This Is Very Unprofessional, But …

This Is Very Unprofessional, But …

I’ve been toying for a few weeks or even months with just walking away from social media altogether. It’s been a long slog and I don’t feel like I’ve made any progress or inroads into making a living or even any form of income from my work on Facebook and Instagram in particular.

Over the last six months I’d put a heavy focus on my Instagram account, posting my favourite photos graphs from my adventures, growing from 2,000 followers to over 11,000 and watching my engagement figures rise week by week. I had, however, grown very frustrated at seeing other people, with smaller followers and engagement than my account, continuously featured in the media or profiled in ‘Ten Irish Travellers you should follow on Instagram’ lists without ever seeing my account featured amongst them.

With the time I’d invested in my Instagram account through taking pictures, painstakingly selecting my favourite ones, engaging with other accounts, I started to ask myself some serious questions:

  1. Did anyone ‘real’ even notice my output on Instagram?
  2. Was I doing it all wrong?
  3. Was I kidding myself that I might be making an impact or even influencing a single person?
  4. Were my images not good enough?
  5. Most importantly, was it worth the time I was spending?

Having kept an almost religious focus on my daily posting schedule for six months, in the last ten days I only posted three times. I was feeling the fatigue and was on the fence about whether I should continue.


I did research for another blogpost on Instagram engagement a few months ago and after some very basic analysis I decided to walk away from the entire idea, mainly because I felt that publishing my findings would paint some of the influencers and celebrities featured in a negative light.

This week 4 things happened that put this analysis back on the radar for me.

  1. A brand new list of travel instagrammers to follow was published, some with very dubious credentials as travel content creators.
  2. I saw some Irish “Influencers” used to promote products in the mainstream Irish media where they have been paid thousands, if not ten’s of thousands, of euro to do so.
  3. I’ve read a number of articles about faking numbers online and privately I’ve had a number of conversations with brand new bloggers who are questioning themselves after only a few months because their numbers are not blowing up.
  4. I was in a book shop in Galway discussing their order of my book Pedal The Planet when the girl behind the counter, having dealt with me said “This is very unprofessional of me, but I absolutely love your photos on Instagram”.

This stranger’s comment on my Instagram account made my whole week, but also immediately settled each of the questions rolling around in my head in the positive.

The Problem

I needed to find a way to apply some science to this question. Luckily Instagram works on a numbers basis and unlike snapchat, this information was available to the general public, or at least anyone who has an Instagram account.

But how can I compare my account, a small travel photography profile with major influencers, celebrities and my peers in the travel blogging community. I needed a way of comparing apples and oranges, so I went back to my inner maths geek to find the answer to the question “Which Irish Instagram Travel Accounts have the biggest influence?”

The Survey Process

I needed some accounts to compare myself with, I asked in a blogger group on Facebook for some volunteers, people who considered themselves travel bloggers (my peers), I searched the internet for anyone listed on a list of Irish travel Instagrammers (the top of the list) and then I added four Irish social media personalities (not strictly travel related) who have been featured on major Irish advertising campaigns that I’ve seen in recent weeks (People who make a living from their social media accounts).

For comparison purposes I also wanted to include 3 international superstars who make an absolute fortune due to their ridiculously high profile social media accounts. Ed Sheeran, Christiano Ronaldo & Kendall Jenner are all high profile celebrities from the world of Music, Sport and Modelling / Reality TV who have been all over the news for the last few weeks for a variety of reasons.

This gave my sample a total of 63 Instagram accounts.

The process was pretty simple, take each person’s total follower count, then an average of the last 10 photos posted to Instagram. I purposely didn’t include video as Instagram changes their ‘likes’ count to ‘viewed’ count for video.

Any posts which were less than 24 hours old were not included in this survey. The logic for this is two fold:

  1. Someone who has posted something in the last few minutes will have a very low number compared to their average, and it would negatively impact their numbers.
  2. In a global world, audiences are stretched across all time zones, only including posts older than 24 hours means each time zone has had equal opportunity to see each post at ‘peak’ times.

All of these values were collated over the 18th, 19th & 20th of April 2017. Other than the international celebrities and the people who opted into this research I have replaced all the names of the accounts picked from Instagram Follow lists with a “IG #”, each of the “Influencers” who have caught my attention in the main stream media over recent weeks are included as “Influencer #”.

The Results

Comparing the number of likes wouldn’t give me the answer I was looking for, some people with small numbers of followers get more likes than those with many multiples of their follower count. I needed to find a statistic that would show me who actually had the greater impact, how many people were motivated to double tap their screen when they saw your photographs.

