Instagram's gun influencers are set to lose their fire power after the social media platform promised to crack down on paid promotions for weapons.


Liberty Safe is America’s #1 safe manufacturer but it can’t promote the purpose of its product on Instagram. 

The firm sells gun storage safes and handgun vaults. Its Instagram grid is pretty dull. Despite boasting 42,000 followers the company mainly posts pictures of the closed door of its safes in various domestic settings. 

According to Facebook’s advertising policies, “Ads must not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition or explosives. This includes ads for weapon modification accessories. … Whilst gun safes [and] gun cases can be posted the ad audience must first be set to a minimum age to 18 years old or over. The same rules apply to Hunting, self-defence and military clothing.”

This is where gun influencers come in. Liberty Safe works with influencers such as Liberte Austin to promote its brand whilst dancing around Instagram’s terms of service. In the influencer activation below Liberty Safe is tagged into the caption, but crucially there is no ad marking disclosure to make the branded content Federal Trade Commission (FTC) compliant. Austin also uses a personal Instagram account rather than a business, or creator account. This further helps skirt the rules of the platform. 

Gun influencers like Austin have often nurtured a highly-engaged community who like and comment on each post. They’re sure to tag the sponsoring gun or gun-related companies into their posts. They’re careful not to mark the advertisement as an ad. Their advertisements appear organic and broaden the sponsoring brand’s awareness to new audiences.

Whilst an Instagram post by Liberty Safe will generate around 300 likes and a handful of comments this promotion by Austin generated 8,600 likes and over 100 comments. 

Austin is not alone as a gun influencer. Charissa Littlejohn boasts 387,000 followers on Instagram. The US Air Force veteran turned influencer regularly works with gun manufacturers to promote their products.

In the post below Littlejohn looks to the future; a time when her son is born. She shares an image of her and her husband's feet decked out in black Converse trainers with a tiny pair of the same footwear between the two sets of feet.  

Interspersed between the footwear, however, sit four pistols. The caption reads: "@fn_america heaven 😍 Even got one for @babyyygat when he gets here... #thelittlegats #gun #fnamerica #ad #yeswelovechucks". The post has so far generated 4,800 likes and 70 comments.  

Littlejohn works a lot FN America - the Virginia US head-quartered South Carolina-built gun maker. She is not exclusive to them. In the post below Littlejohn works with Volquartsen Firearms and  Walkers, a hearing protection manufacturer. The post generated more than 4,500 likes. 

This post (below) for yet another weapon-related company earned Littlejohn close to 6,000 likes on Instagram with her James Bond-inspired pose.

Lauren Young is another US military veteran-turned influencer. Her post for gun maker, FN America, generated 20,000 likes.

Gun influencers to lose fire power

Instagram’s gun influencers, however, are about to lose their firepower. Days before Christmas Instagram announced it was clamping down on paid promotions for weapons. "Across the Facebook company, we are updating our policies to include clearer rules for the paid promotion of certain goods and services ... . Branded content that promotes goods such as ...  weapons will not be allowed. Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks.”

Why now?

Why is Instagram clamping down on gun influencers now? It’s possible that Zuckerberg has just found religion. It’s also possible that it’s a move to keep Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren on side. Warren has been forthright in her desire to break up the Zuckerberg empire into its constituent parts of Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. Distancing his platforms from the NRA might help him curry favour with the Democrat party on this front.

Of course, it’s also possible that the demographic Zuckerberg is chasing on Instagram is simply anti guns. 

The 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study showed the percentage of Gen Zers - people born between 1995 and 2015 (24 years-of-age or younger) - who saw gun control as a priority issue for companies to engage around grew 15% from 2017 figures (from 68% to 80%).

“As a generation that sees a school shooting every twelve days on average ... it’s no surprise they are looking to companies to engage on and influence these issues,” says Alison DaSilva, EVP Purpose & CSR, Porter Novelli/Cone. “Gen Zers are seeing the impact of many of these issues first-hand, and they are determined to change the course.”

Feature image: Kimberly Matte

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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