rights 

The discussion of the above could take just a few days, or, it can take months!

Once everything is decided upon in terms of deliverables, the rate is then locked in dependent on the requirements.

  • I did an insta live recently and someone asked me how to figure out rates.

    • In general, you should have a rate for a single post and also a rate for stories, and then go from there.

    • If a brand asks for three posts, or a combo of a post and a story, you might give a slight discount for the package deal.

    • Consider what the brand is asking you to deliver and the time it’s going to take you to create the content. Do you need to travel somewhere? Hire a photographer? Buy props?

    • Remember that different mediums are different time commitments. Creating a photo and creating a minute long video are two entirely different animals.

Next, creative brief delivered. It could include some or all of the following:

  • Due dates for concepts, deliverables, and posting dates 

  • Brand overview 

  • Campaign overview 

  • Creative direction: examples of photos that they like/the vibe they want you to go for 

  • Thought starters for captions 

  • Campaign hashtags 

  • FTC hashtags 

Now the ball is in my court. Time to make some content, baby!


My general pre-photoshoot process looks like the following:

  • Moodboard/screenshot inspiration

  • I love to look at different accounts for inspiration for locations, clothing, poses, expressions, and props. Even if their style and look is totally different from mine, it helps get the creative juices flowing.

  • The accounts I look at the most often for inspo are:

  • Location inspo. I have to be strategic in a variety of ways!

    • For example, if I’m shooting outside but I’m trying to get multiple shots, it’s really annoying to have to find a place to change outfits every time. Sometimes I’ll wear the same pair of pants so I don’t have to deal with changing those, and a small crop top that I don’t mind exposing as I change shirts/tops/coats. But other times, I have no choice but to find bathrooms to change in.

    • NYC is brutal to shoot in during the winter. I’ve spent many a time shooting outdoors in a sports bra and workout pants while my hands turn purple and my brain freezes into oblivion. I try to avoid that as much as possible, which means I have to find places to shoot inside…

    • Shooting inside ain’t a piece of cake either! Why? Well, first off, shooting in my apartment isn’t much of an option. It’s tiny and not great for pictures. One option I have is to rent a space- I’ve done that before through peerspace.com and breather.com. Though they have great options, it can get very pricey real fast. As of this year, I’ve been extremely lucky to use the Village Marketing apartment. It’s a beautiful space that they have decorated and created for influencers to come in and shoot in.

  • Outfits.

    • I definitely love to switch up my outfits in photos to keep things interesting, so I love using my Rent the Runway unlimited subscription (use code RTRJERA to get $100 off your first two months!) so that I’m not constantly buying new things. If I do buy new things, I usually do online shopping at ASOS, or stop by Forever 21.

  • Props

    • Things like sunglasses and jewelry

    • And other times I need props to tell more of a story in a photo. Like flowers, pizza, a beverage, etc.

  • Book photographer

    • 99% of the time, I shoot with Sophie Sahara. And yes, I pay her! I definitely have worked with photographers for a free shoot before in exchange for social promotion, but I wouldn’t expect someone who I continually shoot with to do it for free. That would be crazy.

  • Create a shot list 

    • When I shoot things, I’m usually shooting at least two different posts/looks per look. Usually it’s more than that though- sometimes I’m shooting up to eight things! This means I have to be super organized in order to use my time efficiently while shooting so I’m not going over time and having to pay my photographer more, or pay more for the location.

    • When making a shot list, I write down every shot I need to get, the product involved, the props needed, and the location where I’m taking it.


My day of photoshoot process looks like the following:

  • Pack all items up into a suitcase + bags

  • Do my hair and make up 

  • Load bags into an uber

  • Unload at location. I usually like to lay all my pieces out so that I can see everything and quickly change while shooting.

  • Obviously, I’m the subject of the shoot, so I act as the model!

  • Keep track of all shots and make sure we’re getting all the things I need shot

  • Pack up, head home, unpack everything


My post-photoshoot process looks like the following:

  • Within a day or two, Sophie sends me an online gallery of watermarked photos. I select my favorites from those.

  • Sophie edits them, sends them to me, and I download the final product!

  • Time to write some captions!

    • I’m lucky in that captions tend to come fairly easy to me. I’d love to do an entire post about how to write captions as that’s an entirely different topic that I could talk a lot about!

  • Record stories 

    • Most of partnerships tend to include stories in addition to a in-feed post.

    • Though they certainly require less production than a photo, they still take longer to do more than one may think. Between recording and doing several takes, writing the text that goes over, and then packaging them up to send to the client, they can easily take me 30-60 min.

  • Package everything together (photos + stories)

  • Brand either approves or asks for edits

    • A reshoot is always possible! I’m lucky that I’ve never had to do that, but I definitely attribute that to being super organized and on top o the requirements.

  • Confirm posting dates 

  • And after all of that… TIME TO FINALLY POST!

  • After 24 hours, send analytics

    • With post analytics, the brand can see not only likes and comments but things like impressions, saves, post sends, profile visits, and the places that people found your from (like newsfeed, explore page, hashtags, etc)

    • With story analytics, the brand can see views, impression, sticker taps, number of swipe ups, how many times people exited your story, and so on.


Whew, how ya feelin after that?! Are there more elements that go into creating a sponsored post than you originally thought?

I tell ya all these thangs in detail to give you a more solid understanding of what goes into the creation of some of the lil squares you see in your Instagram feed. And though I’m not asking you to necessarily jump and squeal with delight anytime you see #ad, I would ask you to at the very least have a little respect for the hard work and weeks (sometimes months!) that goes into them.

And, I’m also asking double tap. And perhaps if you’re feeling generous, a comment.

Why you ask?!

Content creators create, well, content. Depending on the person, we put out tips, tutorials, information, inspiration, and personal experience. And most of the time, that content is free. For me personally, anything that’s not #ad that you see on my Instagram, stories, or blog is free content for you, that I’m not getting paid to create.

As a full time content creator though, I gotta make money somehow. I got mad bills yo! Rent, cell phone, paying two part time employees, all the expenses of living in NYC, on top of a million other things, as well as attempting to think about my future and save some money, too.

At the moment, my sole source of income is sponsored posts, meaning that sponsored posts are how I support myself, and they’re also how I’m able to to create all the other free content that I put out.

So, though you may not love sponsored posts, if you do love the influencer/creator posting them, you should support that sponsored post.

The like or comment you give on a #ad post means you support the way that they’re able to put out all the other content that they create and that hopefully you benefit from on a daily basis.

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What are you thoughts? Leave your questions and comments below!

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