There’s no doubt that Instagram has become the most popular social platform out there. ‘Instagrammable’ became a word that everyone uses regularly and Millenials are choosing their holidays based on their ‘instagramability’.
But anyone can notice that the most popular people on the platform in the travel and travel & lifestyle niche have their photos spot on.
Instagram seems to be flooded with picturesque images that look like they’ve come straight out of a magazine. There’s no space for the crooked horizon, blurry images, or something strangely cut off. What brings the question:
Is There Space For Being Authentic on Instagram?
It depends on what do you call authentic. While many might complain that photos are edited, ask yourself a question: do you REALLY want to see someone’s giant face in front of the Eiffel Tower?
Personally, I hate these photos of myself with cut out legs and weird angle selfies from my early travels. I don’t think National Geographic would have printed these photos instead of high-quality properly edited shots they have been featuring for years.
Being sponsored vs Traveling Because You Want To
Another tough issue is the money, as most influencers on Instagram are being sponsored all the time. They never pay for their own hotels, their own clothes, meals or business class flights. This is why Instagram is soon rolling in a new feature pushing everyone to disclose collaborations not just by a hidden hashtag #ad, but on top of the post.
Would all these travel influencers be able to afford it if they had to pay for it themselves? The vast majority of them wouldn’t, especially considering the fact that they just get a free night at those hotels but no actual money.
The most Instagrammable hotels this year cost approx. $500-4000 per night. How many people out there would be willing to spend $4000 per night on a hotel?
According to my survey, the majority of my own readers spend between $1500-5000 per entire trip, so my question is who will actually stay at these hotels? Not many people, but the photo will surely get a lot more likes than if you recommended a simple guesthouse. Simply because people like to see places they want to dream about!
Everyone out there starts travel blogging and Instagramming by spending their own money, eventually if successful, travel blogging becomes a job. A job that actually pays and sponsors is one of these things that pay. I spoke about the difference of traveling as a blogger vs holidays before, and why life isn’t always as glamorous as it seems, so I’m not going to repeat myself here.
Is there space for showing authentic travel experiences on Instagram then?I think so. As long as you don’t give in and join the Instagram mafia full of the same shots and comments from automated Telegram groups.
Instead of photos of you in mini shorts wearing a straw hat in front of one of the most popular destinations, you can show what you want to convey. While originality died on Instagram and no one cares about being original, you can. These past years almost every popular influencer has photographed:
- Riad Yasmine & Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh
- Swing at Dalawella Beach in Sri Lanka
- Lago de Braises in Italy
- Terrace of the restaurant & beach full of orange umbrellas in Positano
- White buildings of Santorini
- Swings on rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia
- Peggy Porschen Cafe in London
- Pink lakes in Mexico (I’m sorry here, as I sort of encouraged that trend thanks to my flamingo photo :P)
- Eiffel Tower, seen from the perspective of the stairs
- Valensole lavender fields
Raise your hand if you’ve seen these places on Instagram endless times? Why do we all go to the same places always amazes me. Especially since I’ve been to all these places before Instagram was even born and never even thought of photographing these spots. Why? Simply because there were other cool places to see around.
However, one thing we often forget as creators is that the Instagram community is a small bubble. I recently posted a photo from Libreria Aqua Alta in Venice, a cool spot that personally I’ve seen on Instagram various times as many influencers went there before me. I even said in my caption: ‘You might have seen this spot on Instagram already’.
Guess what!? Most of my followers have NEVER seen or heard about this place before. While it seemed popular to me, as I follow other creators, to most people it was a new original spot to add to their bucket list.
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You might have seen this spot on Instagram already, and while this book staircase is pretty cool, the entire shop is even more fun! ???? They have an entire gondola filled with books, a book nook, and two friendly cats guarding the cashier. Definitely stop by when in Venice! ????
Online forums are full of people asking how they can improve their feed, and bloggers complain that people don’t like their photos, often blaming it on the app’s content repetitive, staged and unoriginal this brings up another question:
Are Travel Bloggers ‘Better’ Than Instagrammers Then?
Travel bloggers have been around for way longer than Instagram influencers, but let’s face it: a huge percentage of travel bloggers are shit photographers.
When Instagram rolled in, many bloggers ignored the app and when it became popular decided to blame everything that’s happening in the travel industry on Instagrammers.
