Analyse This: Instagram Giveaway Loops

Social media philanthropy or shameless follower inflation?

As data analyst at This Here, I spend a lot of time researching influencers for our clients. My role is to use data to understand their audience and how engaged they are with their content.

One thing I like to keep an eye out for is any anomalies in an influencer’s follower growth chart. It was one influencer’s particularly suspicious follower count leaps that led me down the garden path of discovery to the tool shed of this blog post.

A particularly suspicious follower growth chart

Generally, when we see huge leaps in an Instagrammer’s follower count we’d assume they had bought the followers. This time, however, we noticed that these suspicious leaps in follower counts often coincided with deleted posts that had equally suspicious engagement rates. (That is: lots of likes and comments.)

Notice how the 3 posts with huge engagement coincide with the follower count leaps in the chart above

Fortunately, with a bit of investigative work, we were able to determine the content of these posts even after they had been deleted. And what we discovered was that all of these posts had been part of an @Instagram giveaway loop.

What are giveaway loops?

Giveaway loops are like an online raffle with a single prize, or prize bundle, for the randomly selected winner.

Entrants must perform a series of tasks to be eligible to win. Generally this involves:

  • Liking the initial Instagram
  • Following that account
  • Moving on to the next post in the loop
  • Repeat

This process must be completed for as many as 40 Instagram accounts until you end up back at the beginning of the loop.

A typical giveaway loop post.

The competitions usually last for 3 days and at the end of it the participants will edit the post to inform the randomly selected winner. It was these “Congratulations” post captions that made us think these giveaway loops were not really being done in the spirit of generosity.

See that? “Those who unfollow will forfeit their chance of winning in our next one.”

The naked threat that future participation in these giveaways is contingent upon remaining a follower really hammered it home that they were not being done with entirely charitable intentions.

And it would be particularly charitable of influencers to be participating in these loops, given that it often costs them over $200 to do so. (!!!)

A typical giveaway loop promotional post.

So these giveaway loops certainly have the whiff of bought followers about them. The fact that many influencers delete the posts at the earliest opportunity suggests that they are aware of what they are doing and how it appears. But, as influencer marketers, what we really want is some insights into how these giveaways affect the key metrics we use to evaluate Instagram accounts.

How do the Loops affect follower growth?

Influencer marketing is big business these days. Influencers can command huge fees for posting about brands in their Instagram feeds. The size of these fees is often linked to the number of followers an influencer has. The difference between 50k and 100k followers could mean as much as £500 per post.

The chart below shows the average percentage of followers that influencers in our database gained in the three days following the giveaway post.

The average follower count boost was 10,036. And the short term follower growth for the smaller influencers was enormous: those with under 100,000 followers boosted their follower count by an average of 28% in the three days after.

A quick google led me to this site that were willing to sell me 10,000 “premium quality followers” for $79.99. I cannot put a figure on the average cost of entrance for the giveaway loops in this investigation, but every price that I’ve stumbled across has been over $200. I do hope that the 10,036 followers gained from the average giveaway loop are of even more premium quality than the “premium quality followers” they could have bought directly from the follower farm.

How do the Loops affect engagement rate?

This is how we calculate engagement rate of a single post at This Here:

Engagement Rate = 100 * (Likes + Comments) / Followers

To get the current engagement rate of an influencer, This Here’s method is to calculate the average engagement rate of their most recent 40 posts.

We use an influencer’s engagement rate to see how engaged their followers are. It is generally supposed to help mitigate against the problem of people who buy followers. We would assume that an influencer who has bought followers would have a lower engagement rate because those followers will not be engaging with their content (let’s leave any discussion of click farms for another day). But, given that we are only considering the previous 40 posts in our calculations, we really need to find out how the likes and comments on these giveaway loop posts affect those engagement rates.

The chart below shows the engagement rate change caused by each giveaway loop post in our database. This is plotted against the average number of post engagements that the Instagram account was receiving at the time (with all giveaway loop posts excluded).

