Are Sponsored Instagram Apps Ruining The Influencer Landscape?

There’s no doubt that Instagram has become a leading platform for creativity and an unparalleled hub of influence. What may have started as a platform to showcase those arty travel shots quickly (in wider context of digital media) became a place to grow an audience, no matter your interest or ability to capture a moment. Unlike other forms of social media, Instagram wasn’t just about a lengthy analysis of your new favourite mascara or trying to crack a joke in 140 characters; it wasn’t about being able to edit a lengthy and engaging video, or even creating content that required a response – the joy was in the instant nature of snapping something you thought looked cool, sharing it with those who enjoyed seeing a story come to life via a square on their iPhone. Thanks to the editing functionality hosted within the app, you didn’t even have to be that great at taking a photo: a Valencia filter was all you needed.

Over the last handful of years that once pure platform has become a vacuum of curated advertising, as brands look to reach new audiences in new ways. There’s no doubt it works, as it’s estimated Instagram now has over one billion monthly active users – with around 500 million of those logging in every single day. With over 100 million posts uploaded daily, Instagram also has the highest engagement of any of the social media platforms; we’re flocking to scroll, double tap and watch stories every time we’re bored for more than three seconds, so it’s no surprise brands want a piece of this very captive pie.

With the growth in popularity of the platform, sponsored content started to pop up (declared or not) and super influencers could charge the equivalent of an average person’s yearly salary for the privilege of being part of their grid. But that has now devolved with the buzz surrounding ‘micro influencers’ (those who have anywhere between 10k and 100k followers,) and the realisation that paying someone an insane amount of money for one image was no more effective than spending the same amount on TV. Seemingly everyone and anyone with more than a couple of thousand followers now has access to sponsored opportunities via apps including Takumi, Tribe and Whaler – and my personal opinion is that it’s incredibly problematic and has dire consequences to the wider blogging world.  Here’s why…

Working with brands has been a big part of my job over the last nine years. Forming long-lasting and meaningful relationships with those names I truly love is something that has a huge amount of value; many of the sponsored relationships I have originally came from sharing organic content, fitting in effortlessly and authentically into the stories I’m already telling. Others come from a place of genuine interest and intrigue, introducing me to products I grow to love and share organically way past the date of any such collaboration. Being able to talk to those brands directly, negotiating to ensure what we produce works for both parties and that they understand the value (and limitations) being on my channels provides, is an essential part of the process – but these new apps completely remove that.

“Being able to talk to those brands directly, negotiating to ensure what we produce works for both parties and that they understand the value being on my channels provides, is an essential part of the process.”

They remove the person behind the account and strip you back until you’re just a handle on a spreadsheet; they don’t take the wider context of your relevance, audience or reputation, focusing purely on your follower number and the engagement ratio you can provide on each post. Their interest is focused absolutely on gaining maximum exposure for minimum cost, and creating an aesthetic that positions their product in the way their marketing team have deemed to be ‘on brand.’

From a brand point of view, I get it; your job is to generate exposure and get as much as possible for the budget you have available, and fifty different influencers holding up your new product on the same day will surely do that, but exposure doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Is it better to have 30,000 likes from an account followed by teens with nothing but £5.00 a week pocket money, or a couple of hundred from account trusted and followed by women with a decent level of disposable income?

Honestly, I’ve dabbled in these apps over the last couple of months and have worked with a handful of brands that I’ve carefully picked and authentically fit in to my interests and existing content. I’ve created some pieces of content I’m really proud of, but honestly I haven’t been fairly compensated for it – because these apps rarely pay a fair price for the time, creative output and exposure you offer them. When we start placing an insultingly low value on a piece of content that could’ve taken hours to create, it undermines the value that bloggers and influencers offer. A downward spiral is inevitable: why pay £1000 to one blogger, when you can get ten bloggers singing your praises for the same amount?

“When we start placing an insultingly low value on a piece of content that could’ve taken hours to create, it undermines the value that influencers offer.”

What’s also frustrating is that I’ve applied for campaigns I would be perfect for (books, lipstick, a brand I even used to work for) and been rejected because my content isn’t glossy enough or my engagement isn’t high enough – all for a hundred or so quid. It’s demoralising, insulting and not effective as a long-term strategy; bloggers are being rewarded for charging less than they’re worth and providing generic imagery, removing the creativity and passion that made our industry so exciting. What happened to genuine collaborations that add value over time, with people that really love your product?

I can see the appeal of these apps, but I also think they become addictive and some ‘grammers hold up anything next to their face and say it’s fab for a quick paycheck – and that’s what’s going wrong with our industry. The issue is two fold because Takumi, Tribe and Whaler (amongst others) make it easy for practically anybody to get paid. But can you really trust someone who is flitting from one ad to the next, week in and week out? Do we believe it when someone we follow goes from promoting a face mask to train travel to supermarket pizza within the space of a few days? Honestly, it’s starting to give bloggers a bad name and it’s starting to devalue the relationships we have with our audiences – many of which have been built up over the best part of a decade.

When so many are prepared to endorse anything going for the sake of a few quid, it’s taking advantage of your audience and it’s devaluing what you’re so good at.

As content creators we need to value the creative energy that goes into everything we do. We need to only accept a fee we’re happy with and work with brands that fit our usual content, rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for the sake of fifty quid. We need to learn to say no, because only then will things really start to change for the better.

