When is a gift not really a gift? When it’s given to a blogger or Instagrammer by a hopeful brand. It’s where influencer marketing begins, and the issue of whether or not it is the right kind of work for me has been playing on my mind. So I’m going to bash out my thoughts on the issue here, as this blog is my space for that kind of thing.
Gifting; the practice of brands sending free items to journalists and influencers in the hope that they will share with their readership how splendidly excellent they are.
And my (very limited) experience with gifting so far
Almost as soon as I launched my website and Instagram I began to receive the odd email or DM offering to send me free goods (free-ish, see my definition above).
Mostly, these messages have been very impersonal and honestly, not remotely tempting. Either the product is not something that I would buy in a million years, or it would look totally random placed within my content (low fat cake, gig tickets?). It seems that lots of brands will send out blanket emails to hundreds of bloggers to see what uptake they get. Not very targeted marketing.
So far so boring, and no disturbance to my moral compass. But in the past month or so I received two offers that made me think, yes, actually, I wouldn’t mind that. If I’m going to try advertising as an income stream, then these are things that I don’t feel icky about sharing.
I asked both brands upfront what they expected in return for the gift, both said ‘nothing’. So I accepted the offers. And then the parcels sat untouched in my office for weeks….
Why hold back?
I think that my main concern has been around how gifted content might be received by my followers. They are moderate in number, but huge in value, and I’d happily go out for a drink with most of them. Would this damage the trust we’ve built up?
Incorporating advertising content into a creative Instagram feed is a delicate business. There are only a handful of people who I think manage to do it really artfully. Dominique Davis @allthatisshe stands out as someone who handles it perfectly and enjoys fantastic engagement on her sponsored content. Many other Instagrammers come in for (often unfair) criticism and eye-rolling from some of their followers. Why unfair? Anyone doing a brilliant job at content creating is working very hard. Advertising on their platform is one clear way that they can get paid for their time. It’s work, and we don’t criticise George Clooney for doing charming Nespresso TV ads, do we?
Gifting isn’t new in the age of influencer marketing either. It’s a practice that comes directly from the magazine and newspaper world, where journalists are sent products for review.
However, if the product is badly judged and lazily presented (we’ve all seen it) then criticism is justified, it’s just not what most of us come to Instagram for. And there is definitely a limit to the amount of sponsored content anyone’s followers will be prepared to tolerate.
So to #gift or not to #gift?
A chat this week with CJ Brough, who works with brands to create sponsored Instagram content, got me to relax a little. The gist of it was, this is no big deal, and it’s a chance to show what you can do. There’s no way to find out whether this work is a good fit for me if I don’t give it a try.
Super transparent transparency seems to be the only approach. A gift will be called a #gift. And any arrangement with a brand clearly explained. If I don’t like something I receive, I won’t feature it (unless it’s so truly dreadful that people need to be warned!).
Click to read a post by influencer management company One Roof Social on how gifted or sponsored (paid for in cash or with a product) should be declared in social media content. One sentence stands out “just be honest”. Can’t say fairer than that.