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Kamloops RCMP on lookout for phony hotel Instagram influencer

Instagram-fraud-suspect-Dec18
Photo: Kamloops RCMP

Kamloops RCMP are on the lookout for a man who managed to talk a local hotel into a free stay, meals included, in exchange for a little free publicity on Instagram.

Initially, the faux Instagrammer approached the hotel with a proposition to stay for a few days, which turned into a month-long free ride, before disappearing without disclosing his actual identity.

The crime raises a question, not only about this scam, but about the “value” of social media.

Not too long ago, Facebook was dismissed by investors and market watchers as too ephemeral. Sure, it’s popular because it’s free. But where’s the business model?

Anyone who saw the potential for monetizing quotidian user data in advance of Facebook’s IPO must surely be patting themselves on the back for their far-sightedness today.

It’s an indication of how dramatically times have changed that a hotel would actually agree to exchange free hospitality for legitimate service rendered by any Joe walking in off the street and talking a good line about being influential on Instagram.

Kamloops police don’t have a name for the suspect, but have distributed a photo.

“It was a guy that checked into one of the hotels and he said he was going to do some work for them on Instagram in exchange for a few days’ stay and free meals,” RCMP Constable Jason Epp told Kamloops This Week. “It looks like he extended his stay by quite a while. The hotel, I’m not sure what they were thinking, but he extended his stay by about a month.”

What’s interesting about this story is not that the Instagrammer skipped out on his bill. There was no bill.

Services were offered in the form of publicity on Instagram in exchange for a short stay plus meals. What’s clear from the rise of the Instagram economy is that social media publicity does indeed have real value.

The question, both for creative scam artists and legitimate social media influencers, is how much that publicity is worth.

A-list Instagrammers (think Kardashian) can charge anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 for an Instagram endorsement. B- and C-listers can charge anywhere between $500 to $5,000 per post.

To suggest that the Instagram economy is not real is to call into question the nature of currency itself, but that’s another conversation.

Five years ago, the idea that information can be valued the way that we have historically valued oil would have got you laughed out of most investor pitch sessions, never mind hotel lobbies.

And every once in a while the credibility of social media influence as a form of commerce is punctured, such as in the case of Australian Instagram star Essena O’Neill, who famously declared “SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL” before retiring her account apparently forever.

But today, the review economy, or trust economy, or sharing economy, or reputation economy, or whatever you want to call it, has arrived to replace our old notion of a resource economy, as real as steel or cotton or oil, for better or for worse.

If there is a crime in the Kamloops case, it’s perhaps fraud or misrepresentation or breach of contract, even if that contract was merely verbal.

“It’s the first I’ve ever heard of anything like that,” said Epp. “It’s an interesting scam.”

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