The Truth About Influencers


Anybody can be an influencer, but not everybody can influence.

I had 100k+ followers

A lot of people congratulated me when I hit 100k followers on my Instagram. I gotta admit – it felt pretty good. But more importantly – it looked really good. People started to react differently to me when we’d exchange Instagram accounts. “Wow – you’re huge!” “OMG are you famous?” I started getting invited to exclusive events. I went on free trips. I was even making a livable income by posting branded content. Just recently got into a club in Bangkok (where I live) by showing management my Instagram account (I was wearing a tank top and there was a strict dress code). They thought I was an actor they just didn’t recognize.

Recently, my number of followers has fallen below 95k (from a peak of 101k) and a few people have noticed and asked me “what happened?”. Have I suddenly become less popular? Has my content become worse to the point that people are unfollowing me? Actually, the opposite has happened but you wouldn’t know that if you used my follower count as a measure of my “influence” (start paying attention advertisers).

Add me on Instagram @adamfrancisco & @befreemysheeple. Lord knows I could use more followers

Later in this article, I’ll show you how to determine who is an authentic influencer. If you’ve ever wondered “why is this person so popular?” you’ll be able to easily find out if they really are (and then not feel as bad that you’re not as popular).

Follower Count = Vanity Metric

The problem with Instagram is that the entire influencer ecosystem is mostly based on 1 single metric: follower count. The more followers you have, the more money you get paid by brands, the more free trips you go on & the more exclusive event access you get. The higher the follower count, the better it looks and the more money you make and the more you can travel.

I met a hilarious comedian in New York City a few months ago after seeing his show. We exchanged Instagrams and he was both amazed & jealous at how many followers I had. He told me that great meetings ended on bad notes because he didn’t have enough followers (“only 12k+”) so he lost a few real world deals. Everything was going well until the follower count question at the end of the meeting. Crazy.

Follower count is a vanity metric, but a very expensive one. It is not a meaningful indicator of one’s influence, but the perception of one’s influence. 

This vanity metric creates a very clear incentive for an “influencer” to amass as many followers as quickly as possible (at the sake of quality followers). This happens in almost every career – the perception of being good at your job can be more important than actually being good at your job. A positive perception usually yields greater income. 

Brands and advertisers are starting to catch up and look at other factors such as number of likes & comments (L&C) but this too can be easily manipulated via engagement pods on Telegram. This is when a group of people (sometimes 1000s) agree to exchange likes & comments to boost each other’s engagement rates. This is all done outside of Instagram and is a great way to boost engagement. But is this a quality engagement and a way to measure influence?

Follower Count is the 90s Hit Counter

Follower count reminds me of “hit counters” back in the late 90s. Who remembers visiting a website and seeing the number of “hits” that website had via a hit counter? This was usually the first thing you’d see on the top of the webpage (or it would be all the way on the bottom). For those of you born after 2000, here’s what a hit counter looked like:

RIP Hit Counters


The problem with hit counters is that they were very easy to manipulate. If you had a website, you could just manually refresh your website over and over to increase the hit counter. The higher the hit counter number was, the more desirable & high-quality your website seemed and the visitors that stumbled across your site would feel more motivated to check out your content. Sound familiar? 

I met with a brand a few months ago that separated influencers into microinfluencers (those with less than 100k followers) & influencers (those with 100k+ followers). Microinfluencers received product but no payment. Influencers received product AND payment. You can see the clear motivation to grow as quickly as possible. 

Fake It Till You Make It

Somebody with less than 10k followers is (likely) not going to be paid, get invited on free trips, or get invited to exclusive events. Somebody with 30k+ followers can. This is where it gets interesting…

A person who organically grew to 10k followers does not look impressive when benchmarked to an influencer who grew to 30k (by any means necessary) and they will not be considered for opportunities. Even the influencers that want to keep their accounts clean have clear incentives to grow at any cost.

Because you have the perception of being popular (30k+ followers), you:

-Start getting paid which means you can buy yourself cooler things or eat at nicer restaurants or travel more or buy yourself a nicer camera which makes your content more desirable.

