Blogger and marketing agency co-founder, Nik Speller, soared onto my radar when he put together a quick, no frills video on how to spot bought/fake followers and those pesky bots on Instagram. Why? Because although I can use my brain to assess social media stars as genuine by looking at their following vs their interaction and the QUALITY of that interaction, I didn’t know that you could prove it. Nik is daring to say what many have been afraid to, that brands are being blind to this activity and social media folk are doing it because everyone else is. Is it right? No. Can we change it? Let’s find out. I interviewed Nik where below you’ll see his video on spotting #Instafraud but more importantly you’ll find out about the man behind the mission, why he thinks micro-influencers are crucial and why he gives away his influencer database for free.
NakedPRGirl: What is your background? Where are you from? What did you study?
Nik Speller: I’m from Cambridgeshire originally, but I’ve lived in Manchester, Oxford, and now London. At university I studied History and then international business – not two things that naturally go together, I guess; but, I couldn’t think what to do after uni, so staying on and studying a bit more seemed like the best (easiest) option.
And before anyone thinks I’m a millionaire, this was back in the day when uni was far far cheaper.
NakedPRGirl: You’re a lifestyle writer for Buckets and Spades – how did you get into blogging?
Nik Speller: I actually started writing my own food blog about 6 years ago, because people were sick of hearing me moaning about restaurants – and I guess they thought if I wrote it down, I’d stop talking about it.
From my tiny food blog, I was asked to write for a couple of bigger food blogs and then – somehow – Mat (editor of Buckets and Spades) and I bumped into each other on Twitter. Mat asked me to write a piece for him about what I wore to the gym (I think) and we went from there.
NakedPRGirl: How have you seen menswear change and evolve over the years?
Nik Speller: I guess the biggest change to the industry, that I’ve seen, is just how many start-up brands have come along, got up and running, really quickly, and really made a name for themselves. Social media has helped with this massively. Brands are able to spread the word and get in touch with those people who can help spread the word for them.
NakedPRGirl: How do you think influencers will help to shape the future of menswear?
Nik Speller: Influencers are helping smaller brands reach a larger audience, but they’re also providing decent customer feedback (if only the brands will listen). These guys know their clothes and know why they (and their audience) will buy them. Brands need to treat this as the gold it really is, get listening, and adjust their products, marketing, and the like accordingly.
NakedPRGirl: What’s your failsafe outfit or signature look? Do you have any favourite brands or designers you admire?
Nik Speller: Ha ha. You’re asking the wrong person here. I have a classic ‘go to’ – but whether it’s a fail-safe outfit or signature look, I don’t know. Here it is: white trainers, black jeans, blue Oxford shirt, grey sweater, harrington jacket. If you ever see me walking the streets of London, I’ll most likely be wearing that and will have my head buried in my phone.
NakedPRGirl: Do you have any favourite products or grooming tips?
Nik Speller: I’m too much of a bloke (ha ha) for grooming products. Everyone tells me I need to moisturise and whatever else, but I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing. I wear some moisturiser after shaving. That’s about it.
That said, I’ve started watching a few YouTubers who know their grooming onions. Robin James (@ManForHimself) is one funny guy and gives out decent grooming tips – one day I might actually act on them.
NakedPRGirl: You’re also a co-founder of marketing agency Three Letters, how did that come about? What’s behind the name?
Nik Speller: Three Letters is an agency that I’m working on with Mat (editor of Buckets and Spades). We put the business together to give a more formal feel to the work we were already doing ‘behind the scenes’ with brands – helping them identify the right influencers to work with and helping them work out the best way of working with these guys.
The name? That came about because both of our first names have three letters in them. Simple!
NakedPRGirl: How important is your working relationship with Creative Director Matthew Pike?
Nik Speller: Very important! Whether we’re working on a project for Three Letters or Buckets and Spades, we have to collaborate closely to make sure that we always deliver quality. We’ve become sounding boards for near enough everything now – ideas, outreach, projects, photos, travel, holidays, music, you name it!
NakedPRGirl: How hard was it to get up and running? What were the biggest hurdles?
Nik Speller: Starting a business is easy. It costs about £15 to register a name and about the same to get a website going. The hardest part is winning clients. I’ve worked for myself before, so I know just how hard it is. Meetings, emails, meetings, emails, coffees, breakfasts, hand shakes, networking, the promise of work, work, and more work, which always disappears, goes on hold, and is cancelled for unknown reasons. And then, when you do win a project, sign-up a new client, or deliver some work, it feels completely amazing. There’s nothing like it! A real thrill of a reward for all your hard effort.
NakedPRGirl: You’re leading the charge against #Instafraud where was the tipping point when you decided to take action?
Nik Speller: Ha ha! Leading the charge! I like that. I don’t think I am, to be honest. There are a lot of people out there making more noise and really pushing the case. I think I was lucky in that I published that video just before a bank holiday, when – for whatever reason – people had chance to sit down, watch what I did, and then uncover some fraudsters of their own. That set things off, with accusations, denials, and apologies.
