I’ve been a blogger for over nine years, worked as an events coordinator, interned at a PR agency and run a sports influencer agency. It’s fair to say I know my stuff when it comes to branded content, from both sides of the fence.
Waaaay back in 2010/11, partnerships between bloggers and brands consisted solely of being sent products to review and invites to events. I still remember feeling like a superstar when the latest range of Radox shower gels landed through my door. Fees being paid were pretty much unheard of and getting day drunk whilst being shown the latest launches in fancy venues was the height of being in the role. Things have changed massively since then. Bloggers have honed in on creating Instagram content, and for the most part have been rebranded as influencers, which admittedly I still wince at a little.
Brands are starting to catch up with the power of the online world, but a lot are yet to truly understand what a mutually beneficial collaboration consists of. I’ll break it down. Using influencers for brand campaigns isn’t about direct sales. When it’s done right, it’s about selling a brand and not necessarily an individual product. It’s about setting the scene, escapism and relating to the portrayal of a product experience so well that you start to connect with the brand. So why are brands still obsessively concerned with every part of a label being in shot as if the image is going to be displayed on a billboard? If anything, that old school, insistent approach only ever puts me off from wanting to try out a brand.
Collaborations should always be based on giving the content creator a right to interpretation. This ensures that branded content has clear authenticity, and isn’t left looking like a soulless magazine ad. Overly strict guidelines and unfair expectations infringe on the individuality of a content creator and often results in a bland, uninteresting outcome. This defeats the purpose of advertising as the content will often be scrolled past and ignored.
The following of a creator wants to see their own, individual approach to branded content, and not simply a product being forced at them in the same way they’d be used to when watching tv commercials. There is a reason influencers have taken over the advertising market. Relatability and authenticity. The more control brands try to assert over influencers, the more posed, inauthentic and contrived posts will look.
A turning point is on the way, people are fed up of being sold shit they don’t need by influencers glaring into the camera while holding a tub of protein powder. It’s down to individual responsibility to be selective when working with brands to find those that truly understand giving free reign on content creation, and in turn for brands to choose influencers that truly get it when it comes to authenticity.
With many bloggers turned influencers now using the role for a full time income, one rejected post or missed opportunity could mean the difference between having a good month or a bad month. Imagine no longer being able to afford trips out simply because a billion dollar brand decided your content didn’t fit their absurdly strict guidelines. It’s stressful, unfair and intensifies work related anxiety.
Change needs to happen with the way in which brands are interacting with content creators, and for me, it starts here. I won’t be belittled or silenced for the sake of money in my pocket and will always stand my ground for wanting fair partnerships.
If a brand asks you to guarantee content in return for product gifting, say no. If a brand asks you to reshoot content with no offer of payment for the extra time involved, say no. If a brand asks you to attend an event on the basis that you cover it on social media for free, say no. If an app asks you to submit content with a risk of not being selected for payment, say no. These are exploitative tactics.
“Influencer marketing is still a new industry and for many brands this is still a learning curve. If you’ve been approached for a campaign then the client has recognised that your content, audience engagement and creativity is something they want to tap in to, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about the brief and communicate your ideas; there might be some things they hadn’t considered before… and remember these three C’s: communication, compassion and creativity!” – Chelsea Carter, Head of Content and Community at Whalar
All said and done, I can’t head off without leaving on a positive note. Over the last however many years, I’ve been part of some dreamy collaborations with brands that I have spent years wishing I could work with. I’ve worked on content that has left me bursting with pride and with every new challenge I learn more about what I want to achieve online. Brands and agencies that approach content creators with an open mindset, an understanding of their value and a willingness to create truly fair partnerships gain the most respect not only from creators but consumers too.