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Travel blogger charged $500 for social media classes, angry students call it scam

The influencer, Aggie Lal, recently apologized to students offering them a full refund. .
The influencer, Aggie Lal, recently apologized to students offering them a full refund. . Getty Images

An Instagram influencer who charged students $500 for a class on social media is now being called a scammer.

Aggie Lal, a Los Angeles-based travel blogger with more than 800K followers, made roughly US$188,860 after charging almost $500 per student for a 12-week course. Classes would run from September to December and focus on how to build an audience on social media.

Some participants, however, recently told Buzzfeed the classes did not meet their expectations.

READ MORE: GTA woman says she was scammed by fake job posting

Problems with the courses

Earlier this week, one anonymous participant who said she took the course, wrote a post on Medium about her experience.

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You can sit with me 💦 :::::: About to board a plane & leave behind my LA life for almost 3 months. I’ll be Eat-Pray-Loving my heart, both with friends and family and on my own. I have a few countries lined up, but also have weeks where my calendar says ‘somewhere in Asia’. ::::: Part of me is scared, part of me remembers about all the amazing creators and travelers out there who I cannot wait to connect with and create some magic together. Please never hesitate to reach out if you ever see me in the same town, city or island! :::::: Ph @michaelmoretti using @aggiepresets ::::; #sixsenses #beautifulhotels #lunchgoals #wishmeluck

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“I really did not learn anything of value. I was hoping for actionable tips and advice on how to grow my account. In the original course description Aggie promised: ‘you will learn everything I know about growing my social media account, building a committed caring audience and figuring out a way to make a living while traveling full time,'” the post noted.

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According to Lal’s website, the courses would help social media lovers grow their pages and even “travel the world.” The curriculum covers everything from hashtags, to content ideas to a photography class. The participant noted initially, the course description offered refunds to anyone who wasn’t satisfied with the course.

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Heading back to Poland 🇵🇱 tomorrow to celebrate my birthday this weekend and it’s hard to believe how much has happened since I last visited in April! ::::: Ps To celebrate my birthday, I’m offering 23% off my @aggiepresets till Sunday, 20% from the sales will be donated to @charitywater & one other special project close to my heart I’ll share with you soon! Use the code ‘bday’ at checkout! :::: Ps number of discounts limited so hurry 😉 #polska #zakopane #tatry #tesknie #cantwaittobeback

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The participant explained that after students were signed up for a course, they were invited to join private Instagram groups, Facebook page and a Slack channel — an instant messaging service. But as the weeks went on, people became upset with the courses. Writing their frustrations online or even answering a poll within these channels, the Medium post explained Lal began blocking those who didn’t like her course or ones who asked for a refund.

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“Who does that? And on top of that, she was insanely rude when she got criticism. You can’t put yourself out there like that and not take feedback well.”

As part of one of the classes titled “Challenge,” Lal asked her students to help promote the course by getting their own followers to buy it. Some, like user Juliet Hatley, told Buzzfeed this was confusing.

“Why would we sell this? So she could make more money and we get a 10 per cent commission with an affiliate link?” she told the site. “Plus, that is against everything most of our brands were standing for and would have made us look inauthentic to followers.”

The influencer speaks out

After the post got attention from other users and Lal herself, she told Buzzfeed she would offer a full refund for anyone who felt disappointed with the classes.

On Thursday, Lal posted a message on Instagram, saying she was heartbroken that some of her students were disappointed.

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“This course was my baby, which I’ve been working on since June. It took me and my team months to create almost nine hours of video classes. I never held any information back, always being open about everything I know: including sharing my media kit, email examples, Lightroom, Photoshop and camera tutorials etc.,” she wrote on the social media site.

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“I want to sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart [to] anyone who feels like what I shared wasn’t enough.”

She added that due to hurdles with her health and her ability to connect to WiFi, four of her 66 videos didn’t get uploaded. “I already spoke to each Mastertriber directly and offered to anyone who felt disappointed in the whole situation a full refund.”

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Touched down in Australia and it’s the first time I visited 6 out of 7 continents in the same year including Hawaii and the South Pacific 😍 My goal was never to tick off another country but rather to chase the sun, connect with kind people and dip toes in warm waters. So far so good👌🏻☀️ ::::: Ps I have so many photos I still have to share from Thailand I hope you don’t mind 💁🏼‍♀️🇹🇭🙌🏻 ::::: How many continents have you been to? #hawaii #throwback #thailandalreadymissyou

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Mastertriber refers to people who took the class and Lal calls those following her a “tribe.”

“My intention has always been to inspire this community I dearly love and I would never want you to feel taken advantage of.”

Damage control

Sara Koonar, founder of Platform Media & Management Inc. in Toronto, an influencer talent agency, said that to grow followers into the thousands or millions, it takes more than just buying them.

“Simply purchasing followers or using ‘hacks’ no longer works if you want to grow your following and work with brands,” she told Global News. “People are very eager to learn from those who were successful. If a macro-influencer is open to sharing their insights, it can be very helpful to those just starting out.”

READ MORE: How a B.C. Instagram influencer lost 42,000 followers from hack and fought to get them back

She added for the outcome of this particular course, it’s an important lesson for anyone who owns a business.

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“Never over-promise. It’s always smarter to commit to what’s realistic and then over-deliver. Especially when you don’t have a back-up. So as an individual blogger, promising a ton of content that isn’t yet created, according to a specific timeline, you have to be sure you’ve carved out the time. Clearly, that didn’t happen here. She bit off way more than she could chew.”

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Koonar’s agency runs their own courses (one can cost roughly $200), and added there are several in the market that offer reviews and in-person classes.

“What we love about ours and having all the students in one place is that it ends up becoming a great networking setting and a place to meet like-minded people.”

And with so many industries relying heavily on social media, as well as how much money influencers can make, it’s no surprise people are willing to invest their money into these types of courses.

Koonar added, always do your research.

“I’d be wary to invest $500+ on a course that is online, has never been done before, has no reviews or testimonials from people who have taken them.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca
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