Let’s rewind back to 2010 for a minute, back when we were playing Angry Birds, watching The Walking Dead, listening to Taylor Swift, gasping at Lady Gaga’s raw meat outfit at the VMA awards and coveting the new iPad tablet.
We were also joining a brand new photo-sharing App called Instagram.
Within 2 months of Instagram’s launch in October of 2010, 1 million of us had become registered users, increasing to 10 million in a year and reaching 1 billion users by June 2018.
Instagram opened up a whole new world for many of us who otherwise had minimal contact with the outside world. Stay at home mothers were sharing pictures of their babies and discussing nappy rash and sleep deprivation. Foodies were sharing overhead snaps of their avocado on toast and giving restaurant recommendations. Fashionistas were sharing their #ootd (outfit of the day) and I was sharing heavily filtered photos of my home, my supermarket flowers and the proud moments when I made my bed with far too many pretty pillows. We were connecting, we were finding like minded people with similar interests, we were forming friendships and creating communities.
Until … brands became savvy and started to realise the benefit of social media marketing, which started the rise of the social media influencer.
The rise of the influencer
Influencers should have a sizeable and loyal network of followers who engage with them and are ultimately influenced by their recommendations. They should be honest and authentic.
Herein lies the problem, brands favour influencers who have large followings.
There are always going to be people who cheat the system and because of this, fake followers started. Dodgy businesses popped up everywhere, we received e-mails and DM’s (direct messages) promising us 1000’s of followers for just a few dollars. At first it was easy to spot the Instagram accounts that had bought their followers because the fake followers had no profile, strange user names like @hg5j7o, and the ratio of engagement (likes & comments) to the amount of followers set off alarm bells.
What’s a cheater to do?
They become better at cheating! They make the fake followers look real and impossible to distinguish from a true account. Then, not only do they sell you the fake followers, they sell you ongoing likes and comments on every photo you post.
Another way that these ‘influencers’ build huge accounts at lightning speed is to repost other people’s content. They share pictures from Pinterest or repost images from other accounts. Sure, they curate a stunning gallery of beautiful images and anyone who comes across their incredible feed will be sure to hit that ‘follow’ button, because who doesn’t want to see perfect photos and breathtaking images on repeat? Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with this, it is great to share inspiration and shine the light on the creators of the content, as long as credit is given and the owner of the content is happy for you to share it.
So how does this effect those of us playing fair, creating our own content and staying true to our own ethical standards?
Instagram is a popularity contest and your worth as an influencer is determined by your numbers, the amount of followers you have and your engagement rate. How are you meant to compete with those that are cheating the algorithm, have dishonest numbers and have unlimited content at their fingertips because they don’t have to create it?
It’s simple – you can’t, and quite frankly I don’t want to. Instagram is not fair and the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can appreciate it for what it is and make the most of it.
Besides everything, I love my Insta tribe, I feel like some of them are true friends even though we’ve never actually met. We’ve shared our lives, our real lives, the good, the bad and the ugly. My tribe has shared the joy of new babies, we’ve been supportive through our challenges, we’ve brainstormed ideas, we’ve announced our shopping finds with excitement and we’ve expressed our opinions in a safe place.
I love the friendly chatter and the genuine people I’ve met on Instagram.
I am grateful for my journey, for the people I’ve met, the connections I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to work with some incredible brands.
But … I will not buy followers, I will not buy likes, I will not buy engagement, I do not want fake interactions. I will continue to create my own content, I will continue to enjoy Instagram for what it is and I will continue to make new connections with all you beautiful people out there!
Hope for the future
I am hoping that the brands and businesses that are driving this number driven, fake influencer problem will wake up and see what’s happening here. They will realise that bought followers and fake likes do not equal real customers. They will understand that profiting from other people’s creative content is not fair and should not be rewarded. It is a problem that stems from a lack of knowledge on their behalf and I hope by speaking out they will understand the issues and make smarter choices when choosing an influencer. I am hoping that accounts that create their own content will be more successful in the long run.
What is success to you?
Is it fake friends and dishonesty or is it building a community, real friends, purpose and connections? I know which one I’m choosing!
Hayley Little is a Vamp influencer who is passionate about authenticity and supporting small business. A Mum of 3 kids and wife of a builder, she loved interior decorating and styling. I’m a Mum of 3 gorgeous kids, and wife to a builder. Learn more about Hayley via mumlittleloves.com.au and follow her on Instagram @mumlittleloves.