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a girl holds a glowing flower

Do you dream about having an aesthetic Instagram feed that builds your authority, fosters a community, and makes you money?

What about an opportunity to lead the global sustainability movement through the power of social media?

If you have a passion for the environment and a desire to lead by example, choosing to become a sustainability influencer might be the best decision you’ll ever make… and not just because top influencers can charge more than twenty thousand dollars for a single post.

By establishing yourself as an influencer in the quickly growing sustainability niche, you’ll be able to work with people and brands that share your values –– all while getting paid for it.

 

Plus, wouldn’t it be amazing to have followers from all over the world cheering you on and supporting your journey? 

 

In this article, I’m going to share with you 8 steps to get you from zero followers to being a well-known (and well-paid) sustainability influencer.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to be a sustainability influencer.

This is a very comprehensive guide (nearly 5,000 words)! I recommend bookmarking it and coming back to it several times as you work through the following steps. 🙂

If you’re unsure of what exactly “sustainability” is or why it’s important, check out this post.

 

Is it too late to try to become an influencer?

Let’s be honest, it seems like everyone is trying to be an “Instagram model” these days.

Although the influencer market is becoming oversaturated, there’s plenty of room for new influencers to make a name for themselves in specific niches.

Someone trying to be a “travel influencer” might have a really hard time standing out from the crowd, but that’s not so much of an issue in the sustainability niche.

 

In fact, right now is the perfect time to get into the sustainability niche if you haven’t already.

 

Not only is the competition minimal, but it has a huge potential for growth thanks to #sustainability becoming the latest trend that big brands are hopping onto in response to raising public awareness about climate change and pollution.

Here’s exactly how to be a sustainability influencer in 2020:

 

1. Develop your personal brand as a sustainability influencer

a man choosing a photo

If you want to build a career for yourself on social media, you need to treat it like a business –– and no business is successful without a well-researched plan.

Luckily for you, I’ve already done the research so all you need to do is customize this comprehensive outline to fit your vision.

The first question to ask yourself once you’ve decided you want to be an influencer is this:

 

“What do I want to be known for?”

 

“Sustainability” is sort of an umbrella niche: it’s a broad concept that can be applied to smaller, more specific topics.

In the book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, Mark Schaefer suggests combining two or more broad niches to come up with an idea for a smaller, more specific one.

Here are a few ideas for niche combinations with sustainability:

    • Sustainable fashion
    • Sustainable business
    • Sustainable travel
    • Sustainable lifestyle
    • Sustainable beauty
    • Sustainable health/fitness

By choosing a sub-niche, you’ll be able to carve out a unique place online where you can quickly become the expert in your chosen topic.

 

Once you’ve figured out which corner of Instagram you’d like to call home, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to present yourself to the world.

As an eco-entrepreneur, you should consider yourself as a business from day 1.

The following questions will help you develop a personal brand (i.e. your public image):

    • How do I want to present myself online?
    • How much of my personal life am I willing to share with my followers?
    • What is the purpose of my content? (is it for entertaining, educating, thought-provoking, etc.)
    • What colors do I look best in? What style of clothing do I want to wear?
    • What types of brands am I willing to work with? What do I want to avoid?
    • How much time am I willing to commit to Instagram every week?

 

Always remember that you’ll do much better as an influencer if you show the best parts of your true self online, rather than trying to portray an image you think people want to see.

Whenever you’re planning something new for your personal brand, do research on your target audience.

 

Your target audience isn’t just the followers you’re hoping to gain –– it’s also the brands you want to work with.

 

Take some time to make a list of specific brands you want to work with and figure out what they’re looking for in their influencer campaigns.

 

2. Design your account

phone using instagram app

Now that you’ve figured out what type of sustainability influencer you want to be, it’s time to get your Instagram page looking professional.

 

First and foremost, you need to pick a profile image and username.

 

Your profile image should be a clear picture of your face: the more your followers see your face, the better your engagement rate will be.

Here are a few points to consider when choosing a username:

    1. Decide on something that’s unique and conveys your personal brand.
    2. Pseudonyms (@yoga_girl) and blog names (@sustainabilityiscool) work really well if your name is already taken or if you’re working across multiple social media sites.
    3. If you’re planning on starting a website, see if the matching domain name is available and secure it for yourself (same goes for other platforms).

