Unless you've been hiding under a rock, or simply don't use Instagram often (or at all?!), you'll know at the start of the year the CMA caused quite a stir through the blogging and Instagram community after the release of their new influencer guidelines*. I sat back and watched fellow peers go up in arms about the whole fiasco, understandably the guidelines are a bit muddy (read here), and have left many of us confused, myself included, so I completely resonate with the frustration over the need to declare gifting, endorsements and brand partnerships in such detail, but ultimately these guidelines are put in place to protect the consumer aka an influencer's audience. I wouldn't be where I am in today without you, my audience, so I have your best interest at heart when creating content (Always have, always will) which is why I've also felt conflicted about the uproar.
Now that the dust is settled, and most of us are complying I wanted to add my two cents. Instead of talking about the guidelines themselves, because I think that's been done enough (and frankly I don't care about how ugly it makes your Instagram captions, it is what it is) I want to talk more about how the aftermath has made me feel and the wake-up call it's given me.
Within this industry, I fall into the 'influencer' category, but I'm also still a consumer, I still use Instagram for recreational purposes so these guidelines work both ways for me and if I'm totally honest I'm quite thankful for these guidelines, because the past few months have been a real eye-opener and benefical for my mental health when seeing the sheer volume of gifting** happening in the industry and the reluctance to be transparent about it.
I'll be the first to admit, I'm no angel, I declare every single one of my paid partnerships (when money has been exchanged), but I haven’t always been transparent about items brands have sent to me for free, so as soon as I read through the CMA guidelines I thought 'actually , do you know what, this makes total sense for my audience' so I complied immediately and many others have followed suit, but in doing so it has been terrifyingly eye-opening to see how many people AND brands have built their entire empire on gifting, I'm not talking about the odd item of clothing here and there, I'm talking about kitchens, weddings, cars, entire wardrobes of designer clothes. You name it if you've got the credentials it can be gifted. By no means am I trying to throw shade, if someone handed me a brand new kitchen on a plate in exchange for a handful of Instagram stories and posts I'd be hard pushed not to take it, but I'd also begin to question my integrity and the message I'm sending to my audience. It's amazing to see people following the guidelines and declaring gifted items, but it's also eye-opening to see images posted made up entirely of free stuff.
Life doesn't come for free outside the influencer bubble and I think some people are losing sight of this.
I've always been conscious of the image and message I'm exerting online, I'd hate for someone to look through my content and feel rubbish about themselves because I've been on the receiving end and it can be crippling. Funnily enough, in light of what I've seen over the past 3 months, I've increasingly started to feel rubbish again seeing just how much influencers get for free, but rather than dwell on this I've used it as fuel to focus even more so on my audience. I'm trying to be more conscious of my consumption and how my life looks on the surface, I've started to significantly reduce the number of items I accept from brands, even if it's something I wouldn't mind owning or someone I'd potentially like to work with I have to seriously question do I need this? Does this benefit my audience? Am I simply accepting gifts for self-gain? When you're being offered free stuff on a regular basis, naturally it can be hard to say no and I can completely get that, again this is no shade to those that do but I think you can run the risk of becoming a bit greedy with it and forget that you're in this privileged position for one reason and one reason only - your audience. Before the CMA guidelines came in to place, it was very easy to hide and pass it all off as genuine purchases but going forward I think we could see a big shift in audience engagement in response to large amounts of gifting. Especially the unobtainable kind.
Case in point: mass gifting campaigns. Have you ever wondered why all of a sudden every blogger has the same Mulberry bag? Or why the Dior Saddle bag made such a huge comeback? VOILA! Gifting. Don't get me wrong, it's clever marketing and to some degrees works excellently (essentially it's the same as putting multiple adverts in a magazine) but if I'm seeing the same thing over and over it can often have the reverse effect, lose hype and put me off brands - if I think this, surely audiences could also be thinking the same?
It is, however, a bit of a catch 22, sending out free items to bloggers and influencers is an integral part of this machine, it creates relationships with brands, I'm very lucky to have gifting partnerships with some of my favourite brands such as ARKET and & Other Stories (which I’m eternally grateful for) because of this and it helps generates traction/sales and enables us to create new fresh content, but I also know, as I said above, it can make you (the audience) feel quite low. Comparison-itus begins to rear its ugly head and you start to question why your life and wardrobe doesn't match up. So what happens, if like me you have a huge passion for supporting independents, it's difficult not just for me but also for the brands. I have a voice, I have influence that I want to use for good and if I can give a small brand starting out the visibility in what is fast becoming a saturated and difficult landscape to stand out in, then I'm going to. How can a brand without big budgets for advertising campaigns or influencer marketing grow? How can I show you new brands all the time without it feeling like I'm over consuming? Again, gifting! So I find myself in this predicament in which I want to limit the amount I accept but also want to support brands I love. I'm still trying to navigate this whole thing, but in the meantime, I think moderation is key and what I do know is, I have trust on my side. From the very beginning, I've always prided myself on sticking to my guns, having that passion for particular brands and only showcasing the ones I truly love and believe in. I think (or at least hope) this message is in your mind when you visit my social channels.
You will notice in my Instagram captions I now give a detailed breakdown of everything I'm wearing, accompanied with the word gifted, in brackets, if applicable. If you see items credited without the word gifted next to them this means I purchased said item with my own money. Hopefully, this gives some clarity and gives you an idea of how much is gifted vs. own bought. It will also give you an insight into how much-gifted items I re-wear they aren't just a one time feature. The same applies if I’m on a complimentary trip somewhere, and purposefully promoting an experience, hotel, etc, the word ‘press trip’ or ‘complimentary stay’ will feature in stories and captions.
I have no idea if this post was coherent or made the slightest bit of sense, so if you made it this far well done. I could probably ramble on about this subject for another five paragraphs but I wanted to keep it short and sweet, because I'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic. How does seeing all of this gifting make you feel? Does it bother you? Or is just part and parcel now? Maybe you've been oblivious to it all and it's been an eye opener for you too?
*If you're not sure what I'm talking about, the Competition and Market Authority released a set of guidelines outlining ways in which bloggers and influencers need to declare all social media endorsements, regardless of if they've been paid or not. This means all forms of gifting, brand endorsements and incentives must be declared. You can read in more depth here.
**Sat reading this wondering what does she mean 'gifting?!' Gifting is something that happens far and wide within the influencer landscape (it's also common practice within magazine and print media) - brands will get in touch and offer to send you an item in the hope they will get exposure on which platform said influencer/blogger is using. Some brands will give influencers the option to pick what they would like gifted and others don’t, it entirely depends on what the brand is trying to push. I only ever accept gifting that I have been allowed to genuinely choose myself.