Did you know that advertisers spent $1.6 billion on influencer marketing on Instagram in 2018? Influencer marketing ads are estimated to reach between $5 billion – $10 billion by 2022. Did you also know that 80% of people look to social media before making a purchase?
For this reason companies and business’s invest in marketing using Instagram and Facebook as their main avenues to increase their revenue. Many marketing strategies are used by varying sized accounts to try to convince you into buying product from whichever business they have an agreement, contract or sponsorship with. This is completely legal and yet most regular users of social media are unaware of the paid agreements between their favourite accounts and companies who wish to have their product promoted. There is not enough transparency when it comes to strategies that social media influencers use on their followers, and I’m not only referring to influencers with large followings either.
There has been a rise in the “micro influencer” – an account which has over 3000 followers and generally under 100k. They are gaining momentum with businesses looking for cost-effective options to promote their brand or product. To put it plainly they are cheaper to advertise through. Micro influencers typically have higher engagement rates with their followers, as a matter of fact they often have higher than the industry average which is between 1-3% which is very attractive for advertising purposes. This is largely due to the fact these influencers have an intimacy and relationship they maintain with their followers, in which trust and a sense of community is the centre. The fact is that companies get a better return for their investment when they employ a micro influencer. The sad thing is the very thing that attracts a business or company to the micro influencer (genuineness and authenticity) is the very thing they end up losing as each person hits the follow button to their account. As they grow they morph into being like larger influencers in nature and their accounts mirror the same patterns and money-making tactics we have become accustomed to seeing.
I’ve recently heard women say they feel they’ve lost a friend in some of these influencers. Years ago they used to be more relatable and post genuinely, sharing candid moments they captured or useful health, wellness or fashion tips without a #sp at the end of the caption. Now many everyday women are finding their favourite accounts have grown into somewhat of a profit making, product pushing, filtered and Facetuned highlight reel that is run like a business and not a friend they can connect with.
I am not an expert on this subject but have carefully observed the changes in social media over the past couple for years. I’m a person who doesn’t like any dishonesty or deception and I won’t sugar coat my opinions on this subject or my findings. I would say I have always had clarity about the fake front and pretentiousness of many accounts – especially in the fitness industry. After being in the industry and training myself for over a decade, over time I have started to recognise that there were two types of “fit women”. The first type does it for themselves and their family. They offer unfiltered and honest inspiration, always being upfront about the highs and lows and don’t stage anything. They don’t train or go to the gym for recognition or praise from anyone, they simply do it for the love of it. The other type does it for the accolades, the applause and the validation from strangers. They do it to build a powerhouse and a business where they can profit from it. The latter would likely be the fitness influencer most women would follow and has sadly become the more popular. In the past 3 or so years there has been a HUGE influx and rise of strategies and fabrications used by larger accounts to lure followers to their account to make money and I’ve had to sift through my own confusion and frustration to find quality.
This blog is based on my own personal observations, research and importantly conversations I have had with several small business owners. These business owners have given me factual information about their experiences and what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to the role social media influencers play in selling product. It turns out some influencers are just downright greedy, dodgy and unkind people to do business dealings with too (and I have been given names) but I won’t be going into that in this post. The fact is in many instances influencers are not admitting to the fact they are directly involved in marketing and selling a product and that they benefit financially from doing so. There is a responsibility these accounts have to their followers to be sincere and honest in what they intentions are behind their post or even the direction their account is now taking. Deliberately not being honest with your following is to try to deceive them, and this is the predicament that is now arising.
The difference and the GAP between perception and reality have increased substantially.
Some people are starting to clue on about influencers and the direction social media is taking in recent times. Some are still in the dark about it. I want the everyday user of social media to be aware of those accounts who only want to profit from you, who only see you as another faceless follower. Are you one of those women (or men) who are frustrated at the direction that social media is taking these past couple of years? Are you keen to try to sift through who is authentic and genuine? Well I want to share some of the main tactics I have noticed social media influencer’s use below so you can avoid accounts like that. There are several main points I have written but I don’t doubt there is more.
2 second transformation photos.
