Photography by Tegan Smith for Topshop South Africa
I’ll never forget the day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, casually minding my own business, liking posts as I went by, looking for inspiration, and suddenly my entire feed was bombarded with pictures of Edgars denim, and a variety of influencers telling me about the new range and a competition – all at the exact same time (which reminds me, Instagram please #BringBackChronologicalOrder). That moment was, albeit, a few years ago, but it stuck with me because I realised that particularly in South Africa, something about the way we do influencer marketing just… wasn’t right.
I’ve always had an eye for noticing sponsored content. Maybe because I, myself, have published a paid for post or two, but I’ve always managed to be able to discern between an influencer’s everyday posting and a sponsored post. And I think what triggered me to write this post is that now, more than before, I noticed that a large portion of posts have to be sponsored in order to be posted at all. And for some reason, that bugged me.
I am by no means against influencers making money. The fact that we’ve reached a stage in the South African industry such that we have full-time bloggers and influencers who have no side hustle/job/aren’t students is incredibly inspiring to me! I want you to make money – hell, I want to make money too! But it also dawned on me that in order to make ends meat every month, they always have to have some campaign or sponsorship/partnership on deck. And I worry that this may have a negative impact on the authenticity – and trustworthiness – of their work.
But this is not something that is only a local problem – I see this more in the international bloggersphere and that’s why I’m worried about it. We fell in love with bloggers because they were people, just like us, who gave us advice, inspiration, tips, tricks and more – and in fact, this was the very appeal of influencer marketing. It was peer-to-peer/word of mouth marketing, something that by very definition, was authentic and trustworthy. But the more brands and agencies capitalised on it, the more they cannibalised it and turned it into another form of paid media – something consumers can tune out of if it doesn’t pique their interest. Bloggers used to be very accessible, but as their popularity increased and the appeal of them to brands increased, the upwards mobility of their marketing capacity made them relatively out of touch with the consumer base that started with them.
And then they stopped blogging altogether – they had a team posting things onto their website but truthfully, the real effort went into their Instagram pages. “People don’t read anymore,” they would argue. But in truth I feel like that’s because there was nothing valuable to read. If the whole blog post revolved around your outfit of the day, there was no reason to click-through when Instagram made it simpler, seeing as you could also tag the brands. People not reading became a cyclical cause and effect. But I believe that it isn’t too late to change this.
The point of this post wasn’t to shame bloggers and influencers who do campaigns and make money, but moreso, I wanted to discuss how we can balance business and blogging. I would love to see content that is organic; content that is shared because it is valuable, not only because it is sponsored. And if it is sponsored, I want more integration with the other content. I, like many other people, don’t mind a post being sponsored. But it’s the integration and authenticity that makes all the difference – people like Aqeelah Harron and Jackie Aina have managed to wonderfully integrate meaningful content and sponsored posts in a way that is still entertaining/informative and profitable. And importantly: sponsored content isn’t the only content they post – they still have their own ideas/series in the mix.
The future of blogging as a whole is at a very interesting crossroad. With the preference of Instagram for all content fields (beauty YouTubers, fashion and lifestyle bloggers and more) being prevalent, I truly feel like we should be working harder to strategise meaningful content on our blogs (and other platforms, too). That way, there’s a reason to click the links in our bios – there’s something to learn, think about, engage with, practice; there are experiences to share, holistic product reviews, real styling tips and shopping deals, places to travel to and tips on how to afford it – the list is endless. I think we need to sit back and do a bit more work on how to reintroduce value into our corners of the internet, and on the marketing side, I think brands need to let us, as well as invest in long term relationships. If you have a product or a service or a hotel, etc., let us strategise how we wish to convey it to our readers. Let us develop a working relationship. We know our audience best. Influencer marketing works because its peer-to-peer – so let us communicate with our peers. Do not try to make bloggers into celebrities – each influencer works based on their unique appeal to their demographic. Don’t give bloggers copy that makes it very clear that this isn’t how they do things – let them speak for themselves about a product, even if the outcome is that they don’t like it.
But these are only my 2c on the topic – how do you feel about the influencer economy?