Why I don’t follow influencers or trust sponsored content
If you’ve been a part of my Instagram family for a while, you’ll know that I am 100% anti-influencer. With the constant posts that endorse brands, products & trips that were not self-funded, its not hard to understand why I don’t follow influencers. I had a few people messaging me justifying why they do these things; I get it- you want to make money off your social media. Because why do something for the pure enjoyment of it when you can monetize it? That’s what capitalism has brainwashed us into thinking right- that your self-worth is measured by how much profit you generate?
Listen- you don’t need to justify your actions to anyone; I couldn’t give a flying broomstick about what you post. If I like it, I will hang around. If I don’t, I will unfollow and move on with my life. But this is a blog post about why I personally have never & will never spend my money on people promoting things on social media and why I don’t follow influencers.
To be honest, I almost deleted Instagram because of all the advertising and sponsorships. But instead I started “hiding” the clearly paid for posts. It didn’t matter how big or small the advertiser was. If a post had “Sponsored” below its username, I hid it and then reported it. It’s not against Instagram’s user terms to hide the ads. In fact, Instagram even details how to hide ads that you think aren’t relevant to you, are shown too often, or are inappropriate. But that only hides content that is disclosed as an advert. And one of the reasons why I don’t follow influencers is because I have learnt that most sponsored content is not clearly disclosed to the audience.
Are you aware that a recent study found that a staggering 93% of sponsored content posted by influencers on Instagram does not adequately disclose the paid brand relationship? You can read more about this here, here and here.
Yes I do research before I write opinion pieces.
The Federal Trade Commission (USA), the Advertising Standards Authority (UK) as well as every country in the world that has a board which regulates advertising and marketing practices has rules about how people should make clear that they’ve received compensation in order to promote something. And they don’t involve the famous influencer strategies of simply thanking the brand; using vague tags like #partner hidden in a barrage of hashtags and definitely NOT a self-serving assumption that the audience is “smart enough to work it out for themselves.” But these guidelines are not always followed.
Maybe you are thinking that you don’t care about whether people disclose the whole truth. But I think you do. If I began namedropping various airlines and travel companies, you’d want to know if I genuinely used those services or if I was just paid to pretend I did. Right? It is crucial information when assessing the validity of a recommendation.
So let’s get on with it shall we… I detail my experiences sharing exactly what I know and how I have learnt certain truths in this industry. Which has led me not to trust most things I see being promoted online. Remember this is not a slight on you if you continue to fawn over your favourite influencers and bloggers- do as you please. But this explains why I do not.
Why I don’t trust travel bloggers
Let’s start with the basic terminology. When a travel influencer writes ‘ad’ or ‘sponsored’ in their captions or posts, it means that either money has changed hands for the content produced or the trip/experience was a ‘freebie’ and the company offering the trip had some control in the content produced. This means that the company or organization can specify a number of blog posts and/or dictate what they should highlight on their blog or Instagram captions. This means that even though no money may have been exchanged, it is still an advert because the influencer created the content that the brand/company wanted them to create. Not all companies do have a say in what’s produced and some do allow for the content creator’s own opinion BUT we will never know to what extent they have freedom.
Still with me so far?
So when you see a trip that is sponsored, you are not always reading about the personal experience this person had on their trip; sometimes you’re reading about what they’ve been contractually obligated to show/tell you.
But what’s wrong with this you may ask? Surely I can go on the same trip to the same place, do the same activities and have the same wonderful experience they’re promoting? Well number one, that’s an incredibly boring way to travel (my personal opinion) but more importantly you are not thinking about all the things they have access to that you will most likely not. Will your hand be held by a local from this country from the time you land until the time you depart? Will you have access to a translator that helps you communicate with locals so that you have an experience that you’re happy with? Will you be chauffeured around in an air-conditioned car on a carefully planned itinerary only designed to show you the good parts of a place? Unless you have the money to afford all these aspects, then it’s unlikely your trip will be identical to your favourite influencers.
For me, these things detract from the essence of travel- the getting lost as you try to interpret Google Maps, the language confusion as to try to explain that you’re from South Africa but live in the Middle East, seeing the slums as well as seeing the tourist sites and then figuring out the reason for economic disparity. There is a certain joy in the confusion of it all. But hey, that’s just me.
