A recent study showed that there are a record number of millionaires (10.8 million!) in America alone and 400,000 of those people were minted just in this last year. Take into consideration that many of these people are millionaires only on paper. Meaning that the total sum of their assets equals a million dollars and the vast majorities are not out buying jet skis and flying private planes.

Many of these people are making money via the Internet because if there’s one thing that this age of interconnectivity has given us, it’s a new way to monetize our personalities (or an aspect of them). For better or for worse, the old ways to make a buck have slowly become usurped by folks with a keen eye for Instagram or a way with words—usually for SEO purposes.

At the root of these person’s social media success is an astute understanding of personal branding.

Dede Watson, Social Media and Personal Branding Strategist at Turnitsocial.com shared the following insight on the connection between personal branding and social media:

“Every personal brand today needs a strong social media presence. You don’t have to be active on every social network. Focus on those that will make the largest impact for your brand. Engagement and quality content are the keys to growing your social platforms. The old ways of networking in person can still be very useful, but aren’t essential with the power of social media. If you’re willing to put in the effort, the potential is limitless.”

Here are five savvy folks who made their first million by smartly utilizing social media and personal branding.

Mark Zuckerberg

You couldn’t create a list like this without including The Zuck AKA Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The man pretty much created the term “social network” (lest we forget the 2010 movie) and helped stoke the fire of social media to become the blazing inferno it is now. And even though researchers have surmised that Facebook will soon fall, it’s only barely begun to stumble, if at all.

Zuckerberg, though, is still as ubiquitous as ever. The fourth-wealthiest American has been dipping his toe into politics as of late perhaps bolstered by the ambitions of that other filthy rich business man who’s currently, shockingly, involved in American politics.

Rosanna Pansino

While one of the few non-comedian YouTubers who consistently ends up on the “richest” lists, Rosanna Pansino has done pretty well for herself. Originally, Pansino wanted to be an actress, finding roles in Parks and Recreation, CSI and Glee but truly found success when she began making videos of her baking process.

Her YouTube channel, Nerdy Nummies, currently has more than 8 million subscribers and an average views-per-month (VPM) of a whopping 75 million. She’s had such esteemed guests as Miss Piggy and Cookie monster on her show and has a best selling book entitled, you guessed it, The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook. Earlier this year, she announced that she would be releasing her own line of bake ware, which will only continue her quest for world domination.

Alicia Shaffer

Everyone’s got some friend or cousin who’s selling “vintage” tees, handmade jewelry or crocheted items to make some side income on Etsy. Perhaps they quit their job at the coffee shop to do it full-time (if that’s the case, good luck and Godspeed). Either way, you should tell them about Etsy wunderkind, Alicia Shaffer.

Shaffer started her Etsy business, Three Bird Nest, in 2011 with the aim of making $100 to $200 a week. While most Etsy stores are lucky to sell 30 items a week, Shaffer ended up selling 3,000 items a week!

Let’s put this into perspective: in 2014, the average yearly income in America was about $53,000. In 2015, it was estimated that Shaffer brings in roughly $65,000 a week from her store.

Now, in light of some controversy concerning what constitutes “handmade” (it turned out that Shaffer was buying “handmade” goods from India and then adding buttons or lace or whatever but not quite “making” the goods), she’s left Etsy to run her store from her own website just like a cottage-industry Urban Outfitters.

Johnny Ward

Johnny Ward had always stressed that he wasn’t traveling the world on daddy’s credit card. In fact, he was born a broke Irishman raised by a single mother in Galway. In his twenties, he moved to Australia where he reportedly made $20,000 a week doing sales for a conference company. Working in sales proved to be underwhelming and he felt that life was passing him by. With all that money and a drive to live a more fulfilling life, he spent the next ten years traveling to every country in the world.

He started out teaching English, but realized he could monetize his travels by starting a travel blog entitled OneStep4Ward. He made over $1 million with his blog and now owns a home in Thailand and does consulting work on the side. For Ward it’s never been about the money, he stresses that it’s always been about freedom (although one certainly influences the other).

Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh has parlayed her successful (and occasionally very funny) YouTube channel, llSuperwomanll, into a book deal, rap career and lipstick deal. Currently, number three on the Forbes list of most successful YouTubers, earning about $1.9 million a year from endorsements and advertisement, but she’s also earned People’s Choice Awards and two Teen Choice Awards.

Recently, she was tapped to join the cast of HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 remake alongside Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.


Don’t fret if you feel like you’re late to the party because there are still plenty of followers to be had and “likes” to accumulate. So get that YouTube channel up and start making your first million!