Monetizing Instagram mood boards

You know those Instagram accounts that just nail a certain vibe? Those digital scrapbooks can become an income stream for those who love niche aesthetics and internet rabbit holes.
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Basketball player Kobe Bryant reclining at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan in 2000. An old-school Range Rover plowing through a river. Actor James Gandolfini walking his dog. There's just a certain vibe to these images on The Long Weekend's Instagram. ‘How would you answer the question: “What are you up to for the long weekend?”’ says creator Elizabeth Venter. ‘I started the mood board when I was working a full-time job in real estate and weekend time was very important to me.’

Mood boards like these have become a staple on social media over the past few years, catering to minimalist dressing, car enthusiasts, romantics and more. It's usually a mix of archival photos, screenshots and memes that just somehow work together to convey a feeling that thousands of people connect with – so much so that they'll follow, share and increasingly consume. One of the most successful, HIDDEN NY, has more than 1 million followers – some of its most recent posts include a reel of food from Studio Ghibli movies and photos of Nike X JW Customs sneakers. The creator has also turned that influence into a paid Substack newsletter, a clothing line and brand partnerships with the likes of hip-hop band N.E.R.D

Digital goldminers

But creators don't necessarily need a million followers to make money from mood boards – increasingly, even with a few thousand followers, creators who nail a mood have been able to build up a side hustle to supplement a creative career. Elizabeth, who's also a content creator, has expanded The Long Weekend (current followers: 3,800) into a vintage clothing store, with drops throughout the year. 

‘I've never really felt comfortable having 100% of my income come from content creation, and I definitely worry about turning my accounts into an advertising platform,’ she says. ‘The thing I value most about having and growing an audience is being able to connect with other people who connect with and appreciate the way I see the world and the things that I value artistically.’

That curation – and connection – has become even more valuable given the deluge of information and products available online. Alex Strang, insights editor at market research agency Canvas8, likens it to ‘digital gold-panning’.

‘People are outsourcing the task of sifting through the rubbish to find the good stuff,’ he says. ‘Combine this with the feeling that you're buying from someone in the know, someone that has the talent to spot the gold, and you're presented with the feeling of having stumbled across something special – something unique that you, or others, might not have been able to find yourself.’

Trust your gut 

But striking gold – in the form of sharing images that resonate – is an art, not a science. Younes D started interiors-focused mood board MIDMODMOOD in 2019 because he could spend ‘hours searching for tastefully designed spaces and hunting down the web for photos of old and vintage pieces of furniture’.

‘The watchword is to not overthink it,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I'm so sure that a post I carefully curated will be a hit and, in the end, it's a random one that works because of a small detail that caught the attention of the community. I learned to follow my instinct.’

Once that balance is struck, monetizing mood boards is slightly more straightforward. It could be merch that references the topic at hand, an apparel line that reflects the page's style or a storefront that sells related products. Younes has received DMs asking if he'd provide interior-design consultation (he's taken on some projects) but, primarily, he makes money from affiliate marketing and occasional sponsored posts, on top of his other jobs in online retail and digital marketing. His goal is to turn his brand into a media platform for all things mid-century modern.

‘The only thing I can say is that authenticity and consistency are key,’ he advises. ‘If you're passionate about something, start sharing that passion with people. Chances are there are thousands of other like-minded people who'd love to connect with you.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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