The draw of the Insta-scam: How to avoid feeling duped when shelling out for influencer workshops

January 19, 2019 at 08:17AM by CWC

I am aware that my worth is more than the number of likes and comments I get on an Instagram photo. But…there is something addictive about “growing your following,” a phrase I both can and cannot believe I just used seriously. I’m not under any illusions that I’m going to be an influencer (a word that practically begs for a capital “I”), but as a writer, it helps my career to be active on social media. That’s how I found myself shelling out $100 for presets—pre-made filters—from one of my favorite Instagrammers. (Well, that and the wine I drank before making said purchase.) I have no eye for editing photos (again, writer), but slightly adjusting a preset is something I am capable of. I don’t regret my purchase at all. However, that’s not always the case when buying the presets, workshops, and courses that influencers offer.

Caroline Calloway, an Instagram influencer with over 830,000 followers, made headlines this week when she cancelled her multi-city creativity workshop tour amidst criticism that she didn’t deliver what was promised (namely, homemade salads, flower crowns, and handwritten notes, along with Calloway’s time and valuable insights). She issued an apology, and offered refunds…and then a day later, said the tour was back on. Calloway requested that people return their refunds, with a link to her Paypal. Last month, influencer Aggie Lal came under similar fire when people who enrolled in her $500 12-week master class on how to—wait for it—grow your Instagram following said that the course didn’t provide the advertised value and had uncomfortable similarities to a multi-level marketing scheme. It felt like a scam.

Whether these influencers are indeed “scammers,” as writer Kayleigh Donaldson dubbed Calloway in the thread that catapulted the brouhaha into the public consciousness, or just people who got in over their heads is a topic the internet has been wildly debating the past few days. But regardless of their intentions, many fans felt like they had been duped. One person who attended Calloway’s workshop in New York did a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) about the experience. She said she wouldn’t pay that much for the event again. Another person, who bought a ticket to the Chicago event, said, “I’m disappointed at how [Calloway’s] handling this. Even if she cancels dates/changes things/makes mistakes, she should own them and deal with them professionally.”

“Does it seem fake? Does it make you feel shitty? Does the person you’re following make you feel like they are great but they don’t make you feel good about yourself?” —Kait Hurley

If 2018 taught us anything, it’s the importance of being wary about spending your money because of Instagram. (The infamous influencer-fueled Fyre Festival disaster from spring of 2017 isn’t fading from memory anytime soon—dueling documentaries on the subject were just released by Netflix and Hulu.)

It’s not uncommon to see both macro and micro influencers offering workshops, courses, and presets for their fans to buy. Kait Hurley, who we named as one to watch in our Next Gen of Wellness series, is one such influencer. She created a program called Move + Meditate, which fuses workouts with meditation. “When I hear about this kind of thing, I just think about how, as consumers of content, we need to be very critical,” Hurley says. “I love Instagram because it has allowed me to build the kind of community I want to be a part of. I’ve met Instagram friends who have become real life friends. But this place is a highlight reel. It’s highly curated and contrived.” She says we need to be aware of who we are following and how they make us feel. (It’s something author, expressive coach, and licensed social worker Minaa B. touched on in one of our Well+Good TALKS.)

“Pay attention to the energy that comes through their work,” Hurley says. “Does it seem fake? Does it make you feel shitty? Does the person you’re following make you feel like they are great but they don’t make you feel good about yourself? Ask yourself questions and take time to really listen to your own answers.” Basically, go all Marie Kondo on your Instagram feed.

Beyond curating a feed that only sparks true joy, Hurley outlines some other ways to safeguard your wallet if you’re considering purchasing from an influencer. Look for reviews and posts from other people about the program. For instance, you can look on Hurley’s story highlights titled “Community” and see posts from followers who have tried her program, along with different events that she has hosted. This all gives you a sense of what you’re spending your money on. Be wary of anyone who hasn’t booked event spaces before selling tickets to IRL workshops. And be sure to check out the refund policy before you buy—both Calloway and Lal said they would provide refunds that the sales platforms they were using did not, in fact allow.

But the bottom line? Trust your gut. “Keep your distance from those who behave as if they’re exceptional or untouchable,” Hurley says. Those kinds of privileged people certainly won’t have your best interests at heart, no matter how much they claim to love you.

Speaking of spending your money wisely, here’s how changing the way you talk about money can help you reach your goals. Plus, actually do-able ways to save money this year.
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Author Allie Flinn | Well and Good
Selected by iversue

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