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Opinion

The Ethics Behind Influencer Gifting

When influencer marketing first came to the attention of brands, gifting influencers’ products and services in return for promotion was a go-to, sure fire way of driving brand awareness and sales. But now brands understand the true success of influencer marketing, and the industry is worth billions of dollars, can influencer gifting still be considered a valid form of payment for an influencer's time and services?

It’s important to discuss whether brands and businesses have the right to call out an influencer if they send the influencer something, and they then do not promote it on their social media. And following this, if an influencer is required to or expected to promote a gifted product without trying, or truly enjoying it, then the content would be lacking authenticity – something that consumers appreciate now more than ever.

Neve Fear-Smith chatted to some influencer marketing experts to explore their thoughts on the ethics behind influencer gifting. 

Is influencer gifting ever adequate as a form of payment for an influencer’s work?

Emilio Arciniega, Co-Founder of Outreach Agency, says: For smaller businesses with smaller budgets, spending large amounts on an influencer campaign is not feasible. For these businesses, I wouldn’t think of gifting as a form of payment, because there’s ultimately no monetary value or use for the content creator, but rather a good starting point to a partnership between a brand and a content creator.” 

Emilio continues to say how you can’t ever guarantee content coverage in exchange for promotion. The only way for a brand to ensure that their product service is covered on the creator’s social platforms is via contractual agreement, which is often remunerated financially. Gifting relationships with an influencer present as a good approach to trial whether a partnership works from both sides, before committing a budget. 

Holly Morran, Marketing Manager (UK) at Cure Media believes that gifting as a form of payment should be assessed on a case-to-case basis. She says: “At the end of the day, if a brand can afford to compensate influencers financially then they should; being an influencer is an incredibly demanding job (full-time or otherwise) and, perhaps unfortunately, gifts don’t pay bills.”

Although gifts don’t pay bills, Holly believes that if influencers genuinely want to share helpful product or service recommendations with their audience, sharing gifted items is often the kind of content that draws followers to them in the first place. 

She says: “If you have an offering that you genuinely believe would improve an influencer’s life in some way and you’ve done the legwork prior to build a relationship with that influencer (engaging with their content, doing your part to ensure they get picked up by social algorithms) then there’s no harm in offering to send them a sample or promotional gift.”

Holly concludes by saying that if a brand gifts a product or service to an influencer freely, then this should be done without the expectation that it entitles them to a post or recommendation. 

If a brand is gifting an item, but not paying the influencer to produce content, does the influencer still owe the brand promotion?

In Emilio’s opinion, speaking from the talent side, influencers do not owe a brand promotion if they are not being paid, stating how in no other area of marketing could a brand receive brand awareness and conversions without paying a fee.

He says: “We always advise our talent that if they choose to promote the brand because they truly enjoy their products/services then that’s a really good way for both parties to start a positive relationship but that they shouldn’t feel obliged.”

As for whether or not a brand owns the content that features a product or service they have gifted the influencer in question, Holly believes that in short, the answer is no. She says: “The reasoning is inherent in the term itself – ‘gifting’. To gift is to give without any expectation or guarantee of return.”

While influencers may choose to feature a brand service or product in their content as a mark of gratitude, or if they think it will resonate with their audience, unless a contract has been agreed stating that the gift will serve in lieu of payment, then the content remains the property of the influencer who created it. 

There is no firm answer as to whether gifting an influencer expecting content in return is right or wrong. As Holly said, whether an influencer decides to make content in relation to a gifted product or service should be assessed on a case-to-case basis. And now that influencer marketing is such a huge industry, brands who do not already have an influencer marketing budget, but feel they would benefit from influencer marketing, may consider exploring a sustainable and effective influencer marketing strategy.

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