Late night scrolls through my Instagram DM’s and I’m being bombarded by swimwear companies asking me to promote their products in exchange for a discount at their store. Seriously? Is this really how low we’re going? I post about women in male dominated worlds, just how will posting a picture of me in a bikini benefit and empower my followers. I haven’t even mentioned that I’m three months post-pregnancy and my body is currently as far away from beach ready as it’ll ever be! Saggy arse in a G-string bikini is a sure way for me to lose all of my 8k+ followers. Why don’t some brands get it?
As a new brand owner and small time influencer (I’m even cringing saying those words), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the world of brand deals and influencer marketing. In a time where influencers can make or break brands, it’s hard as a new-business owner not to follow suit. It is certainly difficult to ignore the opportunity to promote your company by sending out a load of free stuff to anyone with an engaged audience. But having been on the other side of the fence, it’s all beginning to feel a little dirty.
As someone who managed to gain a moderate social media following in the niche market of women in construction – using platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Facebook – I’ve been contacted many times over the years by brands offering free stuff in return for shout-outs and promotions. I’m a relatively new micro influencer and was over the moon. Who doesn’t like free stuff? I felt like kind of a big deal! I mean I’m clearly important enough that brands want to work with me, right? It’s a massive ego boost.
That being said, after a few posts with me wearing my new “favourite shiny high vis/boots”, I kind of felt like I’d sold out. For one, I wouldn’t necessarily buy these products from those companies, in the first place and second, I had a sneaky suspicion that some of the larger brands were taking advantage of the emerging “women in construction movement”.
I should have trusted my gut. As my online presence grew, I was asked to attend public speaking events – all of which I was more than happy to do. After all, the more women I could help by sharing my story the better! But what about the companies behind the events? I was often told we don’t have a budget to pay you or in some cases offer expenses, but it would be good for your own exposure. Hmm… you have thousands of pounds from brand sponsors not forgetting the huge ticket price for the event and yet, you can’t even cover expenses never mind a speaker’s fees. Yeah good one!
After chatting to a Marketing and PR buddy, I was told that I needed to start calling these brands out and push for compensation for my time and effort when producing content for them. So I did, tentatively and constantly questioning my own value. Not wanting to upset any one I pushed back and asked for a small fee in exchange for content. What was the response? Well, the same old bullshit! “We would love to support you it’s just we don’t have a budget at the moment”. I would explain exactly how much time and effort has gone into not only growing my community, but also the resources and time put into video production and how that all adds up. I’d even go further to explain that the majority of money made from working with brands is spent creating more valuable content such as podcast episodes for my own community. It certainly wasn’t used to fill my back pocket or even pay my own bills (not that this is any of their business anyway). Again… “We are sorry, we just don’t have the budget but if you’d like to do a free video for us, we can see how it goes and if we like it we can see if we can free up some budget”. Ha! Surely this is a joke? Nope and this was from one of the leading kit manufacturers in the construction industry, who are definitely not short of a dime or two.
And so, my final email to them would read something like this:
“ on reflection, in light of the time this will take to create the content and having liaised with a social media agency to understand my channel’s / my own influence, I just feel that a fee is something I require for this. I hope you can appreciate, although I have a passion for this topic and I’m very much looking to grow my brand – part of that is working in a professional capacity and working for free just doesn’t align with my messaging of empowering women to be their own bosses and assert themselves in the workplace.”
That’ll hit them hard! The irony. A brand who is supposedly all about supporting women, yet want to do this whilst exploiting our time and creative efforts? Dead end!
Needless to say I wasn’t totally shocked to see they have found some other, obviously younger, and maybe more naïve, influencer to promote their products.
This was frustrating. However, after reaching out to my own followers, some of them influencers themselves, I was surprised to hear their experiences and thoughts. Many said they felt pressured to take free goods. Some felt bad turning down opportunities. Others were being pestered for free content in terms of wonderful blog posts in exchange for, you guessed it, nothing! These women have normal jobs and a busy work life, yet people want them to spend their free time writing content for “exposure in return”. Come on! Here are just a few comments I received:
“ It’s not the free stuff that’s bad, it’s the selling of lies for. Free stuff the make it iffy”
“I felt super guilty in the past turning down brands, or felt like I’m not “playing the instagram game” properly”
“I’ve definitely felt pressured to accept free goods, then when they have arrived I’ve been pestered to produce and post comments that were not even my own thoughts or reviews”
“One company asked me for a video to promote their brand and said they don’t pay influencers, however the value of the items they gave me for free we well below the value of time I put in to produce the content. Disappointingly they were a global brand working with an agency. I am pretty sure they were paying the agency, and I did all the work. Never again!”
“I think brands have a way of making you feel special when they contact you, but on reflection I’ve felt used in the past and in turn I think I’ve let my community of followers down for pushing a product I didn’t really believe in”
Don’t get me wrong it’s common for brands to send free stuff in exchange for photos or a promo boost. However, brands that send items and then pressure women to promote their products tirelessly is out of order. These are the very brands who have neglected women in the workplace for the last 20+ years and now, all of a sudden, they are producing women’s items.
I have though worked alongside some wonderful brands. Brands that know how to do it the right way. They know how to support women and more importantly are happy to pay for valued content. Others send freebies – but items they know will be useful – in return they don’t ask for anything (9 times out of 10) and if the product is good, they know I will inform my followers.
So, as I navigate this world with my own brand, I hope to follow in the footsteps of some of the very few valued brands I’ve worked with over the years. Those who truly see our value and want to help support and inspire women.
In my opinion, here are some of the brands who do it the right way: Dovetail, Bosch, Sir Robert MacAlpine, Herbal Essence, Michael Paige and springpod
As for my own journey, I’ll not be navigating the world of influencers just yet. Instead I would love for women to share any useful content that ‘She who dares wins’ makes that might help others. If women want to purchase an item from our shop because they like our message and ethos or even just our product – great!! Maybe they’ll even post about it? But will they be asked to post or be pestered to post – definitely not! By not giving away free stuff, we are able to push much needed revenue back into producing free content for our valued community.
She who dares wins.
For anyone trying to navigate the world of the “influencer”, I’ve put together a FREE GUIDE for you to download, with insider tips based on my own experience. Download here.