Comparing the accounts based purely on follower numbers shows some expected results.

Top Follower Numbers

Our international superstars are obviously at the top of our list, our four “Influencers” all make the top 20 as you might expect. 2 of our volunteer contributors, Lisa McDevitt and Tara Povey, make the top 20 but the majority of our ‘small’ travel bloggers are right down the bottom of the table when it comes to audience size.

Top Photo Likes

This doesn’t tell me anything really new though, what if I play around with the statistics I’ve gleaned a little. Let’s sort it by the number of actual likes each account gets, an average of their last 10 photos should tell a more real story, let’s try that for starters.

Well obviously our International Superstars are still top of the charts, as you would expect, our top 5 remains completely unchanged, but there are some interesting developments beneath that. Tara Povey has leaped from 20th to 10th. Rambling Ruth has moved from the fringes of the top 40 to inside the top 20.

(In terms of full disclosure, Rambling Ruth is my sister, but independently opted into this survey from her adventures across Europe with no direct prompting from me.)

“Influencer 3” is now in 6th place having been just inside the top 20 on their follower count. In fact each of our other 3 of our “Influencers” have dropped their placing when taken purely on the number of interactions to their content.

A smattering of our ‘Opt-In’ bloggers have also progressed their standing, having previously had 2 in the top 20 and 7 in the top 40 on the list, we’re now looking at 3 in the top 20 and 10 in the top 40. It says something, but hardly earth shattering news.

Likes per Follower (%)

I’m still not convinced we’re comparing like with like though, I don’t feel I’ve really scratched the surface , someone with a high follower count will obviously have a higher number of likes. What about if we compare the two values, how many (%) of each person’s followers ‘like’ their content on a regular basis. I feel that’s going to give a better feel of how engaged each person’s audience is regardless of their actual size.

It’s almost as if we’ve turned our figures completely around. When our interactions are looked at analytically rather than purely in an absolute value table we can see that the smaller accounts do encourage a greater percentage of their followers to engage with their content.

Our “Influencers” have become even more spread out, with one firmly rooted to the top of the list, two others making up the remaining bottom 10 places, with Kendall Jenner just above them at barely 1.5 likes per hundred followers engaging with her content. Our final Irish Influencer is holding strong on quite a healthy 8.3 likes per hundred followers, almost double Ed Sheeran’s percentage.

Consistency / Quality

There is another factor which struck me as being somewhat important though. Some figures are bulked up by a specific post going viral, mostly due to competitions, giveaways or account owners specifically asking for likes on a certain image. This does affect the average number of likes, which in turn will present a much more positive image to a potential

Two accounts may have the same average across their ten posts but something like a single post going viral or under performing could skew these figures usefulness for comparison purposes. One way to measure this would be to compare the standard deviation of the post likes.

Let’s explain what this means by showing you the graph of the accounts at the very top and bottom of this list, namely: Christina Ni Muirthile and Influencer 2.

As you can see Christina’s account is almost equal every single day in terms of her interactions from her audience. Influencer 2 is erratic and wild in terms of where you might expect their numbers to fall. In the interest of comparison let’s look at all of our remaining Influencers, Celebs and my own account also into the mix. I’ve also included IG 13 as this account was in the top five of both followers and likes but the bottom five of this particular test.

Most of these accounts have a post that doesn’t quite engage with the audience. For example Ed Sheeran’s dip is where he posts a poor quality photo about a TV show rather than his music or something related to his music, videos or gigs. Cristiano Ronaldo has two such dips where he is obviously promoting products rather than his football activities, specifically underwear and a fragrance.

The peaks are a little less easy to explain though, some are due to a specific request to like an individual photo in return for being entered into competitions, but not surprisingly some are corporate adverts which would indicate that a certain amount of direct advertising budget has been put aside to promote one individual post, either by the account owner or the brand being promoted in the post. It might also reflect a post which has been featured in the main stream media or larger online presences or even in a small number of instances it appears to be relative to the amount of skin visible in the photograph.

This pattern of spikes, for one, some or all of these reasons above, is quite easy to see in the graphs belonging to Influencer 1, 2 & 4 as well as Kendall Jenner and IG 13.

How is this possible? What does it mean?

Unfortunately in a world where some marketing companies don’t do their homework, are suckered in by massaged / inflated audience numbers or sometimes just simply star struck at a face or reputation they choose to work with certain personalities, influencers and agencies.

A simple look at the real numbers behind these faces, names and social media accounts can mean that clever public relations, advertising budgets together with perhaps a national profile in the mainstream media can mean more than actually having a real audience of your own.

