Instagram Scams: Brands Preying On Small Influencers

Instagram Scams: Brands Preying On Small Influencers

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With more brands using Instagram influencer marketing, many micro accounts fall prey to Instagram scams and ugly Instagram. Read how to protect yourself.

A Different Kind Of Instagram Scam

If you follow The Uncorked Librarian (TUL) on social media, you know that Instagram scams and Ugly Instagram rear their vicious, greedy heads in the form of kissy emojis and overkill cutesy terms of endearment from smaller clothing and makeup brands.

“Hi Sweetie. You are so beautiful. DM for a collab [Insert 10 feminine obnoxious emojis].”

Or, you already have the DM in your inbox:

“Hi Lovely, we just ADORE your gorgeous feed. Let’s work together in a partnership. Respond for more info, beautiful [kissy face, heart, smiley].”

First, what happened to the days of professionalism? Why are mostly women talking to women in such a sexist manner?

And once you message back to learn about these so-called ‘partnerships’ and ‘collaborations,’ you learn what a scam some of these brands are offering. They want your money. They are the influencers, and you become the sucker.

Don’t fall victim to crappy influencing offers.

What Is The Problem?

The sad and scary part?! Many new and young influencers are quickly falling for these IG scams.  Some even welcome them. Most are in the 20 to 30-something-year-old female demographic.

Why? WHY!?

I am a newer Instagrammer (one plus years as of 2019) who does selective affiliate and ‘influencing’ work.  Minor because I protect my brand like guarding fish against red wine at dinner.  ‘Influencing’ because my following is minuscule compared to accounts with 170K followers.

To stay on my game, I am in at least 15 different Facebook groups where women and the occasional male ask if they should agree to influencing deals where they buy expensive products to ultimately promote them.

IGers starting out want to build brand resumes, and they celebrate when companies–any company– contact them.  I get it. I do a happy dance too.  We all want our hard work to pay off on IG.

Sometimes, these opportunities turn out to be fantastic deals that match your business model and help you earn money.

Unfortunately, many offers are duds and just insulting scams.

Brands assume that micro-influencers have little experience and are, quite frankly, easy targets. The smaller the audience = the bigger the scam. I watch as IGers pay brands to market their products freely for them. This is not a partnership and definitely not influencing.

Instagram Scams: I watch as IGers pay brands to market their products for them. This is not a partnership or acceptable. Click To Tweet

I have received collab offers and denied over 20+ companies in less than 2 months. This is not uncommon as brands cut and paste generic emails as fast as Oprah gives out cars.  I don’t feel honored.  Instead, I feel like I need to clean up my business even more: hashtags and comments.  200%, I am insulted.

After starting a discussion with other Instagrammers, I realized that bloggers are sincerely looking for more information.  Not everyone knows what to do with these brands.  They think this treatment is the norm.

Should they purchase a $200 watch for a 20% discount, post 2-3 pictures a month on IG, and earn sales back if they sell the watch?

NO! F’ NO!

You should never pay to promote someone else’s product. I repeat: you should never pay to promote someone else’s product.

You should receive free products in exchange for reviews, and many companies will pay you to promote their items.

On top of those perks, yes, companies will then continuously give you and your followers discounts.  You may become an affiliate and earn a commission.  You may also receive compensation for likes and comments.  This is the essence of influencing and the true meaning of a partnership and collaboration.

So how do you beat ugly Instagram scam tactics and false influencing promises to protect your brand?

When is an offer to partner together not considered a collaboration?

What really is influencing?

And how can we clean up the industry?

Instagram scams pinterest pin cover with pink heart and screenshot of IG

What Is Influencer Marketing?

What is an IG Influencer?

Let’s start at the beginning.  What is Instagram influencing?

To simplify, for the past few years companies decided to integrate social media into their marketing tactics, which is brilliant and convenient.  Just look at how many people use social media.  Even your 80-year-old grandma is probably scrolling Facebook right now.

Influencing For Brands

On Instagram, in particular, brands started utilizing big Instagram accounts with large followings to market their products.  Originally even IG accounts with just 10K-40K followers had larger influence–but this is slowly changing.  Accounts now have millions of followers and make full-time salaries on influencing.