The brands themselves need to value the time that goes into creating content, and compensate us for it fairly. They need to focus on the relevance and reputation of each influencer, looking beyond follower numbers and engagement rates (that more often than not we have no control over thanks to that blooming algorithm.) They need to make an effort to build relationships beyond the apps, rather than relying on them alone for cheap and easy exposure.

And the apps need to understand that their dashboards are full of people, not just social media handles. They need to spend time and energy educating brands on the value working with a diverse range of relevant people offers. They need to fight for fair fees for us and to ensure every campaign adds value for both sides.

“Theoretically these apps have democratised brand collaborations, but in practice they’re frustratingly devaluing the relationship both between blogger and audience, and between blogger and brand.”

My opinion is that this way of working is fundamentally flawed on all sides, and that’s just a recipe for disaster. Theoretically these apps have democratised sponsored opportunities and brand collaborations, but in practice they’re frustratingly devaluing the relationship both between blogger and audience, and between blogger and brand.

That’s something that needs to change – before we’re all flogging skinny teas, pizzas and teeth whitening solutions just to stay afloat.

What are your thoughts on these Instagram sponsored apps?

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11 Comments

  1. January 10, 2019 / 10:07 am

    Yes to all of this! Especially about not trusting that they really believe in what they’re advertising. I think the majority of bloggers using these apps just scroll through and do whatever is easiest and pays the most and, like you say, it takes away from bloggers who are spending time and effort building relationships with brands that they genuinely love and believe in enough to advertise for them. These apps make Instagram less about influencing and more about getting as much money as possible

    Emily x puttheworldtowrites.co.uk

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      January 11, 2019 / 2:11 pm

      I couldn’t agree more – and interestingly, I’ve been messaged by brands who have this week removed their campaigns because the applications were so ‘disingenuous’ so it’s not going unnoticed.

  2. Megan
    January 10, 2019 / 3:28 pm

    I’m very choosy who I follow because like most people I’m not paid properly for my time and skills (not just a problem bloggers have). If I saw you raved about a mascara or a eye shadow or vitamin pills I’d want to search to see how many others you’ve recommended because if there are 50 vitamin pills or 100 mascaras that you recommend then I can’t trust the recommendation. That’s not to say you can’t have more than one favourite brand but it rather points to earning cash by influencing others to buy things they don’t want/need or work properly. I might still read the blog but I certainly wouldn’t let it influence me to buy. I stay away from Instagram for that reason. A fool and his money …

  3. zoeyolivia
    January 10, 2019 / 4:59 pm

    I think it’s absolutely fine to do sponsored posts, however the ‘influencer / content creator’ needs to clearly say it’s an AD.

    I’ve been blogging for quite some time now and I’ve received products but haven’t been paid to talk about them (very rare that I would do sponsored posts anyway), so I would post on Instagram or my blog for free. In the future if brands send me items, I’ll put a * after it or clearly mention that it was gifted.

    My blog is my hobby – it’s not something I do full-time, however I would love to… I have a small engagement – around 4,000 followers in total via all social accounts, and brands don’t want to work with someone with that amount, even though I have high engagement through Google Analytics. It’s a little disheartening sometimes but I work full time anyway, so making a living that way.

    Zoey | https://www.zoeyolivia.com

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      January 11, 2019 / 3:36 pm

      This isn’t about sponsored posts or declarations of sponsored posts – but about the saturation of irrelevant ads and lack of value placed upon content produced.

  4. January 10, 2019 / 7:22 pm

    Another really thought-provoking post, Hayley. I don’t think much of the apps you mention, but I wondered how much of that was down to my own bitterness: I’ve been rejected for Takumi three times, and lack the follower numbers to apply for anything on Tribe (even a campaign which I thought I would have added real value to, had I been given the chance to even apply..!).

    So, it’s great to read a well-rounded perspective from somebody who has done paid collaborations both with the apps, and independently. I guess we’ll see how they develop.

    Lis / last year’s girl x

    • hayleyhalluk
      Author
      January 11, 2019 / 3:39 pm

      Honestly, it’s a shame that they’re not looking beyond numbers and into the relevance and value you can add. I’m already starting to see brands back away from the apps because the cost is high for little return – due to the fact we’re so used to seeing people promote something different every other day.

  5. Danish Pastry
    January 10, 2019 / 7:57 pm

    I must start by saying that I love how your scarf brings out your amazing blue eyes!
    I have absolutely no understanding of how brands chose to create interest in their products, but it sounds totally wrong that they think they can get something for (relatively) nothing. I’m not one of those who despises sponsored content, as long as it’s in keeping with the influencer and is declared. After all, if we want to read content/ see images don’t we want the influencer to be financially able to spend the time on doing a good job. If an influencer is full time, then what they’re paid is their wages, after all!

  6. January 11, 2019 / 9:19 pm

    So many points well made and yes! For me, there is the fact one of them expects you to buy the products, then faff about creating the content before they decide whether or not they might use it is annoying. I know a few bloggers who have done this, the brand have said no the photo but then it has been used anyway. Totally put me off!

  7. Kate
    January 14, 2019 / 10:18 pm

    I’ve vaguely heard of these apps but haven’t looked at them in any detail, mainly because my Instagram following is so tiny I doubt I would be accepted! It’s a shame that brands seem to be turning to quantity rather than quality in many cases and it does make me wonder where things are headed if something doesn’t change. x

    Kate Louise Blogs

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