These posts are circulating like a plague. What was once a genuine and intriguing post made by the odd account to prove a point has become eye-catching click bait to attract followers and nothing more. Admittedly I have almost fallen prey to believing one or 2 influencers that have posted these photos have been genuine, and this is because of the NEW trend that has hit in the past few months of “admitting ones flaws” to the public. The eye grabbing “reality” versus “Instagram” comparison photos seem to elude people into thinking these women portray this humble side. These women have figured out that “honesty” can lead to greater public appeal and have jumped on the bandwagon of false modesty. They admit their lives or bodies aren’t perfect, posting a “before and after” photo that is “posed/not posed”, “bloated/unbloated” or “filtered/unfiltered” photo – all in a bid to make the average everyday women think they are more relatable and “real.”
However false modesty is not honest. It’s another form of a lie and clever manipulation tool. They will periodically post something slightly non glamorous about themselves in order to further boost their credibility and account growth. They know these photos draw instant attention when partnered with the right hashtags. When these posts started to come out I was initially impressed and allowed myself to feel hope that things might change with social media. Weeks later I started to realise it was another deceptive trend to snag followers and gain popularity. I felt angry that I was almost misled. I often find that not following major accounts and getting emotionally involved but rather observing from a distance has been a real eye opener. That, and cultivating a strong sense of confidence in my beliefs and myself as a woman have kept me from “falling prey” – as I like to put it – to these accounts.
Strategically timed or worded posts.
Anyone trying to grow their account will post multiple times per day or the very least once, often aiming for peak times in order for their photo to receive maximum exposure and make it to the public page if it can. Wonder why that particular person always posts at 5-6am? Or mid to late evening – everyday like clockwork? Because the aim is to gain more likes and maximum exposure.Wednesday evenings between 7-8pm are a known peak period for Instagram users. Posting between 1-3pm during the day will unlikely get you the interaction you desire so many women trying to grow their account won’t post at this time. I have watched accounts closely (even ones I like) that sadly started to use strategic posting methods. It is almost exhausting to think they plan their days around their Instagram or Facebook accounts like this!! Or perhaps they pay a media management company to post on their behalf? It gets worse.
The more interaction on their post, the higher the chance it will make it to the top page for that popular hash tag they used – or better yet your home/public page. In order for this to be achieved the post must receive the engagement from as many accounts as possible as quickly as possible. How can this be done? Well a very easy and straightforward way is to do things like prompt a “double tap if you agree” statement, or more affectively ask their followers a question or attempt to urge them to “comment below” about a particular topic. Engagement is encouraged by the influencer, and because the post might seem deep and meaningful (a good subject is always something motherhood related – ie. Tell me about your breastfeeding experiences or your tips on how to …….With your baby”) this ensures the unsuspecting followers feel they are being connected with. They feel they are given an opportunity to share their experiences or stories on the post and then click to comment quickly without a second thought. Let me be frank here – MANY of these posts you may have engaged on are strategic and posted for an ultimate purpose. The higher the number of comments and likes in the quickest time possible equals more engagement on the post. This will then propel their post onto the public page for more people to see, giving them the chance to gain more momentum and new followers, or greater traffic to their profile.
It’s a clever strategy and innocent people are being deceived into thinking these accounts actually want to get to know them and possibly create a friendship with them. Sadly this is rarely the case. I ask you this – how often do these women (or men) respond in detail (or at all) to the story or comment you have left on their page about something personal in your life? That is why I hardly ever comment on people’s posts now unless I examine the caption and believe the person is being truly genuine. With some accounts this is getting rarer and rarer. Thanks to Instagram’s new algorithm – comments and likes directly affect traffic to anyone’s account, and this is why certain people are using these strategies to post. From my observations “mummy blogger” accounts are the worst for this point above. Don’t be deceived by a mum (or dad) who uses their children, house build or renovation plans in their account to try to boost growth and interest from the public. It’s often a ploy to grab your attention nothing more. It’s rare they wish to actually connect with smaller account about these subjects – parenthood included.
Pushing of product.