“Influence” is encouraging consumers to purchase highlighted items.

Brands send Instagrammers products in exchange for showcasing items in beautifully filtered IG posts with captions linking to the brand.  The picture = an ad.  Extremely well-done ads from an individual person versus the company itself equal more engagement and trust. Hence, more sales.  It’s the whole face of a brand concept.

Instagrammers, in turn, make money per like, per comment, and of course, per sale, a win-win for both the brand and IGer.

A Change With Small Influencers

Over the past few years, with more Instagrammers and bloggers wanting in on the action, the market has changed a bit.  There is competition, oversaturation, and quite frankly, cheap brands preying on hopeful influencers.  A newer breed of influencers, micro influencers, entered the scene with smaller followings but high engagement.  Brands flocked to these IGers with newer, faulty tactics.

Mind you, many are debating the term ‘influencer’ these days, but that’s another post.

How The Influencing Market Found The Uncorked Librarian

The Good Deals

I am a book and travel blogger, which means my opportunities vary.  In the book world, I have yet to meet a bad deal.  Book people are cool.  We all know that.  Authors want their books reviewed and promoted.  They send me a free copy in exchange for a review–unless it’s total blah. I write a review, and I post a #bookstagram.  You may buy the book, and I earn a commission.  In fairness, a book is cheaper than that $200 watch or $300 dress.

In the travel and general blogging world, the same practice follows for me with courses that teach you how to travel for free or better use Pinterest to market your blog.  I also work with 2 clothing companies.  Companies approach me with free access to the courses or free goods–with little or no obligation to promote if I wasn’t satisfied–and then send out contracts including commission on sales.  I promote what I believe in to make minor cash, and they do too. Win-win.

Note: These two examples are also affiliate-driven partnerships and not solely brand influencing; but, they essentially work the same way.

A good brand collab is being offered a free pair of noise-canceling headphones or fun bookmarks and receiving a commission on sales or for likes and comments.  Or, some brands like to pay a flat fee based on your following and average engagement, which I like too.

The Bad Deals

Then there is the other side to influencer (and affiliate) marketing that drives me a little crazy.  Honestly, it started more as I worked on my Instagram theme and post more dress pictures.  I always joke that Instagram loves girls in pretty dresses in ‘interesting’ places–like rice paddies in Indonesia.  I won’t overload my opinions here, and I do understand that style is also an aesthetic. Please put your thumbs away, and don’t troll.  It’s just not my personal niche.

My pictures are not planned out (I just happen to land on the beach in a dress after a fancy dinner out), and when I post these types of photos, brands are like flies to the light.

Hello, shiny object. 

Here come the unprofessional comments and offers from businesses.  Dear lord. 

Forget that I write heartfelt captions, have a business email listed on IG, and I also have a micro influencing policy here.  Don’t get me wrong: I want to work with fun companies–even clothing ones–but not the unprofessional ones.

I also understand my limitations: I am not the ‘perfect’ influencer. I theme content on most occasions, my pictures are fun vs professional, and quite frankly, I want a more realistic account for my blog.

With more brands using Instagram influencer marketing, many micro accounts fall prey to the ugly side of Instagram and scams. You should never pay to promote someone else's product. Newbie bloggers and instagram influencers, read these 5 tips for how to protect yourself. #bloggingtips #instagramtips

The Uncorked Librarian on Instagram

Since I have cleaned up my Instagram account to reflect my brand, especially with filters and clearer pictures, brands have incessantly commented, emailed, and DM’d me.  None of the offers are flattering or viable.  Instead, these companies are scamming me (and you).

5 red flags for instagram scam collaborations pinterest pin cover

Companies Preying On You: 5 Warning Signs Of Instagram Scams

What are some of the red flags that you should not be working with a brand?

1. Cutesy Talk (Is Like A Guy Walking By And Slapping My Ass.  TURN OFF)!

When the nature of contact is insulting and degrading, goodbye.  The door is closed.

Can you imagine a boss talking to you like this in an office?  Can we say ‘sexual harassment’ and unprofessionalism, anyone?

