Instagram really wants you to post Reels -- they'll even pay you up to $10,000 for one, if you're lucky.
As TikTok surpasses the 1 billion monthly active users mark, competitor platforms like YouTube Shorts, Snapchat Spotlight and Instagram Reels are incentivizing users to post their short-form content on their apps instead. YouTube established a $100 million creator fund for Shorts, Snapchat is offering cash prizes for submissions to Spotlight challenges and, now, Instagram is upping the ante on its monthly Reels Play bonus program.
But creators are confused about what factors determine how big a bonus they're eligible for from Instagram, and the platform isn't helping clear up their concerns. Instagram told TechCrunch that the program is experimental and still in its early stages. But the lack of transparency can be troubling for creators who use these platforms to make a living. The bonus program even experienced a glitch this week, causing eligible creators to be told that they were actually ineligible for the payout. Instagram told TechCrunch that this glitch has been fixed.
Maddy Corbin, who has ~52,000 followers on Instagram, was offered up to $1,000 for her reels in a month. She noticed, though, that other creators were being offered different deals.
"I saw some people that had more followers than me and they could only make $600," Corbin told TechCrunch. Some others with fewer followers were offered $800. "I wish I knew more on how that was generated. All I can think of is maybe it's based off of past reels' performance."
A creator with about 24,000 Instagram followers -- less than half as many as Corbin -- told TechCrunch that last month, they were offered a bonus of up to $800 if they got 1.7 million views on all reels posted that month. The bonus isn't all-or-nothing -- the creator intentionally posted one reel per day during the bonus period and managed to get 1.49 million plays on their reels, earning a $689.90 payout. Still, they were disappointed when all Meta-owned apps like Instagram went offline for six hours due to server issues last month, which slowed the spread of their Reels.
But this month, Instagram kicked the bonus up a notch: Now this creator can get up to $8,500 for 9.28 million views. Proportionally, this is a higher payout-per-view than last month's rate, and of course, there's the potential to make over 10 times more money. The creator said that this is a higher payout-per-view than they get on TikTok, where they have 32,000 followers.
It's difficult to determine how Instagram's bonus offer is calculated -- one Reddit user was offered up to $35,000 for over 58 million views in a month. Miguel Lozada, a Twitch streamer with around 800 Instagram followers, got the same $8,500 offer as a creator with 24,000 followers. Another user with 59,000 followers told TechCrunch that they were offered an $850 bonus this month.
"We’re continuing to test payments as we roll out to more creators, and expect them to fluctuate while we’re still getting started," Instagram told TechCrunch. "We’ve designed bonuses so that we can help as many creators as we can in a way that is achievable and drives meaningful earnings. Our goal is for bonuses to become more personalized over time."
Instagram is paying up to $8.5K for reels posts for the next month?! But look at the requirement views needed to make the full bag 😅 pic.twitter.com/ghMxng3Jd4
— Miguel Lozada (@MLozada) October 29, 2021
Some creators reported that they felt like their reels weren't getting as much attention once they joined the bonus program.
"The first three days [I had access to bonuses], I was probably making about $40 a day, and it literally crashed after about week one, and it went down to like cents and dollars per day," Corbin said. "So it's been interesting because I really haven't changed that much the way that I'm putting my content out."
According to Instagram's support page, these bonuses are "rolling out slowly" and are not available to all users yet. To start, these bonuses are only available in the U.S.
Instagram told TechCrunch that to be eligible for these promotions, users need to be at least 18 years old and meet the platform's partner monetization policies, which are a bit vague. Per the policy, creators must maintain a "sufficient follower base," but Instagram doesn't quantify what counts as "sufficient" -- TechCrunch spoke to creators who were offered the bonus whose follower counts ranged between 800 and 59,000.
Instagram also announced the Reels Surprise bonus program this week, which will reward up to 150 U.S.-based creators per week with up to $10,000 for a particularly inspiring, entertaining reel. To be eligible, U.S.-based creators must be at least 18 years old, meet Instagram's community guidelines and partner monetization policies, have an existing reel with at least 1,000 views, and have not yet received a bonus.
To discourage users from recycling content from TikTok, the Instagram algorithm deflates content that has watermarks from other social media platforms. But YouTube Shorts has gotten even more aggressive with its tactics to sway popular creators to its platform. Business Insider reported this week that some popular TikTokers got offered $50,000 to post 100 YouTube Shorts over six months. This program was not public and is separate from YouTube's $100 million Shorts fund. According to the talent managers who spoke to Business Insider, creators had to wait seven days after posting a short on YouTube before they could repost it to another platform.
TikTok only continues to grow, but the platform is up against long-standing giants like Google-owned YouTube and Meta-owned Instagram -- and for those companies, throwing $10,000 at an individual user's short video isn't a huge business expense.
Additional reporting by Sarah Perez