When Influencers Stop Being Influential

Feb
13th

influencers-not-influential

One of the most common questions I get asked from new bloggers is, “How did you gain an audience?”, which is usually followed quickly by, “How early did you start working with brands?” and then of course, “Do you know of any good programs to buy legit followers?”

Sigh.

In a world where it seems anything can be bought, I always knew that social media was part and parcel of that – but I saw it mostly from the brand side, buying followers on Facebook and the like. That was until I got heavily involved in Instagram as part of my personal brand and saw it from the ‘influencer’ side – the bloggers and Instagrammers who make a living off of promoting brands due to their ‘influence’. At first, I saw it with Instagrammers buying followers. Then it was likes. Then it was joining comment pods, which are just groups of bloggers who don’t necessarily even know each other or even like each other’s content, but are forced to comment on each other’s photos to increase engagement or they’ll get kicked out of the group. I myself have been invited to join a few on Instagram and most recently to a Facebook group for bloggers, with strict rules dictating how often to comment on blog posts and what types of comments to leave.

And I struggled when I saw it happening. I saw people with generic photos and boring captions get 800 likes and 300+ comments on every single post, a ratio that doesn’t add up. I began to ask myself if I should be doing the same thing, if this was just the way the game was played now and if you don’t get on board, you’ll just be left behind. I even tried a ‘liking bot’ that would ‘like’ posts with hashtags I specified, a learning experience we all go through starting out.

But here’s the question I kept coming back to…

If your job is to work with brands to influence peoples’ opinions, interests and buying habits, what value is there in faking it? What value is there in having fellow bloggers leave vapid comments like ”Great one – I like!” or “Need this!” or “Amazing as always!” when they’re required to do so by the groups you’ve joined? You could post a photo of yourself wearing a burlap sack and there would still be the same engagement. By faking interest in your content and opinion, you’re not actually doing what your job requires of you – to INFLUENCE. And you’re not only doing a disservice to the brands you work with, but you’re doing a disservice to yourself.

Think of it this way:

When an athlete takes performance enhancing drugs, they’re cheating the game.

When a musician lip syncs, they’re cheating their fans.

When a writer plagiarises their work, they’re cheating their readers.

And when an influencer buys or fakes their influence, they are cheating the brands who are paying their bills.

________

At this point, you might be saying, “Alright Lauren, hold on now… just HOLD ON. Joining a comment pod is hardly the same as taking steroids.” And yes, that’s an extreme, but in theory, it’s not any different. In each of the above examples, it tells of a person manipulating their work and skills to appear greater or more popular than they actually are.

And brands are catching on – I’ve signed three contracts recently for sponsored content on This Renegade Love that have prohibited the use of engagement-enhancing programs to skew interest on sponsored posts (and if I do, the contract will become null and void and I don’t get paid). They’re totally justified in doing so, too. If a brand is paying you to promote their product because you’ve pitched yourself as being ‘influential’, faking that influence gives them zero return-on-investment. And that shit just ain’t cool.

________

So, listen guys, I get it – I do. I’m not here to hate on you or call anyone out. I totally understand the interest in taking the easy road to bump your followers or engagement, because it’s not easy to grow an engaged following overnight. But I want to warn you of this, especially new bloggers or Instagrammers that are starting out and feeling like they have to ‘catch up’:

Once you get involved in faking your engagement, there is no going back. Your following grows and your engagement grows, but the downside is that you can never leave those comment pods or stop using your follower bots because your numbers will drop drastically and people will notice. Brands will notice. And if you’re someone who is trying to grow a personal brand online, this will be a major detriment to your brand – and what’s the point of growing one if you don’t even respect it yourself?

My advice?

Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. Put the time in. Treat this as a job like you would any other and WORK HARD. Don’t cut corners. Focus on improving your content and growing your skills. Be authentic. The results will come, guys. But don’t try and fake your way to the top, because you’ll only hurt yourself and your brand in the long run.