Once you’ve chosen a username, it’s time to write your bio.

 

Your Instagram bio is all about first impressions.

The majority of people paying attention to your bio will be first-time visitors. Let them know that they’re in the right place and that following you is worth their time.

Look up popular Instagram influencers to get ideas about how you want to write and format your own bio.

Keep it short, simple, and easy to read.

The  “Creator Account” is the best account option for influencers.

 

With it, you’ll get access to a ton of useful Insights and might even have higher engagement thanks to Instagram’s algorithm.

 

You can do this by accessing your Instagram profile Settings, then Account, then “Switch to Creator Account”.

 

(Here’s a helpful article for understanding and getting the most out of your Insights).

Now that your profile is looking nice, it’s time to join the online community you’ve been setting yourself up to thrive in.

 

3. Follow all of the top sustainability influencers

 

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A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on

When you’re first starting out on your influencer journey, it can be really disheartening to see other people totally killing it with 500k followers and high-end brand sponsorships while you’ve got nothing to show for yourself.

Trust me, I know.

Sure, it can be inspiring… but mostly, it just makes you low-key (high-key) jealous.

That gross feeling is caused by this tricky little thing called scarcity mindset, which makes us believe that there’s only so much success/money/fame in the world to be had.

Basically, when we see someone with the things we want, we tend to think that there isn’t any left for us.

This mindset causes us to view other influencers as our competition rather than potential allies.

In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

One of your greatest assets as a budding sustainability influencer is the community that’s already been established around the topics you’re going to be posting about.

 

Rather than being salty that someone else beat you to it, do your best to feel grateful for the influencers who have already put in the work that will help you quickly grow your own following.

I promise this type of mindset will get you very far on Instagram and in life.

To find influencers to follow, break your niche down into sub-topics, and follow the relevant influencers and hashtags in those categories.

For example, if you’re a sustainable travel influencer you will want to follow #travel, #sustainability, #ecotourism, #travelstyle, #greentravel, #ethicaltourism, etc.

Once you’ve followed about 50-100 accounts, take the next few weeks to:

    • See what kinds of topics are relevant in the community right now
    • Like/comment on the posts of the people you’re following
    • Reply to other commenters
    • Get a feel for the general vibe and language people are using

Not only will this process give you some really useful insights into your target audience, but it will also give you some ideas about what types of content you’d like to feature on your own account.

You’ll also get a head start at getting your name out there and you might even gain some followers if your comments are genuine and thoughtful.

 

As you begin to spot trends and clichés in your target niches, keep in mind that you don’t have to follow suit in order to become popular on Instagram.

 

If you take a look at the top influencers in any niche, you’ll notice that a lot of them post similar photos and wear similar clothing.

You heard it here first: you don’t need to wear flowy, bohemian-style clothing and wear large hats to be an eco influencer.

You also don’t need to identify as a woman.

Sustainability doesn’t need to look a certain way.

Don’t let other influencers make you feel like you need to dress or behave a certain way to thrive in this niche.

Stand out by doing your own thing. Remember, authenticity is key.

 

4. Take photos for your page

a man clicks through the photos in his camera

After you’ve spent a few weeks checking out other Instagram accounts, you should have a pretty good idea about what types of photos you’d like to post on your own page.

The photos you post on your profile are the best and most direct way you can present your personal brand to the world.

Below, you’ll find a basic outline for planning, shooting, and editing your photos for Instagram.

 

Preparing for your photoshoot

As with anything else, preparation is key.

Sure, candids are amazing, but how often do you have someone with a camera snapping photos of you at the perfect moment? Definitely not often enough to keep up a consistent feed of high-quality content!

 

A little preparation before your photoshoot can ensure that the pictures you take will fit beautifully into the overall aesthetic of your page.

 

Here are the things you’ll want to figure out before your shoot:

  • The aesthetic/color of your feed –– what would look good on your page?
  • Location
  • What you’ll be wearing (please, for the sake of all things good and sustainable, no fast fashion!)
  • Who is going to be taking your photo

Taking photos

My favorite way of getting photos for the ‘gram is to meet up with a friend and spend the day taking photos for each other’s profiles.