My main problem with travel influencers and bloggers, is they are rarely honest about why they are giving they recommendations they give. It makes it very difficult to recognise what advice they are being paid to give you, and what advice is from their own experience.
A classic example is when I was trying to research for my trip to Cappadocia. I wanted to spend my birthday there so I was trying to do research on the best hot air balloon operator. I was reading article after article about all these great hot air balloon companies. But every single one had a small disclaimer at the bottom about how the balloon ride was sponsored. A hot air balloon ride is not cheap- they cost on average, 200 euros per person.
It’s easy to recommend something when you didn’t have to fork out 200 euros to do it.
What about those lists where they recommend things- “The Top 10 Things to Do in Dubai.” The blogger is likely going to pick a mix of non-promotion related things as well as stuff they have a deal to include (for their benefit not yours). Their high end spa recommendation at Jumeirah’s Talise Spa is there in exchange for the free massage they got but watching the sunset from Kite Beach is a genuine tip (the genuine ones are normally ones they didn’t have to pay too much for). Oh, they have recommended a tour that they took to the desert, but was it free? Did they pay? As I said, it’s easy to recommend something when you are not paying the 400AED that everyone else has to pay.
I do not personally think that sponsored trips or freebies on trips provide honest and helpful information to us, the readers of this content. Rather it just showcases travel in a shallow and airbrushed way that is of no real value to anyone. So this is one of many reasons why I don’t follow travel influencers.
Why I don’t trust lifestyle & restaurant influencers
In the early days of our relationship, I would send my partner- Expat Polar- ideas of where we should go on dates as recommended by prominent Dubai bloggers & influencers. He never seemed enthusiastic and one day he told me why. As someone working in the hospitality industry, he told me that they were constantly bombarded with requests to accommodate influencers. These influencers were being paid around 2000AED-5000AED per post just for mentioning that they ate at a certain restaurant, went to a certain cinema or had a great time doing whatever it is they were paid to do. He told me that the influencers themselves did nothing but take photos of themselves, sometimes not even eating the meal they were served but then going online and saying what a great time they had. As staff, they had advance notice of when these people were coming so they were also on their best behaviour at such a time. My sister and her friends- all working at a well-known 5 star hotel at the time- confirmed that this happened at their hotel as well. There was nothing honest about it- and it made sense to me. Because I would often go to places, taste lacklustre food and experience pathetic service but then wonder why a blogger would recommend it. From that day, I removed all Dubai-based bloggers and never followed any restaurant recommendation unless it was from a friend.
What about the company in the UAE that employs lifestyle influencers of different nationalities and ethnicities to be sent to various bars/nightclubs and other such establishments. Theses venues pay the company to send appropriate influencers to visit the venue and post about what a great time they’re having. The influencers then of course get a cut. Does it actually mean the place is good? No. Not at all! Are you starting to fully understand now why I don’t follow influencers?
I even know of people who actually act like they have sponsored deals and are working with brands even though they’re not just so that they can join such companies for freebies! They tag companies and stage these fake promotions because apparently it makes them seem like they’re in a position to be getting things for free, which helps build their brand or media kit. Allegedly that means they’re producing good content and they’re worthy of being offered promotions. Yet again, you’re being duped by dishonesty.
I have a family friend who works for a famous make-up artist & beauty influencer in South Africa. She says that their company receives boxes and boxes of products from cosmetic/ marketing companies willing them to promote their products. Sometimes in exchange for money, the influencer in question will promote some of those products. But are they actually used when they’re doing bridal or editorial make up? No. So half those make up reviews you’re actually seeing benefit the influencer (who is getting paid to promote the product) and the company (that is receiving exposure). You- as the consumer of this content- are being swindled into thinking this beauty blogger really values these products or uses them regularly. What a joke!
Lifestyle blogging is all about effortlessly monetizing your good taste and consumer choices, which means it can be near-impossible for regular people to tell if an influencer genuinely loves a product, is being paid to talk about it, or just wants to be paid to talk about it. It’s why I don’t follow influencers promoting anything at all.