-Start going on sponsored trips which means you can take pictures in new places and show everyone how much you travel and all the exciting food you’re eating which makes your content more desirable.

-Start going to exclusive events which are usually posh and somewhat fancy like clubs, rooftop bars & wine tastings which makes your content more desirable.

It’s like a snowball. Once the snowball gets big enough, it will start rolling down the hill by itself getting bigger and bigger without assistance. Eventually, you have real influence because there’s the perception that you do, and there is definitely some value in that. Follower count is not an entirely worthless metric so how do you gain followers?

How Do You Gain Followers?

Here are the ways your favorite influencers gained followers:

(1) They are already famous: actors, athletes, reality TV stars & industry experts don’t need Instagram to become famous. They already are and that’s why people follow them. Just look at anyone from The Bachelor franchise before they were on the show and after. I really should apply. But I don’t believe in marriage so I’d have to act like I do. Wait a minute…

(2) They are early adopters: people who joined Instagram very early were able to grow quickly (big fish in a small pond). When the platform hit critical mass, they created the perception of somebody worth following (due to high follower count) and their followers continued to snowball.

3) They make truly valuable content: people who create valuable & authentic content such as fitness tips, travelers, inspirational living, food reviews, funny videos & sports highlights. If your content is that good, there’ll always be an audience.

4) They get semi-naked or just naked: people who show off their bodies. The problem is that most of their audience is just thirsty followers. For example, women who do this likely have 60-90% male followers. If a brand that targets women wanted to use their account & asked for their gender breakdown, they’ll quickly see that she is the wrong person for their brand as their content reaches mostly men.

5) They use Follow/Unfollow method people that follow a bunch of accounts taking advantage of the psychology of reciprocity (you follow me, I follow you), and then unfollow them in order to have the appearance of a desirable follower to following ratio. This has historically worked surprisingly well but it seems the average IGer has gotten wiser making it less fruitful.

6) Bots/Spam – people who purchased bulk bot/spam followers. Almost 0 value.

How I Became An Influencer 

If you’re wondering why I highlighted (5) in red, it’s because this is partially how I went from 2,000 to 101,000 followers in less than a year. (I’d also like to think I create some truly valuable content). Every day I would follow hundreds of other, human accounts, and every day I would unfollow them. While I was following real people, they were low quality connections. The Instagram algorithm knew this. Because there’s only so much visual real estate on a phone’s screen, Instagram will only show people the content they really want to see which is determined by a number of behaviors such as liking, commenting, responding to stories, DMs, etc. If someone is only following you because you followed them first, they’re likely not very interested in your account and your engagement will suffer.

As my follower count kept growing, the perception kept growing that my account was worth following or at least checking out. As time went on, not only did my follower count increase, but so did the actual quality of my content. As the number got higher, so did my perceived influence and in turn my actual influence.

I became an influencer. 

I stopped using this method around July of 2018 which is when you can see my follower count started to slowly decrease. I was losing followers faster (likely using the F/U on me) than I was organically gaining them, but I didn’t care.

Because there was one number that was improving invisibly … my AQS.

How Do You Know Who Is a Real Influencer? Audience Quality Score(AQS)

Since I stopped focusing on growing my follower count and instead focused on pushing out higher-quality content along with debuting my blog, my Audience Quality Score (AQS) has increased from 41 to 52. The quality of my audience has increased even though my follower count has decreased. I am more influential at under 95k followers than I ever was at 101k. This should continue to be the case as long as I focus on creating quality content, and not focusing on boosting a vanity metric.

You can plug in any influencer’s name you want in Influencer Marketing Hub’s Fake Follower & Audience Credibility Checker here. You’ll be shocked at how many influencers have used the F/U method. If they scored under 50, then they really maxed this method out and they have a low quality audience. What surprises me is how many brands & advertisers these accounts are still able to work with at their asking rates! 

To give you a sense of what influencers can get paid, it’s around $1,000 USD for every 100,000 followers, so if someone has 300,000 followers, they get paid $3,000 per post. 