I like to bring a few outfits and hop around a few different locations like the farmer’s market or a café to get a variety of content for the next few weeks.

Paying a professional photographer works too, but if you’re just starting out I don’t really recommend it. You’ll have a much better return on investment once you already have a decent amount of photos and followers on your page.

 

In my opinion, the easiest and most convenient way to take photos is to just take them yourself. 

 

If you keep a small portable iPhone tripod in your backpack or car, your options are limitless.

I like this one because it comes with a small Bluetooth clicker and is able to wrap around random things like car doors and fences.

Don’t worry if you think you look silly taking photos of yourself.

As long as you’re being respectful of private property and public walkways, pose away.

Tip: If you’re taking your own photos, this article will give you a ton of ideas for creative shots.

 

Editing photos

Ask any successful influencer: a good image for Instagram is roughly 60% photo, 40% editing.

When done right, editing the exposure and colors in your photo can make all the difference in your following and engagement.

 

If you apply the same filter to every image on your feed, you’ll end up with a cohesive aesthetic that will make your page stand out and look professional.

 

The two most popular photo editing apps are Lightroom and VSCO.

These apps apply preset or customized filters to images.

I prefer Lightroom because it includes advanced photo-editing options and integrates seamlessly with Photoshop. (It’s also cloud-based, so you can directly access photos from your iPhone library on your desktop app).

Next up, I’ve got some specific suggestions for putting yourself out there in the most effective way possible using social psychology.

 

5. Create and share optimized content

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A post shared by Eco Podcaster & Creative🌿KAMEA (@kameachayne) on

Let’s be honest –– the main purpose of your content is to get people to like you, interact with you, and basically be your fan.

Well, there happens to be an entire branch of psychology concerned with how we interact with others.

In my favorite book about the topic of social psychology, The Like Switch, Jack Schafer explains how he used various tactics to get people to like him during his time as an FBI Agent.

I highly recommend reading the whole book because it’s super interesting and informative, but here are some specific applications from it that can help you with your Instagram game:

 

Post frequently

Posting photos and stories frequently not only helps you get onto the feeds of new potential followers thanks to Instagram’s algorithm, it’s also the best way to stay in the minds of your existing followers.

 

When you become a familiar sight in someone’s feed, they’ll naturally start to like you more and will be a lot more likely to engage with your content and cheer on your success.

 

Scheduling your posts will leave you with a lot more time to focus on growing your engagement.

 

Once a month, you can batch your Instagram posts with a scheduler like Loomly.

 

If you choose the dates and times based on your Insights, you can be sure that your posts will go live at the optimal times each week without second thought.

 

Utilize nonverbal cues in photos and videos of yourself

Here are a few ways to make yourself look extra friendly, trustworthy, and attractive –– backed by psychology:

  • Smile genuinely and subtly tilt your head
  • Make friendly eye contact with the camera
  • Touch something (your hair, an object, etc.)
  • Do your best to show your genuine personality in your photos
  • Avoid posing with barriers between you and the camera; never hide your face

Write thoughtful captions

Your captions are prime real estate for boosting engagement and creating a sense of community around your personal brand.

Take every advantage of the space below your photos by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Foster a mentor-mentee relationship with your followers by sharing personal experience and information about your topic.
  • Create an inclusive environment by inviting feedback and showing genuine curiosity about your followers.
  • Try to shift your focus to your followers rather than yourself.
  • Hold some things back to maintain mystery and curiosity.
  • Express emotion in your post, but not too much.
  • Add a “call to action” to your caption to boost engagement: ask your followers to comment on your post or engage with your profile in another way.
  • Avoid being negative. Negative feelings make people feel bad about themselves and consequently, they will like you less.
  • Avoid highly polarizing topics. Not only will you alienate followers, but you’ll also make brands less likely to want to associate with you.
  • Always mention when you’re being compensated to promote something.

 

A note about hashtags…

Hashtags are a really great way to be found by new accounts, as long as they’re done right. In your notes app, list out 9 total hashtags:

  • 3 popular hashtags (500k – 4m posts)
  • 3 specific hashtags (50k – 400k posts)
  • 3 niche hashtags (10k – 50k posts)

By diversifying the popularity of your hashtags, you’ll have a much better shot at being discovered by new accounts.

