How a German Influencer Leveraged Instagram Filters into 3 Billion Views


As it becomes increasingly difficult to grow organically on social platforms, many brands and influencers are searching for tricks, levers and clever strategies that give their views and followers a much-needed boost. One German influencer, Carmen Kroll (“Carmushka”), would appear to have found a shrewd growth hack. By creating custom augmented reality filters and giving them away to her fans on Instagram, she has amassed scores of new fans and several billion views. She gave us the inside scoop on how she was able to boost her reach so much, so quickly, why AR filters are among the hottest things Insta has to offer and what the long-term benefit of the practice is for her.

Face filters and AR effects are a popular tool for users to add a bit of flair and humor to their Instagram Stories or Snapchat posts. Snap is mortgaging its future on Augmented Reality and Facebook is also betting on it. Since Facebook began providing free filter-making software via its Spark AR Studio and started permitting third-party filters on the platform, filters have really taken off. Everyone now has the ability to quickly and (relatively) easily publish filters on the platform. A couple of months ago we wrote about teenagers and influencers from around the world who have generated billions of views on their custom-created filters. Recently, German Influencer Carmen Kroll got in on the act and built up a similar reach. She broke down the AR hype to us.

From image to video filters

One Carmushka story with a corresponding filter. Users can try it out right in the post. (Click to enlarge)

Carmen Kroll is one of the most well-known influencers in Germany. Originally from Cologne, Kroll typically focuses on fashion on her Instagram channel and as co-founder of “Oh April” she is active in the fashion sector and has over 756K fans on Instagram. Kroll would seem to be constantly on the lookout for new opportunities—including those beyond your typical influencer business. Earlier this year we reported on how she made good money by selling photo-presets (individualized photo filters) (link in German). She’s rehashing that recipe for success on Instagram Stories filters.

Kroll told OMR that the hashtag #carmushkapresets now has over 195,000 posts and that she only uses the presets herself. “However, I was always left wanting to use a video filter, so I would always resort to using other apps which were not exactly easy to use. If I was having considerable difficulty using them, why should it be different for anyone else,” Kroll says. “That was the genesis of the idea to create video filters for Instagram Stories with the same look and feel of my presets.” Thus, she set about developing the filter. “My secret recipe has always been to grab a bag of chips and settle in for a long night watching YouTube tutorials. Given the fact that Spark AR is freely available to everyone to use—and should be used by everyone as well—I was certain that I would be able to figure it out,” says Kroll.

A billion views on nine filters Filter

Users can find all of Kroll’s filters on her Carmushka profile on Instagram in a separate menu. (Click to enlarge)

On Kroll’s Instagram page, users will currently find nine different filters that she has made. Instagram has even introduced an extra menu item for filters next to Shopping, IGTV and mentions. Here, fans can see how Kroll has used one of her filters in one of her stories and then try them out in their own Instagram camera by simply tapping “try it.”

When we tried it out, we automatically had access to all of Kroll’s filters in the Instagram camera after we followed her account. “It spread exponentially. Everyone who became aware of my filters and used them, automatically inspired their followers, and they then inspired theirs and so on and so forth,” says Kroll. When users use a filter, it’s displayed in the stories. When other users tap on info, they are also able to try it out immediately.

These platform effects cascaded together so that within practically no time at all, her filters had amassed a massive amount of reach. “When I checked out my stats I was absolutely blown away: my filters have generated over three billion impressions. Over 20 million story sequences have been produced and published with my filters,” says Kroll. With screenshots from Facebook’s analytics tool, she showed us that in the past seven days alone she’s generated nearly 500 million filter views. There is one primary reason for the success she had in generating such reach: “To be honest, the biggest factor was the speed with which I got the filters out there. I saw the need, developed and published a solution. I think I was the first to do so,” she says. “They filled a need, because while there were tons of face filters there were not many filters for the surroundings.”

Kroll struck a nerve with her photo preset video filters for the background. Until now, filters were primarily playful things, whereas Kroll’s designs evoke a mood in the story, which is why a filter like “Moody up” works really well: “It’s an all-round filter that’s by far used the most. Just as the name implies, everything is placed in a ‘moody’ look and is a perfect match to fall. “Pictures have a more harmonious and atmospheric feel to them,” says Kroll.

Long-term follower growth thanks to filters?

In her Story, Kroll shows the reach her filters have thus far amassed (status: October 25, 2019) – (Click to enlarge)

To what end can Kroll profit from the reach of her filters? She says their popularity helps her on several different levels. “The AR filters gave me a genuine follower bump, about 140K since I launched,” she says. Analysis tool InfluencerDB confirmed the follower boost. “I have also been able to sell more photo presets thanks to the AR filters.”

On Instagram, Kroll recently shared several stories by fans who are thrilled with her filters. They serve to show how Kroll retains her followers. If you want to see her latest filters, the best thing to do is follow her—and to check out her stories where she typically shows off new filters. The strategy figures to have a tangible impact on the engagement with Kroll’s stories. Simultaneously, the many viral functions, such as displaying who the filter stems from, will help generate new followers. However, Instagram just released a change that could slow down follower growth with AR filters: Until recently, users were required to follow someone to be able to use their filters. Now users need only navigate to their profile to try out a filter—no follow necessary.

Filter sales in her own influencer app

Kroll most recently began collaborating with 8 international influencers and now offers her video filters for €6.99 each in the “Creator HUB” app (the other influencers in the collab sell theirs in the app as well). This lets users place a Carmushka mood filter atop their recordings after the fact without having to use the Instagram camera. Creator HUB only recently launched and Kroll’s filters have been available for purchase since November 13. In Germany, the app reached the top spot earlier in November (filters are paid for in-app). It’s a nice side business for Kroll’s video filters.

Users are crazy about filters

One Instagram influencer, holymariia, has a slightly different kind of “success” story. There is nothing known about her, other than what you’ll find on her Instagram account (Jerusalem, aesthetics hunter). What is known, however, is that since last October her followers have absolutely exploded from fewer than 300,000 to over 1.2 million—all thanks to her filters, featuring names like “Holy Bucks,” “Holy Natural,” “Holy Dragon” and “Holy Snake.” What they all share in common: They conjure up freckles, thin noses and voluptuous lips on users’ digital faces. Super influencers like Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Ariana Grande, Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber have already been seen using the Holy filters in their stories—all in October 2019. Hundreds of millions of followers wanted to emulate their Insta idols and began following holymariia (according to analysis tool Ninjalitics, 100,000 followed the account on October 12 alone).

Media outlets began reporting on the “Holy” hype in Germany, in Switzerland, the UK and in Costa Rica. And just as the hype was about to reach its apex, Instagram killed it. On November 4, Instagram banned the Holy filters entirely due to concerns that cosmetic filters could have a detrimental impact on users’ mental health. In the meantime, holymariia has three filters available, but they do not alter users’ faces nearly as much as the previous filters. And since November 4, her account has begun to hemorrhage followers, with some 10,000 jumping ship just the past few days.

The fact remains that what’s in one day on Instagram can easily be out the next. If you are a first mover, there are possibilities to achieve long-term growth. But the tide can turn just as quickly, with both the platform and users getting fed up from the hype du jour. Then you’re back to the beginning—on the lookout for the next big thing.

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