How to Stay Sane in a World Full of Instagram Influencers
I started my Instagram account 5 years ago, before the term “influencer” even existed. At the time, I had just become a dietitian and knew people liked food photos. I thought I understood Instagram pretty well and decided to create an account to help promote my career as a dietitian and reach more people. I never would’ve thought that Instagram and the influencer world was going to blow up into what it is now.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this whole influencer situation has gotten crazy. Lately it seems like everyone and their mother is, or wants to become, an influencer. In some ways, it’s positive: there are influencers I follow that give me meal ideas, outfit inspiration and uplifting messages. On the other hand though, this influx of the influencer – and of so many people wanting to become an influencer – has led to a whole lot of inauthenticity.
Take food and nutrition for example: a new influencer sees a more well-known influencer post foods like chickpea pasta and “healthified” candy bars. That new influencer realizes, easy enough, just post some chickpea pasta and “healthified” candy bars! And the cycle continues. Even more damaging though, are when messages are perpetuated. Example: an influencer talks about body confidence and learning to love their body. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great message. The problem, however, is when someone sees that this message gets a lot of engagement (a lot of likes and comments) and then tries to copy it in a totally robotic and insincere way. The result? A lot of same message and, at this point, no longer a lot of meaning behind it.
Many messages like the one I just mentioned, when expressed genuinely, can do so much good. The problem, however, is that as this influencer world continues to get overly saturated, the messages can continue to get watered down. These important messages lose their meaning and, sadly, simply become ways to garner more likes.
The other big problem with the influencer world, as I see it, is a problem that’s pertained to social media for a while: the comparison. Social media comparison will always occur, whether it’s via influencers or not. It’s hard to see someone on vacation, or getting married, or just doing something fun and not feel badly about yourself. The social comparison is real, and it’s really, really important to remember that Instagram is a highlight reel.
Influencers, however, because we INFLUENCE, have an important role in this social comparison. Unfortunately, many influencers use their influence negatively and only perpetuate the feeling of comparison. This happens by posting photos of bodies at their best angles, heavily edited shots, filters that make the skin look blemish- and wrinkle-free, and of course, photos that make life seem glamorous, perfect and something to be envious of.
Most times, the images we see in these photos are unattainable. No one can look like the person in those edited photos (and the person in the photos often doesn’t even look like that IRL!) because the photo is highly edited. But regardless, these seemingly perfect, edited photos can easily create envy over someone’s seemingly perfect life. It’s not real, it’s not attainable, and honestly, it’s not right.
To take a step back, I totally recognize that I am an influencer. While becoming an influencer was never my original goal in creating my Instagram account, it’s also what naturally happened as my account grew. It’s also important for me to point out that I don’t think everything influencer-related is negative. I’m incredibly grateful to all my followers and everything that the platform has brought me. I’ve created partnerships and relationships made only possible through the app. I would never want to fully bite the hand that feeds me and am so grateful to IG for so many reasons. There are also many, many people who use their influence in amazing, positive ways. But, there are a lot who don’t, and it’s irresponsible.
In this crazy, overly saturated influencer world, the best thing you – the follower – can know how to do is to spot the REAL. Knowing what’s fake, what’s inauthentic and what’s overly edited can help so much in keeping your sanity and also limiting that social comparison. Here are 5 things to look for to know if an account will have a genuine, positive impact, or if it errs more towards highly edited, insincere and doing-it-all-for-the-insta.
1. The likes-to-follower ratio
Have you ever noticed accounts that have upwards of 10K followers but struggle to get even 100 likes on a photo? Or they have upwards of 100K followers and struggle to get 1,000 likes? 9 times out of 10, that’s because their followers were bought. Buying followers is usually a sign that this person wanted to be an “influencer” so badly that they were willing to do so in an inauthentic way. As a result, the account is often inauthentic too.
I’m proud to say that I have never and will never buy one follower. My account isn’t huge, but I’ve grown it all myself. If you follow me, I know it’s because you want to, and I really appreciate you being there.
Similarly, have you ever noticed accounts that have 10K or 20K followers, but all the sudden get hundreds or thousands of likes within the first few minutes of posting a photo? In this case, the likes are bought. Same situation – if someone is buying followers or likes to seem like they’re doing better than they are, I question what else on their account is fake.
*It’s important to note that both the IG algorithm and saturated influencer world have made likes harder than ever to come by lately. Even on my own account, photos that used to easily get 3-4K likes now get about 1K. It’s happening all around IG – I’ve talked about it and noticed it with many influencer friends. So while the follower to likes ratio can help weed out if someone’s buying followers or likes, there’s also no strict formula to it, as the IG algorithm continues to change and, as a result, alter engagement for everyone.
2. The caption sounds… off
Have you ever read a caption that just sounds off? Maybe you read it to yourself and it sounds forced, or scripted even. To me, a real caption should sound like you’re talking to a friend. It should sound like you can hear that person saying the words they’re writing. (Caveat: some people just aren’t great writers and they obviously shouldn’t be penalized for that.)
