Yes, now, if you have a blog that generates a lot of traffic, a successful YouTube channel or Instagram account (and/or Snapchat / Twitter / Facebook…) with a lot of subscribers/followers, you’re no longer part of the common bloggers category anymore, no, you’re now an influencer. The result is that blogging has became a lot more focused on business than it previously was, and partnerships with brands are now completely OK.
Won’t bloggers risk losing their independence through too many partnerships with brands? And what about the honesty & transparency with their readers?
I wrote a post about the relationships between brands and bloggers 2 years ago. Even though my approach on blogging has not changed much (if at all), around me, the blogger community and especially its relationship with brands has evolved tremendously.
In my first post on the subject, I spoke about how bloggers could “do a sincere review, often with a lot of details about the product and/or service.” I spoke mainly of the honesty of this new form of communication, comparing it to the principle of word of mouth.
And as a blog reader, I now struggle to find the passion and the love for sharing, that seduced me in this new media at the beginning. I have become more and more suspicious about the relationships between brands and bloggers.
When I started to read blogs, I was already passionate and I was buying tons of cosmetics at the time (ok that hasn’t really changed much tongue ). And what I particularly liked in the product reviews I could find in blogs was the true independence of bloggers. It was very different from the things I read before. Before blogs existed, I read a lot of women’s magazines. And in their beauty pages, the product descriptions are always very brief, they’re more like small presentations very inspired from the press releases, so not really personalized or inspiring.
Through the authentic experience a blogger shares, you can identify yourself with the product he or she reviews. In general, we tend to read blogs that fit our tastes, our aspirations, but also because we often feel we have something in common with the blogger. There’s a real person behind a blog post, eventually we feel close to him or her, even if we don’t always agree with them all the time.
And the beauty of blogging is that anyone can create a blog. No need to be expert, owning a blog is just a matter of passion and involvement.
2 years ago, professional bloggers were still a minority but now I feel that most of those who decide to create a blog do it primarily for financial reasons. I have not had this kind of request (probably because I never do brands partnerships) but many of my blogger friends tell me they regularly receive emails from young girls (or maybe because I’m old? :P) who want to create a blog, asking them for tips to “work with brands.”
But really, is this that surprising? A lot of bloggers have decided to make a living with their blogs because they know that having a blog is hard work and they want a return on their investment. Now it seems, most people decide to create a blog not really because they’re passionate about something but because they want to be an influencer or get rich (or both smile ). Even if you need to self-proclaim yourself an influencer on social media and if you have no qualms about cheating on your number of followers and likes just to seduce the brands (yep, the fake followers business is very prosperous at the moment). A lot brands or their agencies don’t check or care if 80% of a persons followers aren’t real people.
However, even for a genuine enthusiast who creates a blog or a YouTube channel with simply the desire of sharing, it can easily start to cost a lot of cash. A blog takes not only time but also money: products, some hardware, software… What you started as a passion, or a hobby can quickly become super time consuming and expensive, so wanting to earn money with your passion is not only tempting but also very legitimate. In certain cases you either have to cover your costs or stop blogging.
On the other hand, when the blog starts to become successful (= more and more readers and a good online reputation), the brands get interested in your blog, and this is more often than not when the question of switching to a professional blogger approach appears.
Making a living with a blog is everything but shameful, as long as it’s made very clear and transparent to the reader. In doing so, the reader is given the information and therefore the choice to read or not paid content (by a brand), readers have full knowledge of the facts.
Unfortunately, many bloggers (sometimes encouraged by brands) forget / avoid this simple principle and don’t hesitate to hide the fact that they’ve been paid to talk about a product. This lack of transparency and even let’s say it, lack of ethics is killing what made the beauty of blogging, and this amidst general indifference.
Because a lot of people who read blogs or watch YouTube videos don’t really know this whole business side of things and as as long as it’s the case, the lying influencer still has a bright future ahead…
With this post, that I hope a little informative, I wanted to highlight all these issues because besides being a passionate blogger, I’m also a blog reader, a YouTube channels subscriber and especially a consumer. And this lack of respect coming from some big influencers makes me absolutely furious. I also question the role of some brands in this mess.
Professional blogger, amateur blogger, what is the difference?
The difference between an amateur and a pro blog generally hinges on one thing: monetising or not your blog. It can be done in many different ways and it differs totally from one blog to another.
Some examples (these also apply in the case of social media and a YouTube channel):
– advertising on your blog: some banner ads are placed on the blog and depending on the formats chosen with the advertiser, you touch some money every X page views (it could be 1000 pages, for example) or you receive a percentage / amount if the reader clicks on the advert etc. Clearly not the most profitable of ways, as it generally requires a lot of traffic on the blog and/or highly targeted ads to generate profits.
