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Instagram Collab Scams: Brands Preying On Small Influencers

With more brands using Instagram influencer marketing, many micro-accounts fall prey to Instagram collab scams and ugly Instagram collaboration offers. Learn how to protect yourself and determine a good collab from a bad one.

Instagram Collab Scams with white woman holding up a pink phone, next to a white mug and laptop
Keep reading to learn about Instagram collaborations. Learn what makes for a good Instagram collab for your brand and business versus a total Instagram scam.

A Different Kind Of Instagram Scam

If you follow The Uncorked Librarian (TUL) on social media, you know that Instagram collab scams and ugly Instagram rear their vicious, greedy heads in the form of kissy emojis and overkill cutesy terms of endearment from smaller clothing and makeup brands.

“Hi Sweetie. You are so beautiful. DM for a collab [Insert 10 feminine obnoxious emojis].”

Or, you already have the DM in your inbox:

“Hi Lovely, we just ADORE your gorgeous feed. Let’s work together in a partnership. Respond for more info, beautiful [kissy face, heart, smiley].”

First, what happened to the days of professionalism? Why are mostly women talking to women in such a sexist manner?

And once you message back to learn about these so-called ‘partnerships’ and ‘collaborations,’ you learn what Instagram collaboration scams these brands are offering.

They want your money. They are the influencers, and you become the sucker.

Don’t fall victim to crappy influencing ‘offers.’

5 Ways To Quickly Pick Out Instagram Collab Scams:

  • A brand uses cutesy language and emojis
  • A brand contacts you via a brief IG comment
  • The collaboration offer is vague, leaving you with questions
  • You are expected to buy the product and aren’t getting paid for the work
  • A brand isn’t engaged with or even following you

Keep reading for the FULL details of what IG collabs entail, good vs bad Instagram brand work, and how to respond to brands when you want to ask for payment.

These are the tools I recommend for blogging and Instagram collaboration success:

Travel In Her Shoes Presets
Lawyer-Written Sponsored Post Contract
Lawyer-Written Privacy Policy, Disclaimer, & Terms & Conditions For Your Blog/Websites

What Is The Problem With These Scammy Instagram Brands?

Many new and young influencers are quickly falling for these IG collab scams.  Some even welcome them. Most are in the 20 to 30-something-year-old female demographic. I was there too, trust me.

Why? WHY!?

I am a minor Instagrammer and ‘influencer’–2+ years, as of 2019–who does extremely selective affiliate and Instagram collaborations with brands. This website and blog are my main business. IG is just where I build community and an online presence.

Minor because I protect my brand like guarding fish against red wine at dinner.  ‘Influencing’ because my following is minuscule compared to accounts with 500K followers. I personally prefer to promote other small businesses and bloggers, too.

Instagram Collaboration Brand Scams TUL IG Account
The Uncorked Librarian’s Instagram focuses on books, booze, and travel. Above, find some of my quirky brand work. I use Travel In Her Shoes’s presets.

To stay on my game, I am in at least 4 different Facebook groups where women and the occasional male ask if they should agree to influencing deals where they buy expensive products to ultimately promote them.

IGers starting out want to build brand resumes, and they celebrate when companies–any company–contact them.

I get it. I do a happy dance too.  We all want our hard work to pay off on IG.

Sometimes, these opportunities turn out to be fantastic deals that match your business model and help you earn money.

Unfortunately, many offers are duds and just insulting Instagram collab scams.

Brands assume that micro-influencers have little experience and are, quite frankly, easy targets. The smaller the audience = the bigger the IG scam.

I watch as IGers pay brands to market their products freely for them. This is not a partnership and is definitely not influencing.

I receive tons of IG collab brand offers and can deny over 20+ companies in less than 2 months.

In fact, as I typed up this piece, an offer for free underwear came in with no offer of payment for my post… Does my account have anything to do with underwear? Do I work for free? DELETE.

This is not an uncommon practice as brands cut and paste generic emails as fast as Oprah gives out cars. 

I don’t feel honored.  Instead, I feel like I need to clean up my business even more: Hashtags. Comments.  Ways to contact me. My mission.

Ugly Instagram Scams TUL IG
Another example of TUL with some paid ads.

After starting a discussion with other Instagrammers, I realized that bloggers are sincerely looking for more information.  Not everyone knows what to do with these brand collaboration offers. 

New IGers think this treatment is the norm.

Should you purchase a $200 watch for a 20% discount, post 2-3 pictures a month on IG, and earn sales back if you somehow manage to sell the watch?

NO! NO!

You should never pay to promote someone else’s product.

I repeat: You should never pay to promote someone else’s product.

