Monday 8 July 2019

Is Advertising Through Influencers Killing Instagram?

Influencer marketing has completely changed the landscape of social media, advertising and fashion over the past few years.

Print advertising and traditional media outlets as advertising methods for brands have been swapped for the self-made brands that are social media influencers.

This is all in an age when millennials are so cynical about every form of advertising and the intent of brands that we have essentially trained ourselves to drown out the noise when browsing the internet, walking down the street or even watching TV.

So influencers are the perfect solution; they're more authentic, more effective and probably much cheaper than more traditional methods.

As much as I’m obviously for this in the way it gives the power back to real people giving real opinions on products, is it slowly killing the creativity and platform that is Instagram?

So how is this all happening?

When you have micro-influencers, it is likely that they are working another job full or part time and their Instagram and blog is a hobby (like myself). In this instance, you are often not paid for working with brands. You are gifted things in exchange for a post, and this tends to mean you will only choose a gifted option that you truly like and believe in.

This helps to build authenticity and trust in your followers, as they are able to see a true pattern in your style and likes and can help to understand your brand persona through this. With this authenticity comes a stronger following with better engagement and higher rates of followers - and so on.

When you would reach a stage where you have a following or engagement to now being paid for these collaborations and can reach a stable enough income to make the jump to go full time and self-employed - it can become a difficult balance to work purely with brands you love.

Once self-employed, you have the same bills and outgoings as before but an unreliable income source. This then means, on a month where money might be tight – a fashion blogger will accept a payment from a brand that may not fit into their aesthetic, brand or story.

This is an understandable situation. We all need to eat and we all need money to live. But in the case when an influencer works with this brand, is this not then damaging their own personal brand and affecting the Instagram page that made them popular?

Now that the ASA have changed and made it much stricter to have to be very clear when something is an advert paid or gifted, it is obviously much more transparent for the audience when they are being sold something. Which means the cynic comes out in people - is the product really as amazing as the blogger is saying, or is it those pound signs that are making this sub-par product 'amazing'?

This is not done with malicious intent, but purely on the act of transforming your instagram into a career you ultimately are held hostage in brands who want to work with you. Hopefully one would have a choice to only select the ones they want, but if money is tight you might not have that luxury.

So what is this doing to Instagram?

The shift in people using the platform to achieve the dream of becoming the next big thing on Instagram is generating an industry in itself – the concept of buying likes and followers. Buying likes can help falsely inflate the engagement of your images which may in turn mean that brands will get in touch to pay you for your content when the audience isn’t in fact real.

This wastes the company’s money and time, and essentially moves the creative platform into one that is there to make money. Instagram should be a place where people are able to work hard to create content that people love that can also provide a living for them. It shouldn’t be thought of as a way to make money through creating content.

In a sense, Instagram moving to hiding likes does in part solve this issue. The move that Instagram are taking to hide the likes each image gets was down to stopping Instagram becoming so toxic and preventing the obsession and consequent mental health people can feel from this. However, I think by doing this it will hopefully shift the focus onto content creation and creativity instead of making money through popularity - even when collaborating with a brand. 

But it’s difficult to see how this change will affect the relationship between influencers and brands until this is fully put into place. Will brands then just rely on following, leading to more bought followers, or will their gaze shift to higher levels of content instead.

The concept of influencer marketing is one that has naturally and logically come around, and is a phenomenon that may not have been expected by the creators of Instagram – especially not to the scale it has reached. So dealing with the issues that arise as it moves on is something that has to be slowly dealt with to try and keep Instagram as creative and authentic as possible.

How does this affect other influencers (and myself)?

In such a saturated market, it can become exhausting to create content to the best of my ability and sometimes feel that it isn’t been seen by a wider audience of users due to ‘algorithm changes’. To see brands working with other bloggers who have evidently bought the support they have got can be demoralizing - but I do try to not compare my success with others, which I have spoken about before.

I can at least be happy in the fact the imagery I create is one that I feel is authentic to myself, my style and the brands I support and enjoy and the image and voice I create is as real as I can create it in the highlight reel my Instagram shows.

To know the growth and support I have is genuine, and helps me to build friendships with other similarly minded people, which is hugely rewarding. But to know that I am against people who don’t do the same but reap greater rewards can be frustrating.

Which is why I question the way brands and money has started to control and navigate the direction in which Instagram content moves. The money that is needed or sought out by influencers is in some cases strangling the creativity which is the foundation of the platform. Which needs to be corrected.

My hope is that hiding the engagement from brands and your audience alike will create a shift towards the positive, but with the influencer marketing industry set to only keep on exploding – the effects that capital has on the future of the platform can’t really be guessed.

All we can do is to continue with our creativity and hope that the community stays based around photography and artistry instead of money making.

(all images of myself included were gifted collaborations)

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