Yo, Instagram folks. Holding packets of tea is not a business model.

I’m on Instagram. And I enjoy it a lot, but if there’s one part that makes me want to rage quit, it’s the endless photos of fitness influencers, models and beautiful people holding up packets of skinny tea.

You know, the tea that helps people lose weight by basically being a fucking laxative.

It’s not that they necessarily believe in the product, if they did it might not piss me off as much as it does. It’s that holding pictures of skinny tea is their entire business, and they’d call themselves entrepreneurs for doing it.

Here’s the problem — these people are thinking that influence on its own is a business model and they’re running to whoever can monetize that influence, without considering their careers or long term entrepreneurship

Why does this matter? It matters for the same reason the old Myspace stars’ failure mattered — they’re not building any kid of asset, they’re not building a repeatable business model, and by their nature, they have to expand into something more tangible or die.

When Myspace stumbled, those people’s livelihoods and celebrity status was wiped out. Now the only reason anyone’s been talking about Tila Tequila is because she supports Trump and thinks the Earth is flat.

The thing is, the Instagram success is not worth nearly as much as the people enjoying it think. It’s just not. In fact, as an asset it’s almost totally worthless, when you compare its monetary value with the hours spent building it, and how easy it would be for it all to disappear.

Here’s an awesome read, about just how meaningless it all is:

Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing. You can’t rely on content creators all day long. For the influencers, their entire business is about relationships and friendships. Someone was at Vice, so uses their friend to do photography. Someone knows someone else at Instagram so gets featured on the trending page. We live and die by these platforms today.

That’s about as clear as anyone’s going to put it.

There’s just very little value here. You can call it advertising, but it’s not even that, it’s more brand awareness creation, based on content that has very little value on its own and exists as a throw away medium.

And they do live and die by those platforms. The businesses that rely on them to drive commerce will too.

The influencers are talking about building a business. What they’re really building — all they’re building — is a network. And it’s not the same thing.

Networks are social, and they’re worth only the sum of their parts. They can fracture and fall to pieces, and they can become totally worthless. Networks losing their value is the oldest media failure in the history of technology.

So what’s the alternative?

You can tell me that it doesn’t matter, but the Instagram influencers aren’t seeing this as a fun side gig. For a lot of them, it’s their career. And their career could drop them pretty damn fast.

If you’re building influence, the trick is to turn it into a business. If you’re an Instagram star, and you’re turning a buck holding packets of tea in your finest Athleisure, the clock is ticking and the onus is going to be on you to do something more.

To turn your network into a customer base, and to turn your business model into something repeatable and long term. There are people who are starting to do this pretty fucking effectively. Pia Muehlenbeck for example, with her clothing line. She’s an Instagram influencer who has been working hard to turn that audience into a business, and I really admire her.

There are businesses that can be built around having a large audience, but having a large audience is just not a business model on its own. If you treat it like one, it’s not going to go your way. Not forever.

  • eCommerce is a good option. You’ve got engaged buyers, and you’re telling them to go buy someone else’s fucking product? Trust me, the makers of that tea are making a lot more than you. Take that back from them.
  • Building a channel that isn’t dependent on you as a person is a great option to. You as an individual can’t grow, change, evolve or experiment, but a content channel can.
  • Sponsorship is great, but if your sponsorship is just being paid to act like you love something, you’re not building trust from your audience, and you’re selling yourself wholesale to some pretty shitty businesses. It’s also misleading if you don’t make it very clear that you’ve received compensation. In some places, it’s even illegal.

I want to be clear. You can create whatever content you want. These influencers on Instagram, I’m not dragging their photos or their creative work in any way.

They make content they love, that their followers love. But unless they have a real business model, they aren’t building something that’s of lasting value — and that’s only going to bite ’em later on.

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