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  • DUDE omg i love you. it’s honestly like you’re in my mind.
    For me, authentic engagement is EVERYTHING. I once spent 3 hours blocking over 800 spam accounts that randomly started following me cause i felt like such a fraud. I also was part of a comment pod for about a week, until I couldn’t stand how fake and forced every word I typed felt.
    It’s funny because I think there are the people out there like us who really notice things like this (why on earth would anyone get 300 comments on a mug of coffee), but so many brands haven’t yet realized that these ‘engagement tactics’ exist. It’s pretty shitty and I think many people are losing sight of the value of real hard work.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Haha I do the same! As soon as I see a spam account follow me, I immediately block. Adding no value to me.

      It’s a tough one and I understand why people join comment pods because it plays the game against Instagram’s new algorithm. But it completely detracts from REAL engagement. Like what if someone in the pod starting posting about how much they love Trump – do you need to like and comment and it?? It’s just too much effort and then you can NEVER LEAVE lol

  • Jaclyn says:

    Thank you! Thank you for being so honest and posting this. I find social media, Instagram in particular so frustrating. The people who follow you just to unfollow you when you don’t follow back. The accounts that have hundreds or thousands of followers but barely get any likes. It all just seems so fake. I don’t want to play those games. I follow and comment on accounts that I truly enjoy. I just started blogging less than 6 months ago and I have to keep reminding myself to stay in my own lane, focus on the content and truly just enjoy the process. My favourite part of blogging and Instagram so far are those genuine connections that I have made in such a short period of time.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Agreed. And I think it just takes time to realize. The industry can be super exciting and uncertain when you first get into it, and then once you deal with the shitty side of things, you gain a bit of perspective into what matters… creating a community of people who enjoy what you produce. Not people who are forced to leave a positive comment.

  • Katie says:

    YES TO THE YES TO THE YESSSSSS. I honestly don’t understand why people buy followers or comments…. it’s like buying friends, which is pretty sad lol. People just need to stop taking social media so seriously. It actually turns me off using it when I see stuff like that….

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Yeah it’s definitely a turn-off. And I totally understand that people try these things out (I did when I started!), but it’s a learning curve, and the more we all talk about it, the more we can educate each other and make this industry better.

  • Love this.

    As someone who sits on both sides of this, it’s really disheartening to see people faking engagement. There are so many different tactics people are using these days – posting someone else’s videos on Instagram then deleting, buying followers, using comment bots – that we’ve lost the true nature of what influence is. It drives me bananas to see brands paying good money for what amounts to zero real reach.

    It detracts from the great work some people do – and is very discouraging for all involved – when people who game the system are the ones that get ahead. People need to open their eyes.

  • Rae says:

    Yes! I think about this a lot, especially as a novice blogger. It’s so inauthentic, but so tempting at the same time. Thank you for taking the time to explain your thoughts on this -you and I are totally on the same page 🙂

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Absolutely tempting! I totally get that. As someone who has been doing this for awhile on both sides of the brand/blogger fence, just trying to offer a little insight 🙂

  • Zach Bussey says:

    It’s always funny when ‘new’ bloggers write about the same things I was writing about before your blog existed. That’s not a slight by any means, it just goes to show that despite this being an issue for a long time now – there’s no remedy for it.

    Wholeheartedly, I agree with your post. I wish that for every post that someone wrote about being authentic, 10 fake influencers were forced to shut down their platforms. However, it just won’t happen. There is currently no solution, nor any actual reprecussion for faking your way to the top. Brands HAVE started including those morality clauses about not faking things, but how exactly are they going to prove it? Are PR going to start taking influencers to court with forensic evidence? Of course not. It’s just in there in hopes that you won’t cheat the system. But people will still cheat the system – morality/integrity/ethics be damned.