 

On each post, add these hashtags after about 2-4 lines of single periods so they post below the “more” option on your caption.

 

Build personal relationships through comments and messages

Here are a few pointers to remember when you’re directly talking to someone else online, whether it’s on your own page or theirs.

  • Frequently reply to comments on your posts
  • Once a person knows you like them, they’re a lot more likely to like you back
  • People will never forget how you make them feel –– make sure you’re making people feel good about themselves
  • Find common ground and empathize with the person you’re talking to, even if you disagree

Consistently sharing content and interacting with your followers will help create a community on your page that will attract even more followers.

 

6. Attract followers and grow your engagement

bees that are attracted to a flower

Okay, so your page is looking amazing, you’re developing relationships within your niche, and you’re posting excellent content consistently.

You might be getting a steady trickle of 15 new followers a week, but at this rate, it will take you years to reach influencer status.

What’s an aspiring influencer to do?

 

It can be really tempting to buy followers to get your count up but believe me, don’t do it!

 

Not only are fake accounts really obvious to anyone who checks out your page, but they also totally mess up your Insights and engagement information –– key statistics that brands consider when they’re hiring influencers.

Brands know all about fake followers and aren’t interested in partnering with accounts that have a 1% engagement rating and show that 80% of their followers live in Indonesia.

To calculate your engagement rate on a post, add together your total likes and comments and divide that number by your total follower count. Multiply your answer by 100 and that’s the engagement rate for that post.

Ideally, your engagement rate should be at least 3.5%. The highest-earning influencers have engagement rates anywhere between 6% and 30%.

The more fake followers you have, the harder time you’ll have raising your engagement rate.

So, what are your options?

There are two main strategies: use a bot, and leverage social proof.

Social Proof

a girl takes a picture with a man to get social proof

In Master Content Marketing by Pamela Wilson, social proof is described as gaining credibility by showcasing your popularity and expertise.

The thing is, though, it can be hard to get endorsements from others when you’re first starting out.

That’s why I recommend “endorsing yourself” by building authority in your niche by expanding your personal brand past Instagram.

 

Conversations don’t end on social media, and having somewhere where you can write about issues you’re passionate and knowledgable about will really help you get ahead as an influencer.

 

If you take a look at the bio links of successful influencers, you’ll notice that most of them have some kind of a homepage or blog.

By starting a blog on WordPress, you’ll have a little corner of the Internet where you can deepen your relationship with your existing followers and attract new ones.

The web hosting industry is on track to out-pollute the global airline industry by 2020. If you’re serious about sustainability, do what you can to avoid contributing to the problem.

 

This blog runs on Green Geeks, which means it’s 300% renewable. I highly recommend them from personal experience. Although there are a few other sustainable hosting services out there, Green Geeks is the highest rated and only costs $2.95/m for WordPress Hosting.

 

If you’d like to read my in-depth guide to starting your own blog, click here.

The next two steps in this article are detailed ways to further build social proof and make the transition from “Instagram user” to “Instagram influencer”.

 

7. Collaborate with other sustainability influencers

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One of the most fun –– and most effective –– ways to grow your following and build social proof is to collaborate with other influencers.

There are tons of ways to work with influencers in your niche that can benefit everyone involved. Here are a few of my favorite types of collaboration:

  • Mentions and shout-outs
  • Taking photos together
  • Instagram takeover (24hr.)
  • Mastermind groups (brainstorming, accountability, support)
  • Engagement groups (liking/commenting on new pics, viewing stories, replying to stories)
  • Duo brand collaborations

When you’re deciding whether or not you want to work with someone, make sure you consider whether or not you want your brand to be associated with them. Take some time to follow an influencer and get to know them a bit before you ask to collaborate.

 

By collaborating with other influencers, you’ll be able to extend your brand and grow your following.

When your followers (or potential followers) see you collaborating with other influencers, it will help them build trust in you (social proof!).

After all, a collaboration is basically an endorsement.

 

8. Create a media kit and start working with sustainable brands

 

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By now, you have:

  • A clear, consistent brand image across your social media platforms
  • A growing base of followers who like your posts, leave comments, watch your stories, and reply to your CTA’s
  • Mentions, tags, and photos across other Instagram profiles that will lead people to find your page
  • The desire to work with brands, benefit from the exposure, and get paid for your efforts

Before you start working with brands, you should create a media kit.

