5 Surprising Ways Social Media Stars Make Money

By Damian Davila on 22 February 2016 0 comments

From a singer making $8,000 through product placement in a six-second Vine clip, to a creator of YouTube makeup tutorials making about millions per year, the stories of social media stars making outrageous sums of money seem to be getting more and more common.

While the size of these paydays are remarkable, the things that social media stars do to earn those sums may be even more extraordinary. Here are five surprising ways social media stars make money.

1. Unboxing Toys

The genre of "unboxing videos" (a package being opened, while its contents are described) is one of the highest grossing niches on YouTube. Including blenders, coffee machines, markers and pens, and smartphones — if it comes in a box, you can bet there's somebody out there willing to watch it getting unboxed.

Unboxing videos can be so profitable to YouTube publishers that 2014's highest paid YouTube star was a woman who unboxes Disney toys. According to one estimate, the DisneyCollectorBR YouTube user made $4.9 million in 2014 just from YouTube ads! The identity of the mysterious woman with the soothing voice and cool nail art hasn't been revealed yet, but that matters little to her over 6.2 million subscribers. For example, her unboxing video of "egg surprises" branded by Angry Birds, SpongeBob, and Cars has over 106.8 million views to date.

2. Playing Video Games

Another high-grossing YouTube genre is the narration of video game playing. The king of this genre is Felix Kjellberg, a Swede in his late 20s better known as PewDiePie. With his trademark laughter, unique sense of humor, and constant string of curses (warning: videos contain lots of language that is NSFW), Kjellberg pulled in a cool $12 million pretax over a 12-month period.

Other well-known vloggers posting video game-related clips include CaptainSparklez (over 9 million subscribers), Tobuscus (over 6.3 million subscribers), and SkyDoesMineCraft (over 11.7 million subscribers). While advertisers are still trying to figure out the appeal of expletive-heavy commentary of Kjelberg playing video games, they are willing to pay him to get access to his over 41 million subscribers.

3. Managing a Pet Superstar

Not all social media stars walk on two legs.

The lucky owners of these and other pets have been able to monetize their pet's large following in many ways. For example, Lil Bub charges admission for her appearances ($100 for her Meet and Greet Fundraiser at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York), and Grumpy Cat hawks plush toys ranging from $15.75 to $46.92 through her Amazon store.

4. Making Fun of Dad

In the late 2000s, comedian Justin Halpern was struggling to make ends meet with his writing job. Having to move back to his parents' house, he had a lot of free time on his hands and started a Twitter account to keep track of his dad's "rhetorical gems." Halpern had a hunch that those tweets could become inspiration for a great script.

He was absolutely right.

After getting noticed by high profile comedians, including Rob Corddry, his Twitter account gained a lot of traction (1.8 million followers in 15 months). Based on his tweets, Halpern penned the New York Times bestseller, Sh*t My Dad Says, and landed a TV deal with CBS to develop the show $#*! My Dad Says (based on his book). Halpern went on to write a second book and to write scripts for a couple more TV shows. All of this started with a single tweet!

5. Quitting Social Media

In a world of over-sharing, the shocking thing to do is to stop sharing.

At age 19, Essena O'Neill had a lucrative modeling career leveraging her large following on Instagram, YouTube, and other social media channels. Through her hundreds of thousands of followers, 750,000 on Instagram and 200,000 on YouTube, she was making money in many ways, including $2,000 in YouTube's ad revenue per month and payments for product placement.

In November 2, 2015, she quit all social media through her video "Why I REALLY am quitting social media - The Truth," warning others about the destructive nature of trying to gain approval online. O'Neill's original video (now deleted) quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views and gained attention worldwide within just a few days. Some fellow YouTubers even criticized her move as a marketing ploy to gain even more attention. Despite her disappearance from social media, she continues to make headlines and announces her soon to-be-released satirical book, How to Be Social Media Famous.

What are some other unusual ways that social media stars make money?

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