'Bloggers in Russia continue to make a lot of money by selling air'

How the mechanisms work in the environment of influencers and how to prevent bloggers from deceiving the audience

The income of Russian bloggers from advertising this year will reach 16,5-18,5 billion rubles and will double the market of 2019, experts predict. It is commonly believed that bloggers easily earn huge money. Some of them really have enough for a comfortable life. According to statistics, popular Russian opinion leaders with millions of views earn from 5 million to 10 million rubles a month. And the cost of an advertising post in a promoted account, according to average estimates, has increased more than 12 times over the past 6 years — from $134 to $1,643. Andrey Konnov, the head of the working group of the National Association of Digital Economy on combating Internet fraud, analysed the trends of the influencer market for Realnoe Vremya, told about the reasons for the successes and failures of opinion leaders, and speculated why people buy useless courses from bloggers and why the fight against them has not yet been been successful.

Old algorithms stop working

A few years ago, the saying appeared: “Schoolchildren rule the Internet.” This is a young audience that, on the one hand, has time, on the other hand, “stands for” for their idols and, defending them, is ready to prove the truth in the comments to the last. We know how search algorithms work: the more comments, likes on YouTube, on Instagram, the more recommendations. This means that the more users will view the video that caused responses.

And that's why schoolchildren are fuel for promotion in social networks. This explains why “stupid” content is liked, and bloggers have become bullies — but not on a class scale, as it used to be in the school environment. If teenagers like a bully, he is now becoming famous all over the country.

However, recently subscribers have become more expensive for bloggers, and this complicates the life of influencers. The price of a subscriber increases with the increase in the number of Instagram users. Some of the working algorithms used by bloggers are also losing their relevance. Earlier on Instagram “giveaways” were quite popular — gifts that are distributed for free in Instagram sweepstakes to quickly attract subscribers. But now for them you can get into a shadow ban or even worse — blocking, sometimes without explanation. Even earlier, there were no giveaways, people gained an audience through targeted advertising, for example, on subscribers. Now Instagram and YouTube do not even show likes and dislikes that came to the placed advertisement (only you can see them yourself in your advertising cabinet, but no one else).

In certain situations, bloggers will be forced to adjust the price, sell cheaper. But still, they, who are really used to easy money, will invent new ways to promote themselves. There is no doubt about it. At the same time, it should be understood that the fewer real advertisers, the better for scammers on the Internet. Gambling and illegal casinos will be expected to flourish, but first of all, magicians and esotericists, because these people promise absolutely everything: from super health to an ideal husband. It is them who will buy advertising from bloggers.

The question arises, which will win: scammers or reputation? More on that a bit later on.

Why is machine learning harmful and what happened to targeting?

Facebook and Instagram algorithms machine learning and Instagram targeting problems can be attributed to the trends that complicate bloggers' lives. Machine learning has both positive aspects and disadvantages.

Let's imagine a situation. A company publishes an advertisement on Instagram or Facebook in which it indicates that it is looking for men to work on a construction site. People of different ages become to see it. But Facebook sees that mostly men over 50 do not respond to this advertisement, unlike young people (because it is more difficult for older people to cope with physically hard work). So it does not show ads to these people — in fact, discriminating against them. After all, among men over 50, there are still a small number of very cool specialists who have good skills, do not require ultra-high earnings and could definitely be useful to the company. But Facebook and Instagram won't show ads to these people. For the same reason, let's say a woman will not be able to get a job as a trucker — the system will automatically restrict her by gender. This is the danger of machine learning, and big problems have already arisen in Western society about this.

Targeted advertising has become several times worse for those who set it up earlier and got directly into the target audience. There are a lot of reasons for this. One of them is that Facebook and Instagram services are now finding it difficult to get users' personal data from Apple for targeting (which is why they are now suing Apple).

Another reason for the stalling of advertising in social networks is related to the growth of competition during the pandemic, and not only: the number of mobile devices is growing in the world, more and more people and companies are advertising on Facebook and Instagram. The cost of advertising is increasing, simply because competition is increasing. Clicks and hits are getting more expensive, and the focus audience to which this ad is being shown is becoming less and less accurate (due to the unavailability of personal data, voiced above).

As Facebook and Instagram are growing, more and more scammers and unscrupulous companies are promoting their products in social networks — the above-mentioned courses. People have heard enough stories that poor-quality training is being sold on Instagram, that money for these products is not returned. The users of social networks find out, for example, that small companies do not monitor the quality of what they offer, and bloggers open low-grade clothing lines. But bloggers don't care about subscribers in this case, and that's why Instagram as an advertising platform is gradually losing its appeal.