To be clear, I don’t think someone with a low AQS should not be paid – I just think they shouldn’t be paid based on their follower count. If they have 300,000 followers and they’re asking for $3,000 USD but their AQS is 40, then a brand should point to the low AQS score and offer them 40% of their asking rate. There is still value to their account, just not the face value from the follower count.


I think Instagram has two immediate solutions & brands have an immediate solution to clean up the influencer ecosystem :

(1) Remove follower count from all profiles. If the person is a real influencer, their content will continue to appear on feeds (based on the algorithm) & their dedicated followers would still be able to manually plug in their username to find their content just as they do now. But how will brands know how much to pay an influencer? 

(2) Currently, almost all influencer deals are done outside of Instagram either through brands and influencers directly, or through third party influencer platforms (which take a commission). Instagram can offer brands & advertisers deeper analytics if they broker the deal directly while also making a commission. This would be a new massive revenue stream for Instagram. If anyone can determine who is an influencer and who is an “influencer,” it’s Instagram. 

(3) Until the above happens, brands should always check the AQS score first, and then ask for the profile insights which provide age, gender & geo. If you’re a US brand and your influencer only has a 50% US audience, there should be an upfront 50% discount off the asking rate. 

You can see how this could determine a fairer value based on actual data & numbers.

300,000 followers would no longer be paid $3,000 per post. With a little due diligence, 300,000 followers (with a 40 AQS, a 50% US audience, and a 50% male target) would now command $300. This is extreme, because an influencer should be paid for their time creating branded content or attending a sponsored event, but I think somewhere in the middle is where influencer marketing needs to go. Smart brands are already doing this and hiring consultants like me to make sense of the messy influencer marketing marketplace.

I would love to hear what you think. If you have any questions about influencer marketing, you can e-mail me And of course follow me on Instagram, @adamfrancisco & @befreemysheeple.

Be Free My Sheeple!

Is Thailand Dog-Friendly?

Is Thailand Dog-Friendly? If you’re obsessed with your dogs like I am and you’re either thinking about moving to or visiting Thailand with your fur-babies, then read this! I’m going to talk about my personal experiences having not one – but TWO dogs with me during my 1st month in Thailand. 

First – it’s important to know that I have what are considered small breed dogs : a Yorkie (Raindrop) & a Shih Tzu (Flex). Combined, my dogs weigh 28 lbs (or 12.7 kg). If needed, I can always quickly scoop my dogs up and carry them.  I also have the option of putting them in dog bags and carrying them. If I zip the bags shut, most people won’t even realize I have dogs with me.

I love all dogs but I’ve always preferred smaller breeds because they’re simply more convenient due to their size.

Before we get into it…

Is Thailand safe for my dogs?

The answer is mostly yes! I did a lot of research before moving to Thailand and the safety of my dogs was of utmost importance.  In Thailand, I at least know my dogs will not end up on a dinner plate.

So, is Thailand dog-friendly?

Thailand is a weird combination of being very dog-friendly and then not dog-friendly. Here’s some observations from my 1st month living in the Land of Smiles.

PRO: Whenever I walk down the street with my dogs, most people smile or make kissy noises at them. Thai people love dogs.

CON: Bangkok is the hottest city in the world and I quickly realized the impact this has on my dogs. It simply is not safe to take your dogs for long walks during the day-time due to the high temperatures and humidity. My solution was to invest in a baby stroller so I now look like a crazy dog daddy. Yolo?

Me in Khao San Road in 2018.

PRO: While many Asian countries continue to eat dogs today, Thailand is one of the few where eating dog never became part of their culinary history (outside of few remote villages). Since then, the Thai government passed animal welfare laws in 2014 for dogs, cats and other animals. Bravo! You can read more here

CON: Many streets do not have full sidewalks so you have to share the road with cars & motorbikes. I strongly recommend keeping your dogs on a short leash while walking them.