With more brands using Instagram influencer marketing, many micro accounts fall prey to the ugly side of Instagram and scams. You should never pay to promote someone else's product. Newbie bloggers and instagram influencers, read these 5 tips for how to protect yourself. #bloggingtips #instagramtips

Bloggers work hard on their content and social media accounts.  For many, this is our part-time or full-time job.  We run businesses and are professionals.  We have email accounts, policies, and ways to contact us.

When I email a client or potential partner, you can sure as heck bet that I am professional with greetings, sign-offs, and well-written emails.  Emojis rarely enter my text.  I am not a lovely, sweetie pie, babe, or cutie to anyone but my husband. AND EVEN THEN.

So why is it that we accept this baby talk from brands?  In business-mode, I respond to almost all emails.  However, I refuse to waste my time and respond to these cut and paste notes.  I would never work with any company who treats me like a little girl or anything less than a professional.

Instagram influencers are not bimbos.  Can we start a hashtag campaign against this? #InfluenceTHIS

2. Lack Of Formal Communication Such As Cheap Comments and DMs From Brands Asking You To Reach Out To Collab

These lazy and generic methods of contact and unprofessional terms of endearment filled with emojis are your number one hint that this ‘partnership’ is an immediate ‘NO.’  You are your brand.  Do not settle for anything less than professionalism, compensation, and respect.

Ugly Instagram Influencing: You are your brand. Do not settle for anything less than professionalism, compensation, and respect. Click To Tweet

Commenting on your IG page is not the correct method to contact someone for a collaboration.  Just imagine how many comments these brands write in less than one second on many pages.  This shows how truly expendable and not worth their time you are.  Why give a brand your time in return?

3. Is Their Message Vague?

So say these companies reach out to you, and you now have to contact them.  Say you do.

Are they upfront in their offer and ‘collaboration’?

Most of my bad experiences are from brands who make you ask questions.  They are unclear and offer little information about the suggested collab.  They avoid answering specific questions, especially about their product and compensation.

Their policies change: “Well, actually this is a short-term, free international shipping deal for you and your followers.”

Your time is precious and no one has the right to waste it.  A good brand collaboration will be upfront immediately, have a workable contract, and will answer your questions openly and honestly.

Your time is precious and no one has the right to waste it. A good brand collaboration will be upfront immediately, have a workable contract, and will answer your questions openly and honestly. Click To Tweet

4. Do They Want You To Make A Purchase?

Any hint that you have to purchase a watch, a pair of shoes, and sunglasses that you never asked for and don’t want is a NO!

Getting a percentage of a discount on their item that they have asked you to purchase and showcase on your sacred accounts is not a collaboration.

And guess what?!

Big influencers DO NOT PAY.  That is laughable.  Neither should you.  Plus, you are doing the work.  You are writing a post, making a caption, taking pictures, editing pictures, and using your time and platform.  Of course, you should be getting paid for that work.

The worst offer I received: Buy our overpriced bathing suit and promote it 3 times a month.  If you do well, you can one day become an influencer with a special code.  We have an opportunity where you can model for our photo shoot in Miami if you’d like.  International travel is big for our company and influencers.

Hmmmm, OK; you won’t give me a free product or pay me to promote it now. So I am guessing paying me for said photo shoot is out of the question too? Did anyone watch the Fyre documentary?

Why else you shouldn’t purchase a product:

  • If you are a smaller influencer, making that money back is slim.
  • You risk losing followers and their trust.
  • You may buy the product and realize it’s just poor quality.
  • Do you even want the product?  Chances are no.

Spoiler Alert: I don’t wear watches.

5. Is Their Following Even Smaller Than Yours? Are They Not Even Following You?

If companies have a small following and are offering you an awful deal, then you are truly doing them a favor.  The brand might not have taken off for a reason, and yes, they probably do not have money to compensate you.

The funnier part is if they aren’t even following you on your platforms.  This lack of care shows that you are just another random pick, they have no real interest in you, and clearly, they have no idea what your brand is about.

Sigh, Don’t Get Take Advantage Of 

I understand that influencers want to make it out there.  Yes, I wish other IGers would just say ‘HELL NO!’ to these companies and stand up for themselves.  I wish they would stop setting the precedent for others.

