Is It Worth It to Buy Influencer Shoutouts on Instagram?
Most of the time when we talk about buying or selling particular social actions or metrics, we go back to the si mple ones; likes, follows, comments, and shares. General advice is to avoid doing it unless you’re sure of the reputation of the company you’re buying from. You want actual metrics and actions from actual people, not bot follows or fake likes. Besides; for the same investment, you can do a lot to grow a profile organically.
There’s another form of social action you can buy in Instagram that is not covered in these posts, and it’s tightly related to influencer marketing.
Influencer Marketing on Instagram
The general process of influencer marketing is pretty simple. Every industry, every niche, has people in it who are influential. Elon Musk, Rand Fishkin, Neil Patel; these are people who within their spheres of influence wield a lot of power.
For example, if you’re working on a new form of green technology and Elon Musk gives you a mention on Twitter, you can bet you’re going to have a lot of interest in your company very quickly. If Elon, lord of space and of the deep earth, scion of Nikola and savior of Mars, believes your business has some potential, you’ll find a lot of people suddenly have a business proposition for you.
Influencer marketing is the art of getting those shout-outs. It’s all about analyzing your business to find the key strengths you can use to gain the attention of an influencer. It’s all about finding the right influencers in your niche who may pay enough attention to their feed to notice you. It’s all about taking the right actions to gain that recognition and get that shout-out.
Of course, the process of influencer marketing is long and tedious. You need to pick your influencers – a tool like BuzzSumo can help – and you need to engage with them on social media. You need to engage with them anywhere you can, in fact, so they start to recognize you as a persistent member of their community and investigate who you are. Once you’ve built up that connection, then you can move on to talking directly to them, either with a guest post or with a shout-out, or something else of value. You never know where a relationship like that might lead.
Or you can skip the whole process entirely and pay for it.
Paying for Shoutouts on Instagram
Instagram is relatively unique in that paying for shoutouts is almost commonplace. Oh, sure, it happens on Twitter, on Facebook, and on blogs all the time. It’s just a little less influential, I guess? A Facebook shout-out is generally either flagged as sponsored or is pretty transparently advertising. A Twitter shout-out is fine, but Twitter doesn’t have anywhere near the same levels of user engagement as Instagram.
Instagram influencers are also unique in that many of them are influencers solely on Instagram. A lot of your industry giants are on Instagram as well as other social networks, but there are a lot of Instagram influencers who you won’t find anywhere else.
Instagram is just a unique platform in that sense. Consequently, there are people who are more than willing to sell their post mentions for shout-outs, and there are plenty of people willing to buy.
Shoutcart is one site built around this entire concept. They’re a sort of marketplace, hooking up influencers with people willing to buy.
On the site, you can see the name of the account, the number of followers that account has, and the price for a shoutout from that influencer. Just on their front page right now, I can get a shoutout from:
- @pehts, with 272K followers, for $15. This account is primarily pet photos.
- @sweets.tm, with 1.2M followers, for $60. This account is primarily photos and videos of sweet treats.
- @shawnjohnson, with 491K followers, for $3,000. This is the account of an Olympic gold medalist and TV star, with her associated NFL husband.
So obviously, pricing for a shoutout can vary wildly. So, presumably, does the quality of the shoutout.
I’m not endorsing Shoutcart specifically. I’ve never used their service, so I can’t vouch for their quality. Other sources of shoutouts include PlugHype, Grin, BuySellShoutouts, and Fiverr. Feel free to investigate them individually.
Each of the accounts has more information if you log in, which I’m not doing for the sake of this post. They do, however, show a success rate and a score for the account in question, to give you an idea of how many sales the influencer has made and how well those sales have performed. To give you an idea, the pet account has an 82% success rate and a score of 2.11, the treats account has almost the same with an 82% success rate and a 2.04 score, and Shawn’s has a score of .09 and a 0% success rate. Which makes sense, I don’t know anyone who would drop three grand on a single shoutout to half a million people when you can get double the exposure for a meager fraction of the price.
One of Two Ways
There are two ways to buy these shoutouts on Instagram. The first is to go through a service like Shoutcart, which takes their own cut of the profits but helps to regulate success. If an influencer takes the money and runs, a site like Shoutcart can blacklist them, while a private transaction has no fallback. The third party service might also be able to use an Escrow service to pay on delivery rather than on making a deal, or otherwise have some way of refunding the buyer if the seller flakes.
The second option is, of course, to make a private deal. If the influencer you want to reach isn’t on the third party marketplace, you can send them a DM and ask them if it’s a deal they’d be willing to make.
There are some benefits and some drawbacks to the private sale method.
