Reporter’s double life as influencer exposed
To her 2900-odd followers, Mia Wilde looks like your typical up-and-coming influencer.
The Sydney woman's Instagram feed is littered with bikini selfies, shots of Mia in activewear, influencer-approved sunset videos, as well as the odd product placement post, all blended perfectly into her carefully curated profile.
There's just one problem with @thatcoastalgirl's profile: it's all fake.
Mia is really SBS journalist Calliste Weitenberg and @thatcoastalgirl is the result of six months of undercover work which saw her delve deep into the confusing and often-murky world of influencing.
In a four-part investigation titled Like, Subscribe, Follow for The Feed which will premiere on Tuesday, Weitenberg discovered that the "dream" job was far from what she expected.
'IT WAS DEFINITELY CONFRONTING'
Weitenberg's engagement with the world of influencers was virtually "non-existent" until she began investigating the lucrative world of social media stars for The Feed last year.
Alongside producer Elise Potaka, Weitenberg quickly realised that to find out what being an Instagram influencer was like, she would have to become one.
Weitenberg shared her first post as @thatcoastalgirl on October 1 last year; a cute selfie of her biting into an apple with the beach in the background.
While @thatcoastalgirl appeared to be going on endless nature walks and beach dips, in reality Weitenberg doesn't live near the beach and joked that she doesn't "work out as much as I should".
"I'm not a wellness freak, I'm not a fitness freak," she told news.com.au. "I'm a workaholic, so my life is very boring in comparison to Mia Wilde."
Weitenberg soon discovered that coming up with constant new content for the account was not conducive to a 9-5 job, leading her to "outsource" cooking and nature content to family and friends.
Taking photos of herself - a crucial task for any influencer looking to build her profile - was also a chore and "took so much time".
The reporter also found that taking photos made her "hyper aware" of every part of her body.
"It was definitely confronting taking shots of myself in bikinis and putting them out there online," Weitenberg said.
'YOU NEED TO PLAY A LITTLE BIT DIRTY'
But despite putting in the work, Weitenberg's efforts weren't yielding any results and she was unable to grow her followers.
Realising that you "need to play a little bit dirty", Weitenberg bought 2000 followers for $25 and began reaping the rewards, despite warnings about using fake profiles.
@thatcoastalgirl's fake followers go against Instagram policy, with the social media giant vowing to penalise or even delete accounts that rely on fake profiles and likes to boost their popularity.
But it paid off, with @thatcoastalgirl eventually able to sign with a social media influencer agency that acted as a "middleman" between her and brands.
Weitenberg's online persona soon received free products in exchange for social media posts in a deal that is known as "contra" among social media circles.
According to the Australian National Association of National Advertisers' Code of Ethics, influencers must make it "clearly distinguishable" to their followers if they are promoting a product in exchange for payment or have received it for free.
Instagram stars risk being fined up to $500,000 by the ACCC if they do not declare that they have been paid to promote a product or service.
One of the "contra" products @thatcoastalgirl promoted was a tea marketed as a "colon cleanse" and "appetite suppressant".
"That's where the problems are: no-one is checking the claims around this and no-one is flagging it as an ad," Weitenberg said.
With her secret life as a budding influencer now revealed, Weitenberg said that it was "much harder than it looks" in an industry that is still a "wild west" when it comes to advertising regulations.
"It is a full time job and I wonder if it is worth the pay that they are getting for most of them," she said.
"There's a small percentage that do seem to crack through and earn bigger bucks, but the overwhelming majority would be like me and making very little."
Like, Subscribe, Follow on The Feed premieres on Tuesday March 16 at 10pm on SBS and SBS On Demand
Originally published as Reporter's double life as influencer exposed