    Also, I don’t think you needed to step back from strong points to appease the audience. Yes, people who buy followers are like people who take steroids. They’re cheating. Though, I’d argue they are worse.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve seen you for many years in the blogging world in toronto…yes…before this blog and many others were around and i’ve found you so negative with so much (even brands). It’s like it’s constantly a fight with you and you even wrote about some PR company wouldn’t hire you because of a plethora of reasons and honestly…I thought…I wouldn’t hire you because you come across as a jerk.

      Even here…I see you’re attempting to compliment lauren, and yet, somehow manage to throw shade right off the bat and paint yourself as better. As always. Eye roll.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Hey Zach – totally get that you can’t change EVERYONE, but the more we talk about things, the more we can aim to improve them. Even if it changes the perspective of a handful of people, it’s better than nothing 🙂

  • Lauren! Thank you so much for this post. I have always loved and appreciated your honesty and approach to blogging, your brand, and your no bullshit approach to life! As someone who’s navigating through her own content journey and blogging space its so refreshing to see this and I love that you’re so fearless about talking about it. I talk about it a lot in private, but have a much harder time talking about it in public. Can I ask when you felt the desire to do so and what was that turning point for you? I do often wonder if its a greater challenge for me in the health/fitness industry. However I know that its all the same in the end. Any advice or insight would be so amazing. Thank you.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Cheers Jo! 🙂 It’s not always a popular topic, and yeah, I get a lot of backlash and keyboard warriors coming out when I start the conversation about some things, but haters gonna hate.

      I’ve never felt the need to buy followers, but when I started out, I did try a liking bot for a week, but stopped because there was no control over it (even though I could choose the hashtags I ‘liked’). And I think this is a totally normal process that bloggers go through – trying things out but then realizing that it isn’t ACTUALLY benefitting you.

      When Instagram did their most recent algorithm change, my engagement dropped quite a bit. And I struggled with that because I was used to bigger results, and felt like I went backwards because followers weren’t seeing my content anymore. And that was when comment pods started popping up… but I never felt compelled to join because I hated the idea of knowing all my engagement was fake. I love, love, love real authentic comments… and would rather 12 of those than 60 “Love!” or “Need!”

  • Ella says:

    This post is everything!! It’s so frustrating, sitting under 1000 followers while posting consistently, and watching people make a new account, post a picture every 3 weeks, and just magically get 4000+ followers. HOW?!?!

    All we can do is stay ethical, keep our integrity, and hope for the best.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      You got it, Ella! When I started, I used to stress so much about how fast other people were growing, but then I just realized it was unnecessary stress. Focus on growing YOUR BRAND because the rest is just distracting noise.

  • Bibi says:

    Well done. I stand behind you on this issue. As a developing photographer I struggled with how to gain more likes and followers on Instagram. But now I strive for geniune interest and genuine respect for my work. ?

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Hi Bibi! It’s a tough one and we all go through that learning curve. But in the end, you’ll always be more proud of your work and achievements if you do it organically 🙂

  • Allison says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed to read this post today. I started blogging as a hobby (as many seem to do) 5 years ago and it has been both my most exciting project, and somewhat neglected throughout those 5 years. I’ve worked with a large brand for two years, providing social media content and it was fantastic. I decided within the last year to focus on LND as a business; I love it, I’ve had some success…so I came out of my cozy little hidey hole to see what all the other bloggers are doing, and whoa do I ever feel waaaay behind. I never wanted to have ads on my site, but many of the established bloggers preach it…so I’m testing that out…I have tried networking pods in the past where participation is mandatory and it feels so very false…but here I am again, joining a few Facebook pods and ‘just trying it again’. I’ve been coerced into the ‘everyone is doing it’ crowd! How did that happen? I’ve been successful in the past by keeping my head down and doing my best work. Thank you for being one of the few to write truthfully and honestly. You have shouted right out loud what was a only a doubtful little voice in my head! You’ve got to be my go-to ‘what would Lauren do’?

  • Nailed it, Lauren. We think in a world where you can be anything or anyone on social media, be authentic and don’t taint your brand. We believe that you are what you eat, so don’t be fake, cheap or easy – this applies here too. Great post Lauren.

