My girlfriend works at a prominent Chicago area bakery, and one of her coworkers runs a very impressive food-specific Instagram account. It features some extremely delicious looking photos featuring some culinary highlights from restaurants all over the city. In a recent conversation, my girlfriend told me her coworker who runs the Instagram account sometimes uses an app called Popular Pays. Having never heard of the app, I did some research and discovered it’s an extremely interesting Instagram marketing tool.
The concept of the app as displayed on Popular Pays landing page is, “Get free products or cash in exchange for posting about brands on Instagram.” And a 2014 Chicago Tribune article gives a more complete picture of what the app actually does:
The concept is simple. Instagram users can sign up on the Popular Pays app if have at least 500 followers. Participating merchants offer free goods if users promise to post a picture of the product, ideally in a creative way, on their feed. Sometimes companies offer higher-quality products to users with even more followers, Drummey said.
The Drummey to which the above quote refers is Corbett Drummey, the CEO and co-founder of the Chicago-based startup. The article details how the company grew quickly from 600,000 impressions to over three million between February and March 2014, which is the result of and effort to sign larger brands to the platform. Additionally, Corbett said it’s the smaller companies that come to them rather than vice versa.
“Companies pay Popular Pays based on performance, on a cost-per-engagement basis. A typical fee would be 5 cents per “like,” Drummey said, meaning a company would pay $50 if a photo receives 1,000 likes,” the Tribune article reads.
Here’s a YouTube video of Drummey explaining Popular Pays in his own words:
One of the app’s first businesses to sign on was Gaslight Coffee Roasters in the Logan Square neighborhood. The article states that the shop’s owner, “gives Popular Pays users a free cup of pour-over coffee in return for a shared photo.”
I wanted to get more insight into Popular Pays, so I downloaded the app to see how the interface actually works. Unfortunately, I only have 176 followers and not the 500 needed to use the app, so I couldn’t register.
However, I checked out Twitter to gauge the social media reaction to Popular Pays, and so far it looks like people are using it, but the app still seems to have quite a few issues:
@popularpays my insta account (awomaninscience) has over 500 followers but the app won't let me login, says I dont have enough yet. Help!
— Liz Dumler (@lizfacekillah) March 1, 2015
@popularpays I just tried to go to Cava Grill in the Mosaic District and they wouldn’t accept my swap…it’s listed on your map too!
— Alicia (@AliciaTenise) February 25, 2015
@popularpays the photo upload button is gone again!!! And how can I see what photos I uploaded???
— Jason (@instagramjason) February 25, 2015
But there are quite a few who do enjoy the app and reap its benefits:
— kelly allison (@kallisonphoto) March 5, 2015
— Lord Sleepington (@theNoCoast) February 17, 2015
— Sara Lang (@SaraLang) February 3, 2015
While Popular Pays does blur the line between what is and isn’t advertising, it definitely has potential as a marketing tool because utilizes a user’s Instagram following and has no monetary arrangement. According to Builtinchicago.org, Popular Pays received $500,000 in funding in September 2014. Now it’s just a matter of working the bugs out.