There are a lot of new brand partner scams on Instagram, and scams on Instagram of fake brands looking for influencers with small followings. If you’re looking for how to protect yourself online or how to protect your children from social media scams, I hope this article adds to your awareness and helps keep you safe from online scammers in some small way.
So I finally signed up for Instagram recently. I posted one pic of my baby and the next thing I knew, I was getting these super-flattering comments about how cute he was and how he had been “spotted” by a “talent spotter” acting on behalf of a brand (there were a few different brands that all said this).
They all said I had to follow the “main account” linked from the commenter’s Insta bio, and then I had to DM the “main account” and tell them who referred me.
I responded positively to the first one; I wanted to get further along in the process (the investigative reporter in me) and as soon as I did, Instagram started showing me boatloads of adverts from “brands” looking for “influencers”.
Let’s be brutally honest (sorry), if you have 100-ish followers on Instagram (as my account has), or any other platform, it’s stretching the imagination to think a brand might want you to represent them on that specific platform. However, let’s assume that they do, because stranger things have happened (like the company that wanted to send me squirrel eyelash strips to review for this blog… ick, and they totally missed the point of my blog, which is that I curate the content and my opinion is not for sale).
Let’s assume, for the sake of progressing this article, that these are real companies who have seen my Youtube channel or checked the Alexa ranking of my blog and decided that was sufficient platform to follow me.
The instructions said to DM (send a direct message to) their main account. So I looked at their account and saw a website.
I visited the website and saw a lot of very expensive-looking baby clothes in what was allegedly a boutique. Having lived in China, I was more than a little suspicious, especially of the fact the website was a .ca domain, which raised the question of why they’d want an Irish Instagrammer to spread the word about their products.
The site looked legit so I replied the next day saying I had been referred by a certain person and I got a very long response. They basically said I could have 50% discount on any clothes in the store, and that I would then have a discount code of 25% to give to my followers if they bought anything in the store.
This seems great until you realize that you, dear Instagrammer or other social media user, are the customer. The clothes on the sites running these kind of operations are very overpriced so you think you got a great deal, but it’s basically a new and insidious form of MLM (multi-level marketing). Sales from people using your referral code are icing on the cake, you are the main consumer.
It is obviously very flattering to be “spotted” on social media, especially if you have a small following, which is why these fraudsters target people with a small following. And some people (usually those working for an MLM scheme) will argue that, if you chose the items, it’s not a scam.
But it is. Because if you are buying the items on false pretences, and if you weren’t already in the market for those exact items, at that exact price point, then you have been scammed. Instagrammers have been sold expensive clothes and other products under false pretences. Sometimes, they are using money they didn’t have, or borrowing money from a parent or someone else, in the hope that this is their big break that will lead to them living the high-income influencer lifestyle they crave. I know many beauty bloggers and fashion bloggers can end up spending a lot of money trying to keep up with trends in the hope of getting noticed, especially when they are starting out.
And that’s why this is a problem.
If you are asked to partner with a brand, or contacted about any kind of brand partnership, please, please, please do your research. Be sure that you wanted the products you bought, and could afford them, even if you get zero likes on your posts for the brand, and even if you don’t gain the additional followers they’ve claimed you’ll get.
It’s not a discount if no customer anywhere actually pays the “full” price.
In addition, I’d be leery about shopping online from a link you clicked on Instagram. Open a separate browser tab and type the address in manually. Browsers have layers of protection that spot some (not all) scams such as phishing (stealing your details to spend your money later or take out loans in your name). If the URL of the payment screen doesn’t match the URL of the site alleged to belong to the Instagram business, then it’s a scam. If possible, use Paypal as then the store doesn’t get your full credit/debit card details. If you can’t use Paypal, a prepaid debit card like the Vanilla One Visa or Vanilla One Mastercard are a good choice as you can add $20 of credit and if a scammer tries to use it, there won’t be any more money for them to take.
This is part of a series on online Influencer scams, I am also going to write about a couple of recent email scams I received, which is also something to be aware of, especially if you YouTube.
Tips to keep safe on Instagram:
Don’t give anyone your personal details even in a DM.
Don’t give any company your bank details. EVER.
Don’t use your personal email address for your business, that way if it gets hacked you don’t get your Paypal account emptied or other similar issues.
Always pay via Paypal, Alipay, WePay or another official, well-known payment platform if possible. Avoid paying unfamiliar companies with your credit card.
Check if they have set up a recurring payment instead of taking a one-off payment. In Paypal you can search their help pages for instructions on how to do this.
Don’t use your real name or date of birth publicly online. This used to be standard in the nineties but these days (thanks to Facebook’s creepy expectation that all your personal data should be out there on their servers) people think it’s normal to use their real name and other personal details for blogging and social media. It’s not, and it’s not safe. If you use a diminutive of your name, or a fake name (such as Mama Adventure), you will know where someone got your details from right away. The Sun (a UK newspaper) once hacked my details from the info I used to register this blog and they actually doorstepped me (waited on my doorstep until I talked to them) over an article I wrote on this blog about a popular issue that week. I also got a barrage of phone calls from TV channels and other big publications. People can find you no matter how many privacy settings you have in place and most companies have no respect for the GDPR; the only way to be safe online is to never use your real details.
