Last week, I had the privilege of sharing the stage with some pretty fucking incredible women [Alyssa Kerbel (Mini Mioche Founder); Tamar Huggins (Tech Spark Founder + Executive Director); and Kim Smiley (Philanthropist + Fashion Designer)] at the #MOMBOSS event put on by Moms TO at Shopify HQ – right here in the heart of my dear, sweet Toronto.
The focus of my talk was integrity in influencer culture, or as I like to say, how to not be a shitty influencer. Here’s the gist of it (a.k.a. my actual speaking notes) for those who couldn’t attend.
For the record – I hate the term “mom-blogger”.
I equally hate the term “influencer”.
Neither bring to mind the image of someone with any real substance – any real INTEGRITY.
That’s what I’d like to talk to you about today: INTEGRITY IN INFLUENCER CULTURE.
- Does it exist?
- Can it exist?
- What does it look like?
Hands up if you run a business that uses Facebook as an advertising platform.
Well then you’re probably very much aware of their recent algorithm change. (2% of page’s followers now see page posts, which is generally NOT enough eyeballs to get the any piece of content out and running. The only way to get people to even see what you create – much less CLICK on it – is to pay.)
You should know that the thought of buying followers makes me want to die. It brings up all those icky feelings again – those icky, bought followers – those icky, cheesy photo-shoots.
But alas, a few weeks ago, the most recent algorithm change finally caught up to us and for the first time, against every fibre of my being, we paid for people to see our work.
When we first started The Rebel Mama, we prided ourselves on our 100% organic following. It’s how we proved our integrity to ourselves (and potential partners). But influencer culture has a rapidly changing landscape and this is just one example of that.
An organic following is no longer possible, so it is no longer a bench-mark for “INTEGRITY” in Influencer culture.
O.K., so what is?
Integrity (online specifically) probably looks slightly different to everybody, but here’s what it has looked like for us since day one:
Sometime back in 2016, Aleks and I got together, sat down, and made a plan to let our moral compass guide us in every decision we made pertaining to our brand.
Our values would inform everything from the type of content we’d create, to the brands we’d collaborate with, and the people we’d hire to work with us.
Was it a solid financial move? Well, not at first.
Two years in, we’d built a following and arrived at a point where we could start to leverage our voice for cash… IF we worked with every brand that came knocking. But we knew we couldn’t do that while maintaining our own brand integrity. So we said “no” to almost every collaboration request for a solid year to follow. In that time, we just kept pumping out content without compensation, until it finally caught the attention of the brands WE wanted to work with.
We ended up having to keep our day jobs for longer than we would have liked because of it; we burned the midnight oil and made time to nurture the business somewhere amidst raising babies and working to maintain an income outside of it all.
BUT in the mix there were some small-scale companies that aligned with our values who wanted to collaborate and we jumped at the opportunity. Most had no budget, but they’d give us product in exchange for an honest review or story on the site. If we believed in them, we did it.
Those posts would end up becoming our “sponsored content” portfolio that we used to pitch for the gigs we REALLY wanted and, well – the rest is history.
We were then and we are now extremely careful about the kinds of businesses we align with.
We are equally specific about the rhetoric we employ, the images we use and the messages we support across the board.
For us, what we put out into the weird, weird world that is internet, must be aligned with our brand, and our brand is 100% aligned with our moral compass.
I think that’s a pretty solid way to bring integrity intoinfluencer culture.
So if you’re thinking of blogging (barf – seriously what is it with that WORD?) as a career choice, then my suggestion is to allow yourself the time and grace to regroup and really consider your values. Decide on the kinds of messaging you’ll support and deside on the kinds you will NOT. The goal should be to elevate the conversation.
Build a following by creating interesting, engaging content (and don’t feel bad about allocating a budget to sponsor that content once it’s live!), and when you’ve got a following, serve them.
Once you’re at a point where you’re garnering the attention of potential brand partners, serve the people who got you there.
At that point, you owe that to them.
Work only with brands whose ideas your audience will genuinely stand to benefit from. Make sure they’re on the same page as you. Make sure their messaging is aligned and make sure their morals are in tact.
And when you start to land the contracts you REALLY WANT, recognize that in a sense, YOU’RE THE ADVERTISING EXEC. Let your moral compass guide you in that position. Think of the kinds of rhetoric you want to be putting out. Recognize that you have the power to influence the messaging and recognize the responsibility to use that opportunity to push the messaging that means something to you.
In sum, QUALITY TRUMPS QUANTITY – Every. Single. Time. Build your brand on the partnerships you refuse. Hold tight to your values and don’t compromise your taste for short term / shortsighted gain. It may take a bit longer, but the payoff in the end will be worth the wait.
Photos by Simon Colyer via MomsTO