- As mentioned above, you have no buyer protection in a private sale. It’s not the kind of deal where anyone signs a contract, not really, and since it’s against the Instagram terms of service, you can’t exactly initiate a punishment against them if they flake.
- You have to individually approach the influencer, which they might simply ignore.
- You have to figure out your own offer. If the influencer is used to charging $50 and you offer $100, chances are they’re not going to tell you they usually charge $50. On the other hand, if you offer $50 and they usually charge $500, they’re just going to laugh you off.
- Private sales are generally going to be a bit cheaper than the same deal through a marketplace, because the marketplace wants their cut. Unless, of course, the marketplace makes their money in another way, through paid accounts or sponsored promotion. It really depends on the site you use.
So at the end of the day, regardless of which method you choose, the result is the same. You’re paying money to get what looks like an organic mention in a post by the influencer of your choice. HOW organic that post looks depends on how relevant your business is to an organic feed.
For example, that Olympic athlete can easily promote specific kinds of activewear or health supplements without a second look. She’ll have a harder time promoting some kind of marketing software, though it’s vaguely plausible that she or her team uses it. It would be very odd for her to randomly promote a pest control service in Kansas, or something. This is why most influencers reserve the right to reject specific businesses even through deals; the more obvious the promotion, the less their fans will respond to it and the harder it will be for them to get that engagement in the future.
Is Buying a Shoutout Worthwhile?
Now we come to the crux of the issue. Is buying a shoutout worth it for your business? There are a lot of factors to consider.
How many followers does the influencer have? The more followers they have, the more exposure they can give you. You have to compare it to your appropriate niche, though. Sure, some top model can have a million followers, but their audience is pretty unlikely to have a lot in common with your pest control business. A top pest control influencer might not have more than 100,000 followers, but in an industry where you typically only see 1,000 on one account, that’s still very powerful.
Remember, the relevance of the audience is more important than the size of the audience. Which leads me to…
How many of the influencer’s followers are fake? There are a lot of different services you can use to audit the followers of any popular Instagram account. They use sampling to get a broad picture of the larger audiences, and can give an estimate of a percentage of the audience that’s likely fake. It might vary plus or minus five percent, but it’s still valuable knowledge.
For instance, if you want to spend $500 on a shoutout from a model with 1,000,000 followers, but you do a scan and see that 700,000 of her followers are likely to be fake, it’s worth rethinking your purchase. Those 300,000 real followers aren’t likely worth the $500 in comparison. The reason, of course, is…
How much engagement do other shoutouts tend to get? On Instagram, engagement is king. It’s why we all use the platform, after all. It’s important to consider the kinds of engagement the average post gets. More importantly, you need to compare apples to apples. Look through your target influencer’s account and look for posts that are pretty clearly shoutouts that were sponsored by the brand in question. How much engagement do they get, in comparison to normal posts? That’s the kind of engagement you would likely be looking at. Remember, some influencers will misrepresent their average engagement rates for shoutouts to make their performance look better and crank up their prices.
Does your business have a robust Instagram presence? Almost every Instagram shoutout is directed at another Instagram account. The reason is simply that Instagram doesn’t allow external links in their posts. You can put a plaintext link in the post, but the shoutout typically won’t have it, so you don’t get a lot of value from it.
If you don’t have a solid Instagram presence, there are a lot of things you can do to grow that cost a lot less than paying for an influencer shoutout. Plus, the worse your profile is, the less value you’ll actually retain from the shoutouts you do buy.
Are you willing to risk suspension if Instagram decides to crack down? This one is pretty simple. Sponsored posts that don’t go through the Instagram ads system aren’t allowed on Instagram at all. It’s difficult to track, but if Instagram catches an influencer selling shoutouts and decides they want to crack down on the practice, it could come back to hurt you. In some cases, Instagram might decide to suspend anyone who bought them, as well as the person selling them. It’s rare, but it’s still a risk you have to take if you’re going to buy.
How much are you willing to spend for a shoutout? At the end of the day, this is the purest estimation of value you have. How much do you see yourself spending on shoutouts? It can be very expensive if you want any significant returns. Neil Patel ran an experiment a few years ago where he paid somewhere on the order of $60,000 on shoutouts and contest prizes to nail the followers. He didn’t make a profit, though he did certainly grow his Instagram account. He also got a lot of backlash for the sudden shift in name and focus, so much so that he has since deleted all of the posts and made a donation to an empowerment organization to make up for the exploitative practices involved in the shoutouts he used.
If you’re not willing to spend money and time – Neil estimates it would take several months to start seeing returns – buying shoutouts is not for you. Frankly, you’ll probably see a more solid return on your investment from simply buying ads.