You should receive free products in exchange for reviews/posts, and most companies will pay you to promote their items.

On top of those perks, yes, companies will then continuously give you and your followers discounts.  You may become an affiliate and earn a commission. 

You may also receive compensation for likes and comments.  Flat fees are great too.

You also need to have a formal contract stating all of this. A DM confirmation won’t cut it. You want to protect yourself and get paid. Many legit companies will have a contract for you, but sometimes smaller businesses expect a contract with terms of the agreement from you. Even if they don’t, you want your transaction legally on paper. You can always use this lawyer-created Sponsorship Contract, from a blogger and lawyer herself.

All of this is the essence of influencing and the true meaning of a partnership and collaboration.

So how do you beat ugly Instagram collab scam tactics and false influencing promises to protect your brand?

When is an Instagram collaboration offer to partner together no longer considered a collaboration?

What really is ‘influencing,’ if we choose to use that term?

And how can we clean up the industry?


Uncorked Pro Tip:
What if you no longer want to review the product? What if a brand refuses to pay?
Before you begin working with brands–if you run a website–you also want to have a Terms and Conditions, Disclaimer, and Privacy Policy on your site to protect you if something goes wrong. You cannot blog, make money, or join ad services without these basic pages.
My recommendation: Protect yourself with these lawyer-written legal documents (as seen in my website footer).

Red Flags Instagram Collaboration Scams
Not ready to work with brands yet? Pin this post for later!

What Is Instagram Influencer Marketing?

What is an IG Influencer?

Let’s start at the beginning.  What is Instagram influencing?

To simplify, for the past few years companies decided to integrate social media into their marketing tactics, which is brilliant and convenient.  Just look at how many people use social media.  Even your 80-year-old grandma is probably scrolling Facebook right now.

Influencing For Brands

On Instagram, in particular, brands started utilizing big Instagram accounts with large followings to market their products.  Originally even IG accounts with just 10K-40K followers had larger influence–but this is slowly changing. 

Accounts now have millions of followers and make full-time salaries on influencing and Instagram collabs–including press trips, ads, and sponsored work–alone.

“Influence” is encouraging consumers to purchase highlighted items.

Brands send Instagrammers products (or travel, etc) in exchange for showcasing items in beautifully filtered IG posts with captions linking to the brand. 

The picture = an ad.  Extremely well-done ads from an individual person versus the company itself equal more engagement and trust. Hence, more sales. 

It’s the whole face of a brand concept. Now, you become the face of a brand.

Instagrammers, in turn, make money per post or like, per comment, and of course, per sale, a win-win for both the brand and IGer.



A Change With Small Influencers

Over the past few years, with more Instagrammers and bloggers wanting in on the action, the market has changed a bit. 

Now, there is competition, oversaturation, and quite frankly, cheap brands preying on hopeful influencers. 

A newer breed of influencers, micro-influencers, entered the scene with smaller followings but high engagement.  Brands flocked to these IGers with newer, faulty tactics.  Hello, Instagram Collaboration Scams!

Mind you, many are debating the term ‘influencer’ these days, but that’s another post.

How The Influencing Market Targets You

Good Instagram Collaborations: Example Of Book Collabs That I Accept

I am a book and travel blogger, which means my opportunities vary. I should also mention from the start, too: I don’t love Instagram but I know its importance for my business, The Uncorked Librarian, LLC.

In the book world, I have yet to meet a bad deal.  Book people are cool. 

I promoted a subscription book box for a flat fee.  I provided one social media post on IG and Twitter, and my PayPal burped. Here’s an example:

Instagram collab scams the good deals Indie Book Box
Here is one example of an Instagram brand collaboration that I loved.

Amazing Travel & Booze Instagram Collab Offers

In the travel and booze world, I work with clothing companies, go on sponsored Press Trips, and have created ads for rum–it’s a good life.

Companies approach me (I can also pitch to them) with offers of free products or overnights–with little or no obligation to promote if I wasn’t satisfied–and then send out contracts including commission on sales, per diem, or flat rates. 

I promote what I believe in to make cash, and they do too. Win-Win.

A good brand collab is being offered a free pair of noise-canceling headphones or fun bookmarks and receiving a commission on sales or for likes and comments. 

Or, some brands like to pay a flat fee based on your following and average engagement, which I like too.

Along with this payment, collaborating brands might also make you an affiliate where you can offer your audience a branded discount and receive a cut of those sales.

Instagram Influencer Marketing
This is a paid-for ad that I did for a fabulous company that paid for all of the supplies and provided me a flat fee with a surprise bonus for amazing engagement.

