On the internet, influence comes with responsibility
A photo of Kim Kardashian, sucking an appetite suppressing lollipop alongside a caption, with a money-off code, encourages her 111m followers to buy the product. “They’re literally unreal,” she insists in her controversial Instagram post.
The backlash has been swift and severe.
Comments called it a ‘new low’ for the star and criticised her for being a ‘bad role model’ for suggesting her followers suppress feelings of hunger, therefore follow disordered eating, in order to achieve a flat stomach.
Actress Jameela Jamil called her “a terrible and toxic influence on young girls”.
She has enormous potential to influence fans. Earlier this month it was announced that she would be honored with the first-ever ‘Influencer Award’ by The Council of Fashion Designers of America – recognizing her ability to sell practically anything.
While receiving payment for a post is nothing new, Kim has millions already in the bank, affording her the luxury to lend focus to whatever cause she chooses.
Many have criticised her decision to partner with a brand that promotes questionable methods of weight loss.
It has also raised questions over influencers’ responsibility on Instagram. Where is the line between earning a living and protecting their followers from potentially damaging messages? Should influencers be held to account for role models?
I spoke to Melbourne-based beauty influencer Gemma (@gemkwatts) who has over 16k Instagram followers.
“I absolutely feel like I have a responsibility to consider my audience.
“Their wellbeing is at the top of my list of considerations when I’m working on a paid partnership. The whole purpose of influencer marketing, for me, is getting your audience to trust what you’re recommending them, as though they’re hearing this recommendation from a close friend. People are savvy enough to realize if you’re doing something for money, or if you’re sharing a genuine review.
“I wouldn’t feature anything I wouldn’t use myself and have a clause with brands that I have to try a product out for at least three weeks before I’ll commit to a post. I want to ensure that the products actually work for me. I also wouldn’t promote anything that suggests that you aren’t beautiful the way you are – like appetite suppressants!”
But Karen (@thechicndamned), a style influencer, warns that you shouldn’t underestimate these savvy audiences: “I would never assume that my audience isn’t capable of thinking for themselves, so I don’t think its a matter of protecting them.
“But I also think you have to think of your audience as your friends. That’s what people want when they follow you. I would ever collaborate on any project for something that I wouldn’t use myself or recommend to a friend – paid or unpaid. It’s so important to maintain that authentic voice.
“You have to carefully consider if its right for you and the message that you want to convey. Often, it’s the lack of thought that causes the backlash.”
Father and style blogger, Style by Trade (@stylebytrade) has over 23k followers: “I certainly feel a responsibility to consider my audience in what I showcase and am particularly mindful when it comes to parenting products or services. Being a parent can be really challenging and the last thing I’d want to do is confuse my audience with products that I’d personally question or that I’ve never used before.
“While influencers spend a lot of time considering stats on our audience, those numbers represent real people who have feelings and some are easily impressionable.
“I’ll only ever work with brands in paid partnerships if I’d be happy to align with them in an unpaid capacity and it’s something that will add value to our lives.”
Narelle (@alittleatlarge) agrees that being a parent impacts her approach: “As a mum of teens who can be influenced via social media, it’s my responsibility to guide them as consumers and teach them from a young age that celebrity endorsement is all part of the smoke and mirrors marketing of a product. It doesn’t necessarily reflect its real value until there is an informed and unbiased view from ‘real’ people who have tried it.”
“As an influencer, I believe integrity should be reflected equally online. I only work with brands and products that I believe in and use personally. I have tried some new products in the past that myself or my family did not like, and I report this feedback back to the brand.”
As Gemma summarises: “Ultimately if I were to promote something I didn’t believe in then I’m going to lose my honest reputation. If you lose that trust as an influencer then what else have you got?”
Contributed by Aaron Brooks, co-founder of influencer and content marketing platform, Vamp.