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This is the kind of post that my boyfriend would describe as ‘preaching to the choir’. Yet, isn’t it strange that although we are so outspoken, sometimes even on social media, our messages don’t quite reach the ears of the public? I write this in response to the rising amount of scaremongering I’ve encountered in my industry. It’s gotten to the point of ridiculous. I am all for the guidelines, regulations and do’s and don’ts set by the platforms we use and government authorities. But recently, the kind of emails and events I’ve attended are using the strategy of ‘scare the influencers into doing what we wan’t. The rhetoric I hear the most that is well echoed in mainstream media, is that ‘consumers don’t trust influencers’. This angers me in particular because I’ve worked at a trends company with proprietary data. I can tell you this is NOT true. And that’s not even mentioning all the first hand qualitative information that all bloggers can and are willing to share.
There has been a long backlash against the social media industry. Many of you readers will remember December’s hateful article published in The Times and my response. Many agencies and platforms are rightly trying to soothe brands concerns that Instagrammers are inauthentic. My concern is exactly how they’re going about it – by giving themselves the authority to ‘verify’ influencers, either based on personal preference or on third party software. Both lack access to Instagram’s API. The result is that it’s damaging and shows ignorance, both of how to analyse data and of the industry as a whole.
Regardless of whether you’re a brand or blogger, authenticity is not a single milestone to hit and then you’re in the clear. It’s a subjective word that fluctuates. Yes, consumers want brands they can relate to that they believe is genuine and by the nature of an influencer’s job, this applies to them too. So let the audience decide this! In the UK, there’s been additional and more recent backlash against above-board promotional activities. These include engagement groups that are akin to mini communities (I know I’ve spoken out against this but it’s a personal preference), shoutouts and even putting ad dollars behind posts on Instagram. As a comparison to the first strategy, many companies send out mass internal emails as soon as their posts goes live to maximise engagement. How could this possibly count as cheating? Then there’s the business of content creating, which sometimes require promotional budget. From experience, bigger brands are more than willing to pay for the production fee to facilitate this. Yet, there’s a lot of criticism within the industry as well as externally about how this is making other people’s engagement suffer. Businesses pay for advertising and you don’t see their competitors publicly whining that they didn’t get extra eyeballs. So I suppose the last point is to my peers, if you want your work to be taken seriously, be professional.
The scaremongering is not confined to our critics or brands that want to harness our labour for free. Do you remember the panic when the ASA released guidelines on how to label social media posts early this year? For one, there was no need to be afraid or nervous because the rules were completely reasonable. Secondly, they were also targeting digital personalities like reality TV stars more than creators. However, as a collective we have been groomed be hyper aware and self conscious. People will tell you: you’re being paid because someone somewhere sees you as genuine. Who is this person? Does he know you helped your poorly grandma? Does she realise how much hard work and time you give? Does he know you? There is so much good to be done with having a democratic platform like Instagram but first, we need to free ourselves from arbitrary validation. Creation is not meant to be part of a dictatorship set by those with budgets. If anyone polices us, it’s the platform on which we publish, the ASA and the taxman.
This may be a bit of a generalisation but it seems to me that every other industry operates with a different standard to ours. It isn’t necessarily a positive observation but I think that in an ever-evolving and open platform of social, we should be allowed the same boundaries of freedom. What this looks like exactly is as someone commented on my Instagram, “this subject is never ending”. However, let it be an open discussion instead of pressurising us to conform to a certain mindset.
Finally, consider the concept of buying presets from other creators. Is that fake because you didn’t create it and you’re not being ‘fully transparent’ about how you’ve edited your images? I don’t believe it is. Yet the argument could be that your audience is looking at someone else’s ‘work’. The rabbit hole we enter makes the entire conversation nonsensical. We need to objectively question the motives of marketers and critics.
Our goal as individuals operating in this industry should be to protect ourselves and one another. We need to be taken seriously as professionals and to do this, we must stop seeing each other as competition. We have to show a degree of respect to our peers, not bad mouth anyone we don’t like to brands (I’ve heard of the petty Twitter wars). Second, when we see scaremongering tactics from agencies, brands, platforms or even from each other, our reaction can’t be: “but, they’re not talking about me”. Even if the intention comes from a good place, critically, it is divisive and we need to stop it. Third, we need to reserve the right to run our businesses and branding as we wish, of course according to guidelines. As I’ve said before, and feel the need to say again: life is not a zero sum game and we need to stick together.