If you’ve noticed an influx in influencers “giving away” hilariously expensive, random things (like Pelotons and Hyundais) via Instagram giveaways lately, you probably have some questions. Who’s paying for all these Pelotons during a pandemic? Are the brands involved? What’s the catch? Are there clear and legible legal fine prints? (Maybe that one’s just me.)
Either way, you’re certainly not the only confused one—and Twitter users and influencer watchdog accounts (like Influencers Truth, who now boasts over 14,000 followers) have been pointedly noting that influencers certainly aren’t conducting these
charitable embarrassing giveaways out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact, these “loop giveaways” have caused such a sh*tstorm on social media that Instagram itself has taken notice—accusing some of the influencers involved of violating their guidelines by “artificially collecting followers,” which is spam, according to Buzzfeed.
If you’re not familiar with loop giveaways, here’s a quick rundown: An influencer announces the giveaway, and the grand prize in question—whether it’s a plethora of designer bags, an exercise bike, or even cold, hard cash—could be yours, as long as you follow 60 (sometimes less, sometimes more) of their “closest friends,” (aka other influencers trying to cash in, so to speak, on new followers), all while commenting, liking, and tagging friends along the way. “Comment on my last post for an extra entry!” “Follow all my girls with names like @tayyylinmarieeee!” Occasionally they involve the swiping tool on Instagram stories (which is always slightly tempting, I hate to admit).
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💛 $8,000 Cash Gifting + Charitable Donation! 💛I’m teaming up with @jbsocialcollective to give TWO of you $4,000 cash! My friends at @jbsocialcollective are also committing to donate a portion of this month’s proceeds to DirectRelief.org, supporting novel coronavirus relief efforts. Entering and getting bonus entries for this contest is simple with 3 easy steps that take less than 30 seconds: 1️⃣ Like this photo 2️⃣ Tag a friend in the comments below 3️⃣ Follow @jbsocialcollective and everyone they are following Get a bonus entry for every additional friend you tag below! (Tag each friend in a separate comment) _ Closing: Friday 5/15 at 11:59 PST. The winners will be announced on 5/17 and must be claimed within 48 hours. Detailed campaign rules, eligibility, and procedures are posted on the @jbsocialcollective Instagram feed. By entering, entrants confirm they are at least 18+ years of age and release Instagram of responsibility. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.
Giveaways, when conducted properly and legally, are generally considered a kosher marketing technique. In the influencer world, they’re often done in partnership with a brand, and legal rules are typically presented clearly in the caption of the post, approved or written by a brand’s corporate lawyer. (Because, well, it is the law.) It’s a win-win for all parties involved—both gain some followers, brand awareness, and engagement from the chaos ensued when you tell thousands of people they have a chance to win a new skin care regimen, or something similarly covetable. And the best giveaways either ask for a fun, engaging content opportunity (“post something cute with our hashtag!”) or barely require anything from the followers at all. Maybe it’s a simple, “tag a friend in the comments!” or “repost this in your stories.”
The issue with these loop giveaways is
two- tenfold. For one, the amount of frivolous steps involved is borderline offensive (who has the time?!), which followers find dubious for a few reasons: How can these influencers possibly track every single user’s action to fairly conduct the giveaway? Is it rigged? Does anyone ever even win? It’s also incredibly transparent: We get it, girl. You want followers.
My goal for 2020 is to actually win one of the Instagram giveaways I’m constantly tagging 3 friends in
— sarafcarter (@sarafcarter) January 9, 2020
Secondly, many of these loop giveaways are conducted with no connection to the brand in question. The most visible example has been The Peloton Scandal of 2020 (not to be confused with Peloton-husband-gate 2019). If you need a refresher, influencers were “giving away” Pelotons in droves this spring, causing social media users to ask what the hell was going on, before the brand confirmed they had no involvement with any of the promotions whatsoever. Awk. (“We don’t know her,” they said.)
So, who was paying for these Pelotons, which retail for a little over $2,200 a pop, and why? The answer’s pretty simple: The influencers involved in the loop giveaway split the cost of the item they’re giving away. You could say it’s an ~investment~ in their personal brand: Splurge on a must-have “prize,” tell Instagram users they can win it if they follow you, and get potentially bumped up into another influencer tier overnight. The higher your tier (aka, micro-, macro-, or mega-influencer), the higher and more frequent your brand partnership paychecks typically are. Of course, there are many, many more nuances to this complex ecosystem, but you get the gist. Followers are currency.