If you’re under 18, tell a trusted adult or get them to double check if you are asked to partner with a brand. Choose your adult wisely, some of them are lacking in critical sense (see also: stage door moms).
Don’t give a company your name, address and credit card details via an online store from a link you clicked on Instagram. It is really, really easy to disguise a link or use a “redirect” to make a link look safe when it isn’t, and your anti-virus software only *thinks* it can protect you from this.
Remember these scammers are nothing to do with Instagram or other social media sites, they do not represent Instagram or other social media sites, and these people are just using that platform to separate you from your money.
Know your rights. Look up your buyer rights in your country, and remember you have buyer protection and you can do a chargeback on your debit card or credit card if necessary.
Check how long a company has been in business. If they only launched recently, there’s a chance they are regularly changing their website name to avoid angry customers suing them.
Have you been the victim of a social media scam? Let me know in the comments.
So about 12 months ago, I was using Mailchimp and there was suddenly a huge drama because they changed their fee structure and got a LOT more expensive. Customers started leaving them in droves. I didn’t understand the issue until I got my new bill and it was suddenly insanely high compared to how much money I was making.
I asked around and everyone told me it was so easy to switch to Mailerlite, and that they were better in a number of ways that no one could explain. I was pregnant and knew I needed to reduce my overheads.
So I exported my contacts and imported them into Mailerlite, where I grew my list to over 15,000 subscribers.
With Mailchimp, the only issue was the cost. Everything else about it worked perfectly, I never had a failed send or anything. They always just sorted out payment and everything was smooth. I don’t know what their customer service was like because I don’t remember ever having to contact them after the day I first signed up.
Also, Mailchimp works in China, and Mailerlite does not. I was living in China when I started emailing my list through Mailchimp instead of using batches via Google mail.
With Mailerlite, it seemed like every time my mailing list grew, they wanted me to re-verify myself, to fill out a tedious questionnaire (for the fifth time) about what I was using their services for, and they threw in some mandatory market research questions as well, which honestly is offensive but you do what you gotta do to get a half-price mailing service to email your newsletter for you.
The best part? They do this when you want to send an email, instead of when you hit the new subscriber threshold. This means, if you’re sending about something time-sensitive, like a flash sale or 24-hour deal, you will not get to send your email in time especially if you want to send according to timezone.
I didn’t like the fact that a lot more of my emails seemed to go to the spam folder when I used Mailerlite, either.
I sucked it up.
Then I had a baby, so I deleted my contacts because no-one wants to pay $150 a month for a mailing list they’re not actually sending any emails to for a year. I downloaded and carefully saved my 15000 contacts in a CSV file that I never actually looked at because I had more important things to do like keep a small baby alive.
Ready to get back to work, I uploaded my email list to Mailerlite and guess what? They wouldn’t let me re-verify because I’d already uploaded this list and deleted it.
So in desperation I went back to Mailchimp, thinking that paying $200 monthly is worth it if you actually get the service you’re paying for. I uploaded my mailing list.
Then I found out why you should never, EVER move your list to Mailerlite.
We’re always told that our mailing list is the most important marketing asset for our business because it is ours and we get to keep that no matter what happens to service providers, right?
Mailerlite has deleted so much information from the downloaded copy of my mailing list that Mailchimp actually doesn’t have the data it needs to let me upload to them.
So I opened the file to look through it. There’s email addresses, but then all the other columns are empty. No first names. No last names. No opt-in timestamps or IP addresses and no confirmation timestamps or IP addresses (all of which you need to be compliant with data handling, CAN-SPAM, and GDPR rules). It’s a mangled, useless CSV file that is as useless as a phone book comprising of phone numbers but no names.
I am effectively stuck with Mailerlite who seemed able to re-connect all the data when I uploaded the email addresses (presumably they’ve stored the rest of the data on their server and can access it by using the email addresses as a “primary key”, but I obviously have a right to have all that data, it’s not theirs, it’s mine, so they shouldn’t keep it like this). Who won’t let me go through their stupid validation and approval process. And anyway, I resent all the bullshit they’ve put me through so I’m not going back to them.
This means I have no mailing list. Mailerlite has destroyed it by deleting key data. Five years of hard work down the drain. Fifteen thousand fans of my business, who I cannot contact because Mailerlite have ensured I can’t go to another service provider.
God I wish someone had written about this before I switched to Mailerlite.
Please, please, PLEASE be careful. If you want to switch to Mailerlite, be sure you’re going to stay with them forever. Because they will not let you take your mailing list when you leave.
I guess that’s what you get when you go with a cut-price mailing list provider. I have learned my lesson the painfully, devastatingly hard way. I have no business to come back to after maternity leave. I built my business to give my baby a future, and now our situation is more precarious than ever.
