When I decided to unfollow all influencers, I had no idea how many were actually showing up in my regular feed. Scrolling through perfectly curated images of women styled head to toe with designer brands had become completely normal to me. I was mesmerized by the way each influencer showcased their highly desirable lifestyle while promoting all kinds of products and quietly receiving commission for every purchase I made. I was naïve to believe that each of these influencers “only shared products they genuinely loved”, and I found myself dissatisfied as I compared my ordinary life with the filtered grid of images that portrayed theirs.
While Instagram started as a fun photo-sharing platform that allowed users to express themselves and create an online community, overtime it has spiraled into an addictive social media app that leaves users with harmful effects including thoughts of inadequacy, a fear of missing out, a disconnection from real life relationships and so much more.
In the same sense, influencer marketing started as one of the most powerful marketing initiatives to reach target consumers across industries, and now it only adds to the long list of detriments on mental health.
Now to be fair, it’s important for me to disclose that I am well-seasoned in the world of influencer marketing. I started my career working for a small integrated marketing agency and one of my primary tasks was to research, vet and pitch my client’s product to influencers that had significant clout with our client’s target consumers. I know the benefits of influencer partnerships for brands because I used to push those benefits on almost all of my consumer-focused clients. The process became second nature to me; pitch the influencer, negotiate payment and promote the influencer’s “honest” opinion about our client on their blog and Instagram.
BAM. Just like that. Instant awareness, engagement and an increase in sales, all because this influencer’s followers trusted their opinions and recommendations.
As influencer marketing became mainstream, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released advertising guidance stating all influencers partaking in an endorsement deal were required to disclosure the paid partnership. That’s why nowadays you often see #ad #hosted #partner or #sponsor on promotional posts from influencers. Oftentimes, it’s buried deep into the photo’s copy, or placed faintly in the corner of the image.
Today, influencers can get into some big trouble if they don’t disclose partnerships. Yet, influencers have taken to this idea that they only partner with brands and products that they really believe in. Could be true, but also tough to believe when substantial amounts of money are on the line. If being an influencer was your job and primary source of income, I can’t imagine it would be easy to turn down thousands of dollars just because you don’t love a product.
Before we get into this I want to say that I respect the hustle. I don’t discount that being an influencer is a job – a job that requires a lot of hard work. These women and men are driven entrepreneurs and it takes incredible bravery to start a business. However, I know I can’t be the only person who has felt this way, and it’s up to us to change how we consume media. There are plenty of articles out there that identify the advantages and disadvantages of working with influencers for a brand; but none from the perspective of a consumer.
So, I decided to take a crack at it.
I unfollowed ALL influencers back in December (and yes, I’m still going strong!). Here are my 4 most impactful findings:
#1 I started saving money. A LOT of money:
Now while I may have started following a good handful of influencers as part of work – we’ll say I started following 15 accounts – I noticed that Instagram would kindly “suggest” I follow similar influencers each time I opened the app. Fast forward two years later after leaving that marketing agency, I was following over 30 influencers – yikes! Still continuing to like their photos, participate in giveaways and purchase items they promoted.
Each of these influencers use a little app called, Like to Know It, a dangerously easy method for users to shop every single item pictured in an influencer’s post. There was no mystery about where to purchase those must-have jeans, or staple wardrobe accessory. It was all listed right there – for a pretty penny, of course.
So when I unfollowed influencers, (right before the Christmas holiday, I might add,) I can’t say I was excited about it. I have always loved to shop, but before I knew it, I started to feel like things were getting out of hand. What was once a fun way to document my weekend with artistic photos became a morning, midday, and evening ritual. I was coming up with reasons for why I had to have the ridiculously over-priced Golden Goose sneakers, designer dupe handbag and magical eye cream. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt a burst of excitement and instant gratification when making these purchases – but as quickly as the excitement came, it went, and soon there was a new gotta have itproduct that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.
By unfollowing influencers and deleting the Like to Know It app, it was an “out of sight, out of mind” practice. I wasn’t spending $20 here and $50 there just to clutter my closet. All of these things I thought would bring me joy brought me, and my wallet, a shameful and overwhelming flood of emptiness.
I still love to shop, but not so frivolously. Saving for a special vacation, adventure or sentimental gift provides lasting excitement and gratification.
#2: I focused on real relationships:
It wasn’t uncommon for my husband to say, “Oh, who’s that?” as I shamefully searched for a way to describe my connection to an influencer I was following on Instagram. It might seem strange, but I had been following some of these influencers for years. I knew intimate details about their relationships, personal struggles and big life events – just like I would for any friend.
But these women weren’t my friends. They weren’t relatives. They weren’t co-workers. They told me they were average just like me, so why did I feel so inferior when I looked at their lives? To them, I was just another follower.
Something wasn’t right.
With less time spent on social media, I had way more time to schedule coffee meet-ups, yoga dates and girly movie nights – with my real friends. And instead of idolizing someone else’s seemingly perfect marriage, I focused more on the vows of my life-long partnership with my wonderful husband.
Rather than scrolling through Instagram and Twitter while we watched a movie together, we had more time for things that really matter, like conversation and quality time at the dinner table. Since the start of the new year, we decided to put our phones away at 7 p.m. so we’re not distracted from the true beauty of our marriage and everyday moments – I highly recommend it.
#3: I stopped using filters:
The need to drastically manipulate images of ourselves is out of control. When I open up the app, I’m (literally) faced with more than 25 different ways to alter my appearance. Everything from cat ears, to a halo around my forehead, fake eyelashes, sparkles (conveniently located over the bags under my eyes) and even “subtle” which is far from subtle as it makes my face look like it is free of pores, wrinkles and any kind of blemish.
Now, I’m 28 and I’m able to recognize that these filters are bogus, but what about girls and boys younger than me seeing influencers and celebrities utilizing these filters? We’re inexplicitly telling them that their face is not acceptable as it is. I watched almost all influencers that I enjoyed following use these filters – and not for anything special, either. Dramatic filters were used over their faces while they simply hopped on to say good morning to their loyal followers on the other side of the screen.
Taking this break from influencers and stepping away from watching stories throughout my entire day has at the very least, offered me a new perspective:
Have I used filters before? Absolutely. Will I continue to use filters? Not a chance.
#4: I started living in the moment:
My husband and I joke about the photoshoot that takes place at my parents’ house every holiday season. It goes a little something like this:
- My mom says she would really like to get a nice family photo
- My older sister and I are always game, we never miss an opportunity to post a cute Instagram photo
- My oldest sister sighs out loud because she’s annoyed that my other sister and I love taking photos
- My dad is angry because we’re pulling him away from the appetizer table
- My husband patiently takes several images of my sisters and me until we collectively decide that we hate them all
Why do we feel the need to get a photo with our “good side”? Why do we give in to the pressure to find a punny caption? And finally, why aren’t we instead, focusing on the present moment?
Unfollowing all influencers reminded me of the importance to stop and appreciate the people you are surrounded by in real life. We have to step away from the idea that posting an image online, receiving likes and affirming comments will provide us more pleasure than actually embracing the here and the now.
My biggest takeaway is that we, as critical consumers, have the power to set boundaries and shape the way we engage online. Since I embarked on this detox in December, I still enjoy social media, but I’m not consumed by it or any influencer’s product recommendation. It’s easy to rely on something artificial to fill a negative void in our life so it comes at no surprise that we get caught up in the comparison game when we have access to viewing literally thousands of people’s lives. But remember, your life outside the Instagram grid of images is in fact, the real flippin’ deal.