As I write this, I am looking at a profile on Instagram- this person once won a competition that involved a lot of votes (helps to have a big family)- and now uses all the followers they gained from winning that competition into leveraging for sponsorship deals. I see their most recent post is an ad for healthy food company, followed by one for a skincare brand then followed by a photo of them drinking tea while promoting the tea company and then next one is for cereal… I mean come on. The person has over 8000 followers but their photos barely reach 100 likes. I find it tiresome when such influencers plead on their stories, “Please show my posts some love!” Nobody wants to love your posts. It’s like watching a TV channel with just ads. What’s engaging the audience? Nothing…
What about when I see travel & beauty influencers promoting things that have nothing to do with their brand… why are you promoting a donut company or a toilet cleaning brand? Then you’re confused as to why you’re losing followers… seriously?
It’s very apparent to me that influencers start out with a deal and then work that backwards into a post to make it seem like they found a great recommendation to share with their audience. It’s profoundly corrupt and is yet another reason why I don’t follow influencers.
My small and relatively unknown blog & Instagram account is continuously contacted for sponsorships deals and collaborations so I can only imagine what big influencers are getting pitched.
The most common thing I am offered is to partner up with a company that wants me to generate “Travel Blogging Courses” to can encourage you- the reader- to pay money so you can travel & blog about it “just like me”. Look this is garbage. I have never been on a travel blogging course and I don’t believe you need to pay anyone money to learn how to become a travel blogger.
You may notice when travel blogs give advice on travel insurance they will include a link. It’s usually to World Nomads. I used them once. I didn’t have to make any claims so I cannot comment on that aspect of their service. They are rarely the cheapest and I don’t know enough about travel insurance to recommend them as the best. Yet, others do. This is because they have a very good affiliate program- bloggers can make more commission recommending them than they can others. You are not being recommended this company based on their performance, but based on their commission rates. The bloggers ALWAYS put this commission link in a post where they give some legitimately solid travel tips and gained your trust. I no longer trust those people. You cannot claim that something is the BEST just because you are making money off the company… it isn’t honest. And no a disclaimer doesn’t make it more credible to me either.
Truthfully most things you’re recommend on blogs are almost always as a result of some affiliate link. All the big travel companies have one, from Skyscanner to Agoda. Read this link to see just how many companies bloggers earn money through. And unfortunately not everyone does what I do- which is recommend websites and companies that I use for no reason other than good service.
I’ve been approached to endorse insurance companies for a commission, as well as visa assistance sites. They commented that I always recommend using the official government websites to apply for evisas- why don’t I recommend their company instead and then I would make a percentage off anyone who had a visa processed through them? But why the bleeding hell would I recommend you- my dear reader- to pay someone extra money to apply for a simple evisa?
I’m not saying there aren’t bloggers, influencers and celebrities who aren’t doing it right. I personally know of people who push for brand collaborations so that they can pump the profits into charitable endeavours. I know of other bloggers who only accept sponsorships when free products benefit disadvantaged communities and use their platform to raise awareness about important issues. There may even be people who are recommending things because they genuinely like them; but the inauthenticity of the entire industry means that it’s a struggle to believe them.
As I keep saying, the vast majority of influencers, recommendations, partnerships, promotions and collaborations benefit no one except the person doing the promoting and the company being promoted.
If at any point, I felt that there was another party benefitting from these exchanges, I would offer support. But right now- if I see you advertising something in any way, shape or form I don’t offer a like, I swipe past your story, I unfollow you/your blog or I just mute you. Sorry but I don’t want any part of this.
You wouldn’t be interested in someone whose Instagram or blog bio reads, “I charge money to promote products on my platform. Or in exchange of a free experience, I will recommend your company.” And yet people consistently take advice from people who do exactly that. I just don’t get it.
Always think: what part of the YouTube video you were watching has been paid to be included?
As I always say, you do you boo and I’ll just keep being me. And part of that is outlining to you why I don’t follow influencers and don’t subscribe to the ideals & lifestyle they promote. I don’t believe that I need to pack a ballgown when I go on a trip. I don’t believe that I have to fit a certain aesthetic ideal in order to be considered beautiful. I don’t believe that I need to earn money from the things that bring me joy. I don’t believe that the things these influencers & bloggers advocate actually benefits the people they aim their content at. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Note: Company names and people’s names have been omitted to protect my sources. To read more about the Federal Trade Commission’s policies click here. To access disclosure guidelines by the Advertising Standards Authority, click here. Both are relevant and helpful if you use your platforms to generate money, no matter which country you live in.
If you want to read about how being a blogger impacts on my travels, click here.
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