This point goes hand in hand with my discount code paragraph below. Nowadays paid posts are nearly all we see on larger or medium accounts. It used to be once every couple of weeks we would see a paid post and now it’s every second day. Not to mention minutes of their stories or snaps are dedicated to showcasing items or products they have tried and feel are so awesome they just have to share with you all. “Swipe up to shop” right??? Late last year I viewed a famous Aussie mum blogger account (after being tipped off by another mum who was frustrated by how much she was changing) and was shocked to see that the previous 8 posts she had made were all paid posts! I counted every single one I kid you not – every single photo was a collaboration or ad about a product or a business. Sometimes the post was dressed up to look like an innocent moment captured of her daughter, and then as I continued reading to the bottom it became apparent it was a sponsored post or brand collaboration. This is just one example of countless accounts I have viewed that are doing this, although not as bad as 8 in a row (yet!) Let us not even touch on the fact that it must be clearly stated if and when a post is paid by law in Australia, and that many accounts do not do this as they should. However what was once a “now and then” habit is becoming an onslaught of advertisements and one must wonder where is the genuineness? Where is the community and sense of connection? If I wanted to be subjected to repetitious advertisements then I would switch on my TV.
I have seen some confused and frustrated accounts confront these larger or medium influencers about their recent influx of paid posts and some will snap back and claim people are jealous of them and their success and they should not feel guilty for making money from their account they have worked so hard to build. (Notice that word used is build – one builds a business not a friendship base). Ok then well please tell me this: why are so many women not acknowledging it IS a paid post to begin with? Why try to deny or avoid it? More importantly, why do they title their accounts as “personal” when it has become a BUSINESS. If you have so proudly grown your account to a level that you no longer prioritise GENUINE engagement with your followers or maintain a rapport with online friends you have made over the years, and mostly make money via ads and paid posts – than perhaps you should change your account to state BUSINESS under your name so people know when they look at your profile that you are there to make money! No shame in that is there? That’s what business’s do after all, they make money or try to. They have CUSTOMERS. If you are claiming to be personal yet are no longer getting PERSONAL with your FOLLOWERS than they are no longer your followers or friends they are your customers…and they should be made aware of this. So accounts like this should do us all a favour and change the subtitle of their profile and account. It’s that simple.
Some women will promote and push a product for a few weeks, than you see or hear nothing more about it again. Weeks after that they are then promoting a different makeup, supplement or skin product. Certain brands seem to circulate at the same time through social media, being flogged by a particular circle of influencers. I have witnessed confusion with followers and they have questioned these influencers saying “but I thought you promoted ______ brand?” Often there is no response or they are coy about it, making a general remark that doesn’t address the question, or make up some story that they found that previous product no longer worked for them in comparison to the one they now post about. Perhaps they no longer have a financial interest in this brand? Perhaps they have had a better offer to promote another? These are the likely answers for you that will explain the switch. So don’t be fooled into believing the new product is necessarily better.
I find that some influencers (mainly fit mums or mum bloggers) prey on their target audience’s vulnerability and insecurities and push or market a particular type of product accordingly. This is often a brand of clothing, makeup/beauty brand or a child/baby related business or product. Social media is flooded with women who lack confidence and aren’t happy with a part of themselves, who seek comfort and reassurance, a place to belong or social acceptance. Being a mother only adds to this for some women. So many of these famous personalities that are “fit mums” really zone in on that particular impressionable audience and deceive them with products they push – knowing they will likely buy whatever it is that they are promoting. Whether they actually use these products or are LOYAL to this product or brand is another thing. Their following doesn’t realise there is a hidden agenda to why they are posting a product. That agenda is money.
Following on from the point above – when an influencer or any account with more than a couple of thousand followers gives a discount code at the bottom of a post it isn’t for no reason. It is because they have an agreement with a business or brand, are being paid for the post itself or are collaborating with them. That’s the reality of it. Again I will say – if ANY mention of a discount code is made it is a PAID POST. A discount code can be a way for a business to track that particular influencer to see how many sales or customers they are generating. The company or business has likely already paid them, and they want to see how many sales have come from that influencer. They wish to segment the sales by using a discount code. A business will get to see how the influencer performs through customers attracted from this discount code and determine if they will employ them again in future.
The influencer or whatever account that is posting (fitness, mummy blogger etc) make money from the discount code if you go to that business page, order the product and use their code in the checkout. The discount code is generally individualised to that influencer and usually (not always) includes their name and a number. For instance the caption on the post may say something like this: “I got my lovely followers a discount code, simply enter Jess20 at the checkout, link in bio. You’re welcome!” or something to that effect. The influencer or account posting makes commission of all sales that their discount code brings in.
Impression of body perfection.
