Why are millennials falling for all these crazy influencer scams?

Words by Bianca O’Neill

Buyer beware. Especially in the heady days of social media marketing.

After my last article detailing the lucrative influence that some Instagrammers can wield – and the resulting sales that can be delivered from a single post – it’s really no wonder that yet again, we’ve heard news about another alleged scam.

The latest in a series of rolling headlines about Caroline Calloway came via The Cut, which reported on what I like to call a “how to be your best self” seminar – a four-hour workshop that promised to teach you how to “tackle the emotional and spiritual dimensions of making art.” For $165 a pop, no less. 

After selling out her initial event, Calloway seemingly succumbed to greed, adding a larger venue and multiple stops on her now-labelled workshop ‘tour’, while also advertising a call out for photographers and videographers to work for free to document the whole thing.

Soon, she began complaining about the exorbitant cost of fresh orchids and 1,200 mason jars. The influencer called for her attendees to bring their own sandwiches, instead of providing the promised vegan lunch. She moved her Boston and Philadelphia events to New York after conducting an Instagram poll (with the voting options of ‘yes’ and ‘yes’) asking if ticket holders were willing to drive to the new location.

The world watched on as it all swiftly fell apart via the perfect storm of inexperience and ignorance, playing out in excruciating detail via social media – and documented gleefully by Twitter user and journalist Kayleigh Donaldson. 

After a disastrous first ‘workshop’, Calloway finally announced she was cancelling the rest of the ‘tour’ in a Twitter post that appeared to be a mea culpa – unless you read the replies, that is.

This, unfortunately, isn’t the first time that unsuspecting Millennials have fallen for a scam from their favourite influencer. I’ve noticed an increase of these ‘seminars’ lately, and they almost always end in disaster.

Tanacon is a famous example of a big idea gone wrong when a shocking lack of experience and a distinct lack of standards collide. Documented in detail by NY Mag last June, it’s a collar-pulling read of disappointment and sunburns that descended into madness.

Meanwhile, in December last year, Mama Mia wrote about Polish blogger Aggie Lal @travel_inhershoes and a $700 online masterclass that netted her a staggering $260,000 windfall. Following reports of pyramid scheme-style behaviour and lacklustre online tutorials that stopped after only six weeks into a 12-week course, an anonymous student penned a scathing column for Medium, spilling the tea on the alleged scam. 

A lacklustre apology and the promise of a refund was posted to Lal’s account. 


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I woke up to terrible news that some of the students in my Mastertribe course felt disappointed with it. ::::: I was heartbroken because this course was my baby, which I’ve been working on since June. It took me and my team months to create almost 9 hours of video classes. I never held any information back, always being open about everything I know: including sharing my media kit, email examples, Lightroom, Photoshop and camera tutorials etc. ::::: I want to sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart who anyone who feels like what I shared wasn’t enough. :::::: Due to some hurdles with my health and WiFi connectivity, 4 out of 66 videos didn’t get uploaded as scheduled last week. I did apologize over the weekend to the Mastertribe directly but no excuse can justify me not showing up for those who I care about thre most, my tribe. :::::: I already spoke to each Mastertriber directly and offered to anyone who felt disappointed in the whole situation a full refund (to be processed by this Sunday). :::::: I was honored that so many beautiful people joined the class and it makes me feel truly terrible that I’ve let my tribe down ? :::: My intention has always been to inspire this community I dearly love and I would never want you to feel taken advantage of. ::::: I am closely talking with each member of the Master Tribe but wanted to let my wider community know what is going on. My goal is to support the next generation of Instagrammers by sharing learnings from my journey so far. ::::: Love always, Aggie ❤

A post shared by AGGIE LAL (@travel_inhershoes) on

That’s three influencer shitshows in less than six months… But why are kids falling for it? Can we just be really honest here and say that if a 20-year-old blogger is running a professional workshop or course, they probably don’t have the qualifications or experience to deliver something of true value?

It seems like 2018 was the year of the influencer scam. Reports were flooding in of mass Instagram fraud via purchased followers and engagement, and no one could anticipate the disaster that was Fyre Festival. And yet, audiences still appear to be blinded by the bright lights of gifted outfits and free vacations.

But surprisingly, after the Fyre Festival documentaries incited mass criticism of the influencer industry (and also a few looming subpoenas), followers have rushed to the defence of models like Shanina Shaik. They even echoed her own feelings on the issue of lending your name, image and influence to something you have zero idea about.

“I cried when I watched [the documentary],” she told The Daily Telegraph. “It is really horrific what happened. The girls and I were just kind of dragged into it. We would never want to promote something like that or take someone’s money.”

“I would never promote anything if I knew that it would have that kind of backlash or what became of that. I would never ever want to promote it.”

‘Dragged into it’? Wouldn’t take someone’s money (but would pocket the reported payments of up to $150,000)? Also, notice that Shaik specifically says she wouldn’t have promoted Fyre if she knew ahead of time that it would incite backlash… so if there was no backlash, it would have been OK then? Righto.

The reality of any industry, particularly one that can deliver huge sums of money for very little effort or talent, is that it’s open to scams, fraudsters and bad behaviour. Sadly, the onus rests on us: it’s up to followers to develop a healthy level of cynicism about anyone requesting money from them.

Buyer beware. Especially in the heady days of social media marketing.

Discover Bianca’s latest Instagram scam trying to garner free likes for her paltry OOTD offerings at @bianca.oneill.

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