As a result, failures of audience search algorithms due to non-provision of data, increased competition and the volume of low-quality products on Instagram, the disregard of companies and bloggers for their customers — all this leads to that advertising in social networks becomes less attractive to people. They are now more focused on supermarkets like Wildberries, where there are video reviews and relatively honest ratings.

Will a scandal hurt the blogger?

Users of social networks who blindly trusted courses and marathons from bloggers are rushing to the other extreme — they no longer believe in the power of checklists (lists of sequential actions to achieve the goal that bloggers recommend on their courses and sell in their accounts). Often, as soon as a millionaire blogger announces a course, “leaks” of the facts of their personal life immediately appear. Does his reputation suffer?

One can remember the old saying that there is no artist or writer whose reputation could be damaged by a scandal or a fight. Now you can add bloggers to the people of art. When it comes to shocking, shocking news, conflicts, they are more likely to be a “plus” because they will attract attention.

It's not for nothing that before the launch of the next marathon, some bloggers stage their own abduction, getting into psychiatric clinics — they need a scandal that gives coverage and mention in the media. This encourages people to Google the name of the person at the centre of the scandal and subscribe to the account to watch how the situation will develop. And he or she gets a new audience just before the course starts. Therefore, attempts to compromise him or her are more likely to benefit them.

What can outlast the “magic” courses?

So real experts who do not sell “air” may well stay afloat. Those who lose contracts with advertisers will have their credibility undermined. But what awaits them next?

I want to believe that “waffle” courses will die, but their fate directly depends on the culture of cancellation and the formation of reputation. What is it?

For example, you watched a course that did not benefit you. You write a negative review about it, leave an angry comment and ask for a refund. It is necessary that in the behavioural patterns of people who work with Instagram, such pattern is preserved: as soon as a person announces about enrolling in courses related to wish fulfillment, spiritual growth, and a change in thinking, they should immediately unsubscribe from them. If such a stereotype is fixed, then it will be possible to say that the era of courses will come to naught. But so far it has only moved a little.

The culture of cancellation, by the way, is actively working in Western countries, especially in relation to public figures who earn on the attention of the audience. Let me remind you of a vivid example with J.K. Rowling: she accompanied one of her posts with a comment insulting transgender people. As a result, the largest fan sites refused to publish information about the writer, and sales of Harry Potter plummeted.

Another example: Warner Brothers refused to cooperate with Johnny Depp, and Netflix removed all films with his participation from the American library. All because the actor's ex-wife accused him of violence.

But bloggers in Russia continue to make a lot of money by selling air. People are used to believing in miracles “against all odds”, they want to find a magic pill that will take them to a happy future. While bloggers are trading such a dream and it is not considered shameful, it is not condemned by the general public — dubious courses will live.

It is important to remember about the audience of Instagram bloggers. For the most part, these are teenagers 14-18 years old, fanatical of their idols, ready to fight, defending the image of the idol. But if a young man realises that his beloved blogger has deceived him, he will be morally depressed. For him, the truth itself is not as bitter as the fact that he was deceived, and even money was earned on him. Disappointment comes, the image of the idol is destroyed. Meanwhile, bloggers continue to form an image by buying artificial reviews with something like this content: “Your marathon doesn't work because you just weren't ready yet, you were at the stage of denial. It is important to understand that you will succeed only when you accept it yourself.” Someone, reading such reviews, thinks that the problem is really in him!

Is it possible to ban “happy” courses and marathons?

Can fake courses and marathons be banned in social networks, as Roskomnadzor once closed illegal online casinos? I must say that online casinos posed a threat not only to the economic security of the country, but also to the mental health of the nation. After all, problem gambling is a disease, and people lose much more money on it than when buying courses.

In my opinion, we should not expect that bloggers will suffer the same fate as casinos. The story of blogging marathons passes with age. Besides, there are too many bloggers.

They are among the wives of rich husbands, and among the “golden youth”. The producers of the courses come to them and say, “You don't have to do anything. You and I will just shoot a couple of days of video, and you will earn a few million.” But advertising in a blog is still a relatively honest income, compared to promising courses that in reality do not give anything.

Note that there are no courses on playing musical instruments, boxing, fitness, for example, among the most popular training. In terms of demand, they cannot be compared with courses on “sending signals to the universe”, on “accepting oneself”, on pseudopsychology and esotericism.

A fairly popular topic of sports on Instagram promises only a healthy body. From this, of course, it follows that you will begin to like yourself, become more confident. But such courses will not be able to promise that a person will become rich, happy, will not promise to get rid of a disease. “With alcohol addiction, offended, poor, sick — you will learn to accept yourself as you are," “skillful practitioners” guarantee you. And their sales are incomparably higher than those of fitness trainers.

Andrey Konnov

The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.