Why I Unfollowed My Favorite Influencers on Instagram
When I first created an Instagram account, it was a glorious time.
I was young, with less than 100 followers, posting whatever came into my mind and getting ~10-15 likes per photo (and not caring at all). I followed my friends, and celebrities of any kind weren't really on my radar. There weren't ads on Instagram really, and no one was trying to sell me anything (generally speaking). Glorious.
Of course, Instagram is a business, and their business evolved into the modern era where every other post is a paid ad and I would die of shock if my posts got less than 20 likes ever. With the rise of advertising came the rise of influencers, and at first I was all in.
I remember the first influencer I ever followed. I didn't honestly even realize she *was* an influencer at first. She shared heartbreakingly honest revelations about her personal life in beautifully written captions paired with aesthetically pleasing photographs. I didn't think twice when these captions were selling me things because, to be honest, she was so good at writing in a way that made me feel like she genuinely wanted to share with the world about a restaurant opening or a new product she was using.
Especially in the days before influencers had to hashtag and clearly disclose that they were getting paid to advertise for a product, it was so easy to get sucked in like this. Even now, it's easy. When you go from reading about someone's personal life to reading ad copy, influencers make it easier than ever to confuse the two. You feel like you are truly IRL friends with the person. And when your BFF recommends a new skin care product or clothing brand, you're probably going to check them out.
I don't know if it's just me, but I genuinely felt connected to the influencers I followed.
They weren't stereotypical models, they seemed like normal people with a knack for Instagram. I didn't feel like a fan, I felt like a genuine friend.
This may make me sound crazy to anyone who hasn't bought into influencer culture before, but trust me I'm not alone. One of my friends and I used to talk about a mutually-adored influencer like she was our third friend. We discussed her latest posts and her new haircut and her new boyfriend like she was someone we knew.
I went along my merry way following several women like this for years. Women who appealed to me because of their apparent vulnerability online, but who were also using that mock-relationship to make a profit off of me.
And it's effective. Influencer marketing is a $2 billion a year industry and that number continues to grow year after year. And 60% of Instagram users report having learned of a product or service from an influencer or ad on Instagram in the past year.
For me, something suddenly changed.
I followed one account that had gained a pretty sizable following as a result of a compelling life story. That, paired with the immaculately staged & edited portraits posted on her very ~*aesthetic*~ account created an influencer I loved to follow. But as the days, weeks and years ticked by her posts became less and less of the authentic version I first followed and more and more like ads. It seemed like every post was a selfie with a promo code.
I was frustrated, and then I realized something.
I followed so many accounts that I felt loyal to, connected to, and none of these people had any clue who I was. They didn't know my needs, likes or dislikes, and quite frankly, they didn't care.
I'm not saying influencers are heartless monsters exploiting their fans. Generally I think most influencers really do care. Good for them for turning their following into a profit, it's a brilliant idea. But, they don't know you. They aren't looking out for your best interest. And they're trying to make a sale.
This came to a breaking point for me a few months ago with the engagement of Marissa Fuchs.
I've mentioned this on the blog before, but let me explain a little bit what happened. A fashion influencer, Marissa Fuchs, went instantly viral with an elaborate "surprise" engagement happening on Instagram. She was posting live updates of her scavenger hunt to find her soon-to-be fiance who was posting hints on his Instagram.
At first, she seemed just as surprised as the rest of the world as the hunt took her to the Hamptons, Miami and finally to Paris for a "surprise" engagement and wedding. She gained thousands of followers, and I have to admit I was one of them wanting to follow the story as it developed.
However, halfway through this elaborate affair, the Atlantic leaked her pitch deck that had been sent to brands as a marketing pitch. Turns out, Fuchs likely wasn't at all surprised, and this whole thing was a carefully constructed marketing ploy to gain followers.
I probably shouldn't have been surprised like this. I work in marketing and PR, and I know that stunts like this are becoming more and more popular. But it truly shocked and angered me. Is nothing sacred? Is everything a sales tactic?
Suddenly I was fed up with the influencer culture and seeing things in a different light entirely. I unfollowed them all.
I have gotten to a point in my life where I want a better experience on social media.
A podcaster I listen to once said, "If your Twitter feed is always negative, you're following the wrong people." And I think the principle is true across all platforms.
I was tired of being sold to by people who didn't know me, or even look like me, so I unfollowed them.
Here are some new rules I live by when it comes to who I follow on Instagram (can be applied to other social media as well):
You're not obligated to follow anyone on any social media. This extends to friends and family members too. Social media is a tool, but it's not an equivalent to or replacement for real relationships. In general, it's nice to follow your friends and family, but if they're constantly posting negative things that just bring you down, maybe mute or unfollow them for a while? It's not personal. Seriously, if you're reading this and I annoy you on social media, even if we're best friends, here's full permission to mute me. Reclaim your social media.
Follow the celebs you love if you want, but ask yourself, what am I getting from this relationship? There are some celebrities that I love, but their social media is the worst. If you're going to follow a celebrity or influencer, follow a Chrissy Teigen, not someone who posts selfies with lackluster captions.
If you're going to follow influencers, follow ones that look like you. If someone's main skill is the way they look, it can be really easy to fall into that comparison trap. Try seeking out "influencers" whose appearance is like yours. That makes it easier to avoid comparing yourself to someone who is nothing like you, and it can be empowering as well.
Engage in reality. The thing I liked the most about the influencers I used to follow was their stories. They were so open and vulnerable online with their stories, and that is what made me feel so connected. But here's the thing, most of my friends and family have stories just like that. We all do. We're all going through stuff that's hard to talk about, and we can all connect with others by opening up and sharing that stuff. Not on social media, but maybe at a girl's night or dinner party or over coffee with a close friend. Maybe we can be our own kind of "influencers" in real life if we just try.
What are your rules of thumb for social media use? Let me know in the comments or on social media.
I'm on Instagram (I promise I'm not an influencer don't unfollow me) at @emilyamartinblog and on Twitter at @_emilyamartin. Stay updated on my blog by subscribing to my newsletter here for notifications every time there's a new post!