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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