The Responsibility of the Influencer – Part One

Influencing is serious business. The influencing marketing industry was worth an estimated $6.5bn in 2019. Everyone is fighting to get a slice of the pie, and in doing so are cutting corners.

Followers place a large amount of trust and faith into influencers. Whether you have a handful of followers or thousands, as an influencer you owe it to your audience to maintain trust and integrity. Below is guide of how current social media stars have, intentionally or unintentionally, misled their fan base. Dishonesty comes with repercussions. Learn from their mistakes and don’t make the same ones. Mislead your fan base at your peril.


Honest Mistakes?

Always be aware of what you are publishing and ensure you fully understand the context of your post. Even if, from your perspective, the post seems genuine, from a follower’s perspective it may seem suspicious or even fake.

Nashville Instagrammer Tiffany Mitchell fell afoul of her own naivety when she posted to her 211,000 followers about a motorcycle accident she had experienced.

Motorcycle accidents invoke images of shocking physical and mental trauma. With this in mind, Tiffany’s photographs were of the highest professional quality. She lays elegantly on the ground, no blood or physical trauma immediately noticeable. She appears to have more than one luxury helmet in the photo and a prominent brand of bottled water is placed upright in the foreground. She even name-checks her tattoo artist in the post, asking for a ‘touch-up’.

At first look, the post appears unashamedly staged and fake. As result, she experienced a lot of spiteful backlash from some of her followers. However, as her photographer Lindsey Grace Whiddon explains to the BBC, “I can tell you on my own personal and professional integrity that not only were they un-staged, Tiffany had no idea they were being taken until hours later.”

Lindsey was with her at the time of the accident. There are also verified unpublished photos of Tiffany receiving medical treatment in an ambulance and the presence of police at the scene.

The evidence is there to prove that Tiffany did in fact experience a motorcycle accident. However, her subsequent posts were reckless. The professional quality of the pics, as well as the appearance of a branded bottle of water, contrast with what is in all likelihood a traumatic event and makes Tiffany seem disingenuous.

Just because an event or experience is genuine, does not automatically mean your post will come across as genuine. Always be aware of how a post will be perceived by your followers. What are you posting about? What is the context? Is there anything in the post, the picture, which could be perceived incorrectly?

Be sure you know what message you are trying to send to your followers, and be sure your post effectively and responsibly delivers this message.


Reckless Promoting

The highest moral sin any influencer can commit. Recklessly promoting a product; either knowingly lying about its benefits or ignorantly never having used the product before.

Worryingly, reckless promoting is more common than any self-respecting human would like to think. According to a 2019 study undertaken at the University of Glasgow, close to 90% of social media influencers are posting inaccurate health information. The study also examined nine of the UK’s most popular influencers in the health world and discovered that the majority of them were presenting opinion as fact. To top it off, only one in nine of the UK’s leading bloggers (those with more than 80,000 followers) actually provided accurate and trustworthy information.

In other words, if you follow influencers for health tips, in all likelihood you would have been exposed to at least one or two lies. Below are a few examples of reckless promoters; the lies they tell and what to look out for.

Quite recently, the BBC conducted a sting operation to expose reckless promoters. They cherry picked three big name influencers – Lauren Goodger, Mike Hassini and Zara Holland – to audition for the privilege to promote a deadly poisonous cyanide drink named Cyanora. Yes, it is as ludicrous as it sounds. Amazingly all three of them, all of whom have a collective following of more than 1.3million, were recorded promoting the drink and mentioning the ingredient hydrogen cyanide. None were aware of or understood the lethal consequences of the drink. And surprisingly, none of them had tried the drink. Even so, they were happy to promote it, acting as if all was above board and shamelessly pretending they had personally drunk the lethal drink.

Let this be a lesson to followers – influencers aren’t saints! They sometimes tell porkie pies, some of which may land you in a heap of trouble. And the lesson to influencers? If you continuously lie about products, claiming they’re great without having even tried them, you will get caught out. You will look like a fool, as Lauren Goodger, Mike Hassini and Zara Holland did. And you will lose followers, respect and trust as a result.

False or misleading advertising can take many forms, some more subtle than others. Last year, a teenaged girl called Izzy began publishing tweets about her acne. The acne had been close to unmanageable for years. So much so, that bullies nicknamed her Dimple Pimple. She had tried all sorts of treatments but to no avail. Her story, told over a series of tweets, gained thousands of likes. Then, ‘one random morning six months ago’, as if a miracle sent from the heavens, a cure was found. Coffee Creations coffee scrub! Hmmmm. What initially looked like an innocent twitter thread posted by a young woman was instead a slippery advertising ploy from a corporation. This type of advertising is known as ‘astroturfing’. It is designed to look authentic but couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consumers and followers are starting to switch on to these types of advertising ploys. As an influencer, whether established or aspiring, be honest from the start about any promotions or brand deals. If you suddenly spring a promotion onto people at the end of a heartfelt story, empathy will quickly turn to antipathy.

The Law…

What are regulatory bodies, such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) doing to combat false and reckless advertising? How successful are they in their policing? What are the consequences to influencers who bend and sometimes break the rules?

All of these questions and more will be discussed in next week’s article: The Responsibility of the Influencer – Part Two.

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