PRO: Some restaurants & spas (that aren’t dog-friendly) have allowed my dogs in (when I have them in the baby stroller) without much fuss. After they see how well-behaved they are, I’m basically allowed in with my dogs after that (with or without stroller).

Foot massages with my kids.

CON: Not only are there homeless dogs in Thailand, but many owners keep their dogs unleashed in front of their stores or in a front yard that isn’t closed. If your dog likes to bark at every dog he sees or hears, you’ll have dogs seemingly coming out of nowhere!

PRO: There are a number of hotels, spas, cafes and restaurants that are dog-friendly catering to this specific audience. In America, your dog has to be a Service Dog to be allowed into an indoor restaurant (or most establishments) and even (some) pet-friendly hotels will charge fees but here it really just seems up to ownership/management.

Note : I have successfully snuck my dogs into some non-pet friendly hotels & restaurants by keeping them in their stroller or in their bags. If it’s in a stroller and whatever’s in the stroller is quiet, people assume it’s a sleeping baby. WRONG. It’s 2 awesome dogs. #winning

CON: If you happen to be in a grassy area, insects will swarm your dogs. I put Raindrop & Flex in their baby stroller on a grass field and Raindrop started freaking out. I quickly checked on her and ants had climbed all the way up the stroller and were covering my dogs bodies. These tropical ants are lit. No wonder Thai dogs prefer sleeping on concrete here.

PRO: If your dogs love the beach, it seems like all beaches in Thailand are dog-friendly as there are a number of local beach dogs already hanging out.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I’d have to drive to specific beaches.

CON: It’s sometimes very hard to find a taxi that will accept your dogs. This is very frustrating when I have places to be (luckily I don’t really have places to be because I’m a digital nomad😂).

PRO: Thailand uses Grab (instead of Uber) and you have the option to pick a motorbike. So far I haven’t had any issues holding my dogs on the back of a motorbike. If your dogs like to stick their heads out your car window when you’re driving, then they’ll love this!

CONDogs cannot fly in-cabin on any Thai airplanes. They must be in-cargo. If you have to fly your dog in/out of Thailand, try to schedule your flight at night when temperatures have cooled down.

PRO: Even the temple grounds are dog-friendly! While your dogs cannot go into the temple themselves, they’re more than welcome to hang out outside of the temple. I saw many monks with pet dogs. 

At Big Buddha Phuket. Epic.


CON: There are street dogs here so they are untrained animals which means they piss, shit & bark wherever they want so there’s a perception from some people (likely non-dog owners) that all dogs will piss, shit & bark in their place of business.

PRO: Thai women love dogs. I think all women love dogs. As a single guy, this helps. If you’re single, get dogs. You won’t be as needy and you’ll automatically become more desirable. If you’re not single, get dogs so when your inevitable breakup happens, you won’t care as much because you’ll have unconditional love from your dogs. Just make sure you figure out who owns the dogs before you get them. The worst thing is losing your dogs during the break-up.

CONEmotional Support Animals and Service Animals are yet to be recognized in Thailand so even if your dog is required for an actual medical need, this isn’t recognized or protected by any laws (yet).

PRO: Many restaurants and bars have outside seating areas, so even if the restaurant or bar is not dog-friendly, you can still sit outside with them. 

With Jeff Bukhari – still single.

CON: Most public parks are so perfect for dogs with grassy areas & huge parks to play fetch in, but many of them are not dog-friendly. 

PRO: Getting your dogs groomed or going to the vet is so cheap here! The following services were $80 total!:

-2 dog haircuts
-2 dog nail clippings
-2 dog anal gland cleanings
-2 dog teeth cleanings
-2 vet appointments
-2 medications (for ear infections)

CON: But pet stores are expensive. Buying high-quality dog food costs about the same price as the US. 

PRO: You get to live in Thailand, the Land of Smiles, with your best friend(s)???? What else could be better!!!

So there you have it. Some idea of what to expect if you bring your dog(s) to Thailand. Just make sure you go through the entire pet permit & import process correctly. It’s a bit of a headache but I was able to figure it out with a little help from a Thai friend.

