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Controversial Loop Giveaways On Instagram Have Some Things In Common With MLMs

This is Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

Controversial loop giveaways on Instagram have some things in common with MLMs

I have written extensively in this newsletter and in stories about the rise of loop giveaways on Instagram, and why they are so controversial. This week, the issue boiled over.

A group of influencers announced they were giving away a car as part of a loop giveaway, sparking immediate backlash and a ton of questions. I reached out to Instagram, and a spokesperson told me these types of giveaways were against its policy and they were investigating. You can read about it here or on my Instagram, where I detailed my reporting.

As I reported this out, I got messages from a few people who said these giveaways reminded them of MLMs, or multi-level marketing companies. After thinking about it, I think this comparison is a rather apt one, for a few key reasons.

First, many of these loop giveaways require some sort of buy-in, whether it is paying a fee to a third-party that organizes the giveaway or splitting the cost of the prize with the other influencers involved. For example, influencers involved in a recent Peloton giveaway told me they split the cost of the prize, four bikes that cost more than $2,000 each, among themselves.

This aspect of the giveaways shares a key detail with MLMs: women are paying money upfront to buy into a dream with no guarantee of success. In MLMs, women are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars with the hope this will lead to them being able to run their own, revenue-generating business. In a loop giveaway, women are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars with the hope that this will lead them to get more and more followers, which will lead to better sponsorships and ad deals.

In both these circumstances, the woman who already has the most money starts out with a huge advantage. Take for instance, LuLaRoe, which I did a big feature story on earlier this year. To join LuLaRoe, you need to pay a minimum of around $5,000 for a starter kit, but former sellers I spoke to told me in actuality many women paid sometimes double or even triple that amount to join and build their inventory. It makes sense that spending more money on LuLaRoe upfront would lead to greater success down the road, as customers naturally will flock to sellers who have the greatest variety in size and style of clothing. Sellers who can only afford to spend the minimum amount to join are therefore at an immediate disadvantage from day one.

In loop giveaways, an influencer already has a huge advantage if they can spend thousands of dollars every month joining multiple loop giveaways and build their following quickly. I have seen some influencers who are part of three or four, sometimes even more, giveaways at a time. Influencers who can only afford to join maybe one giveaway, or don’t have enough extra income to join at all, grow much slower, and don’t get the same opportunities.

In both of these cases, the woman who is able to buy her way into bigger and bigger success is then peddled around as a model to the other women as what is actually possible, leading them to sink even more and more funds into playing the game. Some influencers with huge accounts can even leverage their “success” into making money off of the women who want to be like them by working with third-party companies like Social Stance, which is widely believed to pay big influencers to “host” these large loop giveaways and charge smaller influencers to join. There’s also the possibility that, like in MLMs, women who are making a significant amount of revenue through bigger ad deals gained through these giveaways aren’t actually seeing their bottom line grow, if they re-invest said profits into buying into more, bigger loop giveaways.

All these facts are pretty depressing, and show why loop giveaways are giving influencers a bad reputation right now. However, the one key difference between these giveaways and MLMs is an encouraging one. Becoming an influencer is, unlike joining a MLM, an actual real business opportunity, and if you do it right, an extremely lucrative one. Influencers who build their followings through slow and steady hard work over time are thriving, and the market is free for anyone to join. You just can’t cut corners.

There are also encouraging signs that the market is catching on. Many industry blogs have encouraged businesses to look at an influencer’s engagement rate, rather than overall following, when looking for partners for ad deals. A 2019 study found that engagement actually increases the fewer followers an influencer has, because their audience tends to be more loyal and actually willing to buy things the influencer recommends. In other words, paying your way into higher and higher follower counts may soon become way less lucrative.

So while some influencers may be using tricks to get ahead that remind me of MLMs, the industry will hopefully soon self-correct to get rid of these shady elements. While it is frustrating to see these tactics on Instagram, a platform I personally believe in and love, it is only one part of the overall economy. Unlike a MLM, if you work hard, don’t cheat, and stay true to your brand as an influencer, you can actually succeed. And I think that’s something worth rooting for.

— Stephanie

Karens going wild has grown an Instagram page at a wildly rapid rate

Karens have been causing chaos for decades, and they’ve long been a meme. But during the coronavirus crisis Karens have been upping their ante and memes about them have become popular again.They are a welcome distraction for frustrated Americans who are trying to comply with safety regulations.

This explains the popularity of a new Instagram page called @Karensgoingwild, which has grown to 1.9 million followers since it was created last Friday. Riley Beek, a 25-year-old from Newport Beach who runs this and another popular meme account full-time, told me she believes her page of “obnoxious content” is a “mental escape from everything that’s happening in the world” right now.

Riley posts an average of 25 times a day because she said she’s noticed an increase in Instagram meme activity overall and people are asking her for more. She posts both jokes about the “Karen” caricature and actual women who are caught on film defying orders, threatening to call the police for petty purposes, or doing other Karen activities. Here’s one of a Karen filming her woes and complaining about not being able to breathe wearing a cloth mask.

“It’s comedic relief intended to make people laugh…and temporarily forget their troubles,” Riley said. “Karen memes have been getting more and more popular.”

Riley said she’s also noticed that she’s seen a “huge increase in engagement” over the past few weeks, but specifically late at night during the 1:00 to 3:00 am window.

“Not only is everyone at home doing nothing but their sleep schedules are messed up,” she added.

The @Karensgoingwild page is not a happy accident, of course, as Riley is a pro in the meme industry. Riley, her partner, and a friend together also run another major meme page called @Memequeen, which has over 6 million followers. She began cross-promoting her Karen content via this page last week, which helped introduce people to the new page. However, very quickly, she said, the growth skyrocketed. She’s now receiving “tons and tons” of user submissions.

Riley and I DMed for a while about the ridiculousness of the content she’s received and posted, and also the catharsis of consuming it all. It’s often maddening, but it’s also an outlet for all of us who’ve observed at least one Karen in the wild.

“Karens are handling [the pandemic] the worst,” Riley said.

She also has some words of advice for anyone who lives with a Karen, or is a Karen. And no — she doesn’t think making fun of entitled Karens is problematic.

Since this is an ~influencer~ newsletter, I asked her where she thinks meme pages fall within the industry.

“I like to think we influence people to connect and stay in touch by sharing the funny, relatable content we post. I don’t think ‘influencing’ solely has to be about promoting a product. Our goal as a meme page is to influence our audience to not take life so seriously,” said Riley.

In addition to her meme pages, Riley, her fiance, and a friend have created two different apps, one for sleep meditation and another to encourage teens to quit vaping. She said almost all the users on these apps have come from promotions on their original meme page. They’re also not immune to some Fashion Nova shilling every once in a while. A meme page is a business, apparently one that funds these three adults’ full-time salaries. But, hey, if they’re making money off of Karens wreaking havoc everywhere, and they’re properly sourcing their materials, I guess I’m not totally mad at it.

— Tanya

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