A fictional influencer
Influencer marketing has become an increasing trend in the past few years. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Ottawa-based influencers stress they only promote products they’d actually use

Influencer marketing has become an increasing trend in the past few years; it has emerged as a form of social media marketing that utilizes influencers and other content creators’ endorsements and product mentions. 

Influencers have a devoted social media following allowing companies to better target niche audiences. This sort of marketing is enabled by the trust that social influencers have built up with their following. 

A lifestyle blogger with 13,700 followers on Instagram, Anika Leung (@anikaleung) is a University of Ottawa alumni in biomedical science. She explained how followers can benefit when influencers take sponsorships.

“You get exposed to new products to try out, and you can message whoever is promoting it for more information which can be valuable to confirm product quality,” she said. 

She also noted, however, that “it can be misleading at times because sponsorships do not always lead to honest reviews due to its transactional nature.”

Consequently, it’s important for influencers to think about finding a balance between making money and not appearing like they are selling out.

Similarly, Nikita Cekay (@Nikitacekay on Instagram), a lifestyle and food blogger, remarked how she found sponsorships to be “very fake and annoying” before becoming involved with blogging. 

“When I finally got the opportunity to have [a sponsorship] for myself, I quickly figured out there’s only money to be made if the sponsorship makes any sense with your brand as an influencer [or] creator,” she said.

On the contrary, before becoming an influencer the lifestyle blogger Ella Akabzaa (@ellarhhhh on Instagram) “genuinely used to think that anything other influencers advertise are products they actually use.” 

But after getting requests from brands, she realized it was different. 

“Promoting products is more of a business than it is a genuine recommendation. Although sometimes these influencers genuinely use and endorse these products there is always a little incentive that keeps them going.”

To avoid blatant promotions, marketing experts suggest working with influencers who have genuine ties to their brand. Before entering an endorsement deal, the safest thing is to work with others who have used and enjoyed the product or service.

When asked, many Ottawa-based influencers emphasized the importance of promoting products that they would actually use.

“For most partnerships, I look at whether I believe in their products/business or not. I don’t like to advertise anything I don’t believe in, regardless of the potential monetary gain,” mentioned Anika Young-Stewart (@anika.ys), a lifestyle blogger with 10,100 followers on Instagram. 

“I also choose to support and promote brands that my audience would more likely be interested in. Since my followers are mostly younger women, I tend to lean towards their interests.”

Leung added that she reviews products when moving forward with possible collaborations.  

“I usually like to have a look at their product/service first. This is usually to see whether I can promote it genuinely, rather than simply working with a brand just for free merch or a small payout,” she said. 

“I do especially love working with small businesses because I find it really exciting when someone has found a passion in creating something and has pushed themselves to become an entrepreneur!”

Before entering a collaboration, it is the responsibility of the influencer to consider how the product or promotion can impact their audience, especially the young and vulnerable. Mindful influencers appreciate that they have a moral duty to their followers, who are the people who have made them influential in the first place.

To that point, Young-Stewart emphasized how large a role social media plays in the influencer community’s confidence.

“We live in a generation where social media is all people spend their time on and standards are constantly being thrown in our face,” she said. 

“We attach a lot more importance to our image now and because of this, companies and influencers who only care about money really, take advantage of your insecurities.” 

Ultimately, it comes down to the influencer to question the moral and ethical implication of sponsorship: are we doing the right thing in the right way for the right reasons? 

“It depends on how money hungry they are and how strong their ethics and moral values are,” said another U of O alumni and lifestyle blogger, Mina Trandafilovski (@minatchka on Instagram).

“I think it’s really morality and judgment that comes into play and it just shows what kind of person you are. Where do you draw a line between personal morals and values and a paycheck?”

Akabzaa explained the conflict she had to face between morals and monetary gains when first starting out as an influencer. 

“I’m Christian so my morals and values are different from a lot of people with regards to nudity. I do not believe in showing skin to sell a product. When I was starting out as an influencer, I always used to get offers from bikini companies. It was very frustrating to turn them down because I genuinely needed the experience and exposure. I started reconsidering my values but in the end, I’m glad I didn’t.”

In the past, influencers have been criticized for promoting harmful products such as diet pills and detox teas on social media due to the lack of scientific credibility.

Young-Stewart agreed with the critics. 

“I get upset with influencers who’ve had cosmetic surgery who promote those flat tummy teas for weight loss or detox,” she said. “They know it can be harmful or ineffective but they’re getting paid and that’s enough for them. It’s selfish and false advertisement.”

Other influencers had personal experiences with companies pushing for them to sponsor their harmful products. Leung talked about the time she got contacted by a large ‘health’ company to promote a tea to help lose weight. 

“In exchange for a product, they wanted me to post a before and after using the tea, where they would repost. This exchange seemed reasonable because a repost would generate a lot of exposure; they have worked with the Kardashian’s for example,” she said. 

“However, they insisted I pose as bloated in the before picture, which would make it appear as though I lost weight. I declined. I personally can’t support disingenuous posts like that because it contributes to the unhealthy aspect of social media.” 

“I think it’s really irresponsible to promote something that in itself, isn’t a healthy way of accomplishing what it states to help with, even if you can make good money from promoting it.”