If I am very, very lucky, I might still have an old version of my mailing list from when I switched from Mailchimp to Mailerlite in the first place. But obviously, that could have people on it who have since unsubscribed, so I have to weigh up whether I can use that old version or not.
This is my honest review of two companies I’ve spent thousands of dollars with, over the past half-decade. Verdict? I’d rather spend more money on a service that actually does what it says it’s going to. Your mileage may vary. If you have a different perspective, or a solution for this issue, please let me know in the comments.
Dear Police Department,
I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the use of bodycam and dashcam footage for all law enforcement officers. This is for your benefit and the benefit of the community. Impartial bodycam footage can indemnify you and protect you as much as it can prove allegations against racist cops.
Please let your officers know they should be using bodycams at all times, and ensure they are provided with the resources, training, and workplace policies/culture to be able to do this.
I am also concerned about police violence and I would like it to be known that I do not support or endorse the use of unnecessary force against protesters. Violence does not de-escalate violent situations. It is being disproportionately used against persons of color and this is not acceptable. The police should be protecting people and keeping the peace, not attacking peaceful demonstrators.
Police officers should be using “sideways management” within the force to stop their colleagues from being racist, to challenge racist assumptions, and to report upward through the chain of command any incidents of racism either perpetrated against police officers of color or against the wider black/minority community.
Hi, I’m a double USA-today bestselling romance writer with 35 published books under two pen names, and over a dozen number-one bestsellers in category. I’m not JK Rowling (yet), but I have tons of experience with writing and publishing, and I want to help you.
Romance writing is a very white community at the moment. Let’s change that. If you need someone to proofread before you self-publish, or you need advice or help with publishing on KDP or putting together a marketing plan, I will help 100 people with these things pro bono.
I will not tell you whether your book idea is saleable, but I will point you toward resources so you can make your own decisions. In order to make use of this offer, you must have a completed romance manuscript, that has already been self-edited to the best of your ability (don’t worry if this isn’t your strong point). There are plenty of free resources available to help you write a book, and not enough to help you figure out what to do with it once you’ve written it. I will also mentor you and act as a sounding board with getting your book in front of people.
I am especially enthusiastic about sweet and clean romance as this is the area I now work in, but I have written steamier stuff in the past and have tons of advice and experience to share, as well as contacts.
I will also provide a written character reference for anyone I work with, if you need to get a job, housing, education application etc, regardless of your history.
I was reading (as I’m sure many of you do, too) Neil Patel’s blog earlier today when I came across this interesting article about the psychology of choosing a color scheme for your blog or website. I quite like reading articles that go into psychology, because while I doubt they’re applicable to everyone, everywhere, I usually find something of value in them (unless they’re truly terrible).
Most of Neil’s article was very interesting, and I liked spending time thinking about how color schemes affect the way my readers feel when they’re on my site. I don’t want anyone to get distracted by a jarring or stark color scheme and I do sometimes wonder if my black-and-white format is too harsh for my usual content.
I found his take on the “color wheel” (part-way down that article, looks like a flower) and at first I was interested, then I felt I just had to disagree with the “meanings” assigned to color. Purple, for instance was associated with revulsion. It’s my favorite color, so of course, I don’t feel revulsion when I see purple. According to the color wheel Neil had posted, the exact shade of orange which is part of his own branded color scheme, was a color which evoked mixture of vigilance and rage. It just doesn’t add up, does it?
I decided to search for some more interpretations of how color affects people, and I found these:
This one has been done phenomenologically and it’s sounding very authoritative but it has no evidence on which it’s based its conclusions, which appears to be an endemic problem in this topic.
This article from Entrepreneur.com has a good summary of the debates surrounding the psychology of colour and highlights the need for more evidence.
There is no doubt that color plays a huge part in buying behavior in marketing, but no-one seems able to agree on which colors are best to do what.
Personally? I think the most important thing is to use a color scheme that goes together properly. The color blender color matching tool often gives surprising results, but overall I think it works very well. In some instances, the coloring might be obvious (this erotica author’swriting site, for example, is themed monochrome and pink, and it’s easy to tell that it’s a steamy romance author’s site with exciting books) but in other cases, the role of color is ambiguous and complicated.
Different colors mean different things to different people, but we can associate color schemes or sets of colors with the things we know they represent – for example, fire is orange, water is blue, so is sky. If we see those colors, with other associated colors (orange with brown for the logs on the fire or black for coals, and grey for smoke, for example) it will definitely ensure people make links between a brand and a concept or thing.
I have no idea how to apply any of this to Delight and Inspire, but it’s been interesting to research how other people have thought about the psychology of color.
Isn’t color theory fascinating?
This post was scheduled; I’ll reply to comments tomorrow 🙂
So I haven’t really said a huge amount about the big important referendum that took place yesterday. I woke up this morning (it’s currently 7:49am here) to check the results, confident that, despite all the alleged posturing etc of the “remain campaign,” that the “leave campaign” didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of winning. I thought they’d maybe get 20% of votes.