A simple search for “How to buy instagram likes / followers” will show you an almost infinite amount of ways to purchase followers for a miniscule amount of money. Reports like this on the Huffington Post explain why this isn’t a good idea, but it appears that some account holders, or more likely people acting on behalf of account holders, can’t resist massaging the figures slightly, especially when your own income depends on it.

The conclusions

For Influencers / Income generating Bloggers

Fair play to you. Generating an income from something you really enjoy and are passionate about is difficult and it definitely has it’s downsides. Not knowing where your next payday is coming from and relying on others (editors, producers & collaborators) to obtain paid work can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, especially if you’re dealing with languages, time zones and the odd bit of homesickness. I love watching your content flash up in my instagram and other social feeds and would like to extend an open invitation to collaborate on travel or adventures in the future. Keep that flag flying high.

Unfortunately, though, it seems that the findings of this small survey match a trend that has been evident worldwide for some time. Some of the perception within this industry around certain influencers is that their numbers don’t quite reflect their real-life social media presence accurately. If you can’t get a follower to ‘like’ your content how likely are they to actually purchase the product you are promoting to them. That’s even before you take into consideration the example of the large drop in Ronaldo’s interactions when promoting products over images of him playing football.

Anyone, either as an account owner, their staff or agents who profit from misrepresenting audience figures to companies and advertisers should be seen as committing a fraud; effectively stealing from the companies and as a result the actual content creators who have spent time, energy and their own hard earned cash to create a dedicated following who actually engage with them and their content.

For Companies

I’m not going to tell anyone how to spend their money, blow it on staff parties, donate it to charity, invest in R&D. It’s your money, you can do whatever you want with it, but I will ask you to do the most basic research before you pay a social media “Influencer”. Don’t take someone’s word for it.

Giving an “Influencer” a cheque for thousands of euro’s just because they tell you they are an Influencer isn’t good enough in this day and age. Spend a bit of time checking out how influential they really are. Would you buy a property without a engineers report, a second hand car without having a mechanic look it over, hire a new staff member without checking their references or complete a business deal without doing your due diligence. I didn’t think so!

If you put an advert into a newspaper that claimed a circulation of hundreds of thousands of euros but 80-90% of them were actually just pulped would you be demanding your money back?

A question you should be asking is if you could you get ten or fifteen smaller influencers to promote your product for the same spend and reach a much larger total audience of real people, the answer is more than likely yes. If you need help doing this analysis please don’t hesitate to contact me, I’ll be happy to advise you on the subject.

For Myself & the other small bloggers

Keep doing what you’re doing, it might seem small fry at times, and you might not be getting the credit you should from the places you feel it should be coming from, but there is an audience of people who enjoy following your adventures, living their lives vicariously through you and plotting their own travels. As you can see from the figures above, you are making an impact, possibly to someone you’ve never or will never meet. If you enjoy travelling, writing and creating video or photo content please keep doing it.

Your integrity and honesty shines through your output and eventually that will see you rise with the cream to the very top and most importantly stay there. It might seem like it’s not worth the effort at times but trust me, you will get there, wherever there is. I look forward to joining you there someday too.

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4 thoughts on “This Is Very Unprofessional, But …”

  • I actually love this even though my account went slightly down in the % likes vs followers I’m pretty happy with how it performed overall. I do think comments are important too though. I see a lot of big accounts that get like 9 comments per photo which obviously means none of their followers care that much about what they’re saying. I may be mentioning this because I know I get loads of comments that aren’t just spam, hahahah. But I do think it’s something to factor in too, like how many people are interested and asking questions about what you’re posting. ALSO, the % likes vs followers always decreases as your following increases because a lot more random people start to follow you that are outside your original target market, just because they think you’re “instafamous”. So they won’t necessarily interact, they’ll just be there to stalk. Which is why sometimes it’s actually better for a brand to work with a small niche influencer because they can be assured that nearly ALL of their followers will be there purely because they’re interested in that niche. Where as if they pay for a post from Kendall Jenner, sure a lot of people will see it, but a lot of them will just be creepy people that have a crush on Kendall and no interest in their product. ANYWAY, great post 🙂

  • Love this post cos its based on science/maths….you know a proper analysis! And as you conclude you might be quite a strong influencer to a smaller group of people compared to the larger profiles who get a few likes but don’t really make an impact to change people’s thoughts and habits. I just like engagement on my blog rather than anything else. Thanks for doing this screw unprofessionalism lol!

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