When I wrote the post about buzzwords I was quite delighted to include the word Influencer. It’s everywhere and everyone in the digital space is talking about it. The truth is, as a means to market something, it’s been around for ages. But now the internet guru brigade has realised that YouTube is a real thing and Influencer Marketing kind of dominates it. It also dominates in other places such as Instagram and Snapchat (or Snap as it now likes to be called) but it’s predominantly gained its current level of exposure through YouTube and the Zoellas of its world that will pretty much tell you just about anything and everything are super cute and awesome, so long as their invoice is paid on time.
Yes, Influencer Marketing has also become a bit of a dirty word and an even murkier world to delve into. So much so that the world’s major governing bodies in advertising have had to put their size 9 (Prada) boots down and insist that a number of guidelines are followed. Or they’ll fine you. And quite heavily too. Well, as yet not the influencers, just the brands. But give it time, that will happen.
I get it. You need to pay the rent. But it’s also nice to go to sleep at night with your soul still intact. There’s a fine line between working with brands in an authentic way that stays true to you and your values. Or becoming just another vanilla vlogger that drops their moral compass for the highest bidder.
So how do you stay true to yourself and your audience whilst juggling the demands of the brand that’s paying you? Here are my tips for staying authentic and being true to yourself.
1. Be Honest
Many bloggers (we’ll just use the term blogger as an all-encompassing term for content creators) have skirted close to the boundaries of truth at times. Many, many will tell you, privately, that the peachy little life they portray on social media is a far cry from the cash-strapped, no sleep, constant worry life they really have. But when it comes to being an influencer and working with brands, honesty really is the best policy.
Let’s use travel as an example. If a hotel or travel company has given you a free trip to stay at their resort in exchange for some content and letting your audience know about your trip; that is sponsored content. Let’s stop pretending that you magically just arrived in said 5-star resort on the back of your unicorn when only yesterday you complained you could hardly afford your daily coffee. We know that didn’t happen. Just tag the content as sponsored and make it clear to your audience that it’s a lovely treat the brand has given you. #sponsored
Likewise, if the brand also pays you a fee for being there, then that’s paid content and you need to disclose that you’re being paid to be there. You don’t have to say how much and you don’t have to cast it in a negative way but you do have to say. #ad
2. Be A Really Honest Influencer
Besides admitting that you’re being paid to be there, try injecting a modicum of truth into your content. Not every little thing you see and do is mind blowing. Or awesome, incredible or the best place you’ve ever visited. Just on a side note; when you say every place you go is the best place you’ve ever visited, or it’s the best meal you’ve ever had, it just shows you don’t have that much experience. And quite frankly, I’m amazed some people even have any tiny brain cells left given the number of times their minds have been blown. Ease up on the adjectives.
Being like an excited kid left alone in a sweet shop about, well, um, everything, kind of wears thin after the 157th time. Ok, I get it if it’s like Disney World or something of that level. But come on, yet another sunset on yet another beach, it’s not mind blowing. It’s just a god damn sunset and guess what, it happens every day, everywhere, all over the world.
Do you remember when Peter Andre went to Iceland (the frozen food place not the country)? Did you believe him? Did you honestly think that he rocked up there every Friday to do his big shop and got all excited about the king prawn ring for only a fiver? No, I didn’t believe him either.
If you aren’t being entirely honest in what you say about a product, service or experience then you are going to get rumbled. Your audience will stop trusting you, then they’ll stop liking you and then the work will dry up. If you’re being true to your own good self and not just saying a hotel is great because they paid you then your content will be truly authentic.
3. Stay True To The Brand
They may be paying you. They may well have sent you on a really fancy trip. Or decked you out in head to toe Armani in return for some Insta snaps, but show the brand some respect. I have seen this one so many times and I know full well it annoys the living bejaysus out of brand PRs.
We know you want to get your content seen by as many people as possible. We know you want other brands to see your work and hire you. But when one brand has hired you to do a specific job, do not, ever, tag another brand in the posts. Ever! Nothing shows your level of disrespect for the company that’s paying you more.
Likewise look for potential conflicts of interest before you agree on any deals. You are going to look very unauthentic if one day you are banging on about how your mind is blown by the super tasty, rare sirloin steak you are having at such and such a steakhouse and then the next day you’re eating at a totally vegan café claiming to be a closet veggie. People may actually guess that you’re just freebie hunter or cash chaser. Yes, yes, I know you’ve rent to pay. But blogging is a long haul not a quick Ryanair flight to Dublin. If you want to succeed in this game and stay in it for the long haul, then you need to hold out for Virgin Upper Class to New York. Unless you want the budget no-frills reputation.
And remember to stick to what’s been agreed. If you say you’ll do 20 snaps, then do 22 to be on the safe side. Don’t risk being in breach of contract.
4. Never Fake It
My absolute number one rant subject. Read all about it here. Faking the numbers. When you’re working with a brand, never, ever, ever…….. ever, be tempted to buy a few likes on a post. Or views, thumbs up, whatever. It’s sneaky, devious, fraudulent and the quickest way to get you blacklisted with PRs.
Brands and their PR’s are getting wise to the old tricks some have pulled in the past (and some still do). Some PR’s actually like their jobs and want to keep them so they aren’t going to turn a blind eye to the 50 retweets from crappy fake accounts you just bought for $1 on the post you told them got tons of engagement. They will thank you for your efforts and then never, ever hire you again. Not just for that particular brand but for any other brand they ever work with. They may tell a few other PR’s, who may tell a few others. Very soon you won’t be getting hired at all. You’ll go from Influencer to a loser.
In the end, it’s only you that suffers. The brands will just hire someone else. You aren’t that unique and nobody likes a faker (ironically).
5. Learn To Say No
Some jobs just aren’t worth it. Seriously. Yes, again, I know you’ve got rent to pay. But selling your soul to the devil for 30 pieces of silver is not going to bring you long term success or make it any easier to sleep at night. The gas bill may well be paid, but a little bit of your integrity will be gone forever.
I was offered a client a few months back by a very beleaguered agent. He needed some serious online PR help with his client. It was a tasty little contract, good money, and potentially high profile. But I knew it wasn’t going to be a popular decision if I signed on the dotted line. I also knew it had the potential to be a ticking time bomb that I would have to handle very carefully. A time bomb that could explode at any given time for no apparent reason and leave me with a potential PR disaster on my hands. In some ways, it could have been a tempting and rewarding challenge.
I chose not to accept.
My judgement was right and that time bomb has since exploded in dramatic fashion. I thank my lucky stars I didn’t take that one on.
Don’t be that blogger that just chases the cash without any thought about whether what it is you’re promoting actually sits within your own brand. You can’t be a fitness blogger one minute and then blog about big fat dirty burgers the next just because they paid you. Granted that’s an extreme example but you get my drift.
If it’s not a natural fit then just say no.
With Influence Comes Power
Everyone has the ability to influence someone. Use that power wisely. If you do not have integrity then you have nothing. You may get some sweet brand deals but they won’t last if you don’t hold on to your ethics. If your blog copy reads like a 1980’s advertorial then you are going to get found out. You’re a creative so be creative!
Now go and create some wonderfully authentic pieces of content.
What’s the most unauthentic thing you’ve ever seen in bloggersphere? Hit me up in the comments and let me know what turns you off from returning to someone’s blog. Do you consider yourself an Influencer?