I get that some IGers don’t mind buying a product, taking a chance, and trying their luck to earn a commission.

Just know that you are worth more and should demand as such.  Companies are preying on you.  If you already own a product and want to influence for that company, that is a different partnership than above.

And companies know they are playing you:

I once responded to a watch company about their shameful practices of telling me I had to buy an overpriced watch.  In a tactful way, I mentioned that I, like them, run a business.  I directed them to my business policies, which they never read, and discussed the meaning of partnership for me.   I asked them not to contact me again, but they felt the need to respond:

“…Thanks for your time.

We have collaborated with many influencers in previous time and they all cooperate with us at 60% discount code off, however, there’s a few influencers we have sent the free watch in the past but the effect is not good for a long-term collaboration.

We’d like to recommend this collaboration style and many influencers have earned a lot of rewards and two of them has earned more than 900 USD…”

I just don’t get it…and neither do they.  (P.S. my channels had double their follower count)

Why is a free watch not a long-term collaboration?  If not free, I cannot even afford a short-term relationship with you.

And yes, lets brag about how other influencers agreed.  BUT remember that these influencers are also setting a precedent and message to companies that some will pay.

And PS. $900 over the course of how long is just not a good deal.  Successful bloggers can make more than that in one month with ads on their site.

Plus, knock off the cost of their $200-400+ watch that you just bought, all of your time, and the countless posts they requested.  Their discount offer is one of the highest I’ve seen in this laughable scheme.  Many match the discount offered to everyday consumers.

Should I mention that even after I told this company what a scam they were running, they still wanted to ‘partner.’

What’s an IGer to do?

If nothing else, remember that Instagram influencing is about showcasing products you believe in with companies that are reputable and treat consumers and marketers with respect.

Products should be free and you should be compensated fairly.

If you work with a shoddy brand, that says a lot about your own brand.  I sure as heck know that I won’t follow, trust, or buy from you if your brands are scammy.  Others will see transparency as well.  Don’t fall victim to ugly Instagram scams.  Work to make it a platform you are proud to be a part of.  AND GET PAID WHAT YOU ARE WORTH!

For more blogging tips, visit The Uncorked Librarian’s Blogging Resources page.

Don’t Let Others Get Scammed on Instagram! Pin It:

Ugly Instagram Scams pinterest pin with brunette girl in dress





  1. August 21, 2018 / 1:14 pm

    Preach girl! Preach! I’m so glad you wrote this post and put together what many of us are probably thinking everyday… a smart, no nonsense post about the downside of brands preying on us. I appreciate the honesty in this post and keeping it real.

    Btw: I don’t wear watches either.

    • Christine
      August 21, 2018 / 1:42 pm

      Haha, thank you!! I was slightly worried if this would cause all brands to stop contacting me, but I think the real ones still will. There are some great partnerships out there but others make me laugh. I just get so bummed when I see girls questioning if they should agree to ridiculous terms. As we say in FL, it’s time to have a come to Jesus meeting 😂😂

      Watches make me nervous. I find myself looking at them too much.

  2. August 21, 2018 / 6:33 pm

    Amazingly well written post, love! I only use Instagram personally, but I can tell you if someone sent me an unprofessional message I would be blocking them IMMEDIATELY. Yikes.

    • Christine
      August 21, 2018 / 9:21 pm

      Thank you! And exactly!! It’s so crazy how many of these ‘opportunities’ I get and now just ignore. I just can’t imagine anyone’s company director thinking this type of contact is OK or good for business. It’s a wild IG world out there!

  3. Hayley Gibson
    August 22, 2018 / 1:47 am

    I love everything about this post, thank you for bringing the ugly side of Instagram to people’s attention! It is so important to spread this message about scamming brands, it is so widespread on Instagram now and I’m as sick of seeing it as you are! You’ve captured it all in an honest, sincere post and I really hope scammers read this and re-think their “strategies.”

    • Christine
      August 22, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      Hey! Thank you for reading and hopefully laughing (in disgust) with me. It is really getting to be a pain.