  • So much yes to all of this! You’re killing it lately with these posts. Keep em’ coming! It’s so refreshing

  • Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I have and am taking a long time to grow my following organically and do, admittedly, belong to a few SUPPORTIVE FB groups, but have never wanted to pay for Likes, Followers or Views. I often feel I am ‘doing it wrong’ because of not doing it that way and get caught in trap of comparing myself a lot…so thank you for this piece…it came at the right time.

  • Boo-ya. Nailed it. I left a so-called FB influencer group because of the middle school behavior. You are my new hero. “Vapid” is a word I use daily to describe this phenomenon and, dang, it was so refreshing to see someone else use it.

  • Dana Freeman says:

    Yes, Yes and Yes! Social media, especially Instagram, has become so competitive with people willing to go to any length to succeed. Thanks for calling attention to this. Hopefully, we can get back to honest engagement in the near future.

  • Zehra says:

    Thanks so much for shining light on this topic Lauren. While I always felt that these comments pods and buying followers and likes was not right, it’s so tempting at the start. But yes, through hard work, quality content and your authentic voice, slowly but surely I feel that you will find the right people that will genuinely engage with you. This is a topic that needs to be discussed more and not shied away from.

  • Jessica says:

    Great post. I get the buying followers, likes, and loops. I’ve stopped following people I admired because they were posting loops every other day. I do disagree with you on the comment pods. When the Instagram algorithm changed, I lost a lot of engagement. I also stopped seeing the content of some of my favorite people/accounts. I am part of several pods with people I know mainly because it’s the only way I get to see their content! I do have post notifications but I can’t catch them all.

  • LYDMTL.com says:

    We love the way you put the influencers’insight into words!
    We’d love to hear the brands’insight: they would all prefer high engagement rates but seem to not be able using the right tools to measure authentic engagement…

  • Beth says:

    I am simply an avid follower of things I find sincere and authentic. Your whole approach would be less engaging if it were disingenuously engaged. By shedding light on this you make you and your brand that much more unique and appreciated. Job well done!

  • I love this post, Lauren! It’s so well written and so true. I guess with everything it comes down to doing whats right and working your butt off for it. Nothing comes easy, including a following! Everything takes time. Keep being real and creating this community – it’s SO appreciated.

  • May says:

    Are you going to admit that you used to or still use those Instagram Automation services that like photos sparingly if they’ve used a certain hashtag? If you are going to speak about other bloggers being dishonest with their readers, you should be honest with your own.

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Hi May (I think that’s your name, but I’m not sure because you used a fake e-mail, etc.).

      Thanks for bringing this up, and I’m happy to talk about it! I’ve always been transparent about having used a ‘liking’ app in the past, and have spoken openly about it on my Brainstation panels, two of my Insta Live chats, Insta Stories, or really any time someone asks me about it – I even updated this post for you if that makes you feel more comfortable.

      I had tried using an app called Likestagram, which like you mentioned, likes photos from specified hashtags (and geo-tagged locations). I thought this would be an automated way to ‘like’ peoples’ photos at places I frequent or who are within my community, but I found it wasn’t accurate enough and also just wasn’t why I started this in the first place.

      So instead, I used a similar strategy, but did it manually. I take the time to go through hashtags and engage with other accounts that are using it (whether it’s likes or comments or following them if I want to see their content regularly…. some hashtags I follow are #canadianblogger, #torontoblogger, #torontoeats, #theminimalmag), or do the same with locations in the city that I frequent (a few are Boxcar Social, Her Majesty’s Pleasure, Saturday Dinette, Portland Variety). And yes, it takes a long f*cking time to sit and go through these hashtags and locations, but you know what? It’s a growth strategy that works for me and helps me grow a LOCAL following, something that’s important to me. And it never forces people to like my page or engage back (or manipulate engagement on my own page), but if they do take a peek and want to follow, welcome to the renegade life, my friend!