– affiliation or affiliate links: basically, it involves placing links to a merchant site and the blogger can earn a commission on the products that readers buy through the blog.
– sponsored content/ advertorials/ partnerships: it’s the principle of creating content on your blog for a publisher (a brand in the case of cosmetics) in exchange for paid compensation. This sponsored content usually has a bad reputation and is not really well accepted by blog readers. If the blogger does it often, they are often considered as a sell-out. And there’s also the issue of the non mentioned advertorials. They’re much more common practice than you think despite the fact that it’s illegal (in France and in the US at least, it’s not the case everywhere).
A blogger can also offer their services to brands for the creation of paid content on an other medium than their own blog or also through consulting missions where the brand is using their expertise. Again this is often kept quiet, one wonders why?
What about influencers?
The word “influencer”, in the past only used by the marketing pros, is now transitioning into the everyday vocabulary and it’s even employed by some bloggers themselves (you know the very humble and modest ones…) who don’t hesitate to self-proclaim themselves “influencer” on their blogs or social media. It makes me roll my eyes so hard every time I read it on Instagram I think I’ll end up swiveling round and seeing my brain…
What is an influencer?
The marketing dictionary definition:
“An influencer is an individual who has above-average impact on a specific niche process. Influencers are normal people, who are often connected to key roles of media outlets, consumer groups, industry associations or community tribes.”
Or applied to the field of beauty blogs, it’s someone who by their status or media exposure can influence the consumer behavior of its readers and/or followers.
The influencer can naturally monetize the influence they have. Some examples:
– a product placement on his/her blog or YouTube channel, or simply sponsored posts on his/her Instagram or Snapshat (the latter may result in several thousand dollars for some big influencers). Product placement must normally be mentioned as having been paid but this is not always the case (on Snapchat, it’s NEVER mentioned, let’s be clear).
– or the influencer may even partner with a brand for a collaboration. He or she will participate in the development of a brand product, which will generally have their name on it. The involvement of the influencer varies in each case.
Unfortunately, this collab revealed the dangers of this kind of practice, with the withdrawal from sale a few days after its release of an eyeshadow palette from the collection because apparently, it didn't correspond to the usual quality standards of the BECCA brand. I don't know if we will get the whole story one day but it's very tempting, to say that the brand wanted to take advantage of the huge buzz created by this collaboration and cut corners on product costs & quality.
Sadly for BECCA, many consumers and bloggers denounced the deception on social media and it created a huge scandal in the beauty world which affected both the YouTuber and the brand.
It'll probably be complicated for Jaclyn Hill to regain the trust of her followers, and although many still defend her, their are valid reasons to have doubts now.
Why are brands interested in influencers?
In fact, brands are not really interested in the influencer themself but rather those they can influence, those who can buy the brands products. But in order for the brand to really see an impact on its sales, it requires the influencer to not only have many followers/readers but above all, that they are able to create a genuine ‘engagement’ with consumers of the brand. This engagement is only possible if the readers/followers trust the influencers opinion.
And lately, I really find that this trust has been exploited by some influencers, who are willing to sell their community to the highest bidder. At the risk of totally jeopardizing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the fact that people use their influence to make a living but, doing so without even mentioning that they’re doing paid partnerships with a brand is a real ethical problem. Personally I feel that checking / testing a product before endorsing it is a must; multiple examples demonstrate like with the Becca-Gate (see box above) this is not happening.
Recently, Aimee Song from the blog Songofstyle, an extremely popular fashion blogger signed an exclusive 1-year partnership with Laura Mercier, a makeup brand for $500,000. Her partnership with Laura Mercier involves creating content on her blog and Instagram (she has 3.6 million followers) as well as appearances in beauty events as an ambassador of the brand. It also includes creating videos on the Laura Mercier site.
She recently got busted by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission, which protects America’s consumers) because she didn’t mention being paid to show Laura Mercier products on her Instagram. Since, she has corrected this only on the Laura Mercier targeted posts but you just need to take a quick look on her Instagram feed to see photos with various products including some Laura Mercier ones that are not mentioned as #ad.
If you’re interested in this, I’d refer you to the excellent article on the website The Fashion Law from which I obtained the above information and which is quite detailed with examples of these sadly not unusual practices.
The influencer lack of transparency, a common and tiresome habit:
Because indeed, these practices are extremely common among influencers but not just them, among many bloggers in general. It’s so ‘normal’ that nobody is really shocked about it anymore as Jane from the excellent British Beauty Blogger blog writes in her article in reaction to The Fashion Law feature.