I myself used to be a very bad photographer (disclaimer: I’m not a master now either, I’m still learning). To the extent that when my blog was already a profitable business I even wrote on my about page that my readers shouldn’t expect great photos on this website. But, when I saw the potential of then Instagram app I decided to improve my photography and built my following on Instagram.
Through looking at content creators’ work on Instagram my photography improved and I gained a new sense of fashion as well.
Now I can say that my blog and Instagram can and do run separately as businesses. Which put me in a unique position of being a travel blogger AND instagramer.
As an Instagrammer I had to go to these places very early before tourists arrived, carefully planned outfits, make sure tripods are or aren’t allowed, figure out the props, take 50 shots to pick one, and editing took at least 15 minutes per photo.
Therefore, I see a lot of constant clashes between older generation travel bloggers and new influencers on Instagram. They complain about not being hired for certain projects as Instagrammers took over and brands are more interested in Instagram exposure rather than a written article.
Plus, these days many influencers (AKA Instagrammers) call themselves full-time bloggers, even when they don’t own a website or have one with 3 random posts, just to sell their Lightroom presents. While I wholeheartedly disagree with Instagrammers claiming they’re bloggers, there are many Instagrammers who are amazing content creators.
Quite often I look at fellow travel bloggers and truth to be told their content hasn’t improved for years. As these days more and more people join the industry, many people can easily become irrelevant.
Sure, you don’t have to be a great photographer to be a blogger or writer, but what makes one entitled to complain about better photographers out there taking their job that requires photography skills?
While bloggers complain that Instagrammers take the same shots and go to the same places, let me be the devil’s advocate for a second and ask: aren’t bloggers doing the same?Frankly, how many ‘where to stay’ or ‘best things to do in’ type of articles are you seeing on the web? They keep popping up all the time like mushrooms after the rain.
Most successful bloggers use the so-called skyscraper technique. You start by researching popular trends, topics, and already well-received pieces of existing content across the topic areas your business typically covers and then take bits and pieces or it and convert it into a better piece for your own website to get backlinks.
Why? Because they work and can rank higher in Google search which brings more traffic to your website and eventually more money. But, it’s neither original nor any different from shooting at the same location over and over again.
Some say that everyone is for sale, as long as you name the right price. As I almost always show up in my own photos, my account became a good place to promote fashion items. I’d lie if I said that I don’t receive offers to promote brands on my feed all the time. I used to accept these free items all the time, but these days I reject most of them, and the reason for it isn’t that I don’t need money anymore because I’m rich (I wish!).
I prefer to buy my own clothes and accessories, simply because I personally refuse to promote anything that I wouldn’t recommend myself. And truth to be told, it hasn’t always been that way and this is why most products offered to influencers for free or even when paid aren’t something they would actually use.
I bought a few dresses based on undisclosed #ad recommendations on Instagram and I returned them all, as the quality was low and the product looked just terrible. But hey, they can look very nice after retouching in an Instagram picture.
Obviously though, no one can afford to buy new clothes every week, and that’s why it became a trend to return clothes immediately after taking the picture for Instagram.
Some companies, like Pretty Little Thing, got fed up with returns by putting long tags on clothes that allow you to try it on, but not take a photo in them. However, it seems that many Instagrammers don’t even care to photoshop the tag from dresses they’re wearing.
While it’s gotten to a ridiculous point, and I’d personally rather use Rent the Runway instead, I accept that this is this person’s job. That said, can I blame someone for promoting something that pays well when they’re trying to make a living? Not at all!
You may argue, but if you have no money and someone offers you $2000 to post about something strange like toilet paper or a dress that might not be the greatest quality, are you sure you would say no?
There are many people out there working jobs that they might not always agree with, but they’re doing it anyway to feed their families.
Bloggers aren’t always completely honest with their audience either.
I recently saw one travel blogger asking their followers for recommendations for luxury hotels in NYC and activities that don’t cost money, as she doesn’t have any. In response to someone who said that NYC is probably not a destination to go to without money as hotels alone will cost an arm and a leg, this blogger said ‘thankfully, bloggers don’t have to pay for hotels as they’ll be sponsored’.
