Instagram is a platform full of inspirational people, who tend to be young and wealthy. 71% of users are under the age of 35, and 21% of millennials turn to the app when planning a trip. 60% of people who earn over $100K a year are on the app, compared to just 40% of those in $30K-$60K income bracket. That’s a lot of stats, but the bottom line is this: Instagrammers are not representative of the broader society. Especially the ones with the most followers.

Almost everything you see is put through a filter, making buildings seem brighter, avocados riper, and skies more clear. Two-thirds of millennial travelers view Instagram as an important use of their time, but is it still a valuable source of inspiration? Influencers have recently been shifting tourism trends, with their focus on adventure trips and luxury travel. However, there is evidence that their impact is wearing off as a result of travelers seek more authentic experiences.

The Influencer Aesthetic

What you browse on social media may be very subtly influencing your commercial choices. A small New Zealand town called Wanaka decided in 2015 to offer free vacations to people with large Instagram followings so that they could show off the destination in their snaps. As a result, tourism to this little known town increased by 14%, which is faster growth than anywhere else in New Zealand.

Influencers are experts at editing a photo to promote a vibe and elicit an emotional reaction. A good post doesn’t just show the beauty of a landscape, but the feeling of being in that location. When interviewed, most Influencers avoided Instagram’s own filters and edited their photos using more professional software such as VSCO. This way, they can produce images beyond the capabilities of the average user.

If we’re honest, professional Instagrammers also tend to be beautiful. They keep fit, they know their angles, and their fashion game is on point. It’s the oldest trick in the book, an attractive body gains attention. However, where influencers differ in the modern marketing world is that they are considered more trustworthy. If you see an advertisement on a billboard or in a travel brochure, you are naturally skeptical of it. You know it is just there to sell overseas travel adventures. An Instagrammer, conversely, feels like a real person just going about their life. That is what makes the vacation destination so appealing.

The Truth Behind the Perfect Insta Snap

When commercial advertisements were confined to TV, radio, and magazines, consumers knew where they stood. The Influencer phenomenon has blurred the lines, and there is big money behind it. Those with 10,000 to 100,000 followers - known as ‘Microinfluencers’ - can earn up to $1000 for promoting a product, while those with a million followers can earn in the region of $10,000 to $100,000 per post. The return on investment, as seen in the case Wanaka, makes it well worth it for the tourism companies.

However, consumers are starting to wise up to the truth behind the industry. These people aren’t really experiencing the freedom of travel. They are being given free vacations to visit a destination, take the perfect picture, and increase revenue for tourism companies. The only thing that matters to these companies are numbers of followers.

Some people grow their profile organically, sharing valuable content and earning a loyal if modest following. Others buy followers or spend all day following and unfollowing accounts. Hotel owners and IKEA staff have reported people coming into the lobby or fake kitchen, taking a selfie, and then leaving. It is the size of influence that matters to luxury travel companies, not how you acquire your audience.

The Problem with Oversharing

Influencers aside, does Instagram help to enhance a trip? Whether traveling alone or with a travel buddy, sharing on the ig app is an integral part of a millennial’s vacation. However, this constant use of technology may be hindering your ability to live in and enjoy the moment truly. Author of the dramatically titled ‘Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life,’ Katherine Ormerod, describes this phenomenon as the ‘memeification of human beings.’

Not only does Instagram influence your choice of travel destination, but it determines how you act when you arrive in a place. You become so focused on letting other people know that you are in an exotic location, that there is little mental energy left to enjoy the destination itself. Taking good photos takes time, as does editing them. Unless you have a passion for photography, this could become a chore.

An Authentic Way to Share

Millennials are the most reality obsessed generation yet. While 80% of baby boomers value authenticity in brand, this increases to a staggering 90% among millennials. Instagram influencers proved wildly popular for marketing a service or product because it appeared genuine. However, this illusion is starting to fade.

Behind every great Instagram photo is the work that went into it. A vacation should be just that: a break from work. Rather than following perfectly polished influencers, follow your friends or travelers that you know to be genuine. Even go as far as to prefer accounts with fewer followers as these will likely have the most authentic posts. Life isn’t picture perfect, but it is pretty amazing. You have a smartphone with a decent camera, so use it to snap an image and put it away again quickly. Take time to unplug and breathe in some nature for no one else but yourself.

Evidence suggests that sharing your experiences on social media will help you to enjoy your trip more. It solidifies memories and allows you to share the joy with those close to you. Katherine Ormerod also notes that the Instagram app is nothing new; it’s just the modern version of a scrapbook. Share the things worth sharing, but don’t start faking adventures or following people who do.

Some Instagram Influencers are living exciting lives of wealth and adventure. Others are faking it. If you value authenticity, then it is time to take less notice of others and focus on your own goals and dreams. Build a bucket list and live for the experiences. Updating your ig story should always be imperfect, but more importantly: an authentic afterthought.

Written by Thom Brown