On March 18, when states sent home unneeded workers and companies were ready to cut costs, fitness influencer Paige Hathaway posted a message to her more than 4 million followers on Instagram.
“I know that quarantine is difficult, especially for those who can’t work, so I wanted to give someone a giveaway to get $ 5,000.” She wrote. In the post, which was removed from Instagram shortly after the publication of this article, Ms. Hathaway showed a stack of $ 100 bills.
Her fans started tagging friends and commenting on how desperate they could use the money. “I could use a miracle now,” wrote one woman. Several users have posted prayer emojis.
With the corona virus continuing to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of Americans, Instagram was flooded with cash gifts like Ms. Hathaway’s. Several popular figures have offered their fans cash in return for tags, follow-ups, and comments, including Harry Jowsey, a star of the new Netflix reality show “Too Hot to Handle”; lifestyle influencers Caitlin Covington and Laura Beverlin; and the rapper and social media star Bhad Bhabie.
To the more than 26 million US residents who have registered for unemployment In the past five weeks, and millions of people struggling to cover unforeseen costs like medical bills and groceries worth weeks at a time, these cash offers may look like lifelines. Though often classified as charities, freebies are part of a growth program that has become ubiquitous on Instagram.
For example, Ms. Hathaway was paid thousands of dollars by the social media marketing company Social attitude to promote the giveaway on their feed. Potential participants were instructed to follow a list of around 70 accounts followed by social stance. The company charged $ 900 for a place on the list. Those who bought sponsor slots can expect to gain thousands of new followers overnight.
“If you tell someone they can get 50,000 followers in three days, they’ll do it,” said 19-year-old Nathan Johnson, who helps YouTube and TikTok stars orchestrate freebies. The business he runs with his 16-year-old friend Carter is simple: you pay a certain amount of money in advance to a big influencer to “host” a cash giveaway, then turn around and sell follow-list slots, to make a profit.
“Entrepreneurs buy spots to gain followers to sell their courses or e-books,” said Johnson. “Models will do it to attract followers, increase engagement, and ask more for branded businesses. Doctors do this for reasons of credibility and to expand their personal brand. “
Louisa Warwick, the founder of the Social Acceleration Group, has staged seven Instagram freebies with influencers and actresses like Tori Spelling and Natalie Halcro. Her company is currently selling sponsor list spots for an upcoming cash giveaway from teen mom star Farrah Abraham. Interested parties can Pay only $ 270 to be on the list;; In return, Ms. Warwick said they could expect to win thousands of followers.
Instagram giveaways have been around for years. They were originally created around 2016, when small businesses and bloggers started organizing “loop” gifts. To participate, you must follow a group of people or a “loop” and then return to the original person’s page and comment. Loop freebies are often sponsor-free and exist as a collaboration between influencers. The giveaway that Ms. Covington and Ms. Beverlin organized with their friends, for example, was a giveaway for a bow.
But last summer the first big wave of sponsored giveaways surfaced. At that time most of the stars were Giving away things like Louis Vuitton bags, but now everyone is giving away cash. “People really need more cash than handbags, and logistically it’s more difficult to take a promotional photo with the celebrity and the bag when everyone is in the lockdown,” said Ms. Warwick.
With many branded offers and sponsored trips put on hold due to the virus, freebies have given big influencers the opportunity to quickly make money from home. “Corona was tough on influencers, and if you are told that you can earn $ 20,000 if you post a giveaway on Instagram, you will likely do so,” Johnson said.
Buying sponsor slots from giveaways is also the fastest and cheapest way to grow on Instagram. “You suddenly get this wave of followers,” said Dr. Thomas Connelly, a cosmetic dentist who bought spots in Kardashian giveaways. “These advertising campaigns force exposure to living people. Then these people can decide whether to continue. “
Dr. Connelly said he was hired as a sponsor daily. “There really aren’t many options in advertising these days,” he said. “With that, you pay between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000 and become one of those 70 people who say Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner:” Hey, follow if you want to win money. “
When it comes to people buying giveaway sponsor slots, “the biggest buyers are plastic surgeons and entrepreneurs,” said Johnson. Ms. Warwick repeated his claim; Doctors also organized giveaways.
“It is the demographic and age group that we are targeting,” said Dr. Nicole Nemeth, owner of plastic surgery in Westchester. “It’s the people we want to market to, they’re the ones who look at these influencers.”
“With giveaways, you can target a target group that you normally can’t reach,” he said Dr. Neal Blitz, a foot surgeon known online as Bunion King. In his case, he said, it means: “Women who wear heels and whose feet are devastated by the heels.”
“There are, of course, various ways of advertising,” said Dr. Blitz, “but the younger generation is more interested in Instagram and knows who you are.” He has sponsored several big giveaways for influencers and explains that they lead to followers who have a much stronger bond than if they simply find your account through a Google or Facebook ad.
Preston Million, the founder and C.E.O. Digital Marketing Agency Influential Management said that emerging artists also often buy sponsor spots in influencer giveaways. “It helps with perception when they try to look around labels,” he said. “The alternative is to buy ads through Instagram, which can be more expensive. It would normally cost around $ 10,000 to gain 100,000 followers through Instagram ads. A giveaway could spend $ 2,000 and increase the same amount. “
Jordan Lintz, founder of HighKey Clout, one of the largest Instagram giveaway companies, said that he would not like to frame it as a follow-up purchase. “It’s like sponsoring an internet event,” he said. Upcoming freebies are announced on their verified Instagram page, and past winners and campaign results are prominently featured on the website Company website.
Not all promotional gifts are carried out with the same transparency. “Many meme pages are making fake promotional gifts,” said Mr. Johnson. “Some influencers are too.” Mr. Johnson said that a legitimate giveaway will always announce and mark a winner. Liraz Roxy, a social media influencer in Los Angeles, said she refused to participate in sponsored giveaways. “It’s all very shady,” she said.
A company Facebook spokesman said many freebies could violate the company’s community guidelines. “This is not the kind of experience we want to create on Instagram,” the spokesman said via email. According to Robert Freund, a lawyer who provides legal training for influencers, many of these giveaways could violate the state competition law.
“There are many state, state, and local laws that govern the advertising space for sweepstakes, and there are special considerations when you advertise online with influencers,” he said.
For example, these giveaways need clear terms and conditions and need to check the age and location of participants. Mr. Freund said he hadn’t seen most of the giveaways for influencers. Influencers should also disclose that they are paid to promote these giveaways.
“At the moment there is a trend where influencers give the impression that these monetary gifts are not in the quality of their hearts because of Covid,” said Freund. “But if they’re compensated, they have to disclose that fact when they advertise and contribute to the giveaway.” Disclosure in influencer marketing is an area that the F.T.C. has been paying much more attention lately and the regulators are watching. “
However, some influencers are not paid to promote free money – they only pass it on. On April 15, Katie Sturino and three other body positive influencers raised $ 6,000 of their own money for a giveaway. Participants were asked to follow all four influencers and the winner was chosen at random.
Ms. Sturino often gives away products on her side, but she thought money should be used better now.
“The reception was positive,” said Ms. Sturino. “People were thrilled that we were giving away cash, and they were thrilled to learn about other Instagrammer who have a positive message. What we did didn’t feel shady. It was a really cool positive thing. “