In the beginning of April, as the realities of quarantine were setting in, I grabbed my computer in a moment of desperation and furiously tried to figure out if I could feasibly afford a Peloton bike, and where it would fit in my loft studio.
I’m not alone. Pelotons are the thing to have on social media during quarantine, with people all over the country showing off their bikes. However, as I’ve been told countless times, I don’t have to buy a bike (which costs a cool $2,200 at minimum) for myself. It seems that every time I scroll through my Instagram feed, I am being asked to follow an influencer and a few of her “friends,” so they can bless me with the opportunity to win my very own bike, no strings attached. Some even throw in shoes, weights, a mat, and a six-month membership.
The proliferation of these giveaways is becoming a thing on social media, with some people saying they can’t stop compulsively following influencer after influencer hoping to win.
After a few weeks of offering giveaways for just one Peloton, the influencers began to up the ante. Last week, Emerson Hannon, who blogs at Classy Clean Chic, teamed up with 21 other influencers to give away one Peloton per day for four days. Last month, influencer Caitlin Covington participated in a giveaway where her followers could enter to win one of eight Pelotons. EIGHT. That’s almost $18,000 worth of Pelotons.
According to Peloton, the proliferation of these giveaways is completely organic. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company has nothing to do with the giveaways, nor is it offering any kickbacks to the bloggers through affiliate programs like rewardStyle. A spokesperson for rewardStyle and its app, LikeToKnow.It, was tight-lipped about any involvement in the trend, saying only that sales are up 150% in the fitness category.
“Fitness has been a key category for us and the engagement has been through the roof post-COVID (mid-March),” spokesperson Isabel Lamb said.
So if these giveaways aren’t being sponsored by Peloton, can we trust them? Are people actually winning a bike, free of charge? And if they aren’t getting paid by Peloton, why are so many influencers suddenly giving away these bikes?
To understand the answer to all these questions, you first need to understand what is known as a “loop giveaway” on Instagram. The basic premise is a popular blogger with a large following teams up with other influencers who produce similar content to help each other grow. Some loop giveaways are run through third parties that take a cut, while some are organized by the bloggers themselves through private chats and groups. Each influencer offers their audience a big prize, like a Peloton, if they follow everyone involved. The thinking is that once someone follows you to try to win a big prize, they probably won’t unfollow you — at least not right away. Some may even become fans, and your audience will grow and grow. This is the format in which most of the Peloton giveaways are being held.
For some influencers, loop giveaways are a win-win — and worth the upfront investment of splitting the cost of the prize among all the participants. However, these sorts of giveaways are controversial in the blogging and influencer space, as many view it as a way to artificially grow your audience. Ad deals are often predicated on how big an influencer’s audience is (although many in the industry argue that a microinfluencer's engaged audience is just as valuable as a huge, less-engaged one). Offering constant giveaways to gain followers and then leveraging said following to get endorsements is viewed by many in the industry as cheating.
So the motivation behind these giveaways is not completely altruistic. It makes sense why, in the middle of a pandemic when the economy is cratering and Amazon is slashing affiliate-link rates, so many of these giveaways are popping up. Despite the hidden motivations, though, most of the giveaways do seem to be legit. Figuring out who wins is often hard to track, as many influencers hold multiple at once and only post about them in their stories, which vanish after 24 hours. However, the lucky followers who have won a bike say the whole process was seamless and winning such an expensive prize was super exciting.
Sarah, who lives in San Diego, won a bike after entering a giveaway hosted by Kathleen Barnes, who blogs at Carrie Bradshaw Lied, in April (Barnes declined to comment). She said she started following Barnes because she wanted some fashion inspiration, and a friend recommended her. When she first saw the loop giveaway for the Peloton, she “realized that all the girls I’d be following to enter are potentially the fashion blogger I need.” She also, of course, was intrigued by the prize.
“I decided to actually follow all the girls and enter on a whim. I think this was the first giveaway I’ve ever entered,” she said.
Once she won, Sarah said the process was “super smooth” and the bloggers were communicative about sending over all the information. Her bike is expected to arrive in June.
Samantha, an esthetician from Beaumont, California, won one of the bikes from the giveaway that Hannon and the others hosted last week. She said winning “really put me into shock.”
“I got so lucky to win such an amazing prize,” she said. “I’ve won giveaways multiple times, but they were little things. To win this big of a prize really made me appreciate these awesome influencers and what they do for their following, and I feel so blessed to be one of the winners.”
Still, actually winning a Peloton is a long shot. Mercedes Gonzalez Mayo, who blogs at Style It With Trix, said on average, about 10,000 to 20,000 people enter each giveaway she’s participated in, making the chances of actually getting the grand prize pretty minuscule. And with so many new Peloton giveaways popping up every day, the backlash is growing.
One influencer, Stephanie Ledda, posted over the weekend that she would no longer be participating in the giveaways because “everyone frickin hates them.”
“If you guys hate them, I don’t want to lose my followers who actually like me and not are following me just because they might win some free shit,” she said.
However, some of the influencers who have been giving away the bikes defended their choice to participate. Maddie Perry, a fashion and lifestyle blogger who participated in the giveaway with Hannon, said while it is true the giveaways help her “gain more following and exposure,” she also sees it as a way to give back to her audience. Perry said that she and the other women all split the cost of the bikes, and no third party was involved. They also select the winner through a random drawing, to comply with laws governing sweepstakes in the US.
“It's no secret that all gyms and workout classes are closed due to the whole COVID-19 situation, so we thought it would be a great item to bless people with,” Perry said. “That way, they can get their workout on at home and stay both mentally and physically healthy.”
Mayo, of Style It With Trix, also participated in the giveaway and hosted one of her own, a three-bike Peloton giveaway with 15 influencers, a week prior. She said she wants to dispel the notion that “these giveaways are ‘rigged,’ ‘a scam,’ or that there are no actual winners, when that could not be further from the truth.”
“I would like my followers to know how much thought goes into these giveaways,” she said. “The prizes are always high quality, from reputable brands, and are items that we would actually use ourselves.”
Mayo acknowledged that there is controversy about the giveaways, but said she feels that not all of them are bad and cause artificial inflation in the industry.
“Through trial and error in hosting and partaking in giveaways, I have found that there are ways to leverage them into growing an authentic following,” she said. “The key is to be incredibly picky with which influencers you hitch your wagon to. You need to be thoroughly vetting all the other members of a giveaway to ensure that they have actively engaged, authentic followings that are compatible with your own.”
Perry agreed, saying she thinks the followers she gains through loop giveaways are not artificial and the events are “simply a form of marketing.”
“My social media pages are my brand and my full-time business, and I'm utilizing these marketing strategies to get my name out there and gain real, targeted followers, just like many other businesses do on a daily basis,” she said.