Are Instagram Influencers useful to your brand? Or is it all just a con?

Instagram Influencers - are they useful?
Photo by Joshua Rondeau on Unsplash

Hi everyone!

I’ve had a super interesting week delving into the world of Instagram. I definitely went into this week bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to learn and I’ve come out the other side way more confused and a little more cynical.

In the last couple of months I’ve worked with a couple of social media marketing companies… and so far I’ve found them super frustrating. The ones I’ve worked with seem to be only interested in doing the bare minimum of quantifiable work to get paid.

I understand this of course, no one is ever going to be as invested in my thing as I am… but writing 1000 comments to 1000 people who all ignore you isn’t a good use of anyone’s time or money.

Somewhat disillusioned by social media companies, I started looking at Influencer Marketing companies like Grin, Upfluence and #paid.

Grin was a non-starter for me. Their minimum spend was $25k annually. So I didn’t even look at their platform.

#paid was a lot more reasonable… but you have to sign up for at least 6 months. I think I worked out that the absolute minimum I could spend was $3400 if I didn’t like the platform. On the #paid platform you put out gigs and influencers/creators contact you to post for you.


Upfluence has a really impressive platform… they scrape social media sites and collect all the info on their influencers (4.2m so far), including email addresses. You then collect all the influencers you think would be useful to you, blast them all with a gig and work with the ones that respond. This time the minimum is 12 months (at a min of $900 a month) and an additional fee of about $18 per 200ish influencers you collect… and then you add on the actual payments to influencers.

I really liked their platform and thought it could be super useful, but I don’t love the idea of being locked in for a whole year… I really hate that concept of making money by locking people in or making it really hard for people to opt out of paying for your service.

So that was the start of my week.

I spent a few days just on Instagram myself, and wow, what a bunch of craziness this platform is that either completely invalidates… or totally validates those platforms mentioned above.


Talking directly to creators on Instagram is really hard.

If the creator is not following you already… then your message goes into a black hole called ‘Requests’ which is not an obvious Inbox on the desktop version of Instagram and I’m not even sure it’s visible on the mobile app.

So, mostly, if you message someone who isn’t following you they’re unlikely to see it.

Instagram Influencers – are they useful?

In researching how to get more followers (and therefore more people to message) I found out what’s really happening behind the scenes.

Basically all these short-term groups are constantly forming and being deleted. The people in these groups add accounts that are currently active, and once full everyone is set a task… ie, follow everyone in the group or save the 3rd image of everyone, or like the most recent 5 images, or comment or whatever.

Once completed everyone leaves an emoji and people who didn’t participate are removed and the cycle and a new task starts over.


It seems impossible to crack down on because the groups are formed and deleted really quickly… they might only exist for 40 minutes or so.

These groups allow Instagram users to grow their followers and their engagements really quickly… which these influencer platforms then look at and measure to see if a creator would be a good fit for their client.

The Instagram users put in all this effort because it’s exciting, and because having a lot of activity gives you a lot of clout… ie, makes you look really popular and therefore increases your social status.

The problem is that it’s not real. The engagement drops off immediately when people stop using these groups… and you end up with accounts with 200k followers and 20 likes per post. So people continue using these groups.

The problem for brands is that they’re throwing their money away on these influencers. Even if a post featuring a product gets hundreds or thousands of likes, comments, saves, etc, none of that matters if no one actually purchases the product.

Advertising is so incredibly inefficient.

The actual effectiveness of a television commercial or a billboard is super low… whereas the ROI for effectively targeting a niche audience is potentially huge, if that niche audience is actually real.

I personally don’t think that any platform with an algorithm is going to be the most useful avenue for brands. How can anyone tell if an influencer has a lot of engagement because people see them as a leader… or if that engagement was gained by gaming the system?

Do people like a post because they like the post? Or so they’ll get a like back?

Instagram Influencers - are they useful?
Source – does this account have 3k followers because they’re a great creator who also deletes their posts or creates lots of stories or chats to lots of people… or is it something else? Honestly, absolutely no idea…

Things aren’t so easy for influencers

Instagram Influencers - are they useful?
Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

What I learned this week is that being an influencer is super rough in itself.

Your posts get absolutely bombarded with accounts wanting to collaborate with you. So much so that the actual real engagements get lost in all the noise.

If you do decide to take up an offer to collaborate, the actual conversation is tiresome since it’s a negotiation that neither party is excited to pursue… so most conversations just peter out.

If you persist with the negotiation process, lots of influencers find out that there is no actual payment… instead they just have the “opportunity” to purchase the product at a discounted rate in exchange for their post.

If an influencer manages to navigate the negotiation process, and work with a company that will actually pay them, and creates a satisfactory post that adheres to all the criteria then getting paid is a whole massive mission… with lots of influencers finding that they just don’t get paid.

If an influencer does too many collaborations then they run the risk of losing their engaged fanbase (the followers who actually care) because, honestly, no one actually enjoys being advertised to.

Instagram Influencers - are they useful?
Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

Imagine trying to take a lovely, peaceful photo and some stranger keeps ruining it with products?

You basically have to build up such an enthusiastic audience they’ll they’ll forgive the intrusion… on a platform with almost unlimited competition.

What did I learn?

I absolutely believe at this point that 100 enthusiastic hardcore customers is way more important than a 1000 normal customers.

You recruit those 100 enthusiastic customers by solving a problem they’re having…. I have solutions, but my mission for next week is to figure out how to find the people whose problems I can solve.

I think it comes down to a brand representative becoming an expert or the Go To person in a particular niche and interacting with that niche’s community. People talk about a personal brand being more important than a company’s brand and I’m honestly starting to believe it.

Instagram Influencers – are they useful to your brand?

If you have any questions or (to be selfish, way more important) advice for me, please either comment on this post or reply to this tweet…

If you’re interested in other posts I’ve written in the digital space, please check out this category of posts.

Thanks for reading!


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