How to be an ethical influencer

Every time I see ‘influencer’ in an article title, I instantly feel shame. What have they done now? And admittedly, we feel delighted bashing influencers for being dumb and attention-seeking losers. But that’s because they can do better. Or actually, I should say: we can do better.

Yeah yeah, I am an influencer. It took a long time to be able to say that. Not because there is a specific standard before you can say you’re an influencer; I just really did not like the label. How am I an influencer? Well, this blog is an example of that.

Influencers are people that post content and information about certain topics. Usually, those topics are things they care about. So whether that’s cars, make-up, or even just philosophical ideas, they post and try to get those topics into conversations.

In a way, we all are influencers. We just don’t all monetize. I sure as hell monetize it too little. (pls send 💸)

But trying to spark conversations about topics is not an issue. If anything, it’s what we need more and more off.

The world’s problem with influencers is how they spark conversations, what the conversations are about, and their honesty.

As well as the often nonexisting research.

There have been plenty of articles and video’s about dumb influencers. However, the one that sparked this article was the video below. I am sorry for people that don’t understand Dutch. For them, I will shortly describe the story.

Boos (meaning ‘Angry’) is a YouTube show that asks people about the things they are angry about and tries to find a solution. Usually with a good dose of humor.

In this video, the issue was ‘influencers.’ As the creator is an influencer himself, it was, of course, specified to influencers that aren’t ethical.

The makers of the show tried a little experiment. Following the news that 6500 people died, making the World Cup 2022 in Qatar possible, they decided to do an influencer campaign. Move those 6500 deads aside and bring the focus back to the football.

Something you would not react positively to, right?

Well, it was surprising how little shame the influencers had. But, of course, they wanted a sponsored trip to the World Cup to talk about football and actively avoid talking about the 6500 that died.

When the makers of the program told them it was an experiment, all claims were retracted.

But this entire video sparked something with me. Influencing is not bad. Some of the best things happened because of “influencers.” However, we didn’t call them that back then.

So the question comes: How can you be an influencer and still be ethical.

What are influencers

Okay, let’s recap what influencers are again—basically, anyone who tries to influence others into doing, thinking, or buying something.

In this case, I will focus on people influencing a large group of people. Let’s say at least 1000 people. This rules out the kids trying to get their mother to buy candy. But includes the company trying to get kids to try and get their mothers to buy them candy.

A list of influencers:

  • Instagrammers with +1000 followers
  • Any social media user really
  • Bloggers with +1000 readers/ year
  • Politicians
  • Writers and authors
  • Journalists
  • Media
  • Companies doing content marketing and advertising

How to be ethical as an influencer

The easy thing to say it: be critical to what you promote and publish.

But that would be intellectual laziness of me. So I will list a couple of questions you can use every time a product, trip, or deal pops into your inbox.

Create a set of rules for yourself

Googling ‘how to be an ethical influencer’ gives you a couple of lists by other influencers about being an ethical influencer. Those rules are theirs. They don’t necessarily apply to you. But you can use them as inspiration.

Create your own set of rules for yourself. Some inspiration for you to use:

  • Only post/talk about eco-friendly products
  • Only post/talk about slavery-free products (this should be standard, though)
  • Only post/talk about animal-cruelty-free products
  • Only post/talk about products you would actually use yourself
  • Only post/talk about products and services you would use regularly
  • Only post/talk about products you would buy yourself
  • Only post/talk about products and services after researching them
  • Only post/talk about products and services from ethical brands
  • Only post/talk about ideas and avoid consumerism
  • Only post/talk about products in a complete way
  • Only post/talk about products and services that are inclusive
  • Only post/talk about things that actually offer a solution
  • Only post/talk about destinations that are inclusive for everyone
  • Only post/talk about destinations that are accessible without too much carbon emission
  • Only post/talk about ethical brands too
  • Only post/talk about products made from sustainable materials

The list can be endless. These will be the standard you will keep yourself to. You can even publish them on your influencing channel. So other people can help you to keep to them.

Be honest about the product, service or destination

As an influencer, you get offered, depending on your niche, many products, services, or destinations. Unfortunately, depending on the frequency, there is bound to be one that doesn’t meet your standards.

How you talk about that is key. You can choose not to promote it. You can choose to promote still that destination or product but with your honest opinion. What could have been better? What did you feel was missing or disappointing?

If a brand doesn’t allow you to be honest and even critical, well, that should be a red flag!

Be honest about the transaction you had with the brand

Obviously, “the brand pays well” is not something you would put in the review of a beauty product. Though, it should be clear why you are reviewing that product.

In most countries, that’s even legally required. Adding a specific hashtag (like #sponsored) or posting a disclaimer is a must.

You can do this in various ways. For example, travel bloggers often start their articles with ‘together with brand X I went to …’. Or You can place a disclaimer at the bottom of the article: “Brand X sponsored this article.”

Ask the brands you work with what they do to *insert your own rules*

When a brand approaches you, you can always ask for more information. Not only will it help you decide to work with the brand or not, but it will also give you more information and arguments when actually doing the influencing job.

Getting a beauty product, for example, it can be good to ask the brand how they have tested the products, where it’s fabricated, what resources go into it, …

The information to those questions can be precious. So you either decide the answers aren’t up to your standard and don’t accept the collaboration. Or, in case the answers are up to your standards, you have a lot of valuable information you can pass on to your followers.

Be in the conversation

As it’s often your goal to spark conversation, it’s only natural to be in it yourself. Reply to potential questions that come up, listen to the stories of other people too. If you want to start conversations, you also have to be part of it. Listening is the most underrated tool, be sure to make use of it.

What extra tips would you like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

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