Apparently I live in a racist, xenophobic country that is more interested in getting foreigners deported than remaining a part of the EU.
To put it into perspective for my American readers, it would be like if Texas was sick of all the Mexicans and decided to quit the United States.
You might say, “whatever, doesn’t matter to me, I’m not in Texas.” No, but I am, I am stuck in Texas that wants to leave the USA. Only I can’t just leave because of border control.
I genuinely don’t know what to do – I think this time, I’m going to have to emigrate. I have a cheque from US Amazon which I now can’t put in the bank as the exchange rate is so bad – it’s plummeted. My latest book is selling really well (but also pays in USD). All my ways of earning money are now worthless and I’ve got a foreign sounding name in a country of xenophobes who are so desperate to deport foreigners that they’ve voted to leave the EU.
There, also, goes the US-UK tax treaty. The IRS can now tax me as well as the UK. I will now pay double tax on my meager earnings.
I am glad I voted remain. Now, I think I have to vote with my feet and leave the UK before it gets any worse.
Suggestions? Apparently as a writer I will meet the eligibility criteria to emigrate to Canada by next April.
So I saw yesterday that apparently Daisy Ridley is in talks to play Lara Croft. Because, y’know, she’s got brown hair and has been filmed running around.
When are the people making Tomb Raider movies going to get it through their thick skulls that they are doing it wrong? They just keep repeating the same mistakes. I’ve seen a lot of changes since I started following the Tomb Raider franchise in 1996, but this is utterly ridiculous.
Lara is English. She should be played by an English actress, they’ve got as far as working that out. However, there’s plenty of English actresses other than Daisy Ridley. They can run around and point guns at stuff just as well as American women, it’s not a “talent” that’s unique to Daisy. Not only that, but any English actress will be able to point out anachronisms in the script “we don’t usually eat that food, we don’t actually say that phrase” etc.
The main issue is that Lara is 29 in the first game. Twenty. Nine. She gets older as time goes on. Her official date of birth was February 14th, 1967 until the marketers stepped in and de-aged her. Because, y’know, women aren’t allowed to age, we hit 25 then they rewind and rewrite the history and get a new actress to play the part, redesign the video game character, all that jazz. But Lara started out as 29 and she aged 1 year in every subsequent game up to Tomb Raider Chronicles (Tomb Raider 5) where it gets a bit confused due to her being thought dead. Of course, women stop ageing when they’re believed to be dead and it was implied (but never stated) that the clock rewound at some point because Angelina Jolie was too young when she played Lara. Why make the same mistake again?
Hiring someone who is 23 but looks 16 isn’t going to make a great Tomb Raider movie. She needs some gravitas. If you don’t understand this, think about an analogy – would you hire a 23 year old actor to play James Bond? It’s exactly the same. The role of James Bond generally goes to someone aged in their very late thirties or early forties, and they play him through their forties and sometimes into their fifties. Lara has life experience, she’s supposed to be laid back and a bit sassy, and (here’s the really important part) in her original bio, she was completely self made. She got disinherited and EARNED her money from writing travel books. You need time to establish that sort of money.
In order to win the all-important over-21 female audience, you are going to need to give them something inspirational, instead of sending the message out (yet again) that women’s lives are over at 25 and they’ve peaked. The reason Lara did so well with the female demographic in the first place (in the video games, and she really did) is because it was the first time we’d had a character like that; older, smart, physically active, totally independent AND didn’t feel the need to look like a man to make it in the world (but wasn’t frilly and uber feminine either). Give us Lara Croft at her actual age with someone who can really get inside the character, and I promise you, it’ll do MUCH better than whatever you’ve got planned.
Lara’s physical appearance is wrong for Daisy Ridley. Her hair is a medium brown (and in the original games she had a henna rinse). Angelina Jolie’s hair was nearly black. What’s the point in them making such a big fuss about the physical characteristics such as boobs and waist, and then consistently getting the hair wrong?
The marketing geniuses behind the Tomb Raider films seems to think that tokenistic Britishisms and the right costume are all they need, and that they should just throw it at some popular-today actress. They probably don’t understand why Cradle of Life flopped. Lena Headey would be the ideal Lara Croft in every way shape and form. If they need more suggestions, Keira Knightley would be a MUCH better choice than Daisy Ridley; her face looks exactly right and she is a good age to play Lara convincingly, or how about Emilia Clarke (who also played Sarah Connor), these are fantastic English actresses who could really do the role some justice. If they consider hiring an American actress (given my reservations outlined above), they should be looking in the direction of Angelina Goddamn Jolie. Really they need someone over 30 with enough life experience to actually make a credible Lara Croft, and maybe some experience in a similar role. The only obvious reason I can think of for why they’re not considering Keira Knightley is boob size. And that’s a disgraceful excuse.
