Brands and businesses everywhere are starting to adopt new forms of advertising that involve partnering with so-called “influencers” on social media. But how willing are they to vet the actual accounts on whom they spend hundreds of dollars? Apparently not much — even when the account in question is an obvious fake.
Mediakix, a company that has made multiple dummy accounts on Instagram, emailed several hotels and restaurants, asking if they’d be willing to offer free stuff in exchange for a post. None of them apparently caught onto the account being a fake.
How obvious is obvious? Mediakix’s “wanderingggirl” account, through which it tested the hotels, had already been revealed as a fake last summer. The whole account is nothing but a collection of stock photos and paid-for followers. This was not a quiet reveal, either. It was a big story, and multiple people used the reveal to both mock the idea of brands following for the ruse and astonishment at the amount of money an account can earn on such a deal.
According to Mediakix, Instagram never actually deleted the wanderingggirl account. So they decided to use “her” to continue testing the whole “what will people do for Instagrammers and a bit of online cred” question.
You wouldn’t think anyone would actually want to do business with the account anymore. All it would take for anyone to find out the Instagrammer in question wasn’t a real person who’d be snapping selfies in their rooms would be a quick online search. Even if they were willing to cut a deal with a fake account, you’d think hotels would stay away from a ‘Grammer known first and foremost for exposing brands’ gullibility and willingness to throw money away on anyone with enough followers.
But no, at least four hotels (out of eight contacted) and seven restaurants (out of ten) agreed to offer “her” free stays, meals, and plush extras in exchange for appearing on the account. According to Buzzfeed, the responses are fairly eager:
We’d love to host you. Would you be able to guarantee a post on your feed as well as Stories? … We might be able to make this work, but would be looking for 5-10 high-res images with non-exclusive usage rights in order to do a trade … unfortunately we cannot do a full trade, but we would be happy to give you our corporate rate…
Considering it never changed the name of the account, Mediakix was as astonished as anyone. According to a company press release:
If you search “wanderingggirl Instagram,” all of the Google search results except for the top one are news articles about the stunt from 2017, tricking brands into offering paid sponsorships for the fake account.
It also acknowledged that, had its Oz not already been de-curtained, it’d be pretty hard for brands to spot that it’s a fake. It’s dead easy for Instagram accounts to buy followers, likes, and comments. The New York Times exposed just how widespread the practice is earlier this year, and how these fakes are getting more sophisticated all the time.
I’d be willing to concede the company’s point about how vulnerable businesses are to scams, and how difficult it is to spot fakes, if not for the fact that at least eleven businesses somehow managed to miss the most obvious one in the world.