Virtually every post that many famous influencers or people who are trying to grow their accounts upload is a professional photo shoot and retouched image. Often done in workout gear, a bikini or fashion label outfit. Something for the everyday woman to remember and catch onto is that these photos (or selfies) are all about lighting and angles! Virtually any butt or ab shot is about working those angles. I have walked past or met some of these women in person and believe you me – they are average in comparison to their “best side” on social media. In these photos the aim is to do one or more of 3 things:
To create an illusion of beauty and perfection
Promote their own bodies as they continuously do (regular self-importance and idolisation), and;
Promote a product they are paid to advertise
This gives their followers such a misleading perception that their lives are perfect, flawless, colourful, poised and glamorous. It is not a reality. Yet their captions and philosophies deceive thousands of women by saying or hinting that they too can have this lifestyle or this body if they strive for it. This creates their followers to get emotionally invested in them, to have hope and even faith that they too can potentially be like their Insta-idol. Once the followers become loyal and trust the influencer – they willingly invest their money into that person, their businesses and the brands they push.
Many of these women make out as if they are relatable to the average woman yet they are anything but. They are unattainable and unrealistic. So much goes on behind the scenes to keep up this facade. It based on a lie. Their lives are not what their accounts or professional photos portray. The public along with the influencer put their online “persona” on a pedestal to be envied by all. Watch after months go past and they “burn out”, need to “recharge” or “refill their cup” or the classic “take a break from social media.” They do this because they cannot handle the incessant self-centred lifestyle they portray, the exuberant showcasing of the gifts they receive and the dozens of products they sell via their stories or snap chats daily. And let’s not forget about their obsessive food prep videos they make on weekends or how they film their entire family day out for you to see, or take you along on their morning walk (with or without their kid) so they can seem relatable to you at least one day of the week. This amount of continuous posting and addiction to their phones cannot be sustained. Cue emotional breakdown. Their attempt to be relatable crumbles. This is one of the most dangerous strategies I have come across.
Unfortunately even smaller to medium accounts who are trying to gain publicity are also now doing this. What once was a genuine platform to share snapshots of memories and inspiration has become a marketing and advertising ploy. I watch accounts from about 5000 followers start to change and alter the way they post – and to be honest it’s very disheartening to see they are trying to mirror what the larger accounts are doing. Giving impressions of perfection is creating a toxic and never-ending cycle of comparison and self loathing in women. It is adding pressure to thousands of women who already suffer from a fractured self-esteem. Sadly no one is acknowledging this, and the women who are creating these false social media versus reality impressions will not take responsibility. They actually have the audacity to write “comparison is the thief of joy” captions or “just do you” and “self-love is important” at the bottom of a post that shows their retouched and posed image with a face full of Botox and makeup?? Go figure….
Fishing for a freebie (or to be gifted by a business)
Gosh can it be acknowledged how embarrassing this is? These influencers who get paid upwards of $800 per post go out of their way to attract companies to gift them for free when they could easily afford to open their wallet and pay up. This is one obvious thing I have noticed about Insta famous accounts – they always seem to be fishing for freebies from companies or businesses. It is something I have seen virtually all major influencers doing. When they are on the look out for any new items for a particular reason or event they will ask their followers to tag their favourite companies or brands in the comments below. For instance they are going on a holiday and looking for some new bikinis they want to buy and would love to know of any brands that make flattering or cute designs. Followers are more than happy to oblige and tag their favourites, which in turn brings a company or brands attention to that large account and they straight out offer to send a gift or sample to that woman. I have seen it with baby clothes/outfits, skin care products, bikinis, pre-packaged food, baby goods and women’s clothing. I have always wondered after seeing comments from businesses on the post whether that Insta-famous woman actually went to their online store and bought their products with their own money – or did they just ask for their followers suggestions in order to get free items sent to them so they DIDN’T have to pay for a thing???? A hint for future references – if you see a post like this don’t tag anyone. Just scroll past and realise the money grabbing tactic that it is.
** Also note that often when an influencer opens a free gift (another term is “gifted” by a business) on their Instagram stories or snap chat it is often STAGED and paid for. The whole unwrapping and unveiling, reading the card and gushing over the product is often done for money. It’s not a spontaneous thing.
