Is there really a problem with gifting influencers? How did it become and problem and what can be changed moving forward…
Let’s rewind to the year 2014, when I first launched this blog, and my view of the influencer industry – as it was.
Back then, the prospect of getting a free pair of jeans JUST because I wore my favourite brand on my blog, and then Instagram felt like the most amazing opportunity. How fun!
Back then, creating content wasn’t a job. It wasn’t a business. It was a hobby that often proved fruitful in terms of gifted items, lavish events and exciting opportunities.
But we’re not in 2014 any more. The influencer industry is predicted to be worth $22 BILLION** by next year. So why are some members of our community STILL only being offered the opportunity for gifting, when there’s so much more money to be paid?
This is a multi-layered and complicated issue but it’s one that has particularly affected Black creators who, in their experience, are disproportionately offered gifting instead of payment over their white counterparts.
So how do we solve the problem with gifting?
Is gifting a BLANKET problem?
Within Grow & Glow, we often teach our creators that a gifting relationship with a brand can be a great way to BUILD a partnership. However, this often gets confused.
Brands are offering and creators are accepting gifting, on a promise that it is the start of the relationship. However lots of creators are finding that they are working with brands for months or even years and that this relationship NEVER progresses beyond gifting.
When we teach gifting to build a relationship, we also mean GIFTING WITH NO OBLIGATION TO POST, which we’ll come back to shortly.
Shouldn’t creators be grateful for gifts?
Herein lies another assumption. That if a creator is a true fan of a brand, who would purchase a product regardless of any relationship, that they then should be grateful for gifting.
And of course, it’s such a nicety to receive gifts from our favourite brands but only without the pressure of work being attached to it.
I’d LOVE free stuff, why are you demanding more? It’s just an Instagram post!
Content consumers or followers of influencers often get confused when creators demand to be paid because they may not understand what truly goes into content creation.
Sure a nice holiday might seem like fair compensation for ‘just an Instagram post’ but it’s this misunderstanding into what actually goes into content creation that further perpetuates the image that creators are ungrateful if they’re unwilling to accept gifting.
So let’s break it down. Often, in exchange for clothes, beauty products, a book, electronic gifts, treatments and more, brands are requesting;
- Blog posts
- Photography and more
The average blog post takes 3 hours to research, write, optimise, publish and promote. Is it fair to ask for that in exchange for a pretty jumper?
The average vlog can take days to film, 7-9 hours to edit and further hours to optimise, publish and promote. Is it fair to ask for that in exchange for an afternoon tea?
An argument often offered is, ‘well if the product is worth £500 and your rate is £500 then could you just do it in exchange for the gift?’ – which, y’know, can sound reasonable but when EVER does a £500 product actually COST £500 to make?
Let’s go back then… The average blog post takes 3 hours to research, write, optimise, publish and promote. 3 hours at an average hourly rate of £25 = £75 (forgetting all of the other components of pricing blog posts such as link quality, domain quality, volume of traffic etc) – Is it fair to ask for that in exchange for a pretty jumper – which costs £3 to make?
The average vlog can take days to film, 7-9 hours to edit and further hours to optimise, publish and promote. Here we could talk day rates – one day, two days at a rate of £300 a day…Is it fair to ask for that in exchange for an afternoon tea (for which the brand are only footing the cost of the food – bit of sticky white bread and jam?) OR a hotel room, that would otherwise be empty if the influencer weren’t filling it and creating content for it?
These points are illustrative and without even mentioning the value of reach and the relationships with their audiences, that creators can offer, but hopefully you’re beginning to understand.
Gifting ISN’T the issue within itself – it’s the expectation.
In traditional print media, brands send journalists ‘freebies’ or ‘gifts’ with the hope that that editor selects their product to feature within their publication.
If a brand wanted a specific feature for their product, they’d pay the publication thus turning it into an ‘Advertorial’.
Brands saw a way round this with influencers. With an industry that is unregulated – and with no formal training like with what journalists have, they saw an opportunity to get their products into the hands of people with more engaged platforms than magazines and they took advantage.
Gifting in return for content creation – blogs, videos, photos – became the norm.
However, this system is broken. And it’s affecting Black creators (and often those from other underrepresented groups too) disproportionately.
Whereas white creators are starting to be able to ‘see their worth’ in this industry and therefore ask and demand for more, our Black counterparts are only just being given seats at the table.
Ask about gifting? Get ghosted by the brand. Ask to be paid? Get blacklisted as ‘difficult’ and not approached again.
We, as an industry, need to reframe how we approach gifting so that a fairer system can be put into place for all creators. And it goes like this…
‘Gifting = no obligation to post / Obligation to post = Advertorial and therefore paid’ AKA what’s been happening in print media for decades.
This means that as a creator, when you are offered gifting, you assure the brand that you will be happy to try the product and post about it, as you see fit.
This also means, as a creator, when you are offered gifting but are TOLD how, when and what to post, you push back and demand to discuss being paid.
WHY THIS WORKS
- If you are a true fan of the brand and you really love the product, it’s highly likely you’ll post about it anyway. But you’ll do so in a way that is comfortable to you and not forced.
- If this becomes an industry standard, no creators will be left feeling pushed out or devalued because each creator has their own autonomy over how and when they feature gifted items.
- If this becomes an industry standard, Black creators will not be shunned for being ‘difficult’ when their white counterparts are also towing the party line.
- Confusion over whether you’ve featured something just because it’s been gifted or because you truly love it disappears – you’re only going to be featuring gifted items that you love because you’re not obligated to post about them.
- Brands will have to rethink their approach to influencer marketing. They will have to value creators time, efforts and energy more so than they often do now.
What about smaller brands who can’t afford to pay creators?
No brand should be throwing product at an influencer without due diligence. That is a conversation for another time. But a brand’s influencer marketing efforts don’t fail because influencers don’t post their products – they fail because they attempt influencer marketing haphazardly.
Furthermore, I’d like to ask – what happens if a brand can’t afford a product photographer? A website designer? An SEO specialist? A copywriter?
All brands should cultivate relationships with influencers they like and should truly trust that the influencer they want to work with IS a fan of that brand and WILL post about them – whether they’ve paid them to or not.
Moving forward, I am putting a call out to all creators in the UK influencer industry.
Do you promise to stand your ground and assert, ‘GIFTING = NO OBLIGATION TO POST’.
Do you promise to push back to a brand who is directing how, when and what you post with the stance that ‘OBLIGATION TO POST = advertorial’?
Change can only come as a collective. And it could start today.
Below is some wording you could use in your responses with brands.
‘Thank you for reaching out to me with regards to the collaboration with X. Can I ask whether this is a paid campaign or gifting only?’
In the case that it is gifting only – ‘Thank you for your response. I’d like to highlight that I’m working within the industry-wide agreement that by accepting gifts, I retain full creative control over how, when and what I post in regards to x product. Please confirm that you’re on board with this.’
In the case that it is gifting only but the brand demands certain content – ‘Thank you for your response. I’d like to highlight that I’m working within the industry-wide agreement that by accepting gifts, I retain full creative control over how, when and what I post in regards to x product. This means that I would happily receive xyz but I cannot agree to your directions of abc without a discussion into turning this campaign into an advertorial one. If you’d like to have input and direction into how I feature xyz, are you willing to discuss the budget that is available for advertorial content.’
In the case that it is gifting or nothing. Take nothing. Learn to say no. Work together for change.
Gifting doesn’t pay the bills anyway, right? How badly do you need the product?
This change is just one of the many changes we can act upon to bring parity to the influencer industry. Are you in?
Say it with me…