So an account that averages less than 10,000 engagements on their posts receives a 21% boost on their engagement rate. That turns a 5% engagement rate into a 6% one! And that is just the average. The highest boost we observed in our sample was 93%! Anybody looking at that influencer’s engagement rate during that period would have incorrectly assumed that they were twice as engaging as they really are (and accordingly considered their financial value inappropriately high).

But, notice also that, influencers with high engagement are taking a large negative hit to their engagement rates.

Why would they do that? Let’s look at a more recent giveaway loop promotional post for a clue.

Why are big influencers doing this?

Meet “the sponsors”.

A more brazen example of a promotional post, where the the follower gain estimate has been added.

Notice in this promotional post the promise of “at least 12 big sponsors”.

Sponsors are participants in the giveaway loop that will either be paid to join, or at least have their buy-in waived. So let’s do some back of a fag packet calculations here.

I reckon the iPhone, Instax camera, and marble phone case probably cost about $750 all together. Let’s call it $800 including international shipping. There are usually ~30 people in these loops. 12 of them are “big sponsors”. Which leaves 18 people paying the $350 buy-in. That is $6,300 in total. So the buy-ins minus the cost of the prize leaves us with $5,500 left over.

Obviously the organiser is going to want to keep as much of this hard earned loot as they can, but one would assume they are spending a sizeable chunk of that $5,500 on the “big sponsors” to help them reel in the little fish.

That is a lot of assumptions made about just one giveaway loop promotional post. And it would take some Wa-Po style investigative reporting to find out exactly how the economics of these giveaway loops works (and unless some influencer version of Deep Throat comes along to blow Loopgate out of the water, I haven’t got time for it). So I’ll make some more assumptions instead.

I doubt one would truly need 12 “big sponsors” to make one of these loops viable. If you can get somebody with 500,000 followers to participate in the loop, then it isn’t a stretch to think that they could bring 10,000 or more entrants alone. That would pretty much cover the gain estimate in the example above. So, given what we know about influencer fees, it would also not be surprising to discover that accounts of that size were getting paid thousands to participate in these loops.

The chart below shows the average number of comments on each giveaway loop post against the number of followers. Remember, the giveaway entrant has to complete the entire loop and then comment on the post that they started at. So the number of comments on a giveaway loop post should give us a good idea of how many entrants that influencer has brought in.

As we would expect, the accounts with more followers are the ones that are bringing more entrants to the loop. These are the accounts that are adding value to the loop. It would be nice to be able to really delve into a number of complete loops and see exactly where the entrants are coming from. Unfortunately, because influencers tend to delete the posts once the loop has run its course, that is quite an involved task and beyond the scope of this post.

So, how does this impact influencer marketing?

We have to think twice before working with influencers that take part in these giveaways. Not only does it potentially cheapen our clients’ brand to be associated with these schemes, but a follower demographic skewed towards people who want free stuff is probably not much use to us in achieving our objectives.

Follower count and Engagement Rate are still the two most important metrics when looking coldly at an influencer’s Instagram account. But we have seen here how easily it is for these metrics be manipulated. We still need to use them to help us understand an influencer’s value but, ultimately, these decisions need to be made by looking at and assessing the most important feature of their account:


Dave @ This Here

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We’re a data-fuelled creative agency (of the digital & social persuasion) with a 🇪🇺 European capability, a particular taste for influencer marketing, and a love for emojis 🙋 if that floats your boat.

PS. A note on the data

This investigation was done on the 321 Instagram giveaway loop posts that we have in our database. These posts came from 143 different Instagram accounts. 108 of those posts come from 4 recently complete giveaway loops that were added to our database for the purposes of this investigation. These loops were discovered on this website. As such, any data will be skewed towards those particular loops, and potentially towards the kind of loop that they promote on their site. This is not a comprehensive statistical analysis of all Instagram giveaway loops.