RCL Exclusive

The Best Adventurers of Instagram

RealClearLife's adventure correspondent Kinga Philipps surveys the micro-influencer landscape.

Adventure By

One day a few months ago I walked into a TV production company office to discuss developing shows around trailblazing, adventurous women. I presented my spiel about the incredibly badass females who I’ve written about and interviewed. I highlighted their drive to inspire others by leading expeditions; writing books, scientific journals and magazine articles; shooting magnificent photos…sometimes the first of their kind…and editing videos to educate and encourage others to tap into their own passion for travel, exploration and adventure. These are the women who really have something to offer, I finalized.

The executive sitting across from me got really excited and quickly said, “Oh, we are developing a show around a real Lara Croft right now!”

“Great!” I said, “Who is it!? I know all the women in the business and I’m excited to hear who is fronting this project.”

“She’s an Instagram model,” He answered happily, “She has almost a million followers!”

I stared at him in silence for a moment processing that I might have missed something. Maybe this gal is a fantastic writer, a scientist who does some bonafide work for the oceans, a political dynamo who uses sex appeal to engage and then enlighten her followers about the needs of marginalized communities…a brilliant bait and switch tactic I was ready to applaud…or a content creator worthy of Bourdain status in delivery and on camera watchability. Maybe she’s funny as hell and juggles wit and humor to tell great travel stories about adventure.

Then he pulled up her profile and I was treated to an account of hundreds of highly photoshopped thong bikini butt photos, fairly enough, shot in exotic locations. I still tried my best to dig out the gold.

“Does she make videos that showcase her travel experiences?” I asked through slightly gritted teeth.

“Yep,” he said and played a video. In it, the gal pouted her lips at camera and smiled coyly while sitting on a pristine beach…no idea where…because she didn’t say. She actually doesn’t speak in any of her many videos.

Then I uttered the words that you should probably never say in a business meeting.

“You’re f-cking killing me here.”

To be clear, I have nothing against girls in bikinis or even a good ass shot here and there. What I do have an issue with is lack of substance and giving merit to individuals based on nothing more than follower numbers.

And so my distaste for the world “Influencer” began.

A few things truly baffle me by the trend. First of all, I am in complete awe by the idea that some of these accounts have more followers than certain well established A-list celebrities. From a logic standpoint alone that is not possible. And it isn’t. A vast majority of the monster accounts and even thousands of the simply big ones are fueled by purchased followers, photo likes and comments. It’s all available for sale. Second, I find it disheartening and fascinating that big name brands and producers are falling for the numbers game. Take for instance a bikini gal with a million followers. If one were to dissect her following…the nonpurchased ones that is… it would be majority male, most of them not caring remotely what product or project she endorses but happy to stare at the suppleness of her bosom. In this case, sex doesn’t sell because it’s actually given away for free on a platform that is little more than eye candy. I also ache for the lack of substance. A great ass accompanied by a fantastic blog is worthy of attention. A brilliant travel account with superb content deserves accolades. A YouTube sensation who does more than pout lips but actually tells a story gets an automatic slow clap.

The New York Times did an investigative piece earlier this year about the companies stepping in to identify fraudulent accounts and bots that skyrocket numbers. It seems that the ivory towers of the relatively short-lived “influencer” movement are crumbling…and I, for one, am not sad about it.

And so the new game has become about finding accounts with true engagement and substance….enter the micro-influencer movement.

According to a recent Forbes article, micro-influencers are the new golden ticket for brands who are looking for spokespeople. Those who have established themselves in a niche and garner trust and engagement and offer substance to their audience. Often these accounts have as few as 10k followers but there are not only real humans following them, but humans who actually care what the micro-influencer has to say because they have earned respect and value through offering meaningful content.

“Micro-influencers often have very high engagement with their fan-bases and are often over-looked by brands in the social media campaigns they are pursuing,” Barrett Wissman of Forbes wrote.

Marketing research is staring to back up the movement.

HelloSociety has found that micro-influencers, or accounts with 30K or fewer followers, are more beneficial for brands to work with. Why? Because there is more trust in smaller followings and more one on one engagement. Bloated accounts with more than 100K start to disengage from the audience and no longer offer a personalized and intimate “friendship” feeling. What has become appealing to brands is the idea of friends telling friends about a product or project in a natural way that fits the niche of the micro-influencer’s actual space of expertise. It makes a lot more sense for Michael Muller to tell you about underwater cameras than for Khloe Kardashian to, no?

If you’re in the market for a good crockpot for your coconut curry soup, you should be interested in what Elise Museles recommends with her 27.2K followers…because if you ask her she will tell you…cause you know…she actually cooks. You are also probably following her because you are genuinely interested in her recipes and dietary suggestions making you more likely to listen to what she has to say on the topic.

Are you looking for some awesome advice on travel? A well-written travel blog and footage to show off every location? Take a look at Justin Walter with 31.6K followers or Laura Grier with 25.3K followers. These are the people who inspire me. The ones who tell good stories and share travel tips and secrets. The ones who make you want to pack your bags and jet off to Morocco or Borneo on a whim because the content they put forth about those places ignites an honest to goodness wanderlust. I also happen to know these two are the real deal, die-hard travelers who live to explore, experience and motivate others to do the same.

If mountaineer Melissa Arnot Reid with her 25K followers is endorsing a fleece jacket, I’m gonna listen because the woman climbs freakin’ mountains for a living. I don’t care what fleece jacket the Kardashians are endorsing because they don’t have any clout in the mountain climbing arena…unless you count basketball players as mountains…for which I’m nearly positive you don’t need fleece jackets.

A girl with pouty lips, a nice ass, a million followers and a professional drone pilot following her around…without a drop of actual information, humor or authenticity… doesn’t make me want to do or buy anything more than roll my eyes and congratulate her on her photoshop skills.

I wonder what the world would look like if social media had been around from the beginning. Jesus would have 12 followers while some guy named Claudius who took selfies in the Roman bathhouses sweeps the deck with two million, then creates his own religion and becomes the spokesperson for shrouds from a company called Turin.