The Influencer Debate – Part Two

At the beginning of the year, I hesitatingly published an article on my blog entitled ‘The Influencer Debate’ that went on to become the most read and most commented on blog post I have EVER written. At the time, I was enthralled and outraged by how certain people and establishments were attempting to shame influencers for pitching work to them. Since then, I’ve had many discussions regarding different aspects of influencer marketing with friends and colleagues and thought it was about time I voiced more of my opinion on the subject.

 

In case you didn’t know, I currently work on both sides of this coin. My work as an influencer (I still really hate that word, but think it’s the best term for summing up everything that I do) has amped up this year and I’ll be open and honest that I’m now making money off this blog and my Instagram feed. I also work part-time as the Creative Content & Partnerships Manager for an independent homewares store where a large part of my role involves leasing with influencers. So I see the debate from both angles – I feel frustrated when brands tell me that they don’t have the budget to pay me for work, but I also understand that small brands really don’t always have the funds to engage in influencer marketing.

 There’s so much that I could write on this subject that it’s tricky to know where to start. One thing that has really been on my mind, however, is how the bad behaviour of some influencers gets us all lumped in together. Whether that is regarding buying followers and engagement, using follow/unfollow methods to grow your following or not disclosing sponsored posts correctly – so many of us are getting tarred with the same brush because a minority aren’t playing by the rules.

I’ve never purchased followers or likes, and neither have most of the other influencers that I am friends with or speak to on a regular basis. I see this as a really dishonest way of growing your following; it’s dishonest to your followers, to brands that you work with, and to your peers. You’re cheating other influencers who have worked hard to gain their followings in a natural way, by taking work from brands who want to work with you rather than them because they’re wowed by your following.

I don’t have many followers in the grand scheme of things, but since my letter was dissected on the Letter’s to a Hopeful Creative podcast by Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington, I’ve realised that numbers aren’t everything. I’m producing content that I’m proud of, occasionally working with brands that I love, and making connections with people who I’ve got a lot in common with. Those things all mean more to me than hundreds of thousands of people following me – but I do occasionally think too deeply about the numbers.

More often than not, it’s when a brand knocks me back and says they don’t want to work with me because I don’t have enough people following me. Then I spot them working with someone else who doesn’t disclose their advert correctly or has suspicious behaviour such as large numbers of follow/unfollows. Even if a brand says no to me and then proceeds to work with a friend with a genuine profile, who I admire, then I still feel a little glum. But I also feel happy for them and pleased that they’re doing well. It’s when I notice someone who is cheating the system yet getting constant work that I start to feel frustrated.

I spoke to the camera on my Instagram Stories this morning (something that still terrifies me but is bizarrely addictive, so sorry for the bombardment of videos) about the new rules that the ASA have clearly set out for influencer marketing. It’s pretty straight forward. Read through the download and screenshot the flowchart so you can always refer back to it if you’re unsure of how to disclose an advert. Yet so many people don’t mention that an item has been gifted, that they have been paid to share it, or simply list #ad hidden in their hashtag cloud rather than making it immediately obvious that their content is sponsored.  

This blatant disregard for the rules is what gives us all a bad name. All this ‘bloggers are blaggers’ and ‘influencers aren’t honest with their adverts’ stems from people ignoring the ASA rules and also from influencers who are just in it for free stuff. If everyone was honest about their sponsored content, there wouldn’t be so much of an uproar and people would realise that influencer marketing isn’t that much different to more traditional advertising methods.

As for the claim that influencers and bloggers simply want freebies, this all comes down to who we agree to work with. I wrote a piece for one of my freelance clients this morning where I spoke in detail about how important it is to be picky about who you work with. If you say yes to every email that pops up in your email, you’re just fuelling the belief of the tabloids that we’re all just after free stuff. Rather, if you’re more considerate with your decisions on who to work with, not only will you gain more respect but your followers will trust your opinion more.

 I still see brands (and hotels, restaurants, etc.) calling out influencers for pitching ideas to them. I honestly can see why this is frustrating. In my part-time job, I receive daily emails from people asking if they can work with us. Sometimes we find a perfect match this way, other times we just don’t have the budget, but a lot of the time the emails are unprofessional, irrelevant or downright rude. I get how emails like this can get someone’s back up. But then I, myself, send out emails like this on a regular basis, reaching out to brands or agencies that I’d love to work with. So what is the difference?

It’s important to do your research before you reach out to a brand. I’ll only ever reach out and pitch to brands that I love and that I think my followers would love. I always write a professional sounding email, and do my research first to check if they work with influencers at all and to do a bit of background research. If the brand says no thanks, I’m always polite in my response. Little things like this make a big difference, and if the brand is genuinely saying no because they have no budget at that moment, they’re more likely to get back to you when they do have a budget in the future if you are professional.

Again, the bad behaviour of a few tars us all, giving people an overall perception of influencers that perhaps can be negative. If an influencer comes across as unprofessional, as a ‘blagger’ or as a fraud, then the industry as a whole loses respect.

 I’ve had previous conversations with friends who like to follow influencers on Instagram or like reading blogs, yet feel annoyed when they see an advertisement or collaboration. In general, sponsored posts don’t perform as well as organic content because people don’t like to engage with what they see as adverts. A lot of this comes back to creating content that resonates with your audience and choosing to work with brands that your audience will love, but it’s also a side of influencer marketing that people just don’t seem to understand.

The content that bloggers, influencers, Instagrammers, etc. share is usually created for free, off their own backs, in their own time, for no monetary gain. That person has worked hard to capture images, write articles, promote their content, work behind the scenes on all of the admin involved and a dozen other things – so you can enjoy their content for free. If they partner up with a brand or agency a few times a month to produce sponsored content that they are being paid for, so what? They have to make money somehow! You aren’t paying to read their content, the same way you would pay to purchase a magazine, so they make their money through partnerships with brands.

When I see or hear comments saying someone has ‘sold out’ because they’re producing sponsored content, it makes my blood boil. If they are producing content that you would otherwise enjoy if you were none-the-wiser to the fact that it is sponsored, and they are disclosing it as an advert in accordance with ASA guidelines, then what is the problem?

 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! There’s so much more that I could write on the subject, and I’m thrilled that others with huge followings (like Victoria of On the Frow) are speaking out on similar subjects. No doubt I’ll resume this conversation in another six months!