Essentially, an influencer who does loop giveaways is manipulating the system by inorganically incentivizing people to follow them—followers they’re gaining not because their content is special or particularly good, but because legions of Instagram users want to win expensive things.
It’s all pretty inauthentic, and it’s also a gatekeeping mechanism, too: If you can’t afford to conduct extravagant out-of-pocket giveaways, and every other influencer can, where does that leave you? Potentially losing out on coveted brand deals, of course. And even if these influencers are splitting the hefty cost of the prize (for example, the $16,000 Hyundai previously mentioned), the ante keeps getting upped by the day. (Pelotons, cars, what’s next—an island previously owned by Pablo Escobar?)
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💛 $8,000 Cash Gifting + Charitable Donation! 💛 I’m teaming up with @jbsocialcollective to give TWO of you $4,000 cash! My friends at @jbsocialcollective are also committing to donate a portion of this month’s proceeds to DirectRelief.org, supporting novel coronavirus relief efforts. Entering and getting bonus entries for this contest is simple with 3 easy steps that take less than 30 seconds: 1️⃣ Like this photo 2️⃣ Tag a friend in the comments below 3️⃣ Follow @jbsocialcollective and everyone they are following Get a bonus entry for every additional friend you tag below! (Tag each friend in a separate comment) _ Closing: Friday 5/22 at 11:59 PST. The winners will be announced on 5/24 and must be claimed within 48 hours. Detailed campaign rules, eligibility, and procedures are posted on the @jbsocialcollective Instagram feed. By entering, entrants confirm they are at least 18+ years of age and release Instagram of responsibility. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.
Luckily, both consumers and brands are getting smarter. According to LawyerLookbook.com, “it’s becoming standard practice for brands to insert provisions in influencer contracts prohibiting potential partners from participating in loop giveaways or comment pods.” The reasoning? “The influencer marketing industry is a multibillion dollar business, and brands have lost a fortune to the fraud resulting from fake influence and fake followers—so more brands are spending their money on ‘micro-bloggers’ who may have a lower Instagram follower count, but have an authentic and engaged audience (of actual humans, not bots) and can actually convert sales.” Makes sense.
Instagram users are also fatigued with them, unfollowing these influencers for wasting their time and spamming their feeds, according to a Reddit thread on the subject.
Essentially, loop giveaways have become increasingly taboo and frowned-upon. (Although that hasn’t stopped Bachelor alum Catherine Giudici Lowe from conducting one as recently as May 21.) While the Kardashians (looking at you, Lord Disick), have conducted them for years, this latest bout of bad press—when it came out that the influencers behind the now-infamous Hyundai giveaway were being investigated by Instagram—might be the nail in the coffin for lawless loop giveaways. Because when you’re essentially “buying” followers, refusing to comply with FTC regulations, and potentially leaving your “winner” on the hook for thousands of dollars in taxes for a new “gifted” car (much like the guests in Oprah’s audience), you’ve certainly abused your influencer privileges as far as I’m concerned, and potentially lost the trust of a large portion your audience. When authenticity goes out the window, your affiliate sales might too.
Of course, the frustration with affluent influencers has been exacerbated by COVID-19. From becoming viral human vectors (no pun intended—I swear) like Arielle Charnas, to conducting a loop giveaway under the guise of “doing something charitable” like Vanessa Grimaldi, (former Bachelor contestants need to chill), frustrations with the influencer economy have officially come to a head. This might be the optimist in me speaking, but it’s beginning to look more and more likely that these loop giveaways could finally be over for good sooner rather than later, especially if Instagram ultimately penalizes those Hyundai people. (Inner optimist speaking again: I like to believe that no one is stupid enough to fall for them anymore anyway.)
RIP loop giveaways. We hardly knew ye.
And although you may not have the chance to win the shiny new Hyundai of your dreams via Instagram anymore, at least you’ll be able to scroll through the app in peace, without being bombarded with captions asking you to follow mediocre accounts named things like “Midwestern Momma” anymore. My advice would be to fill your feed with content that makes you happy right now, and support the influencers you feel are authentic and doing good with their platforms—not the ones exploiting people’s insatiable desire for stationary bikes while stuck in quarantine during a pandemic.
Images: vanessagrimaldi30, givethemlala / Instagram; sarafcarter / Twitter