The Painting of Money Grabbing Influencers

The Painting of Money Grabbing Influencers

If influencer bashing had begun a while ago, we’re certainly in full swing now. Only if you’d been sleeping under a rock (or in one of those deluxe Fyre festival tents!) would you have missed the recent mighty backlash against influencers over promoting the omnishambles that was the Fyre Festival and the increased focus on influencers advertising at their audiences by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The CMA (for short) gathered together some top celebs and “influencers” to set an example and to agree to clearly state if they have been paid or even received gifts of products they indorse. This comes after the CMA stated that many influencers’ posts could be breaking consumer law. If that wasn’t enough the CMA has an article posted on the gov.uk website, so it couldn’t get any more official.

The Burn of Burning man

If influencers and digital content creators weren’t under enough scrutiny, they certainly are now. I’ve been waiting for years for a big scandal to break about blogs, YouTubers or other content creators and finally here it is! Panorama investigates the million pound selfie sell off. Whatever next? An influencer reality TV show? It’s probably in the works.

Even festivals have turned on influencers. According to the CEO of the Nonprofit Burning Man festival in the US, influencers are also ruining her hippie vibe and profiteering off the back of the event.

“Attendees including fashion models and social media “influencers” are wearing and tagging brands in their playa photos. This means they are using Black Rock City to increase their popularity; to appeal to customers and sell more “stuff.””

The problem here is the use of the term “influencer” rather than “Instagrammer”, pigeon holing and painting a huge swathe of digital content creators as the bad guy/girl. Making easy money off the back of someone else’s hard work, when the reality is far from this for most digital content creators. It really was only a matter of time before the media/press focused their attention on “influencers” and the money that is being made, but unfortunately for the majority of digital content creators that get labelled “influencers” this is very damaging and totally unfair.

You see, the cartoon caricature that is being presented to the public of “influencers” is a simple one that shows generally bad behaviour. It’s one that is shown as vain, egotistical, money grabbing and deceptive. Making £15k a photo on Instagram whilst doing very little to earn it. Whilst there maybe people out there that fit the description, it’s a very small percentage of influencers or content creators.

The majority of digital content creators or “influencers” started out creating content as a side hobby. Working extremely hard outside of their day jobs, producing content of value in order to attract an audience. This isn’t something that takes a month or two, most genuinely good content creators have built up their audience and their content over many years of hard work and toil.

Unfair to pigeon hole people

Sure there are celebrities and high profile YouTubers that are making lots of money, but for the vast majority they are working extremely hard creating something of value. What most people don’t understand is the amount of work that goes into creating a detailed blog or YouTube channel, the vast amounts of time spent in front of a computer, researching and editing. They only see the tip of the iceberg, the finished article… the money or the luxuriously trip. Which means it’s easy to baulk at the idea of people getting paid for publishing content. When blogging, I’ve often mentioned to non-blogger friends that I had to turn a project down (often being travel related)… to which their response is fairly common, “I’ll go”. It’s a frustrating response that only sees the project/the trip and not the 10+ years of work that’s gone before it to get to the point where I do attract projects.

The Instagram Issue

Having said that, “the Instagram issue” hasn’t really helped the image of influencers. There’s been a digital gold rush, a place of short-termism, cheating and what some say is downright fraud on Instagram. There’s two key issues in play here, firstly the platform is one that is easily gamed, easy to cheat, manipulate and actually earn money. Secondly, the barrier to entry with an Instagram account is very low, you don’t have to spend years building a website full of useful content. You don’t have to churn out videos once a week that are planned, researched and edited. You just need to post a photo and sometimes that photo doesn’t even need to be that good. Combine these two issues and eventually you’ll have a recipe for disaster.

If you take a look around Instagram and you’ll see accounts that have average photography, nothing unique, yet gather 100k worth of followers using a variety of shady techniques. I know of fellow bloggers who once had a minuscule following suddenly rocket up to 100k based on follower attracting competitions, follow-unfollow techniques amongst a plethora of other questionable tactics. So, what’s Instagram doing about it? Very little, apart from culling some bot followers now and again.

Tarring everyone with the same brush

This all leads to a mistrust of influencers and in turn all digital content creators when it really shouldn’t, remember Instagram is just one platform and doesn’t show the whole picture. Sure, with pound signs in their eyes some people are going to cheat and there seems to be more on Instagram than other platforms. But in reality most real digital content creators work extremely hard, try to shape and create their own small business that has real value and attracts a genuinely engaged audience. It seems like all digital content creators are labelled “influencers” by the media, a term that’s being used to portray a large section of people as lazy and entitled. And that’s a problem.

As a digital content creator it seems the mistrust comes from the fact that it’s a relatively new realm. But there are also frustrations from creators who think they’re misunderstood, being told to label everything with #ad whilst more traditional film/media don’t seem to be held up to the same standards. Take the travel sections of newspapers or blatant product placement in films, where’s the obvious statement that the product placement has been paid for? That’s right, it doesn’t exist… well maybe, hidden in the credits of a 3 hour movie but not during the film. Influencers are told strictly that #ad has to be pretty much everywhere. It’s as if the people making the rules don’t understand the medium. At times it feels like we’re unfairly targeted by the media and the powers that be.

Occasionally you’ll see positive news stories reported of influencers on social media.

Take 26 year old Stevie Blaine for example who’s turned his Instagram account into one to promote body positivity after years trying to sculpt the perfect body.

Or Caitlin Leigh using her Instagram account to bring people together that suffer with alopecia to help and highlight that they’re not on their own dealing with the condition.

On the whole, it seems it’s easier for the media to report the bad behaviour of a minority of influencers rather than show how much positivity and value digital content creators bring. Now is the time for balance, time for understanding, before the “influencer” label gets way out of hand (if it hasn’t already) and damages more than just the small number of shady Instagram practitioners. As digital content creators, bloggers, podcasters, photographers, video makers etc. we need to stand up against this negative label and there needs to be balance in the media, there’s genuinely a huge amount of positivity being created.

Most influencers are creating something of value, something useful and working extremely hard at producing it. The negative painting of huge numbers of creative digital content creators as money grabbing, shortcut taking chancers is damaging to anyone who takes time and pride in creating content online.

Just remember, most of us are working extremely hard to build our own businesses, creating something of real value for people and just trying to make a living in the process.

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Paul is an award-winning travel blogger travmonkey.com who focuses on solo adventure travel. Based in London, Paul is an experienced digital marketing professional and also the co-founder of Traverse, a conference and agency working with digital content creators. His next project is all about learning to surf and blogging about it atsurfandunwind.com .

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