Lara Croft is Sarah Connor without kids. She’s not some petulant and 2-dimensional little girl who lives off daddy’s money and got into daddy’s gun cupboard. If you look at the original bio before it all got sanitized and changed to fit the films, the conflict between Lara and her parents (and getting disinherited) is what drives her to be so independent. Without it, you’ve just got an uber-wealthy spoilt brat running around third world countries damaging old stuff. Not only that, but she’s supposed to be tongue in cheek, like James Bond or Indiana Jones. She has balls.
Characterization is where they went badly wrong with the first two films – they just didn’t understand the character when they wrote the script, turned her into some laughable idea of British Upper Class and, while the first film pulled through due to canny marketing and product deals, the second one flopped. Nobody even knew when it was out because all the advertising posters didn’t have the date on them.
They need to return to the original character concept – it worked for Batman, there you have a strong body of evidence that the modern audience wants authenticity, not some popular-culture influenced, re-styled version of the original idea. It doesn’t need to appeal to 14 year olds, it needs to appeal to twenty-and-thirty-somethings who own action figures, because the rest of the market will follow where they lead when it comes to things like this, and they will determine whether the film becomes a classic or is totally forgotten in a year’s time. It all starts with hiring the right actress to play Lara Croft.
Marketers aren’t usually this stupid. They know how the audience thinks and they know how to market things. If they’re hiring Daisy Ridley for this, there’s something wider going on here – they want it to fail. Why? Because if they can’t reboot Tomb Raider then it’s proof positive that consumers don’t want female action heroes. Ghostbusters was a shockingly fake nod to “diversity” and following it up the next year with a terrible Tomb Raider movie will really turn public opinion against female action protagonists. Which means they can get back in the kitchen and bake cakes instead.
Edit: To reflect Lena Headey’s nationality, I have amended this article. She really is the ultimate Lara Croft.
I decided to write a review about the new service that I’m sure everyone with a Bloglovin’ Account has been contacted about recently: Activate By Bloglovin’. Please read this entire post and share it with everyone you know. I was offered the opportunity to participate in Activate by Bloglovin’ but as you will see, all opinions are very definitely my own.
Bloglovin’ is an RSS site where people can follow blogs they like, and it’s not a very good one when compared to others such as Feedly. They recently emailed me about a new venture called Activate by Bloglovin’.
This is used under Fair Use Law 107.
According to the email, Activate by Bloglovin’ is a way to “Monetize Your Influence!”
The whole concept of bloggers being influencers is ludicrous anyway, who exactly are we supposed to be influencing? It’s mostly used as a cover to hide the fact that we are the end consumers in the sales chain (like Avon, Ann Summers and all those other direct multi-level marketing type jobs), and whatever happens after us is immaterial as long as we have spent money on a product. When they ask you to pay postage or give you a “reviewer’s discount” or ask you to write a post for a free item of low value that you wouldn’t have bought for yourself, by the way, you have spent money, because you should have been paid properly for your time and work.
The email I received promised that I could be rewarded for all my hard work writing my blog, and claimed that I would get to write paid posts if I signed up to this new service. I have no interest in writing paid beauty or lifestyle posts, but I have been considering accepting paid travel posts, if such things exist (or starting a new travel blog website that does this), so I decided for the sake of curiosity that I wanted to see what sort of money paid posts paid out, and what sort of things people got paid to write about, and I thought if I’m already signed up with Bloglovin’ (the blog following website) it should be as easy as clicking a button to sign up, take a look at what cross section of the market they’re cornering, with the option to un-sign-up straight after, right? Oh how wrong I was!
I signed up using my Bloglovin’ login and was immediately bombarded with a bunch of forms to fill in which proved that Bloglovin’s new venture doesn’t give a shit about the safety of bloggers or protecting their privacy. No, you don’t need my town AND state AND country. State and country should be good enough for American bloggers, and country should be enough for non-American bloggers. If I’m from Kazakhstan, are you really telling me that any, rare paid post opportunity looking for a Kazakh blogger is going to care which Oblast I’m from?? I find it highly doubtful. This straight away made me wonder what any blogger was actually going to get out of this. You don’t need my full postal address to pay me via Paypal, and who are you giving this information to? Where are your data protection and privacy statement? Why demand this information upfront when 90% of the people using this will never get to write a paid post? It’s unnecessary.
I filled it in with trepidation. I don’t make a huge secret about where I live but at the same time I don’t want it plastered all over the internet. It’s another way of subtly controlling bloggers – if they have all your details, you’re less likely to write something truly controversial because of fear of backlash.
Been there, done that, pretty sure Activate By Bloglovin’s got *nothing* on the tabloids and TV channels that were all over me last June for my incredibly controversial topical article on another website.
So we came to the screen where it wanted to connect to my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram Google Plus and Pinterest accounts. What I didn’t like was the fact that the person who designed these apps made them unnecessarily intrusive, so the “connect your account” (which is actually an app, you’re just not the end user) wanted permission, for example to write posts on your wall/tweets on your timeline/etc. Why did Activate By Bloglovin’ want to take over my social media? Their stated reason was so they could see how many followers I had. As you can see, this whole signup process has “invasion of privacy” and “controlling” plastered all over it.
