Under the influence of power
When two well-known social media faces called out an online shopping portal for non-payment, it sparked a debate on ethics and influencers. Experts tell you where to draw the line
The world of social media influencers, in general, is one that is shrouded in cautious distrust and filled with head-swirling glamour in equal measure. In this relatively new industry, there are preteens and teens swooning over their favourite influencer, on the one hand, and there are those that view the very job with suspicion on the other.
This division became apparent when earlier this month, two well-known influencers, Komal Pandey and Roshni Bhatia, called out StalkBuyLove, an online retailer for non-payment for content Bhatia and Pandey had created for the women-focused shopping brand. In response to their public outcry, Shikha Ahluwalia, one of the founders of the e-commerce website, put out a video statement on Instagram explaining the financial problems the brand was facing. But soon, the issue spilled into the public domain, sparking off a conversation around the ethics behind being an influencer. Some even alleged that influencers manipulate their social media presence, and often misuse it to strong-arm other parties into agreeing to their terms.
In an industry that is largely unstructured, the lines between what is right and isn't are often be blurred.
No room for ambiguity
But popular fashion blogger Juhi Godambe says that things have become more organised since she started two years ago. "The problem of non-payment arises typically with smaller, start-up brands. When I had just begun, I faced it too. But with bigger companies, there is a clear legal procedure," she shares. Commenting on how one can keep this challenge at bay, Godambe advises that influencers have a clear agreement with the brands. "This way you will know that if things go wrong, you have the necessary paperwork," she says.
On the flip side, bloggers are often criticised for accepting free products from brands, or freebies, as we know it. However, Godambe cautions that it is an intrinsic part of their job. Talent manager, Riya Raut, who handles popular fashion influencers like Santoshi Shetty, echoes this when she says, "Everyone should be well aware of how this works. The products that brands send to bloggers aren't always 'gifts'. They are sent to them because their handles are a platform [to get the word out on new launches]. You just need to lay down the terms you agree to. At the same time, brands also need to understand that it isn't mandatory for the influencer to post about a product they have sent when there is no remuneration involved, unless there has been an agreement beforehand." Godambe adds, "To keep things clear, I always share a disclaimer that I am not obligated to post about what a brand sends to me, so it can be left to my discretion."
On the issue of going public in a situation where things have gone awry between a brand and influencer, Godambe says that while she respects the decision Bhatia and Pandey took, she would have personally taken the legal route. "If you are sure that you are right, it's best to send a legal notice." Raut adds,
"You can use your social media handle as a platform to inform your followers of the brand's doings, but not to threaten the brand."
Keep it under control
Loveena Mehta, co-founder of Unclutter Media, which specialises in social media marketing, agrees with Raut when she says that it is okay to go public with non-payment, but suggests that there is a way to do it. "In this case, the influencers went all out and put up a number of posts and stories, when one would have sufficed," she tells us.
Being ethical, however, isn't limited to freebies. Raut raises a pertinent issue when she says that while freebies are a two-way street, influencers can abuse other talents. "It isn't okay for influencers to underpay photographers and make-up artists simply because they are giving them credit on their post. There has to be a mutually beneficial middle ground."
It all comes down to conscience and humaility, though. And Priyanka Bajaria, psychologist and arts-based therapy practitioner, suggests that it is important to remind yourself that being an influencer is just one part of your life. "Don't confuse the job as the measure of your self worth to an extent that strong criticism evokes a breakdown," she advises, adding that on the occasion that one does feel the need to go public, consider the decision for a few days, and if absolutely sure, stand your ground irrespective of backlash.
Simple steps, like maintaining a gratitude journal, limiting screen-time, taking help from a counsellor and consciously investing in people that matter to you can go a long way. "Shift your focus to things in your control like your posts, responses and emotional health," she recommends, adding that when someone is in a position of influence, it is easy for them to forget that as an influencer you are in control of your personal brand, which you have created by forming a connection with a large group of people who identify with you and the values you uphold. She adds, "In situations where the followers feel that the power is being misused, they will stop relating to you which also implies that you invariably lose out on business. Remember that all your communication (posts, stories) reflect your personal brand. Before posting anything, pause and think about whether it relates with your vision."
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