      The thing is, this whole industry is a learning experience. I’ve had to learn, my friends have had to learn, and some are still learning – that’s why I never call people out individually. But I am happy to educate, provide a perspective and open up the conversation on these things, because if we don’t talk about it, how are we actually going to learn how to be better?

      Hope that cleared things up a bit for you – let me know if you have any more q’s.

  • Andrea says:

    Yesssss everything here is sooo true! It’s so frustrating, I’ve been blogging for 5 years now and I’m struggling to grow my following yet there’s other bloggers that exploded and their content isn’t anything special. It makes me so angry and they have literally convinced people they are hot stuff, and they act like it.. and I see right thru it! The comment pods are horrible. I tried one for a few weeks and it was EXHAUSTING. People were acting like high schoolers and it got ridiculous – first someone said you have to leave 3 word comments, then apparently word was it changed to 6 words, otherwise marked as spam. And I literally couldn’t stand some of the people’s photos. It was exhausting and so forced and fake. I’m glad I left it when I did, my engagement has built back up with a genuine folllowing, and those that actually care about my posts still see them. Those loop giveaways are awful too- so many people are doing them recently to up their followers and it’s an instant turn off when I see bloggers in my feed with those posts.
    And yea, I hope more and more brands catch on. I still get pissed when these bloggers with fake followers get all the invites and special campaigns, but it comes down to not being able to perform, follow thru and actually do the job of influencing. I can at least sleep well at night knowing I’m authentic and me.
    Thanks for sharing this !
    Andrea
    http://www.phdfashionista.com

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Hi Andrea! Yep, it can be pretty frustrating, but I’ve realized the only way to grow is to stop focusing on what other people are doing. Otherwise social media will drive you INSANE haha. Just focus on what makes sense to you and creating the best content you can.

      Really interesting to hear your experience with the comment pods – it sounds a little scary!

  • Silvia says:

    Hi Lauren! I’m happy that I found your blog and I agree with your point of view. Sometimes I read those fake comments or “organized” comments under different photos and I’m laughing how unoriginal they are. Keep it real, greetings from Bali!

    • Lauren | This Renegade Love says:

      Hi Silvia – thanks so much for reading! I agree… the most actively and authentically engaged we are, the better our favourite social apps will be. 🙂

  • thanks for the clarity: hashtag comment pod. I have always found it strange to find comments like your excellent ”Great one – I like!” or “Need this!” or “Amazing as always!” on totally inappropriate images on my Instagram. Makes total sense now.

  • Jen says:

    I constantly look at my Instagram feed and wonder how so many of these “influences” have thousands of likes while there are amazing artists out there with just a couple hundred on photos, and I’m not talking small time. So often I see accounts with thousands of likes, only to realize they never actually engage with their followers and seem like the host a million giveaways with things like Apple products. Then I scroll a little further and see someone like Queen Grace Freakin Coddington only has a couple hundred likes on her illustrations, and honestly, I’d rather be Grace Coddington.

  • Anje says:

    Yes, yes and so many more times yes!
    Wholeheartedly agree with you and I’ve found that all these “fake” comments have the ability to spur bloggers/influencers on to (most of the time) not be their authentic self in their writing, and how they are online.
    It’s as if everyone is trying to follow one-size-fits-all recipe but don’t realise that different ingredients mean different outcomes.
    I’ve also noticed that brands and clients see right through this fake engagement; it is jeopardizing the credibility and authenticity of bloggers/influencers.
    Thank you for this post! May it be shared wide and far!

  • I also totally disagree with buying likes & followers! I’ve blogged on that too http://www.ashleysfreshfix.com/how-the-new-instagram-algorithm-is-hurting-the-honest-blogger/
    I’ve been grateful for comment pods because the fact of the matter is if your posts don’t get engaged with fast, they get buried and won’t be seen- so the fact that real legit bloggers & friends comment on my content- not only are real actual eyeballs seeing the content, but it also increases the likelihood the rest of my followers will see the post. So I feel from a sponsor perspective – I’m using comment groups to help boost the content they’ve paid me to be seen ya know? The whole thing is a huge grey area, I get that – but just know comment pods are the only honest way I see to help boost your favoring in the algorithm ?

