My girl called me a 15-year-old girl the other day. You should have seen my face as I glared her way, not fully realizing what she meant. She told me to picture this: “You’re standing next to the mirror with a Hello Kitty phone case, white earbuds in saying “hold on, I just got an Instagram notification” as I jump up and down in pure excitement.

“Yeah, that’s you the past few days”, she said

I recently just discovered Instagram. Well, not really, but in a whole new light.  For a short time, it was fun to post pictures for friends and family, but that was about it. It sort of just felt like another platform I had to monitor (YAY).

But I soon realized that there is so much more there. And yeah, as a marketer I should have known that, but since I am not fully immersed in tactical executions, I just sort of figured it was something that needed to be done, like Facebook and Twitter. Shame on me!

It is great for brands and even better for fans. On no other platform are you able to consume short-form content in a palatable way, all while still telling a decent story. But Instagram has big problem. Sure, they are still figuring out how to monetize it with sponsored and strategic advertising. And yes, Instagram is still searching for their “secret-sauce” in regards to building brand equity. But in my opinion, the real problem with Instagram boils down to “FAKE BRANDS.”

I don’t want to come out arrogant or caddy, but these fake brands are everywhere. Just look at the motivation space within IG. There are no real brands, just pages with influence. To me, that influence is surface level; a fad that is quickly going to fade, just as quickly as it came to be.

So I went on an experiment with a side brand I have. I started to engage with these pages, I followed their trends and took their advice. I was astonished at how many followers I had grown in just a few weeks. I basically doubled my followers in 15 days. Pretty impressive I will say. I didn’t pay for any of them and I did it all the hard way. But it was hard. Extremely hard. Each posted took on average 30 minutes to curate. I would have to find a picture (my own or someone else’s, which I would source), find a quote, layer the quote on the picture, resize it, and then post it on IG. But it didn’t stop there. I now had to put a description on the posting with hashtags, shout-outs, and CTA’s.

As you can imagine, I quickly got overwhelmed.

But I started to see another trend. A lot of these accounts didn’t have a website on their profile, nor did they have any real value except for the content they were distributing. So I went a step further and started to engage with these accounts and ended up in a KIK chat room with them. What a motivating bunch they were. Doing shoutouts, inspiring one another to keep posting and upping the ante on content. But once again, it was all surface level. There was still no real brand there.

After my 15 days, I had enough. I couldn’t keep up. IG makes it hard because you cannot auto-post and each post has to be hand crafted. Its great for brands that have the resources and bandwidth, but as an entrepreneur, often being pulled in 50 different directions, I couldn’t justify the time.

Once my experiment was over, the magic formula to being a fake brand on Instagram was clear-cut.

Aspirational Photo + Inspirational Quote + Shout Out to other Fake Brands + Hashtags


Originally posted by Steven Picanza ( on 4/15/2015 on Advertising Week (