But, if the caption reads weirdly and doesn’t sound like you’re texting with or talking to a friend, it’s a good indicator that the caption is scripted and just saying what it thinks you want to hear. It’s inauthentic. Thank you, next.
3. The caption sounds familiar
Similarly, if you follow many people in the same space (health, wellness, fashion, etc.) and the caption sounds a little too much like everything.else.you’ve.read.before, it’s also probably not genuine. For example, in the nutrition world, I’ve noticed a lot of people lately talking about how they used to hate their bodies, and now they’re confident in them. Body confidence is GREAT. But when you force a caption because you think it’s what people want to hear? Not great.
Again, check how the caption sounds. Does it sound like you’re talking to a friend and like there’s actual emotion behind it? If so, this caption’s probably genuine and maybe this person only felt comfortable coming forward with their message now that other people have (all about giving people the benefit of doubt!). Or, on the other hand, does it sound scripted and void of any emotion? Yep, in that case, this person is probably just saying what they think you want to hear and what they think will “perform well.” There’s nothing cool about doing it all for the likes.
4. The photos (and their life) looks too perfect
I’m sure you’ve seen IG accounts where everything just looks amazing. They’re on another picture perfect vacation, they have another gorgeous outfit, they happen to be standing kissing their partner in front of a perfectly timed sunset. UGH. While these photos are nice to share occasionally, it’s also insanely unrealistic to think that anyone actually lives their life like this all the time. No one’s life is perfect always (or at all!), and, because of this, accounts that only depict “perfect” are inauthentic.
(It’s important to note here that some accounts strive for this. They’re open about the fact that their account is highly curated to show beautiful photos. As a follower, when you come across these accounts, just try to remember that. There’s no point in comparing yourself to an account, like Beautiful Destinations (who posts beautiful vacation spots), whose whole purpose is to make you want that food/outfit/vacation, etc.)
I think some people are totally unaware that their posts might come off like this. Moreover, some people just like to brag. But in general, it’s safe to assume that most adults are more self-aware than that. When someone seems like they’re bragging all the time or just showing a life that’s totally unrelatable, if it makes you feel badly about yourself in any way – unfollow.
5. The caption seems like it’s keeping it real, but the photo doesn’t
Finally, if we put all these things together, you’ve then got the mismatch: the caption that’s #keepingitreal paired with the photo that’s incredibly edited. Example: some #realtalk about body love with a photo where the person’s standing in a way that exaggerates their thigh gap.
Please, ignore these posts. There’s nothing real about someone saying they’re keeping it real while simultaneously editing the sh*t out of their photo. As my friend Lyndi once very well said, if the grass looks greener, it’s usually photoshop.
Bonus #6: the caption is clearly an ad but hides the #ad/#sponsored/#partner hashtags. These are required. No shame in ads – we all need to make money. Why not be up front about it?
Again, not all of Instagram is bad. I can’t emphasize that enough. What’s bad is the inauthenticity and the way it can make you compare and feel like crap about yourself. My intention isn’t to make ANY influencer feel badly about themselves, either - it’s to help you learn ways to navigate IG so that you don’t feel badly about yourself.
There are so, so many people who keep it real IG. People who show both the good and bad in their actual lives, who don’t post overly edited photos, and who show awareness and gratitude at the good in their lives. There are people who write captions that are genuine and relatable. And people who just all around seem like someone you’d actually want to be friends with. (And for those reasons, they’re also people whom you can actually look to for nutrition advice, or fashion ideas, etc., because what they share is attainable).
Some of my favorites are: @nude_nutritionist - just one look at her account shows you how real she is; @thebirdspapaya - shows her body, cellulite and all, to make you more comfortable with yours; @hummusapien – she shows so many aspects of life in the most honest and genuine way; @krolls_korner – watch her stories, she’s real without trying too hard to be; @alissarumseyrd – she’s not afraid to post unflattering photos, which helps to give anyone confidence; @restoring_radiance – she opens up about her own past food struggles in a genuine, relatable way; @eats2know – easily one of the warmest, most genuine people you’ll come across; @sierranielsen – inspires women to love themselves, flaws and all.
(Obviously, I like to think that I keep it pretty real on my account too! If you don’t already know it, check out my account @veggiesandchocolate or by clicking on the IG bar at the bottom of my site).
And SO many more. This list is in no way exhaustive. I could never name them all, but I’ve made a ton of friends on that crazy app that are awesome and that I’m super grateful for. And, if I follow them, it’s probably because they offer a lot of solid, relatable content.
Let’s be honest: whether we like it not, we all spend a lot of time on social media. We owe it ourselves to follow people and accounts that make us feel good about ourselves. Period.
Want more realness? Check out All Foods Fit, my monthly membership program that sends you a new, straightforward, easy to follow nutrition lesson each month (or you can get all 12 lessons at once to go at your own speed!).