In the spring, I participated in a monthlong rum campaign for a flat fee.  When the campaign ended, not only did I get paid my flat rate, but the company surprised me with a huge bonus for top engagement. I only had about 4,800k IG followers at the time.


Don’t get caught off guard with brand work either. If the brand is missing a contract, use this blogger and lawyer-written Sponsored Posts Contract. You want to make sure that you get paid and protect yourself.

Bad Instagram Collabs & Downright Ugly Instagram Scams

Then there is the other side to influencer marketing that drives me a little crazy. 

Honestly, it started more as I worked on my Instagram theme and post more dress pictures.  I always joke that Instagram loves girls in pretty dresses in ‘interesting’ places–like rice paddies in Indonesia. 

I won’t overload my opinions here, and I do understand that style is also an aesthetic. Please put your thumbs away, and don’t troll.  It’s just not my personal niche.

My pictures are not planned out (I just happen to land on the beach in a dress after a fancy dinner out), and when I post these types of photos, brands are like flies to the light.

Hello, shiny object. 

Here come the unprofessional comments and offers from businesses.  Dear lord. 

Forget that I write heartfelt captions, have a business email listed on IG, and I also have a micro influencing policy on my site. 

Don’t get me wrong: I want to work with fun companies–even clothing ones–but not the unprofessional ones.

I also understand my limitations: I am not the ‘perfect’ influencer. My pictures are fun vs professional, I rarely theme my content, and quite frankly, I want a more realistic account for my blog.

Screenshot of The Uncorked Librarian's account on Instagram
This is The Uncorked Librarian account on Instagram when scammy brands flooded me.

Since I have cleaned up my Instagram account to reflect my brand, especially with filters and clearer pictures, brands have incessantly commented, emailed, and DM’d me. 

None of the offers are flattering or viable.  Instead, these companies are scamming me (and you).

Instagram Collaborations Brand Work Pin
Learn the red flags to spotting an Instagram collab scam. Don’t fall prey to Ugly Instagram tactics.

Companies Preying On You: 5 Warning Signs Of Instagram Scams

What are some of the red flags that you should not be working with a brand?

Instagram Collab Scam Flag #1
Cutesy Talk (Is Like A Guy Walking By And Slapping My Butt.  TURN OFF)!

When the nature of contact is insulting and degrading, goodbye.  The door is closed.

Can you imagine a boss talking to you like this in an office?  Can we say ‘sexual harassment’ and unprofessionalism, anyone?

Instagram collab scams and bad instagram collabs DM for collab example

Bloggers work hard on their content and social media accounts.  For many, this is our part-time or full-time job.  We run businesses and are professionals.  We have email accounts, policies, and ways to contact us.

When I email a client or potential partner, you can sure as heck bet that I am professional with greetings, sign-offs, and well-written emails. 

Emojis rarely enter my text.  I am not a lovely, sweetie pie, babe, or cutie to anyone but my husband. AND EVEN THEN.

So why is it that we accept this baby talk from brands? 

In business-mode, I respond to almost all emails.  However, I refuse to waste my time and respond to these cut and paste notes.  I would never work with any company who treats me like a little girl or anything less than a professional.

Instagram influencers are not bimbos.  Can we start a hashtag campaign against this? #InfluenceTHIS

Instagram Scams Flag #2
Lack Of Formal Communication Such As Cheap Comments and DMs From Brands Asking You To Reach Out To Collab

These, quite frankly, lazy and generic methods of contact and unprofessional terms of endearment filled with emojis are your number one hint that this brand ‘partnership’ is an immediate ‘NO.’ 

You are your brand.  Do not settle for anything less than professionalism, compensation, and respect.

Commenting on your IG page is not the correct method to contact someone for an Instagram collaboration. 

Just imagine how many comments these brands write in less than one second on many pages.  This shows how truly expendable and not worth their time you are.  Why give a brand your time in return?

Instagram Collaboration Scams Flag #3
Is Their Message Vague?

So say these companies reach out to you, and you now have to contact them.  Say you do.

Are they upfront in their offer and Instagram ‘collaboration’ plan?

Most of my bad experiences are from brands who make you ask questions.  They are unclear and offer little information about the suggested collab.  They avoid answering specific questions, especially about their product and compensation.

These Instagram collaboration brands try to lead you on.

Their policies change: “Well, actually this is a short-term, free international shipping deal for you and your followers.”

Your time is precious and no one has the right to waste it.  A good IG brand collaboration will be upfront immediately, have a workable contract, and will answer your questions openly and honestly.

Instagram Scams Flag #4
Do They Want You To Make A Purchase?