There is no legitimate, benign reason that an app needs to have that level of control over my social media accounts, and they only do it to hijack my social media and use my followers to broadcast their message. Usually, it’s a fairly inoccuous seeming messsage such as “InvokeDelight just updated her status on ThisApp” but it’s still an unwanted, spammy message that turns my followers off actually engaging with my self-written content. An app can very easily be designed to work properly for the purpose of telling a website your follower count without needing that level of control. The best part? Their Pinterest one can’t even GET your follower count, you have to put that in manually, but they still insist that you connect and give them permission to use your Pinterest account! WTF??
So against all judgement, for the sake of a good review, I connected my Twitter account (tentatively). I have 1140 Twitter followers at the time of writing. Activate By Bloglovin’ was given all the permissions it demanded from me so it could verify how many Twitter followers I have, and somehow it didn’t manage this. It returned that I had no followers. But I did get points for being on Twitter in the first place!
Did I say they score you on a points system?
It’s not based on SEO or number of unique views per day or bounce rate or number of people following your blog by email or anything else that is tangible and useful, that could actually help a brand find a suitable match to advertise their product, it’s based on how many people follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (of all things), Google Plus and Instagram. Because the bloggers with the most followers in these areas are clearly the ones who “exert the most influence.”
Never mind that people engaging with other people on Social Media do so as equals not as some sort of weird hierarchy where everyone who’s added you is clearly a “follower” and you’re a “leader.” It doesn’t work like that. Otherwise, with my 100% follow back policy, I am being led by my 1140 Twitter followers. Hardly.
Because Activate by Bloglovin’ failed to verify my 1140 Twitter followers (seriously, take a look at my Twitter), and because I decided I could not be bothered to connect other social media platforms that I would only have to disconnect an hour later when I deleted this whole thing (or so I thought), I got told I’d only completed 20% of the profile. That’s right, there isn’t an “I’m not on Facebook” or “I don’t have a Pinterest” button. If you don’t have these exact social media accounts then they penalize your “score.”
So let’s talk about this scoring system. Out of a possible total of 100 points, I scored 6. SIX points. People who can’t spell their own name but who have a Facebook page will come more highly recommended than I will for professional writing services.
How is this score calculated? This screenshot explains it all:
So they basically give you the most social media points from Facebook, the least from Google Plus, and they claim to also use sources such as Alexa and Google Analytics but I don’t genuinely believe that they had any means to do this with the information they had been given (to use Google Analytics, you have to paste code into your site. Alexa doesn’t even verify metrics on WordPress sites which is 60% of all blogs ever).
The bit I found most intriguing was their third measure: “Activate Infuence.” What they mean is, one of the ways they decide how influential you are as a blogger is based on how many Bloglovin’ followers you have. This is delightfully recursive because anyone who was on Bloglovin’ in its early days will have gajillions of followers because it ranks blogs to follow in order of popularity. Anyone who was on Bloglovin’ after the first 1000 bloggers signed up will have a moderate number of followers because they’ll still be visible to really determined readers. Anyone who signed up to Bloglovin’ in the last 12 months will have very few organic follows. If, like me, you’re on WordPress, you will either get WordPress followers or Bloglovin followers, but not both, because why would anyone sign up to get multiple updates for the same freaking blog? Add to that, if you’re on WordPress, you’re more likely to get WordPress followers because many people like the strong follow back culture and the ability to interact with posts quickly and easily on Reader. So Bloglovin’ only works for people who got their foot in the door early, OR who don’t have any other way that someone can get updates for their posts. So if you’re using Blogspot you’re probably sorted for Bloglovin; but then, you can also clutter your pages with Adsense on blogspot so it’s seen as a more commercial venture anyway (let’s not talk about WordPress vs Blogspot, I’m clearly Team WordPress because I run a WordPress site), perhaps this is the target bloggers they’re trying to attract.
So between my followers all using WordPress, Email and RSS to follow me instead of Bloglovin’ because it’s possibly the worst blog-following RSS site in the world (or at least the slowest loading with terrible visibility and functionality), and me not being on Facebook, I scored a measly six points out of 100. Apparently it’s “relative to other bloggers” so as more people sign up to Activate By Bloglovin’ my score will go down. This makes me laugh. A lot.
To break it down, I lost 26% from refusing to connect my other social media apps (BTW, I went to Twitter and deleted “Activate By Bloglovin” app – it’s still claiming it’s connected, I’ve had to report it to Twitter to get rid of it), I lost 32% from having something like 10 followers on Bloglovin’ and I lost the other 33% because their metrics don’t actually work on my site. That dropped me 91 points. The other 3 must be down to the relative weighting they talked about in the screenshot above.
