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Influencer marketing when moral lines are blurred

This is a blog post that has been rolling around my mind for some time now, but I’ve never felt comfortable writing it. Not because it’s controversial, but because I keep going over the moral issues and I can’t decide where I stand on them.

Influencer marketing – an empowering career

Influencer marketing whether as a blogger, YouTuber or Instagrammer is a new and exciting career choice. It empowers people to work when they are unable to leave the house. It gives parents another choice in addition to the usual career v children dilemma. And it brings with it some incredible opportunities.

The day we went for a run with Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill. A training day involving running, HIIT fitness and a chat about heptathlon, sport in general and the amazing VitalityMove fitness and running festival taking place in Chatsworth and Windsor in July and September respectively.

For me, it has been a game changer. I’m not just an influencer. My work also comes from freelancing as a writer, content creator and consultant. But much of the work I do stems from blogging. When I had my eldest daughter, I went back to work when she was three months old. I was incredibly lucky to find a job I could do from home not long after going back to work. Then when my youngest came along, I was ready to go freelance and I haven’t looked back.

The other side of influencer marketing

In case you hadn’t guessed, there’s another side to influencer marketing that I’m not particularly comfortable with. It’s the daily battle to get your blog or channel ‘out there’. Providing something that people want to read, showing brands that you have enough engagement for them to want to work with you. And that’s tough.

Blogging - the beginner's guide to starting a blog | If you are a new blogger or thinking of starting a blog, here are five tips to get you started. The best ways to promote your content, meet other bloggers, use social media to promote your blog and get ready to work with brands.

I’d love to say that there’s no substitute for hard work and there are no short cuts. But that’s simply not the case. Facebook is full of blogging groups. Some offer each other support, others are pretty much there to slate other bloggers and kick them when they’re down (yes, really). And then there are the ones that are designed to increase engagement.

Building engagement

Perhaps the most obvious engagement builders are the Instagram pods. You post a link to your Instagram post in a Facebook group and everyone who joins in likes your post, and you like everybody else’s. So, when a PR looks at your Instagram, you have a great level of engagement. But in reality, the majority of it is from people who are doing the same thing as you. They are real people, but is it real engagement?

Building followers on social media is usually based around who you follow. For many people, this means following and unfollowing thousands of people every month. The ones that like your account or what you are posting will continue to follow you, even after you’ve unfollowed them.

I tend to follow accounts I find interesting. On Twitter, I unfollow everyone who doesn’t follow back after a few weeks. I also unfollow people who are inactive. On Instagram, I unfollow people who don’t follow back, people who are inactive and people whose photos no longer appeal to me. I’m happy with this because it keeps my accounts interesting and I get a lot of engagement. Not just for the sake of working with brands, but for my own enjoyment. I love seeing photos of beautiful places on Instagram and nothing cheers me up like having a laugh with my favourite Twitter users.

Where do you draw the line?

Buying followers and engagement on social media is both immoral and illegal if you are profiting from it. But where do you draw the line? Are the social media strategies that people employ tantamount to fraud? Fraud by false representation is loosely defined as making a false representation in order to make a gain for yourself or cause loss for another. If you’re forcing engagement in order to earn more, is that fraud?

In terms of blog engagement, the majority of people who comment on blog posts are other bloggers. For a long time I steered clear of linkies because I worried that this was another way of getting engagement that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with. But eventually I realised that I was missing out on the community aspect of blogging. So, I have joined in with a few linkies and even ran one myself for a while. I think brands are fully aware that most blog comments are from bloggers and that engagement doesn’t necessarily equate to the number of people who have read a post. Some of my most popular posts have few comments, including those about what’s on locally in the school holidays.

A conclusion of sorts

Whichever way I look at it, the way other people work is none of my business. So many people have done fantastically well from using Instagram pods and other ways of building engagement and I’m genuinely pleased for them. I love the fact that influencer marketing has empowered people to build a flexible career.

For me though, blogging is both work and something I love. So, doing something I don’t feel comfortable with would take the enjoyment out of it. I do sometimes wonder if I’m missing out or not working hard enough by doing it my way. But influencer marketing is something so personal that you really have to do things your own way or it loses its authenticity.

