For years, people have been building their own brands and businesses on Instagram—and in turn, have helped Instagram build its business. While the photo- and video-sharing service has happily helped those users monetize their followings, that’s largely happened off-platform. Influencers make deals with brands to create sponsored posts, or set up revenue sharing to recommend specific products. Unlike video platforms YouTube and Twitch, Instagram has never put its content creators on the payroll—that is, until now.

Instagram on Wednesday announced two new ways for users with “creator” accounts to make money: ads on IGTV and badges for Instagram Live. The IGTV ads will start showing up next week, and Instagram will split the revenue, with at least 55 percent going to creators—comparable to YouTube. The company will also give fans the chance to sponsor their favorite creators and businesses with paid “badges” on Instagram Live videos, which cost less than $5 and place a small heart-shaped icon next to their name. Instagram is testing both features with a small group of creators (and advertisers, for the IGTV ads), before rolling them out more widely.

With badges, trainer Charlee Atkins’s Instagram Live workouts will still be free, but now fans who want to support her can pay her directly within the app.Courtesy of Facebook

Instagram says its new features are meant to help people like Charlee Atkins, a New York-based fitness trainer the company highlighted as part of its announcement. Atkins’ in-person training is on pause while New York City remains locked down, so she’s been holding daily fitness classes on Instagram Live for her 120,000-plus followers. It’s been a great way to build up her audience—there are often as many as 600 people tuning in—but Atkins doesn’t get paid for those classes. “The number-one question I get in my DMs is, ‘Do you have a PayPal? Do you have a Venmo?’” says Atkins. She directs them to her subscription-based fitness app, Le Sweat TV, which costs $12.99 a month.

With badges, Atkins’ Instagram Live workouts will still be free, but now fans who want to support her can pay money directly within the app. Paying for a badge is like dropping a few dollars in a digital tip jar. The badges don’t cost much—viewers can pay either $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99—but the creators will pocket all of their earnings. Viewers who purchase a badge will show one, two, or three heart icons next to their usernames, depending on how much they paid, which Instagram says will make their comments stand out in the live feed.

While much of the US remains sheltered in place, and many gyms, movie theaters, and shopping malls remain closed, Instagram has come to play an outsized role in digital daily life. More influencers are turning to video formats like Instagram Live to broadcast fitness classes, create informal cooking shows, or offer some form of entertainment to their increasingly bored followers. Some of those same people have seen their livelihoods dramatically impacted by the pandemic; trainers can’t get to the gyms, chefs can’t cook in their restaurants. Instagram already rolled out a sticker feature last month for all users to show their followers where to buy gift cards or support fundraisers to help small businesses.

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