  • Loved this. Also a newbie blogger and I didn’t realise such tactics existed. The follow and unfollow. I wondered….why do I gain 10 followers, follow back and then have 1 new follower only. Lol. Joke was on me. I think I’ve added 50 new follows in about 4 months. It’s slow…but it is what it is.

    I also notice bloggers with 3000 plus followers and not 1 like on a tweet….and I’m thinking. ..something doesn’t add up.

    Great post and loving the responses as well.

  • Aine says:

    I would like to high five you right now. I tried out a few pods and I just wanted to through my phone out the window after a few weeks. I was seeing content that was repeated and added no value. You could see these accounts getting lots of likes but were utter rubbish. I was also missing out on content I loved because I was too busy liking the other nonsense. I’ve dropped out all the nonsense and my instagram is much happier for it and doing better! I’m focusing on what I enjoy. I also no longer follow back automatically, only if an account interests me. I’m glad to see brands catching on.

    Honestly Aine

  • Brita Long says:

    I completely oppose buying followers or likes. I even oppose loop giveaways, which I did twice in the past, and then stopped when I found out how the organizers “randomly” chose a winner.

    However, Comment Pods are amazing… IF they’re done correctly. Everyone trying to replicate the original Comment Pod system tends to screw them up because they’re looking for a quick fix and not a deliberate, supportive group of similar Instagrammers. I literally just blogged about my favorite Comment Pod yesterday.

    http://bellebrita.com/2017/02/instagram-pod-benefits/

  • Kay says:

    As a PR person on the travel brand side of things, I very much appreciate the insight you included in this article — especially the ways that bloggers can “manufacture” followers. A lot of small tourism marketing organizations may not have the staff or knowledge of how to tell if a blogger’s numbers are legit or not. Authentic is everything to us on the tourism side, and I know our organizations has learned the hard way when we hosted a couple of bloggers with fantastic numbers, only to see very little engagement with what they posted. Sorry, but if you have 100,000 followers, logically more than 30 of those should like or comment on the photos or videos of your great beach trip. On the flip side, we have worked with a blogger from Iowa (Sara Broers; http://www.travelswithsara.com) who doesn’t have huge numbers, but has fantastic engagement — to the extent that some of her followers have emailed her that they totally changed their beach vacation plans to come here to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama based on seeing all her posts. Your focus on authenticity in this article is greatly, greatly appreciated!!!!

  • Aya says:

    Yes, yes and YESSSS! This was such a great read!

  • This is a great and timely article. I was recently dropped from a tourism campaign because my numbers weren’t “big enough anymore”—note, they reached out to ME a year ago, not the other way around—to which I responded, “OK, but you know that many of the influencers you’re working with are buying traffic, followers and engagement, right? So I may not have the numbers they do, but my influence is real.” *crickets*

    It’s SO frustrating that brands are still buying into the whole numbers game.

  • Amanda says:

    Yes! I was recently asked to join a comment pod and everything about it made me feel weird but I couldn’t put my finger on WHY. You really nailed it for me!

  • Kayla says:

    Super interesting to hear that brands are now adding that bit into contracts. I find some smaller brands to be won over by following alone and don’t even necessarily look at engagement because they don’t know any better.

    Instagram has become tricky with this whole algorithm being rolled out and the recent glitches. There is some logic to the idea of trying to get engagement in comment pods, etc, so more people see the content in the supposed algorithm. But I wonder if they even actually work and make you more likely to be seen with the algorithm.

  • m says:

    very well written, agree totally

  • Dana says:

    I very much appreciate this post. I had no idea you even could join those types of groups. It’s so disingenuous and its one of the reasons there’s so much chaff online. Thanks for the heads up! Great post and rock on.