Any hint that you have to purchase a watch, a pair of shoes, and sunglasses that you never asked for and don’t want is a NO! I don’t care how many followers you have.

Please know that IGers with 500 followers still get paid.

Getting a percentage of a discount on a brand’s item that they have asked you to purchase and showcase on your sacred accounts is not a collaboration; it’s a consumer purchase.

And guess what?!

Big influencers DO NOT PAY.  That is laughable.  Neither should you. 

Plus, you are doing the work.  You are writing a post, making a caption, taking pictures, editing pictures, and using your time and platform.  Of course, you should be getting paid for that work.

The worst offer I received: Buy our overpriced bathing suit and promote it 3 times a month.  If you do well, you can one day become an influencer with a special code.  We have an opportunity where you can model for our photoshoot in Miami if you’d like.  International travel is big for our company and influencers.

Hmmmm, OK; so, you won’t give me a free product or pay me to promote it now. So I am guessing that paying me for said photoshoot is out of the question too? Did anyone watch the Fyre documentary?

Why else you shouldn’t purchase a brand’s Instagram collab product:

  • If you are a smaller influencer, making that money back is slim.
  • You risk losing followers and their trust.
  • You may buy the product and realize it’s just poor quality.
  • Do you even want the product?  Chances are no.

Spoiler Alert: I don’t wear watches.

IG Collab Scams Flag #5
Is Their Following Even Smaller Than Yours? Are They Not Even Following You?

If companies have a small following and are offering you a terrible deal, then you are truly doing them the favor.  They need you.

The brand might not have taken off for a reason, and yes, they probably do not have money to compensate you.

The funnier part is if they aren’t even following you on your platforms.  This lack of care shows that you are just another random pick. They have no real interest in you. Clearly, they have no idea what your brand is about.



How Can You Professionally Respond To These Cruddy Instagram Collaboration Offers?

1. Ignore or Delete

First off, you don’t have to respond to a bad collab offer. If the offer came via an IG post comment or cut and paste email with your brand handle, feel free to delete. The brand will never notice. On my Instagram pictures, I report these cheap comments for what they truly are: spam.

2. Respond With Your Media Kit And Rate/Fees

If you want to work with the brand and they haven’t offered to pay you, you can respond back with your Media Kit attached and let them know how much you charge per post and story.

How do you know what to charge if you are new? Check Social Bluebook as a *guideline.* Know that these rates are extremely low, and you can charge much more.

I also refer brands to my Work With Me page on my blog.

If a brand still won’t pay you, and you want to decline:

Just let the brand know that you appreciate their message. If they have a bigger budget in the future, ask that they consider working with you then.

If a brand still won’t pay you, and you want that free product no matter what:

Then, you are dead to me. No just kidding.

Make the best decision for you, your brand, and your audience.

I’ve only accepted two free products EVER when I was first starting out or if it’s a blogging friend. I completely regret working for free for non-friends as these posts gave me no street cred and only proved that someone will always work for free. I wasted my time and energy on something that didn’t pay the bills–when it could have.

3. Politely Say “No Thanks”

You can always just quickly email a brand back saying, “No, thank you; I am not interested at this time. Thank you for your consideration.”

Sigh, Don’t Get Taken Advantage Of With Ugly Instagram Scams

I understand that influencers and IGers want to make it out there. You want free products. Plus, maybe you want to be a pro-IGer or score some sponsored travel work.

Yes, I wish other IGers would just say ‘NO WAY!’ to these companies and stand up for themselves.  I wish they would stop setting the precedent for others.

I get that some IGers don’t mind buying a product, taking a chance, and trying their luck to earn a commission.

Just know that you are worth more and should demand as such. 

Companies are preying on you. 

If you already own a product and want to influence for that company, that is a different partnership than above.

And IG collaboration brands know they are playing you:

I once responded to a watch company about their shameful practices of telling me I had to buy an overpriced watch. 

In a tactful way, I mentioned that I, like them, run a business.  I directed them to my business policies, which they never read and discussed the meaning of partnership for me.   I asked them not to contact me again unless they had a budget for me, but they felt the need to respond:

“…Thanks for your time.

We have collaborated with many influencers in a previous time and they all cooperate with us at 60% discount code off, however, there’s a few influencers we have sent the free watch in the past but the effect is not good for a long-term collaboration.

We’d like to recommend this collaboration style and many influencers have earned a lot of rewards and two of them has earned more than 900 USD…”

I just don’t get it…and neither do they.  (P.S. my channels had double their follower count)



Why is a free watch not a long-term collaboration?  If not free, I cannot even afford a short-term relationship with you.