Another blogger recently announced ‘a big event’ that she paid for her own hotel for the first time in months because obviously, she can get it for free. This definitely doesn’t help the industry’s trustworthiness, but this behavior didn’t start with the rise of Instagram, but it applies to travel bloggers and professional journalists.
Some might argue that being constantly sponsored creates an inauthentic image of traveling on Instagram, bloggers do the same exact thing. But while I absolutely disagree with bragging about being sponsored to your followers, let’s also look at things in a different way.
I’ve done numerous trips with professional journalists writing for the NYT, Traveler, The Guardian, or BBC and they not only were fully sponsored like the others, but they were also more restricted in writing about some things that happened on the trip, and photos used for articles were always stock photos from the media pack. How is this more authentic then?
If you work in some company who produces something you probably have a non-disclosure agreement from them to speak badly about the product. You’re helping to market this product, even if it’s not always the best of the best. But they pay you so you do your job because not everyone can afford to find a new job easily.
What we all need to worry about instead are unsolicited claims without fact checking.
Sadly, the race to improve SEO led many bloggers to destroy their blogs by hiring cheap, inexperienced ghostwriters to create articles about places they haven’t been to or review products they never owned without checking facts. Just to have more content.
While bloggers complain that Instagrammers just put a photo out there without any explanation about the history of the place, people they met, and so on, and a long article can be more valuable, it’s proven that people rarely read captions on Instagram. The younger generations read less in general, hence YouTube is more popular than written words.
The best example of that would be my Instagram photo from Eritrea with what I thought would be a meaningful caption, but the comments proved me otherwise – no matter what I said most people simply didn’t care about the background story.
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This Italian theater was a perfect photo-symbol to encourage everyone to speak up about situation in some countries. If you heard of #Eritrea, you might have heard about their compulsory community service in the army. Outside of Eritrea, its known to last about 1 to 6 years, but that’s not exactly the truth. I kept asking locals about the length of the national service and every time I was receiving a different answer. 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 27 years. My local guide, as friendly as she was, claimed that the service lasts 1 year and everyone wants to do it to learn about the military. I don’t blame her for not willing to tell me something that could get her in trouble and possibly get her imprisoned. One person from my group asked me: why do you keep asking this question? Because I wanted to see how many people are willing to open up – and some did. The national service can keep you as long as they want to keep you there. They pay every person a ration of 1000 nakfa per month, and to put this into a perspective a dinner at the restaurant costs 120-200, while a small bottle of water in a store is 12 nakfa. As @oneyoungworld pointed out, the national service isn’t a community voluntary thing, but often slavery.
What’s way worse is spreading fake news on blogs, that aren’t personal opinions because we can definitely say why we didn’t like a destination, we can’t claim that let’s say ‘this is the best itinerary’ when we never visited the place, can we?
A few days ago I stumbled upon a new obnoxious travel blog claiming that their authors go where ‘no man has been before’ and ‘do what others haven’t done yet’. I laughed out loud when I saw the content of the blog, as places they visited included top European cities, Utah, Mexican Riviera and so on.
Not only these were some of the top destinations in the world, visited by millions of people every year, but the claim that this blog presents places where no one has been before was delicately speaking ridiculous.
Why do people tend to do it then? The explanation here is simple: we, as humans, have always had a desire to do everything first, before anyone else. Why? Because history tends to remember the first person who’s done something rather than the second. In terms of travel, think about the first explorers of new continents or even the race to the moon between the US and Russia.
Plus, because it can often work in your favor for a while until someone discovers the other side to the story. We all remember when Cassie de Pecol went viral in a bad way for claiming she’s the first ‘documented’ woman to visit all countries.
While it created some noise, she obviously wasn’t the first – many women have done it before her. She was just the first who blasted it all over social media channels and had a good PR manager, and the whole thing quickly backfired against her for making such claims.
Before I open this article to a discussion here are a few final thoughts:
I think we, as content creators, whether bloggers or influencers, tend to do things that may seem ridiculous to 0ther niches in the industry.
Unless we keep on improving our skills and adapt to changes, we can’t keep on complaining that others are taking away our jobs.
We also need to look at ourselves and ask yourself a question: aren’t we, as creators, guilty of doing things that we criticize others for?
What are your thoughts? What’s the solution?