In fact, every time a blogger/ YouTuber / Instagramer says good things about a product, you just end up thinking, oh well, she must have been paid to do so.
So finally, all these very consensual blogs, YouTube channels or Instagram accounts are so much like the women’s magazines I used to read. All the honest reviews, the sharing, the story of a true life experiences are slowly disappearing.
The vast majority of people blog because they genuinely enjoy it. They buy products themselves and they just talk about them. There are also some professionals bloggers who do their job with transparency and honesty. But doubt has started to set in amongst readers.
And I’m the first to feel obliged to report on my blog and my Instagram that my posts are not sponsored (they never are). I take pride in stating things clearly because I don’t want to be associated with this group of liar (or at best biased) bloggers who hide the relationships they have with brands.
All these practices create a distrust of both influencers and bloggers and a lot of people also consider them as profiteers who use their blogs to benefit from services and free products.
Last week, I watched a TV report on a French television channel which described travel bloggers basically as “smart-ass guys” who take advantage of “free holidays” through their blogs. Some journalists are quick to forget the huge part of work behind a blog, especially in the case of a full time blogger.
Because being a successful blogger or YouTuber definitely requires a lot of work! The behavior of many bloggers and influencers that sell us their dream life by showing on their blogs and social media that they spend their time eating cupcakes while bathing in lipsticks maintain this illusion of “lazy profiteers”.
It’s a total illusion and to pretend you never work is actually hard work as Marie-Eve, one of the bloggers behind the Canadian blog Look Du Jour tells us in her great post about the Instagram backstage (this feature is in French). She was in a hotel in Palm Springs at the same time as 3 famous Instagramers and she could see that behind the super cool girlie week-end photos they showed on their Instagram account, it was in fact a lot time and logistics. They spent the weekend doing photo shootings that left very little room for relaxing and fun. But it’s true that telling your audience that your super cool stay in Palm Springs was actually a commercial partnership, certainly involving a large amount of money, hotel and flights paid for by the brand and also a lot of work is clearly less glamorous and above all, it doesn’t sell…
It’s hard to be a smart consumer with all these secretive practices, isn’t it?
Fortunately, the law has already started to get involved and for example, since 2009, US bloggers are obliged to notify the advertising nature of sponsored articles. Concealing payment received for writing an article can be penalized with a fine of several thousand dollars.
If the legislation is a possible answer, these practices especially raise ethical issues with the lack of respect towards readers.
A blogger may decide to stay totally independent and reject any partnership with the brands. But they can also have a more open attitude towards some partnerships with brands and be totally transparent. If you don’t want people to know what you are doing, why risk it all by doing it anyway?
For example, many bloggers explain they only accept requests from brands they already love, warning their readers beforehand that they only speak of products they sincerely appreciate. This needs to be the truth though. As I said earlier, if all this is clearly mentioned in the article, this is not a problem for me as a reader.
On the other hand, a lot of readers aren’t fooled by these practices and become more and more aware of the growing business aspect of the blogging community. They are demanding more transparency from influencers. Just take a look at some big influencers Instagram posts or YouTube channel comments section and you’ll see for yourself. Because blog readers (or YouTube subscribers) want above all a form of authenticity that they can’t find in the mainstream media otherwise why bother. And, for a blogger, this responsibility towards their audience is perhaps the most effective constraint. Indeed, a blogger who no longer has the trust of their readers has no legitimacy and without it, will simply no longer be read or watched.
The link between brand and influencer (or blogger) is dangerous when it doesn’t say its name.
Initially known for their independence, their passion and their critical mind, the same reason brands want to use them (or should I be saying work with them?) (I’m not so sure), the misleading influencers are responsible for the decline in trust of their readers. And the dishonest brands that push them to conceal the true nature of their partnerships are also guilty of perverting the original spirit of blogging. At the moment, it’s not really a problem for them, there are many “influencers” candidates ready to sell their popularity for a few dollars. But for readers who may want to read authentic and disinterested posts, this is a mess. This is such a shame for the many bloggers who are just trying to share their passion with objectiveness and sincerity.
I really have to tell you: thankfully I’m lucky enough to have a special relationship with my readers who often comment here or who reach me on social media, because I assure you that sometimes, it’s very difficult to stay motivated with all this going on! wink
I’m very curious to know if this topic interests you and what are your thoughts regarding the blogging and the influencers. Please, feel free to leave me a comment!
Photo credit: bonnie-garner.com