Being an influencer | Influencer marketing is an empowering career that allows people to work flexibly from home. But the other side to writing a blog or having a YouTube channel or instagram account is the unsavoury part. Competing with people who buy followers and force engagement. It's immoral and it's unfair, but is it fraud? #blogging #influencer #marketing

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  1. I don’t think brands do understand though and they ARE being lead to believe that the bigger the numbers the more influential the account and it’s just not true. I have also thought about writing this post for a long time AND have been explaining it to brands too. I am hoping that the more and more the networks clamped down on automation the better. The worst was still an automated comment on how lovely a picture was or some other inappropriate comment when actually someone had just lost someone very dear to them.

    1. Oh yes that’s just dreadful isn’t it? I’d forgotten about the automated bots that like and comment on Insta. That’s another world I don’t understand but it’s so immoral.

  2. Love this post.
    It is a continuous slog to shout from a small corner of the internet, especially when you see bloggers with thousands and thousands of followers. I do have to remind myself why I blog, share my travel experiences and photos sometimes.

    I feel sad that people play a “follow, unfollow” game in order to trick people in to following them. I am grateful for my small and loyal following and would hate for it to become a game or buying followers. This makes me sad.

    So for now, I will just plus along doing my thing.

    1. Thanks Mel, yep it’s really tough. I think sometimes a lower number of genuinely engaged followers can be as valuable as a large number who you’re not really connected with. Plus it’s not all about numbers, your blog is beautiful with incredible photos and that counts for so much.

  3. I completely agree with you. I do join in with linkies but I don’t do the follow unfollow thing or buy followers. For me, buying followers is a sign of weakness and failure and yes… fraud!

    1. Thanks Emma. Yes, buying followers is just the lowest of the low, especially when people are then paying you to advertise things to followers that aren’t real, definitely fraud.

  4. I always forget to unfollow the people who’ve followed/unfollowed me on Instagram! I should do it more regularly, because it annoys me that a ton of people follow me just to get me to follow back – and then unfollow me a few days later. Nice post, Nat. x

  5. I’d never thought of it as fraud before but, when put like that, it very well could be. I think, when it comes down to it, you have to do what you are happy with – and it sounds like you have got that down to a tee! x

  6. There is so much that goes on in the blogging world that is eye opening! But sadly it isn’t the only industry that has short cuts and things that question morals. I try not to let it worry me, but it is hard work when you feel like you are being left behind!!

  7. I think it’s great that you’re doing things your own way and still making a success of it. As blogging is my hobby I don’t have time for stuff like IG pods and if I’m honest I also don’t want to ‘like’ a load of photos I don’t actually like! But it’s great that it works for some people. Not everyone can be a massive success, but there’s still room for everyone to blog in their own way and make it work for them.

  8. This is such a good post and I almost wrote this too!
    I have an issue with bloggers that buy followers as this just doesn’t sit well with me tbh. I do join linked because I love the interaction with other bloggers but I am aware that sometimes, we just comment on each other’s posts for the sake of it! It is a great way to ‘meet and read’ other blogs though.
    Its an interesting world, this blogging malarkey! #LGRTStumble

  9. Great post, I completely agree. The follow/unfollow thing on Twitter is just so annoying, I dislike how some people are just fishing for follows and aren’t genuinely interested in following you, I have been followed three times by the same person now LOL! I still don’t really understand the automated bots on Insta and how to tell whether they are or not. There are many behaviours in the social media scene I was blissfuly unaware of when I started blogging. I agree with you that it’s best just to stick to your own principles, at the end of the day I think your readers are more likely to stick with someone with integrity. #LGRTStumble

  10. It is such a tough one, I would personally never do the follow unfollow game – it is not for me and I always lose a little respect for the bloggers that do it. I go through phases when I simply don’t care about numbers or followers and then there are times when I do care and join in with these Facebook engagement groups – where I see lots of the big bloggers. I guess now I think maybe the only way to grow your following is to join in with these groups. Great post x

    1. Ahh I do hope that doing the groups isn’t the only way. Your photos are so beautiful anyway, they should stand on their own. I love your instagram.

  11. Hi Nat, the issue of moral lines is so important to you and others like you who are trying to make a living. Buying followers is just wrong on so many levels, who do people think they’re kidding (brands) and are they really? It’s a hard practice to police though. People, who obviously follow just for a follow back do my head in.