#TempsOverIt: Why I’m Not Paying for Instagram and Snapchat Models (For Now)

Recently, I had to do some budgeting for an influencer marketing campaign (spoiler, I ended up ditching it and going 100% micro-influencer). Having spent a decade in this business, I can absolutely say that the influencer market has, in the past two years, become more rabid (and lucrative) than I ever expected. In the 2016 landscape, Instagram and Snapchat Talent (models) appear to be leading growth: out-earning a lot of top YouTubers in rate/reach and commanding appearance fees on par with popular musicians, performers and traditional talent. I can say with pride that I’ve never worked at a company where we straight up payed influencers to talk about (pose with) a product, but that doesn’t mean it’s not my duty to explore that avenue if it’s working.

Anyway, after receiving quotes, I crunched the available data on a lot of influencers (I won’t name names, but if you can think of one, he/she is probably in my spreadsheet) based on their previous #ad posts and what I found when I dug into the IG and SC model numbers…well…sucked. When I broke down raw engagement numbers to following percentages and balanced them against quoted rates, it made the IG model market look even seedier than the (equally popular) IG escort market…cuz…you know…at least in the escort market clients know what they’re paying for. OK gross, but still!

I’ve worked on the other side as well during my time in social, so I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing the influencer playbook in general…it’s still the coal that fuels this crazy train (shouts to Ozzy). I just wanted to share some of my findings and give you guys a little insight (from someone who has played both sides of the fence) into why I’m temps over it and sticking to a no-pay-without-real-data policy.

If you’re a mid-high level IG model and you have 1 million followers, you make a lot of money to post photos based on your ability to motivate people to purchase goods. Now, let’s assume that none of your followers are fake or bought and you don’t buy likes for every post (both of these are common practices, so let’s be honest, you absolutely do).

You post a photo and it gets 13,000 likes and 240 comments (just a ballpark, you’ll routinely see between 6000 and 30,000 likes and 20–400 comments). If you posted a link in your profile, it gets 2 clicks. The return here is: 1.3% of your followers took the time to tap “like”, .024% of your followers were engaged enough to comment, and .00002% of your followers were interested enough to visit your link. Of those 2, It’s safe to assume that 0 converted to a sale, but let’s be generous and say 1 converted. Now let’s say the board of tourism of a small country paid you $50,000 and sent you and your significant other/amateur photographer on an all-expenses-paid trip to get this photo. The client just paid $75,000 for 1 conversion. i.e. $75,000 to get one person to order an info packet that details why their beach is the beach to visit this year…if you are 15 and on IG and don’t take vacations or have a credit card.

If we convert these numbers to Snapchat, the client outlook is even more bleak. The sovereign nation of *Wherever-stan* and their official airline just plunked down $75,000 to get you to post a lo-res video of yourself visiting their holy ancient ruins with your face transformed into a dog wearing a flower crown because you have a potential reach of 100,000 people (and companies and rival nations and airlines), of which any number could maybe view all or part of your video but likely in the background while rolling stories to get their own following up. Also you don’t get a link.

All of this begs questions like: how much loyalty and influence can one really inspire in a instantaneous (or static) post of one’s butt cheeks that doesn’t convey any story or personality…particularly if one’s viewers are only engaging to game the influence of their own butt cheeks? I think the answer is zero. Zero influence.

And this points to one of the great fallacies in assigning influence to Instabaddies and Instabros. The thing that makes traditional digital influencers so powerful, so engaging, is the fact that they have taken the time to cultivate real relationships. They have (over years) shared themselves candidly and developed very specific, fleshed out and relatable personas. They’ve become aspirational/accessible guiding voices for their audiences. More on this later, but if you want, read my YouTube crash course about how “intimacy is the core product”.

Of course, the argument against this is that brand awareness and association and sentiment are all very important. And I agree. As hard as they are to put a numerical value on, these things absolutely do matter. Advertising professionals will tell you that Instagram and Snap users, in general, want to align themselves with cool brands, and therefore, you want to align your brand with the most influential butt cheeks.

And this is nothing against Instagram or Snapchat. I use both of these products daily…HOWEVZ…I use them for their intended purposes: to stay emotionally connected to people I care about and to look at pretty stuff.

And this doesn’t mean that the this type of influencer won’t develop into something meaningful in the future, or that these platforms won’t pivot to cater to the companies who use them for influencer marketing…Instagram is well on the road to data transparency…it just means that now is not the time.

For my money, I think YouTubers and gamers still provide the most bang for your buck in influencer marketing. A good vlogger is super relatable, slightly aspirational and can get a digital-native 12 year old to get up, go outside and buy a physical, paper book…and probably even READ it! The fandoms really care about these kids, because these kids put in the time to build relationships and two-way conversations. They move the damn needle. AND, like traditional celebrities (and the best traditional models) they are very unique and specific. One of the other problems that that has come with trying to replace real models and real influencers and real celebs with the RKOI is that the RKOI all buy the same lifestyle, the same gear, the same procedures, the same face, the same body, etc. I follow a lot of Instabaddies, but I have to admit that, if pressed, I couldn’t name or differentiate between any of them, because even the distinctive looks that serve as Trademarks for traditional models have been beat and shopped and cut and plumped into a homogenized “social media model” look.

Second to YouTubers, I would pay for pop stars. Though they are notoriously inconsistent in their abilities to move physical product (except Bieber and Beyonce…and Kylie, b/c Gen Z is post-music and Kylie is a pop star) they still command religious investment and people are interested in their personal habits and the products they use.

After pop stars? Athletes. Though they don’t reach many people, athletes are unicorn human beings who are the best at what they do and experts in their fields. And along with athletes, I would add that I am super bully on microinfluencers. Microinfluencers who are highly verticalized are unbelievably affordable. They have small, engaged, passionate followings and, given that they live for their vertical and usually have some skin in it, they are more likely to run honest campaigns, be reciprocal with their fans and become extremely trusted voices in their space. I’ll quote myself here:

“Give me 100 niche/expert micro-influencers with 10,000 followers each and I will bring you a large, passionate community that converts. Give me one set of butt cheeks with 4,000,000 followers and I will bring you a bill and a picture of some butt cheeks (next to your product)”

The only people I would put lower on the totem than IG/SC models would be traditional actors. Literally no one cares what they do anymore. They can’t sell anything. But they can act and that’s what I want to see them do. Remember when we all liked actors who could act and singers who could sing and that sort of thing?

Moral of the story? IDK really. I hope this helps somebody out there who’s sitting on a marketing budget and trying to decide how to spend wisely and not get canned. If I were a non-social media company trying to attack social RN, I would probably do what has always worked. Have a good product, build your own fans and take constant, dedicated care of them, make ads and content that stand alone, hire smart people who get your brand and give them some ownership and again…HAVE A GOOD PRODUCT, because even the most polished turd will fall apart eventually.

And don’t pay too much for influencers. They come and go with platforms and you can make your own with a few dollars and a couple followbots. Like 50 Cent said: “DAAAAAAMN HOMEY, ON MYSPACE YOU WAS THE MAAAAAN HOMEY.”

50 didn’t really say that.

Built the grid so I could spend more time off of it. https://lrigwoc.myshopify.com/

Built the grid so I could spend more time off of it. https://lrigwoc.myshopify.com/