The Dark Side Of Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing. Almost entirely unheard of five-ish years ago.

I first dabbled in Influencer Marketing last year when one of my clients published a book and asked me to make of list of influencers that it could be suitable to send to. I already knew of a few that it would be a good match for and got in touch.

influencer marketing small business freelance

As we were unable to pay the influencers to post I made sure to include in the email that while a post about the book would be appreciated, they were under no obligation to do so. I got around 10 interested replies and two of them featured the book on their instagram stories.

That’s not bad going at all for a first timer at Influencer Marketing.

More recently though, I got to experience the darker side of Influencer Marketing. That is, a wannabe influencer that’s had maybe 15 minutes of fame and wants to get their hands on as much free stuff as possible. Posting about all this free stuff and buying fake followers makes them appear more influential than they actually are. I mean, to an outsider, if someone is repeatedly posting about #gift ‘s all the time and has hundreds of thousands of followers then that means they’re good right? Nope.
I have previously worked in an industry where you’ll always be asked to work for free in return for ‘exposure’. You’re made to feel as though its a privilege to be considered. Some people are easily led/intimidated by brand names/’celebrities’ that they don’t stop to check if they’re actually getting ripped off. I can now smell a time waster a mile off. I also have almost a Big Sister instinct when someone I know is approached for freebies and the perpetrator is potentially hoping to exploit any naivety.
So recently - and obviously not naming names - a Z-list reality TV star with 250k+ followers followed my client on Instagram. My client asked me to see if they’d be interested in a copy of her book as a gift. If they liked it, maybe they’d post about it but, again, there was obligation to and I didn’t mention anything about posting about it in the email.
The manager ( using an @gmail.com email) immediately came back and asked if my client could provide a one-to-one session of significantly higher value (approx £150) in return for an Instagram post. 
That just didn’t smell right for me. My clients industry is very niche and they had never posted about this kind of thing previously. This suggested to me that they weren’t very particular about what they promoted or that their followers were maybe…*whispers..fake? I doubted there would be any return on anything they posted.

From what I know about being an influencer from following a few is that it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to build your audience. Any off-track content/ promotion can cost you engaged followers. For example, if you have an instagram account dedicated to motorcycles and you make a random post about a book about veganism or something your followers are going to think ‘I never followed you for that, bye’ or ‘I don’t like being sold to', bye’. Real followers are fickle, you have to know what they want.

Anyway, so my client decided to give it a go. I immediately researched a contract. I wanted to ensure my client got her money’s worth, she was losing £150 for this session, It had to be worth her while.

The key terms of the contract I took extra care to include was:
“ in the event *influencer* does not post about *121 session* by *this date* the full amount of £150 will be chargeable ‘ and was non-negotiable.

I’m so glad I listen to my gut because what followed was the most entitlement-drenched email I have ever read. It was almost like they were so used to be fawned over that someone that comes back and challenges them is actually a shock.


🗯‘’...doing this out of the goodness of her heart to help you guys...’’ - ummm no, we did not ask you to help us. my client was doing great before and will continue to do so.
🗯‘...we charge more than £150 per post, I’ve never had such issues with a gift before...’ - gift? we are not now talking about a gift. You came back asking for an exchange of services, this higher value 121 session is not a gift.
It was almost like my client should be grateful to be providing this session to this superstar.


After talking it through with my client she decided not to go ahead with the exchange. Her audience and their audience were completely different and is not her ideal customer. The manager came back to agree with the decision and reiterate that they charge more than £150 per post and that they would ‘find another one’ (!?). I gathered she meant another specialist in this niche industry that’s willing to be ripped off

What I have learned from this -

🔸
🔸 There are wannabe influencers out there that get 15 mins of fame then try to milk the hell out of it. They try to get as much free stuff as possible so it looks like they’re more influential than they actually are
🔸So what if they’ve got 100k’s of followers? It doesn’t mean they’ll be interested in what your business is.

🔸 Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not. This won’t be the only opportunity and you won’t lose anything by saying no.

This was an incredible learning opportunity for my client and myself. The way I will approach this in future when approached to provide services/products for free is to ask them to pitch how providing them with a high value freebie will benefit my client.


Don’t get me wrong, I know there are legitimate influencers out there that are working incredibly to build their audiences to eventually make a decent living from it. Recent ASA changes will go some way to ensure the transparency of influencer marketing, but we still have a very ling way to go.

Any legitimate influencers that approach businesses for free stuff, collaborations and stuff will understand and accept that you need to ensure you receive value in lieu of payment. Otherwise whats the point?

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Any that have problem with that 👋🏼👋🏼👋🏼#ByeFelicia