To add insult to injury, they told me I needed to add an “Activate By Bloglovin'” Button to my site. You know, to go with the “Follow Me On Bloglovin'” Button that’s mandatory to “claim” your blog. Given that several weeks ago I deleted my Bloglovin’ button from my website to make it less cluttered (because the clickthrough rate is poor, because Bloglovin’ is clunky and slow), I don’t think the Bloglovin’ corporation likes me very much anyway. Well, the other reason I deleted it is because the Bloglovin’ website is a very flawed system anyway. You see, instead of showing you a random selection of blogs or occasionally showing you a new one that you didn’t see before, they always show them from most popular to least popular – so the popular ones get more popular and the newest ones languish in invisibility. For the stated aim of something like “makes it easier to manage and follow your favourite blogs” I find it isn’t fit for purpose, I use Feedly instead. But instead of fixing what was wrong with Bloglovin’ by speeding it up and adding something like a “stumble” button, they decided to use that very flawed system to make money out of PR companies.
So then I added five categories (which ranged from general such as travel to overly specific such as luxury travel, just to make it more ridiculous because I don’t trust brands to know what they’re looking for in a blogger anyway), and after all that hassle I finally got to the part where I could see what sort of campaigns they offered.
Aside from a campaign to spread the good word about Activate by Bloglovin’ (in which I am not participating, strangely), there was one campaign.
Just the one.
And before anyone says “maybe you didn’t qualify to see the others” this campaign was so woefully inappropriate to my blog that it was very clear it was actually the only campaign on offer. In their defense it was extremely well paid at $500.
It was a campaign requiring “Southern Bloggers” (yeah, the company was so clueless they didn’t seem to understand that every country in the world has a south not just America) and when you clicked on it, they actually wanted bloggers from a handful of specific states to invent recipes using their food. The food in question? Something that you put on pork. As someone with multiple allergies I had to conclude that this Activate By Bloglovin’ is not set up with any kind of respect to the bloggers, it’s designed to boost your ego only so they get more brands working with them. Because if you feel like an influencer, Activate by Bloglovin’ can sell the idea that you’re an influencer and get lots of money from brands paying Bloglovin’ to access their database of “influencers.” As a blogger, you’re just an entry on a list to make the popular bloggers look more popular than they really are. Which was the fatal flaw with Bloglovin’s original purpose. It’s basically a way to monetize Bloglovin’ which is effectively a social pyramid scheme.
Of course Bloglovin’ are the people making all the money out of this. I already knew that. We the bloggers are just the tins of beans on the shelf, the brands with their paid posts are the shoppers, and Activate by Bloglovin’ is trying to get them to spend as much money as possible. They don’t care if you never get a PR campaign. They don’t care if the brands are giving you dangerous products or are asking you to lie and say the advertisement they want you to post is actually a guest post. They don’t even care if the brand ends up spending a lot of money on a blog that no-one reads (but has a lot of likes on their Facebook page) and no-one buys more of their products as a result of the paid post. Activate By Bloglovin’ (and similar companies like Brandbacker, although this review is NOT about Brandbacker who by all accounts are competent) get money from the brands and PR companies to find them some bloggers and that’s it. Which would be fine if they were transparent about that instead of making out they have accurate analytics and only matched the most appropriate bloggers with campaigns which is clearly untrue. It’s like the marketers at Activate by Bloglovin’ read about the concept of a unique selling point and missed the part where they actually need to deliver results in order to get repeat business. With the model they’re using, they just can’t deliver those results to brands. If you’re wondering how to find someone to write a paid post for you, this really isn’t the best way to do it.
As a tin of beans, I demand to be treated with respect, and I dislike having a label all over me telling anyone walking past my full name, where I live, my email’s password (Google Plus, Gmail and Youtube use the same password, I would NEVER authorise a money driven app to get that password), my phone number…. These companies that want you to review their products are just direct marketers (those people who also put leaflets through your door and email you about casinos) with a new audience – you, the blogger. I spend most of my life trying to avoid spam, why would I invite it into my life by giving these people all of my contact details?
What it comes down to is trust. I don’t trust a site that was clunky and slow-loading and whose marketing spiel is packed with distortions aimed at getting brands to spend lots of money on incompetent bloggers. I don’t trust a site that demands my passwords and expects permission to follow, unfollow post and delete posts using my social media account. I don’t trust a site that has turned blogging into a popularity contest and is now trying to monetize that. I don’t trust a site that demands overly specific information about my blogging niche then lets me apply for any old crap. There is nothing in this process that makes monetizing your blog quick, easy or even certain. Not only that, but it’s really only aimed at beauty and lifestyle bloggers anyway, which they could have specified in their email and saved me a lot of time and effort with being predominantly a TRAVEL blogger and wanting to write about TRAVEL. Speaking of which, why is it that you’re allowed to add 5 categories in “Activate By Bloglovin” but in actual “Bloglovin'” where people follow you (oh, I’m sorry, I meant “endorse” you), you are stuck with one category even if you blog about more than one thing?!
