#Blessed: The Influencers that Fake It and Make It

Do you ever ask yourself what you’re really doing spending the time, money, and effort for your college degree? Is the stress and psychological damage really worth it? In the end, how easy will it be to find a job, and will you be able to financially support the kind of lifestyle you really dream about? Perhaps you don’t ask yourself these things but that could change when you open your eyes to the lives of the people that get paid to have it all — Instagram influencers.

You may not have ever given it much thought, but the people you see on your Instagram feed with hundreds of thousands of followers and seemingly perfect lives make quite the pretty penny. Influencer marketing on Instagram alone is reportedly a billion-dollar industry today, and only projected to further grow in coming years. Users with follower counts in the multi-millions easily rake in six-figure annual incomes and can earn thousands of dollars for just a single sponsored post. And in addition to lucrative sponsorship deals, the biggest social media influencers are able to build entire brands in the form of merchandise (think names like Jake Paul) and trendy products (think beauty brand collaborations). It’s not just ads for hair vitamins and weight loss tea that make influencers rich, it’s highly successful young companies such as subscription box Ipsy.

Although Instagram celebrities and accounts with millions of followers certainly have their draw for advertisers, you don’t actually have to be that successful in order to make some money off of the platform. Many users with smaller audiences have a more close-knit communal relationship with their followers, which has its own set of pros for advertisers. One sponsored post for these kinds of accounts can still make a modest few thousand dollars. Beyond that, some of the biggest moneymakers on Instagram aren’t even human — pet influencers can also make thousands of dollars per post through brands that don’t necessarily have anything to do with animals. Famous dogs of Instagram partner with brands that span anything from fashion to food to household products, and make their owners rich in the process.

So is it worth it to just drop the whole college thing and pursue Instagram fame? If you’re willing to look past the fraud, it turns out that Instagram fame is incredibly easy to fake. If you’ve got about five bucks to spare, you can buy 1000 followers. And although the company has safeguards set in place to detect accounts that gain followers by purchasing them, a study done performed by the marketing agency Mediakix discovered that an account could buy up to 15,000 followers at a time while still flying under the radar. To add to the authenticity of an account, it only costs between four and nine dollars (give or take) for 1000 likes on a post, and about 12 cents per comment. Then it’s simply up to the account’s moderator to post photos that look eye catching and believable and just like that, you’ve got yourself a potential source of income. In the same study, Mediakix created two fake accounts and applied for influencer campaigns once they each hit 10,000 followers. Between the two accounts, Mediakix was able to score four total brand deals — each compensated monetarily or through free product. Seems like a pretty tempting way to make a couple hundred bucks a week on the side, doesn’t it?

Let’s say you’re not into scamming brands, though. As long as you can secure yourself an audience in the range of 10,000 to 100,000 followers, you can easily become a “micro influencer.” The people who run accounts like these are less distant from their followers — think less like a celebrity and more like a highly successful friend on your feed. Users like this also have to be more adept at endorsing products in order to maintain credibility. That means instead of blatant advertising that doesn’t seem to fit the lifestyle of the person endorsing it, you’re more likely to see products specially matched with the influencers themselves. This also makes the advertising more effective — the smaller audience has the effect of building trust, and the creative ways that these influencers use the brand only add to that trust. In other words, their followers feel like they’re being referred to a product that has real integrity.

Personally, the life of an influencer sounds appealing at first, but I’d much rather keep my profile completely real — not just carefully crafted to look real. No matter how genuine it may appear, a sponsorship is still a sponsorship and therefore sacrificing sincerity. So for now, I’ll stick with my degree plan and live through the stress of finding a career and paying off loan debt the old-fashioned way. But if any of you dear readers find a way to make the influencer life work (or scam your way to making it work), I say go for it. Go ahead and build your brand living glamorously — and let others envy you in the process.