      P.S. I might be working on another group book list for the fall. I will let you know in case you’d like to contribute again : ) I feel like the fall is the ultimate time to up my blogging game with the holidays, shopping, and everyone being online.

      Hope the new gig is great! I want to hear about your new adventures. I’m curious how you handle baby spit up too…

  4. August 22, 2018 / 11:05 am

    I found this super informative, especially as a relatively new blogger! If & when these types of brands come a-knocking, I’ll be well-informed and won’t fall for it!

    • Christine
      August 22, 2018 / 12:02 pm

      Hey! Thank you! I am glad it helped. When I first started getting these not so great sounding opportunities, I actually thought these collab practices were the norm. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to be an influencer. Then, I started looking more into the issue and talking to big bloggers; of course, these smaller brands are just scamming and taking advantage.

  5. August 22, 2018 / 4:18 pm

    Thanks for the info! I haven’t come across this yet but it’s good to know.

    • Christine
      August 23, 2018 / 12:39 pm

      Thank you!! You are lucky, but I’m sure they will find one day (not meant to be as creepy as that sounds).

  6. August 23, 2018 / 1:24 am

    LADY! What an amazing breakdown of such a shitty, ugly side of our little world. Hats off to you! I love #InfluenceTHIS and it should definitely be a thing.

    My own personal tip to add: I’ve found the easiest way to ward off shonky “partnership” and “collaboration” offers is to respond to anything they say with: “Thanks for getting in touch. Could you tell me why you think my blog/feed specifically is a good fit for your company?”. I’ve found, inevitably, they will either (a) not respond (almost always), or (b) send a super-generic response – in which case, I keep pressing them for details until they give up. The good thing about that response is that it’s not overly rude or stand-offish, so on the off-chance that I’ve mis-judged someone approaching me (it happens!) I’m not burning the bridge on that opportunity.

    I’m really heartened to hear you’ve never had a shonky encounter in the book blogging world. Unfortunately, I’ve had a couple. Luckily, the above strategy has saved me every time. I’m, like you, very determined to protect my brand and the integrity of what I’m doing – and my wonderful little growing community would smell a rat a mile off if I tried to sneak in anything that wasn’t aligned with KUWTP 😉

    • Christine
      August 23, 2018 / 8:25 pm

      Thank you so much! It’s a mind-blowing world, and I still cannot figure it out. How any business owner big or small could represent like that?! The world is slightly corkscrewed… I am looking forward to working with more reputable and honest brands. They do exist!

      I love your own personal tip. Thank you! I once responded somewhat similarly to a beauty product company for my blog. She wrote how amazing my blog was and so relevant to her products: Eye masks and creams. All beauty products… I was like, hmmmm, I guess reading does make my eyes tired so maybe I do NEED that eye cream?

      You are definitely spot on, too, about not missing a good opportunity and not burning a bridge. People talk. I usually try to follow up, especially with emails (that takes more time on brands’ end), because I never want to tick anyone off. Most aren’t good deals, but we agree to keep each other in mind. Sometimes their business models change and it could work. This one watch company, though, was SO dang rude. Arg!

      You’ll have to PM me or dish about the book world. I have no idea what that looks like yet.

      Thanks for the note, tips, encouragement, and for contributing to my group book Pinterest board. We are in it together!

      • August 24, 2018 / 12:53 am

        Hahahahaha cheers!! Happy to dish publicly so that others might benefit: most of the dodgy “offers” I’ve had have mostly been from, shall we say, less scrupulous authors, who really put the pressure on that I review and market their book for them. I stick to my strategy though, and keep pressing them to simply explain why it would be a good match, and they’ve never been able to come up with anything (it’s “business success” guides and other random stuff, not aligned to my blog/brand at all).