NakedPRGirl: I think of myself as being fairly tech savvy – Instagram star LornaLuxe and I talk all the time about influencers buying followers – but even I didn’t know terms like Rubber Banding and how widespread the spam bots are. Have we got too much trust in Instagram? NakedPRGirl: Do we need more education? How can we win against such a big organisation?
Nik Speller: Personally, I have zero trust in the data behind Instagram. Automated engagement is rife across the whole network and it makes a total mockery of any ‘engagement score’ anyone tries to calculate from it. As I’ve said recently, any ‘score’ you can easily produce by using the relevant hashtags to draw in the bots. It’s beyond a joke really.
In terms of trusting Instagram as an organisation, I’d like to believe that they’re just a bit naive as to how bad things are with their network. But, then they’re a massive company, with billions of dollars at their disposal. How have they not identified this as a massive risk to their business? And why are they not seeming to do anything about it?
I think folks like me banging on about Instafraud will only take us so far. I’ll get bored eventually and probably give up; but, if a major media outlet takes it up and if brands, advertisers, and decent agencies start asking questions publicly, Instagram will have to act – either that or they’ll die.
NakedPRGirl: What advice would you give to a blogger who has used bots? What should they do to rectify it?
Nik Speller: There’s not a lot you can do, I guess. The thing to do is stop and focus on building decent content that wins you an audience, organically. I’m not sure whether it’s worth telling the world you used bots, but prepare an answer / response to send out if someone calls you out.
Something along the lines of ‘feeling the pressure of the industry’ etc – I’ve seen that one rolled out, along with the (possibly fake) tears a couple of times now: ‘I’m so sorry! (I got caught)’
NakedPRGirl: Have you been surprised by some of the people you’ve uncovered using bots? Do you think bloggers are scared they will now be caught out?
Nik Speller: Initially, some were; but, many just carry on. They know they have to. Their content isn’t good enough to justify that following and if they stop, they know they’ll lose a lot of ‘followers’ – which will cause them trouble when brands ponder why they’re in decline.
I’ve been surprised by just how many people have used bots, yep. Many of them, it was sad to see, as I didn’t think they needed to (because they produce good content) – and very frustrating, as I’d told brands about how great they were! And that makes me look a fool.
NakedPRGirl: What advice do you give to brands looking to work with influencers?
Nik Speller: I can’t give too much away or people will stop paying me! One key bit of advice I always give (which routinely gets ignored) is that influencers understand their audience and what compels that audience to pay attention to a brand – so get them involved in campaign planning.
Brands don’t involve influencers enough. They see them more as ad spaces, rather than content creators. When they do the former, they miss a massive opportunity to build a real connection with their audience and – basically – throw most of their money away. When they do the latter, they build credible, engaging content, that speaks to their audience and motivates them to act in the way the brand desires.
NakedPRGirl: Other than Instagram, what’s your view on current social platforms? What’s your favourite? Anything new on the horizon?
Nik Speller: I’m getting back into Twitter a little more these days. People seem keener to chat on their then they did about a year ago – when the whole place became one big link share platform.
Instagram is still the winner for me. As much as I hate the statistics and the cheating, I have to say that the network is still the best place to be. And, with Instagram Stories, it’s now a lot more engaging. I love seeing what people are up to and (especially) what creative approaches they can develop on Stories.
NakedPRGirl: I like how you promote micro-influencers and encourage people to look beyond numbers, why is that and who are you championing at the moment?
Nik Speller: The reason I champion micro-influencers is that numbers are not the end game – but they’ve become it. Social media is about content – in any number of forms – and the impact it has. The numbers should reflect the popularity of that content, but we all know they don’t. Plus, just having high followers or engagement doesn’t mean your content is actually any good.
That’s not to say, for one minute, that people with a big following don’t produce good content – by the way.
In terms of the guys I like, I’m going on Instagram here and not just men’s lifestyle folks – but it’s people like @worshipblues, @scotchtrooper, and @haarkon_ who really inspire me. Such great takes on the world, all for very different reasons.
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a motto or a mantra that you live by?
Nik Speller: I wish I was that cool. Or maybe I don’t. I’m not sure mantras are really something I give much thought to, really. I like the idea of doing those things that interest you and that you’re passionate about. I also can’t stand fake people and suck-ups – which makes it incredibly difficult to work in marketing, as the industry is full of people with very little to add, aside from being able to say they know this person, that person, or someone else.
NakedPRGirl: What advice would you give to someone looking to be a blogger or influencer?
Nik Speller: Don’t try and be an influencer. That’s the first piece of advice. Be a creator. Think of the content that you enjoy and that you’d like to produce – and do that. The influence part will come later if / when others enjoy your content. If you don’t do this, you might become an influencer, but it’ll be on a fake basis, that you can’t support long term, and that’ll leave you fairly unhappy.
NakedPRGirl: Where will you be in ten years time?
Nik Speller: Probably sat in a dark room somewhere, ranting about Instagram bots to the wall. Ha ha ha. I’m not sure. 10 years ago, I had no idea where I’d be now, so I’m not sure how I can foresee the next ten years – to be honest. Most of my dreams involve sitting on comfy chairs and drinking whisky, so if I’m doing that, I’ll be pretty happy.