It seems you can’t go two or three taps or swipes on Instagram these days without being tempted by an influencer with another giveaway.

Since the lockdown started, it seems there has been a significant rise in the number of giveaways being promoted on the platform, with many offering cold, hard cash. It used to be designer handbags and other high-end loot. But you can’t eat those in a crisis. Now, cash is king.

So, cue hordes of beaming influencers fanning great wedges of cash and offering one lucky winner the chance to trouser the lot if they follow certain accounts and tag various friends. Given the financial hardship faced by so many people at the moment, with thousands furloughed or fired, it’s easy to see why these cash giveaways look more and more tempting. 

However, once you get past the somewhat distasteful image of a grinning influencer flapping bank notes in your face, you get to the key question: just whose cash is it anyway?

Instagram giveaways are not new. For many brands and influencers, Instagram is a great channel for prize promotions, offering followers the chance to win tickets to events, the latest clothes and all sorts of other products. It also offers a “follower boost” for the promoter as the entrant is often required to engage in some way, usually with a follow.

However, what we are increasingly seeing with this new wave of cash giveaways is that the mechanic is being used as a revenue generator for businesses behind the scenes. It seems to be quickly becoming a business model in its own right. The problem is one of transparency. In many cases, we don’t know whose cash it is. In these cases, the money isn’t coming out of the influencer’s own pocket. It isn’t coming from a brand either. In fact, it is coming from some business you’ve never even heard of. And it seems that many of these promoters have, in turn, never heard of the rules on prize promotions set out in the CAP Code.

What happens is this: a business will engage an influencer to run a cash giveaway for them on Instagram. The rules are simple enough: the influencer will ask entrants to follow all the Instagram accounts on a given list (which could be as many as 100) and, whilst they’re at it, to tag a certain number of friends on the platform. The reason for the tagging is to spread the giveaway to others virally and encourage even more follows for those on the list. Meanwhile, the promoter will have sold spots on the list to businesses wishing to increase their followings on the platform. All Instagram users who follow the list and tag the right number of friends end up in a random draw for the cash prize.

The promoter might end up giving away £5,000 to a lucky winner and might pay the influencer a few thousand pounds for their troubles (nice work if you can get it), but ultimately the promoter makes thousands more from sales of slots on the list. Of course, none of this is visible to Instagram users. The influencer is just the tip of the iceberg - everything else is hidden under the surface.

Why is that a problem? It’s important to remember that it’s perfectly legitimate to run prize promotions such as these on Instagram - as long as the promoter follows the CAP Code, applicable law and, of course, Instagram’s rules on promotions. 

And that’s just it - many are not doing so.

The CAP Code sets out detailed rules on how to run a promotion. One of the main rules is that it must be clear who is running the promotion. Most people would assume it’s the influencer, but often that’s not the case and the promoter isn’t identified. Promoters also need to disclose any significant limitations in all promotional posts (think age, territory, closing date, etc.) and to link to terms and conditions setting out the full rules of the promotion. Also, these giveaways are ads and need to be obviously identifiable as such - if it’s not obvious, then #AD should be used. Unfortunately, it seems this isn’t always happening.

Also, Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines set out specific requirements for those running giveaways and other prize promotions on the platform. Promoters must obtain a release of liability for Instagram and make it clear that Instagram has nothing to do with the promotion. The guidelines also include rules on the dos and don’ts of tagging - Instagram doesn’t want its platform turned into a spam-filled free-for-all. You don’t have to look too closely to find that many cash giveaways are either ignoring these rules or may just be ignorant of them.

Who cares, you might think? You don't have to enter. And if you do, you could win big! 

Well, people generally don’t like being taken for fools, and there’s something quite galling about an influencer claiming to be acting out of the goodness of their heart, when in fact they are being paid to host someone else’s business venture. It’s not really any different to influencers putting out advertorials or paid-for content and not disclosing their commercial relationship with the brand. The ASA has taken a very hard line on that kind of activity, issuing numerous upheld rulings. 

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look into the proliferation of giveaways on social media platforms. It won’t necessarily be easy to identify those giveaways that are not genuinely “owned” by the influencer, but if they’re asking you to follow hundreds of accounts to enter, it’s probably a bit of a - well - giveaway.

If you’re interested, you can find a great article which explores this topic in more detail in the New York Times - see the quote and corresponding link.