        They always want me to BUY their book (not even offering an ARC or a discounted copy) and it’s NEVER been available in hard-copy (when someone approaches me about an eBook, I know instantly that they haven’t even looked at my blog/suggest a book tab, because I state quite clearly that I only review hard-copies at the moment). They’ll harass me for a while (I’ve had one threaten to “take me down” 😂) but usually give up after a little while. I’m a tough broad 😉

        And thank YOU for your wonderful posts, it’s been great getting to know you across blogs, Pinterest and Twitter 😍

        • Christine
          August 24, 2018 / 8:46 am

          Holy smokes in a Dorothy and Toto hand basket! I’ve never had an author put pressure on me to review. DANG! That’s ballsy, for sure. I can imagine what that looks like, though. I haven’t been asked to purchase a title either. I didn’t know that happens–thank you for letting me know. I am so glad that so far almost all of my authors and publishers have been SO kind. They send me free books, and they promote my reviews. Many stay in touch and also share a lot of my work. I love the relationships and definitely try to do the same.

          I did have to write a negative review once about racism that the author and publisher didn’t really see or understand. It was very cringe-worthy and demonstrated all that is still wrong in the world. The book was marketed as a great ‘racial’ insight piece. I got dropped as a reviewer instantly with no communication. I was OK with that, though. I’d rather just silence and a complete halt of communication vs getting some words thrown at me. I do wish they would change up the book, though.

  7. December 30, 2018 / 1:09 pm

    OMG ALL OF THIS!!! I recently started putting out feelers that my site was ready to start partnering with brands. Within 2 days, my Instagram DMs were overwhelmed with spammy offers like this. And the companies couldn’t seem to fathom why I would turn down their offer for a discount code. Like, why would I accept it?! Thank you so so much for writing this fabulous piece. I definitely think it’s something that all bloggers and microinfluencers need to read ASAP.

    • Christine
      December 31, 2018 / 2:56 pm

      I think my least favorite is the cut and paste comments on my IG posts…and then you go to comment on others’ pictures and you see the exact same comment and company on their comments. It’s an impersonal and cheap scam. Sigh!

      I’ve had companies get snarky and mean when I politely turn them down…they love to point out that other ‘influencers’ buy their products and commit to their terms. Ok….well…most just don’t know better; I see those questions about paying for a product to promote it in so many blogger forums. Don’t ever do it! That advice is across the board from HUGE and experienced bloggers and influencers.

      Thank you!

  8. December 30, 2018 / 3:22 pm

    Great post! I’m at the beginning on blogging travel and indeed I received this type of unprofessional messages or likes from different resorts or travel agencies. What I don’t like at Instagram is the numerous photos that are not real or that are planned. Yeah, it’s nice to be in a red dressed but come on, it’s freezing cold. I would like Instagram to be more real and less superficial. Or this is what I’m doing, to post photos without filtres and show the reality and not some fantasy world.

    • Christine
      December 31, 2018 / 3:10 pm

      I was just talking about this on Twitter today. A travel blogger did an entire segment of Stories about how she wasn’t leaving her room because it was too cold out; she said she refuses to wear a coat in her IG pictures. Because she couldn’t shoot content without a coat, she wasn’t going out, period.

      I couldn’t imagine changing my travel experience or killing a day because I didn’t look cute enough in my coat for my IG followers. Why would my followers even care? And is it really realistic as a travel blogger? You need a coat in Amsterdam in December ice-skating in the snow.. I get that models and fashion bloggers need to shoot differently, but I’m more about being honest in my travels with my clothes vs temperatures.

  9. March 4, 2019 / 1:04 pm

    This post is such a life and time saver for newbie content creators like me on Instagram. I have been getting so many of these “cutesy” comments and I am sick and tired of them already. I knew something was fishy and I tried to research more about this and that is how I landed on this article. This is so well written. Thanks a lot for making everyone aware of this and being helpful to all the new “influencers” out there 🙂

    • Christine
      March 4, 2019 / 2:09 pm

      Hey! Thank you so much! The cutesy comments get annoying pretty fast. I was recently excited to agree to a campaign where I was professionally contacted from the start via email. The company had read my policies, researched me, and made sure that we were both a great fit for each other. They had a formal contract, clearly drawn up by a lawyer, and there was no room for doubt about our agreement. I loved this clarity and professionalism.

      Thank you for the kind words and for reading! I know when I first started out, I had no idea what was happening. Like you said, you definitely start to realize something is up/wrong, but as a newbie, you aren’t 200% what is good and bad.

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