The best part of the whole thing is that once you’ve signed up, you can’t un-sign up or delete your account, there literally isn’t an option for this. I’m sort of hoping they’ll read this and delete my Bloglovin’ and Activate by Bloglovin’ accounts so I never have to hear from them again, to be perfectly honest. PR and paid post aggregation companies don’t tend to like people who give genuinely honest reviews.
Which leads me to the conclusion that either Activate By Bloglovin’ is a harmless site that’s just woefully incompetent (like those inexperienced managers at job interviews who still believe that they can make a hiring decision based on whether you accept a drink from them or not), in which case I don’t want to throw my fortune in with them, or they’re collecting highly personal data from bloggers so they can sell it, in which case I REALLY don’t want any part of this. Either way, for me personally it’s an absolute waste of time.
I think I’ll stick with my affiliate links.
This review was written from an email invitation sent by Activate By Bloglovin’. All opinions on this service are, quite obviously, my own.
I upgraded my WordPress.com blog to a custom domain because I had wanted to upgrade to a custom domain since November 2014. I researched the benefits of a custom domain and the pitfalls, and everyone’s advice was clear cut – “do it, it will improve your SEO ranking.” SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is really important to me as something like 90% of my traffic comes from Google. Only now it’s taken a hit, and it’s all because I upgraded to a custom domain. Here’s what will happen to your site’s metrics when you upgrade to a custom domain:
You will lose your Alexa ranking. Low numbers are good (Google has an Alexa rank of 1): Mine went from an extremely healthy sub-6 million (and steadily increasing) to over 18 million overnight. Take a look:
Your backlinks from your WordPress blog will all redirect – but you won’t be getting that link juice or authority for all the SEO work you’ve been busting your ass over for the past year.
So you will lose all your Google rankings. As an example, here’s a before and after picture for the search term “how to get rid of blue circles”:
This means you will lose traffic. When you lose traffic, it’s just a negative spiral. My traffic was over 300 views a day two weeks ago, when I still had a WordPress domain; now I’m on a custom domain, I get 150 to 200 views a day.
Sites that heavily lifted content from your site to write their own imitation articles will now outrank you in search results, as will sites displaying 10 words before you have to click next, and ones which are a vehicle for Google Adsense. The blue circles example is just an example – all of my most-read posts have plummeted down the Google rankings.
Gravatar will not accept the domain change as a WordPress site, so while you redirect, as far as Alexa and Google are concerned, your new domain is dead to them. They have withdrawn help/support as well so you can’t contact them and ask them to fix it. Gravatar is owned by and integral to WordPress.
Since Gravatar is how your WordPress Login manages all your backlinks from your comments on other people’s sites (you know, when people click your name and it magically takes them to your site? That’s a dofollow backlink), you now lose any link juice from comments on sites with a better Alexa ranking than yours. I lost three of my most important backlinks from this, because there are a lot of big sites (CNN for example) that are powered by Wordpress.
People don’t really look at the URL any more. Half the kids in schools don’t actually know what to do with a URL if you give them one on a worksheet and put a laptop in front of them. Most of the people using the internet these days have this same level of understanding of computers. Therefore the main argument in favour of getting a custom domain from WordPress is redundant – they claim your site will improve in search results and get more authority but it’s just not true because they don’t let you change your backlink in Gravatar – just the website URL in contact details – and Gravatar refuses to accept the new domain as a WordPress account – no matter how many times you give them your login details. As far as Gravatar is concerned, you no longer have a blog (but WordPress knows you do, so auto-redirects from your old URL. Any redirected links are worth nothing in SEO terms).
I worked twice as hard over the last 7 days trying to get more backlinks on non-Wordpress sites (because my WordPress account’s backlinks are now utterly worthless) and while I’ve gotten four new backlinks pointing to my site from upstream (from more popular sites), I haven’t gained a single inch of ground.
The internet at large doesn’t seem to have a solution to any of the above. So I am writing this for anyone else wondering about upgrading to a custom WordPress domain – if SEO is where your traffic comes from, upgrade to a custom WordPress domain at the START of your blog, or don’t do it at all.
Post-Publication Update: After I published this post, I had a hunch. I’ve just checked, and I’m right: ALL of your internal links need manually changing to the new domain name as well, because WordPress doesn’t do this either. I was under the impression that the “technical difficulties” they said my site might have for 72 hours was because WordPress was crawling my site and changing all the links. So all my INTERNAL SEO (the links pointing to other parts of my own website) all also need changing. This is another cause of loss of Google ranking.
Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.
Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?
To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”
Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.
Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”
I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.
Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:
1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.
2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:
Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.
This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.
3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.
4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants. All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.
5. Research is driven by funding. Without funding, people don’t research things. Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for. Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields. By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products. Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational. Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.” For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other). This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible. This is how many people get a PhD these days! It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries. If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall. When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)? It doesn’t sell products.
So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.
I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.
The Role Of Fear
We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding. Research is driven by funding – especially at universities. Who funds research? Companies who stand to gain from it!
Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.
Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.
By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.
Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens. It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.