There is so much scaremongering in my industry, to the point it’s become ridiculous. Yes place guidelines, regulations and do’s and don’ts. But don’t start with the ‘consumers don’t trust influencers’ because I’ve worked at a trends company with proprietary data and I can tell you this is NOT true. And that’s not even mentioning all the first hand qualitative data.
Many agencies and platforms are rightly trying to soothe brands concerns but how they’re going about it – adding additional rules that qualifies an influencer as ‘authentic’ is damaging and quite ignorant. 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 that applies to Instagrammers and bloggers too. But then let the audience decide this! There’s been additional and more recent backlash in the UK, 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, many PR agencies send out mass internal emails as soon as their posts goes live to gather the employees’ engagement. Is this also cheating? (To be clear, no it isn’t). The fact is that content creators and influencers are brands in their own right. Businesses pay for advertising and you don’t see their competitors publicly whining that they didn’t get extra eyeballs that increased their KPI’s.
And influencers – remember your panic when the ASA released those guidelines? There was no need to be afraid or nervous because the rules were completely reasonable. They were also targeting digital personalities like reality TV stars more than content 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 every industry out there is permitted to operate on a different standard to ours. It isn’t necessarily positive but I think we should be allowed the same freedom. The right to exercise it should be in our hands alone. Take fashion, for example. The industry is built on copying other designers. In the case of fast fashion, they outright produce dupes. Do they state this when they sell their product? No. But you may still buy and wear it, perhaps even promote it. Are these businesses frauds? Are you? Maybe to Diet Prada, the controversial fashion reporters they are. But they let us make up our own minds about it. As someone commented on my Instagram post about this topic, “unfortunately this subject is never ending”.
And 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’? After all, your audience is looking at someone else’s ‘work’ that isn’t solely yours. The rabbit hole we could enter makes the entire conversation nonsensical. For the record, I don’t think any of the above is an issue (except maybe the dupes thing but it’s a personal choice). It’s ok to disagree with the comparisons but question why everyone’s so ready to point the finger and treat our industry separately.
Our goal as individuals in this industry should be to protect ourselves and one another. How? First, we need to be taken seriously as professionals. To do this we must stop seeing each other as competition and show a degree of respect to our peers. Second, when we see scaremongering tactics from agencies, brands or platforms – even from each other – our reaction can’t be: “oh, they’re not talking about me”. Even if the intention comes from a good place, critically, it is divisive. Third, we need to reserve the right to operate our businesses and branding as we wish, according to guidelines. As I’ve said before, and feel the need to say again: life is not a zero sum game, we need to stick together.