Saturday 6th of March 2021
Both bloggers and Instagrammers have a cinstant need for valudation which they get mostly from other bloggers. Normal people paying for travel see you for what you are: narcissists. A joke. Pathetic. This bubble will eventually pop and youll all end up in your parents basement. There is nothing worse than going to a beautiful spot, having to wait in line to see it because some spoiled milliniel has to take 50 photos and whines when yhe lighting is bad. You and your ilk are despised by the outside world
Sunday 24th of April 2022
@Anna Karsten, Fake name and bad grammar/spelling aside, "Joe Marks'" opinion *is* valid, and your need to get defensive and criticize him only further proves his point about the inherent narcissism that characterizes 99% of all travel bloggers / vloggers/ Instagrammers / influencers / so-called "creators." I saw the birth of your pseudo-industry and will undoubtedly enjoy its inevitable demise in the very near future. None of us really care where you've been. 🙄
Saturday 6th of March 2021
You know what's actually the most pathetic? Commenting 4 times with fake names and sending emails just to tell others online they're pathetic. You know it shows your IP and I can see that you're the same person who just created a few fake names LOL.
Friday 12th of April 2019
I think it all depends on who you're following. Follow the right people and you can have a vast number of different experiences on Instagram.
Saturday 13th of April 2019
Tuesday 26th of March 2019
Great read, and it's been forever since I've read another blog (I gag when I see mine and all the things I have to do) ;) So much for me has changed since I first started, the most important thing is that now I'm a lot more "relaxed", meaning that I get anxiety attacks when I see the discussions in the groups on the race to beat the competition and creating a millionth of articles to be able to rank, make money etc.
Which is hilarious as this should be the way to go to be a successful blogger. Good SEO etc. Duh. But my approach now is more like "ok, I have my ideas, my style, bad or good... I don't want to change much of it, and if this doesn't work out, I changed works before, I can certainly do it again.
What I'm saying is that to be somehow authentic and not stressed out too much, I might be sabotaging my business, but somehow I know that producing 10 articles per month wouldn't do any good to MY OWN blog so I don't do it.
And regarding the main topic of this post, I can't really say much as (I think I even dared to put "influencer" on my Instagram profile which is almost dead) but I'm a blogger who minds her own business and doesn't give a damn of what other people are doing.
Meaning I don't have the time to criticize Instagrammers, Youtubers, Bloggers and so on, I have my own business to run first. I might take some ideas and transform them into something more personalized from time to time but nothing more. If one of my articles is ranking lower than before because someone copied it and made it better? Good on them, that's what I should be doing so I wouldn't blame them but myself and start to work on it (just as you did with your photo skills).
Also, the "Instagram girl" everyone seems to hate, I don't get all the hate and complaints. Yes, I bet you don't go to certain places dressed in a ball gown like some girls do but hey, I love the composition, the colors, the overall photo.
I know it doesn't represent the reality (most of the times) but as a normal person, because I'm not defined by my job, I like beauty, and a beautiful photo in a beautiful location is nice to see. Full stop. I also like the "reportage" kind of photos as well as the Nat Geo photo type, but for different purposes.
It's not all black and white. People (bloggers and the whole industry) should chill a bit and think about what makes them happy with their job. This will translate into everything they do and the right audience for them will surely appreciate it. Fake photo set or not. They have brains to understand when a photo is retouched and maybe they should take it as guidance and lower their expectations.
Sunday 17th of March 2019
Everything I’ve been thinking! 1. I don’t tend to read other blogs, and so I had never truly read your writing. You’re amazing! 2. This couldn’t be more true and I’m glad you put it out there. The industry is changing and everyone is imperfect. It’s up to us to hold ourselves accountable.
Sunday 17th of March 2019
I really enjoyed reading this! As soon as you said about bloggers all having the same content it just seemed so obvious. As new bloggers we have so many ideas of what we want to write about. But we know that the things we want to write about won't get us seen on google. But a 'what to pack for a safari' or a 'what to wear on safari' article will get a lot more notice (we are safari guides and discuss living and working in Southern Africa). But there are already loads of them and it's not very interesting/exciting to write. But if we don't do it, it may take a lot longer to 'succeed'. It's a game we all play, I think we should just worry about what we are doing and not everyone else. The most important thing is to be proud of what you do and adhere to your own ethics.