This is a very obvious one, but to some they have no knowledge of it. If you genuinely want to participate in giveaway competitions than do so but know why there is a giveaway to begin with, don’t be fooled into thinking that influencer actually cares so deeply about her followers that she wants to bless them with a gift from the generosity of her heart. On a very rare occasion I will participate in one of these if the prize is something travel related (I can’t help myself at times!) However be aware that loop giveaways are a strategy to boost following not only for the influencer but the business or brand involved in the giveaway. I recently saw a loop giveaway that asked people to follow 16 accounts until it looped/cycled back to the original account that they saw post. Unless I was to follow all 16 accounts I was not a valid entry. The accounts held no interest for me and I did not find their content was appealing in any way. Yet I was told I had to follow as part of the condition. What happened to following only other accounts that you vibe or connect with? These days Instagram is not about that it seems. However I refused to buy into it and didn’t let a giveaway manipulate me into following an account I don’t share interests with or who I believe to have generic content. Once again nothing new here, it is only another strategy by the account holder to gain new followers.
This concludes my list of obvious tactics and strategies used by social media influencers to make money from you or boost their account numbers. There are more but this entry is long enough as it is.
I do want to make a point that I am not hating on women who have genuinely grown their business via social media. I realise Instagram and Facebook have been very instrumental and useful in growing small business in recent years and personally I love seeing small business brands on the rise. I enjoy watching them succeed. When someone is transparent that about the fact they are selling a product or service and make an honest living out of that than there is nothing negative to be said. What I don’t like are these so called “influencers” – many whom have no credentials or merit in their particular industry – deceiving thousands of women into believing they are genuine, relatable and authentic when they are a constant walking advertisement. They are a business and are there to make money. Just like your favourite supplement company or online clothing brand. Unless they are upfront and own it (and not just once, regularly for all new followers to see) we are going to have confusion and feel disappointed by those we once followed to gain true connection and inspiration from. Continuing on from the theme of 2018, the 2019 influencer is all about hustling for that money and the growth of their followers. So please recognise it when you see it.
I’ll conclude with these pressing questions. What has happened to Instagram? Why is it no longer organic? Where has the genuine sense of community and connection gone? Why is it when accounts reach a few thousand followers they don’t seem to bother to connect with their loyal friends who have followed them for years? Why do large accounts feel it’s beneath them to reply or converse with accounts that have a small following compared to their own? I have witnessed this time and time again. Larger accounts will ass kiss, shout out and promote other fellow accounts that rival their own follower numbers. I see this all the time in my own country Australia (more so in Brisbane and the Gold Coast) but don’t doubt it happens everywhere. With all these points above out in the open it does leave very few influencers that are genuine and have remained unchanged since their popularity. If you find an account that somehow manages to remain authentic and unique make sure you tell that person how much you value their content and attitude! Real and relatable influencers who are transparent and offer us more than the generic copy cat image are pure gold.
Before I sign off I want to say this:
I encourage YOU – the woman or man reading this blog who has “only” a few dozen or hundred followers and may have compared yourself to these powerhouse accounts. You matter. Your account content is exciting, it is loveable and it is remarkable in its own way. Your life is probably a lot more riveting and exciting than the accounts you scroll past daily. You don’t need thousands of people to know you, follow you or like you to live a fulfilling life. You only need a handful. Feel proud you are a smaller account who doesn’t need or seek validation from strangers. You know why? Because you hold all the power. Smaller accounts are what make up the large multitude of these influencer accounts. Collectively we have the power to turn our backs on the deception, the online smokescreen of lies. We can unfollow and choose not to support those that cannot speak, think, act or POST honestly. I urge you not to buy into the lie. Stop living vicariously through these average people. I urge you to seek out true, authentic and organic accounts who regularly engage and make you feel good about yourself. Someone who will communicate with you, will reply to your comments and DM’s and who won’t try to sell you a product you don’t need. Please see that almost every photo you have liked from these influencers is carefully selected, filtered through an app they have to pay a subscription for, or taken by a photographer that has told them how to pose. It is not how you would see them sitting across from them in a cafe, or walking past in the gym. Social media is a carefully manipulated collection of images that lie to us daily. Don’t let it make you question your worth as a person or make you pick your appearance to pieces. Don’t let it suck you in. Don’t let genuine connection and sharing candid moments online become extinct. It’s up to the smaller accounts to keep it alive.
3 thoughts on “The rise of social media influencer marketing – making money over genuine connections.”
Thanks Jess, this was great!!! It’s so sad that our world is becoming so money hungry that we loose connection with the main purpose of “social” media. The term “ social” being the key!!
I agree it’s ok if people want to use it as a business but don’t hide it.
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