And yes, let’s brag about how other influencers agreed.  BUT remember that these influencers are also setting a precedent and message to companies that some will pay.

And PS. $900 over the course of how long is just not a good deal.  Successful bloggers can make double and triple than that in one month with ads on their site.

Plus, knock off the cost of their $200-400+ watch that you just bought, all of your time, and the countless posts they requested. 

Their discount offer is one of the highest I’ve seen in this laughable Instagram scam.  Many match the discount offered to everyday consumers.

Should I mention that even after I told this company what a scam they were running, they still wanted to ‘partner.’

How Do You Avoid Ugly Instagram Scams?

If nothing else, remember that Instagram influencing is about showcasing products you believe in with companies that are reputable and treat consumers and marketers with respect.

Products should be free and you should be compensated fairly.

If you work with a shoddy brand, that says a lot about your own brand.  I sure as heck know that I won’t follow, trust, or buy from you if your brands are scammy. 

Others will see transparency as well.  Don’t fall victim to ugly Instagram collab scams.  Work to make it a platform you are proud to be a part of.  AND GET PAID WHAT YOU ARE WORTH!

Where Should You Head Next?

Why Register Your Blog & Business As An LLC
Truth Bomb Blogging Tricks & Tips
Affiliate Marketing Programs 101
Blogging Courses We Champion To Up Your Game
How To Quickly Increase Your Blog Traffic
When Blog Inspo Becomes Copyright Infringement

Chantel

Monday 6th of September 2021

Thank you very much for this post. As a new small business owner, I found it very helpful and informative. It's nice to hear things from a different perspective.

Christine

Tuesday 7th of September 2021

Thanks so much for letting us know! I am so glad you found it helpful.

Natsai Mushonga

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Hallo Christine, thanks for the very informative article. I've recently been receiving those "cutesy" comments on my last IG post from the so called brads, asking me to dm them so that I promote their product. Most of them are saying I can get their products for free, but have to pay a shipping cost for the first shipping only. What's your take on this? Shouldn't they cover all the expenses?

Christine

Wednesday 20th of January 2021

Hey Natsai, Thanks so much! You should not have to pay for anything, including shipping. I'd also ask for payment for the post. I never recommend working or posting for free. Your time and content is worth so much more.

Rimjhim

Friday 25th of December 2020

I'm just starting with social media marketing nd I'm a bit confused !!! What if some foreign brands approches us through ig comments and they want to sponsor nd give free products ... What questions should I ask next to the "foreign brand" before collaborating with them???? Hope you wld surely answer my question and help me taking the right decision!!

Christine

Monday 28th of December 2020

I'd either send them your rates, ask if these are paid sponsorships, ask what they expect in return, and ask for a contract. If a brand is extremely vague to start, I don't waste my time and just ignore or delete the comment/DM. A good brand will be fairly clear right away.

Angelo Walker

Tuesday 22nd of December 2020

This is a very informative article! I received an offer which initially asked me to purchase an item but then upon my insistence, offered to provide one free. I also was able to get them to agree to write a contract. It's for a fashion company based in California and while I am very into fashion, my social media mostly focuses on things related to my career (I'm a political science major, so like politics-related). I'm not sure if I should take the offer but I kind of want to just throw caution to the wind and do it. I would love your insight on this.

Christine

Monday 28th of December 2020

It would be great if they paid you to promote their product. If the product is off-brand, I'd say no, though. If your followers are not into fashion and that is not what you typically promote, this will confuse your followers, they might eventually unfollow you (if you aren't sharing what they follow you for), and it won't help you or the company.

Nazam

Monday 23rd of November 2020

This blog was really helpful and informative. Thankyou for sharing the much needed knowledge in a world where scams are pretty common. I have a question, is it normal to receive messages from 0 following 0 followers account saying '' hello, I am .... from .... we are looking for brand ambassadors who support ..... please send us a message on our main account @... Hope to hear from you!"

Lately I have been receiving a ton of messages from such accounts and being a newbie I don't know how to deal with them. Is it normal thing that brands contact you like this or is it a scam? Should I reply them on this account or their main account or should I simply decline their offer? Also I have a private account with 500 followers.

Christine

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

Hey Nazam,

Thank you so much!

So, it is normal to receive those spammy messages from accounts with 0 followers/0 following 'acting on behalf' of a large brand. This is a huge red flag that yes, it's all a scam. I don't respond, and I will flag the message and account as spam so IG knows that the account is bad/engaging in bad practices. I don't recommend responding to accounts like this since it will get you nowhere and they really aren't going to offer you anything worthwhile or legit. Just delete.

I hope that helps. Good luck!