Instagram: Vancouver not immune to paid-post controversy

Niki Hope — Westender
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Vancouver Fashion insider Joshua Langston weighs in on ‘Insta-celebs’ getting paid to post. — photo

When you’re flicking through that Instagram feed, and you spot Amber Rose bursting at the breasts and hips from her “waist trainer,” it’s pretty clear she’s getting paid to push the product.

The dark side of the Insta-famous and the problem-free beautiful life that gets celebrated in well-lit images of ridiculously attractive young women came to light earlier this year when Australian model Essena O’Neill quit social media, saying the drive for “likes” and the post-for-pay lifestyle left her feeling empty and like a fraud.

But O’Neill’s assertions (some cynics even question her motives for going public with her concerns but then continuing to have an online presence) seem to have done little to quash this new – and sometimes murky – form of advertising. Companies can simply move onto the next stunner with 100K-plus followers to show off their wares. And there are plenty of them, some even raking in seven-figure salaries. The biggest of the fashion bunch is blogger Chiara Ferragni, of The Blonde Salad, who has a whopping 5.1 million Instagram followers and rakes in an estimated $8 million a year with her various business ventures – offshoots of her social-media and online success.

What most of them have in common is youth, style, beauty, brains, an unrelenting ability to put themselves out there.

The process of getting paid to post can involve an array of deals – some a single post with a mention, others include blog posts, others entail the Instagrammer/blogger working as a “brand ambassador,” and on and on. The prices are also varied – locally, one source told me it can cost anywhere from $300 for a single post, to $5,000 for a whole campaign; those numbers can jump substantially in the US. There are a number of locals making money online – through blogging and Instagramming – but none of the ones I reached out to were eager to talk about the trade.

“As your following [grows], you get paid. As your numbers grow so does your ability to make money,” explains Joshua Langston, editor in chief for The Social Life, a website covering fashion news, runway reviews, and style events. But Langston stresses the importance of establishing an audience organically to build authentic engagement, as opposed to the disingenuous practice of buying followers.

A 2014 story from the website Racked, pointed out well-known bloggers with hefty audiences, like Jessica Quirk of What I Wore, Kimberly Pesch of Eat Sleep Wear, and Aimee Song of Song of Style have been called out on sites and   buying social media followers. In the same article author Chavie Lieber writes: “Originality doesn’t get bloggers noticed anymore – numbers do.”

It’s a departure from the way magazines – the one-time arbiters of style – did business.

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Vancouver stylist Crystal Carson. – Aaron Aubrey photo

Vancouver fashion industry veteran, stylist, and media personality Crystal Carson has had a front-row seat to watch the media revolution go down.

“When I first began my career it was not about me at all. It was about the work; it was about the readers,” she recalls. “I find it so interesting to compare the depth of skill and knowledge at larger magazines to a picture of a blogger wearing a hat or a shirt or drinking coffee.”

Carson isn’t a social media naysayer, but says it’s important to maintain authenticity.

“I’m not opposed at all, I think it’s great that people are having the ability to express themselves, share what they love,” she says.

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PR guru Malania Dela Cruz. – Rachel Pick photo

While Vancouver fashion and lifestyle public relations pro Malania Dela Cruz sees the benefit for companies to collaborate with Instagrammers on a campaign, there needs to be a long-term goal in mind to ensure it’s successful.

“There are some benefits there – for our clients, the brands,” she says. “Our approach is to work with influencers who have a reputation of authenticity and integrity, but we do like to work with them because it is a powerful tool.”

But she doesn’t rule out the benefit of good, old-fashioned print media either.

“Print, for me, is so exciting,” Dela Cruz says.

But one fact is as clear as a freshly posted Instagram pic: traditional media is no longer the only gatekeeper when it comes to creating a buzz about the latest must-have styles.

© 2016 Vancouver Westender

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