My next article will include some of the best dog-friendly hotels that I’ve stayed at so far.

If you have any questions about owning a dog in Thailand, feel free to contact me

And of course follow me on Instagram, @adamfrancisco & @befreemysheeple.

Be Free My Sheeple!

The Key to My Happiness : Create Your Own Career

Create your own career.

This is some of the best advice I can give to anyone.

In 2016 I quit my job to travel across Asia. In those 3 months, I never felt more alive getting lost on the Tokyo trains or exploring the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia or visiting the same jungles in Vietnam that my dad fought the Vietnam War in or hiking in pitch black darkness in Hong Kong. I had zero work e-mails to worry about. I didn’t even think of how many vacation days I was using or how many I had left because for that moment, they felt infinite. (The only thing missing was my dogs).

When I came back to the US, I wanted to enjoy my time in LA so I didn’t work for 4 months. It was glorious. I fell in love with the freedom of not having a job, not having a boss to report to, and every single day of the week being my own. A Monday-Friday felt like a Sunday-Sunday for me. I would wake up and forget if it was a weekend or a weekday because it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to wait for the break between Christmas and New Years to do something epic.

Check out my 2016 life-changing trip to Asia on Instagram by searching #PapisInvasian

But of course there’s this limited resource called money and LA & NYC are not cheap cities to live in so I started to rack my brain about how I could generate income (without dipping into my investments which would continue to multiply if I didn’t cannibalize myself) but still have a relatively easy work schedule and the freedom of traveling whenever I wanted and waking up whenever I wanted. Was it possible to work smarter and not harder?

While these thoughts crossed my mind, it also happened that LA taught me the value of TIME & HEALTH over MONEY & THINGS (both of which NYC prioritizes) so I also realized that I didn’t need to make that much money anymore to have the lifestyle that I wanted. Yachts, penthouse apartments & brand names lost their allure to me. Freedom, time with my dogs and the ability to travel started to matter more. You can always make more money but you can’t make more time.

The question I get from people the most is “Adam – how do you live your lifestyle?” And the answer is that I created my own career (and stayed single – relationships come with limitations lol). I launched my own influencer agency called YourFavoriteInfluencer and as it is a business based (mostly) in Instagram, I can work and generate income from anywhere in the world because guess what! Email works everywhere! Do I make the same amount of money I made in NYC? Not even close, but it’s enough to maintain the comfortable lifestyle that I want (and the income will be worth 10x more in Thailand lol). I also take the job very seriously and it’s important to me that all of my clients have a positive experience.

I also set up my own consulting firm and I am exclusively working with VodelMedia to drive revenue from agencies (which is what brings me to NYC 10-14 days a month). I’ll be continuing to work with VodelMedia when I am in Bangkok. Very excited!

Lastly, I rent out my apartment for a rate which far outweighs my actual daily rent and this has given me a rent-free lifestyle (until Thailand).

A big reason for my Thailand move is because you can have an extremely high quality of life for a very low cost. 🇹🇭 YOLO!

So there you have it. That’s the secret to my lifestyle and my happiness. I created my own career. When you create your own career, the money may not be as steady or as predictable as a full time 9-5 job (and lord knows you have to pay for your own health insurance 😂), but the freedom is what life is all about. 2 or 3 weeks of vacation is not enough to live the life you were meant to live and I’m sure it’s not enough to live the life that many of you want to live! Your health is not guaranteed long term. Do you want to finally be free at 60+ when you might not even make it there and even if you do, you might not be physically fit to enjoy hiking Hong Kong Peak or touring Angkor Wat?

If you need advice, feel free to DM me! Don’t be miserable at your job. Travel more. Be more free. In other words…

Be Free My Sheeple! 🐑

P.S. follow me on Instagram either @adamfrancisco or my vlog @befreemysheeple if you aren’t already. I need more followers #addicted. 🚶🏽‍♂️🚶🏽‍♂️🚶🏽‍♂️🚶🏽‍♂️🚶🏽‍♂️