 

A media kit is sort of a combination between brag-sheet and menu.

Its purpose is to show brands who you are, what you’re about, what services you offer, and what kind of benefit they can expect from working with you.

It should include your personal brand description, offerings, pricing, and verifiable follower information.

Brands will scrutinize every aspect of your media kit, so make sure it’s Grade A.

What type of content are you offering?

Here are some ideas for your media kit offerings:

  • Single Instagram post, Two Instagram posts
  • Posts across all platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Blog)
  • Per look, or two looks
  • IG Giveaway
  • IG brand takeover (min 2 photos + stories)
  • IG caption mention
  • Series of 5 IG stories
  • Series of 3-5 dedicates posts

How much should you charge?

An instagram environmental influencer getting paid

Here’s a pretty typical menu of pricing, but again, the final amount you can ask for largely depends on the factors we just went over.

Keep in mind that some Influencers charge much more or much less depending on their niche, audience, and engagement.

  • 10,000 followers – $100 for one IG post, $30 for one story
  • 50,000 followers – $325 – $500 for one IG post, $115 – $150 for one story
  • 100,000 followers – $1,000 – $1,500 for one IG post, $500+ for one story
  • 250,000 followers – $3,000 – $4,000 for one IG post, $900+ for one story

 

You might also be compensated with free products, airplane tickets, hotel stays, and other accommodations. This is pretty standard for Influencers with less than 10,000 followers ––however, some do earn cash.

Ultimately, charge what you think you’re worth.

Numbers like the ones above are great starting points, but don’t just set your rates based on what other people are charging.

 

Which brands should you work with?

If you think of every collaboration as an endorsement, then it’s easy to see why working with crappy brands will make people trust your opinion less.

 

As a sustainability influencer, you have a special responsibility to screen the products you’re endorsing to make sure they’re good for people, wildlife, and the environment.

 

Working with a brand that goes against the values you promote will not only dilute your message, it will also cause you to lose many of your biggest fans.

Here is a checklist of things to consider when you’re considering working with a brand:

  • Would I actually buy this service or product? Would my followers?
  • Is this something I want to be personally associated with?
  • Is this product created sustainably and ethically?
  • Is this brand treating our arrangement as if it’s a favor for me, and not a job? (If yes, run!)
  • Is this brand asking me to lie or hide things from my followers?

 

You’ll generally have a pretty accurate feeling in your gut about a brand, but make sure you take a little time to research them.

Sometimes influencers share horror stories in blog posts and release lists of brands/people that should be avoided.

 

It’s an extra step, but doing a little research before working with someone could save your career.

 

Although there are some bad apples, most brands are happy to work with you and negotiate appropriate compensation.

Smaller brands (2k – 15k followers) are a great place to start.

Not only will you build some experience in a more laid-back environment, but you’ll also have a way better shot at appearing directly on their feed.

 

Always let your followers know if you are receiving something in compensation for posting about a brand. Not only is this a legal requirement, but it also will showcase your authenticity.

 

That being said, unless there is an agreement between you and the brand, you aren’t obligated to promote for them if they send you a gift or a complimentary stay.

Okay! That’s just about it.

Now that you’ve completed all of these steps, you should be well on your way to earning a full-time income as a sustainability influencer.

Everything in this guide can be rinsed-and-repeated to scale your following higher and higher!

Just keep working with increasingly higher profile brands and influencers as your own following increases, and you’ll be killing it in no time.

 

Summary

My hope is that now you understand how to create and scale your Instagram page, you’ll apply this knowledge and totally slay it as a sustainability influencer!

By carefully following the steps outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to making a name for yourself online.

You can make it happen when you treat your page like a business and always remember to stay on-brand whenever you’re active online.

If you’re planning on following through with this plan, I suggest bookmarking it and keeping track of your progress step-by-step!

As you work through the steps, you might find yourself having questions. If you would like advice on something or want to share your progress, comment below and let’s talk about it!

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Deanna Pratt

Founder at eco ally
Eco/social entrepreneur, writer, and activist. Founder of Sunbird (sunbird.digital) and Eco Ally (ecoally.co). I love cats, anime, and environmental justice.
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