We all like to read something a little polished and coo over that bag we could never afford, but it definitely feels like some are getting so caught up with being a 'certain type of blogger' that they're forgetting what the beauty of blogging was all about to start with. I've heard many stories over the last few months that shocked me to my very core, leaving a feeling of frustration and outrage that such things go on within an industry that prides itself on being so real. I personally love the rawness of someone talking about the bargains they found in TK Maxx, or a blogger admitting that they found an awesome copy for this season's Celine; I adore sites that talk openly and honestly about their rented apartment and the decorations they've picked up to cover the cracks in the walls, as much as those sites that make me wish I lived in a home curated by Pinterest. It's about variety and sharing your own passions online, not just about sharing what you think everyone wants to hear. Here are just a few of the things that are going on behind the scenes that most of us don't have a clue about...
1. Bloggers are buying their way to 'influence', believing the only way to get ahead is to pay a dude in India to create 10,000 new followers overnight. If they have 50, 70, 100k followers they must be worth working with right? With the growth in networks like Instagram providing an income source all on its own, it's no surprising that some are feeling the pressure to build their numbers in whichever way possible.
2. Bloggers are shopping online, styling an outfit and returning the goods to make it look like they're minted - but actually surviving on three pairs of jeans and a Primark clutch. (Although there's absolutely nothing wrong with that!) This is creativity at its best, but it's also providing readers with an unrealistic perception of your life - and how many shopping trips are socially acceptable before it's time to admit you have a problem.
3. Bloggers are buying beauty products from some of the most premium cosmetics companies (I'm talking YSL, Tom Ford, Chanel and Jo Malone) and labeling them as PR samples to make it look like they're endorsed by super special brands. If you're looking for new bloggers to work with, of course those that feature some of the most aspirational brands will be high on your list. But those 'samples' may not always be what they seem.
4. Bloggers are pretending that they get spotted in the street; yes, really. Essentially this is a way of proving their value and celebrity credentials, especially if they've bought their followers as per the point above. Now if you're talking to over a million people on YouTube every week I've no doubt you're going to bump into some fans, but when you're chatting to a few thousand bought Instagram followers then I highly doubt someone is going to spot you in H&M.
5. Bloggers are 'socially climbing' and using other bloggers to get ahead, befriending those with influence they can capitalise on. I've heard so many stories from heartbroken bloggers that have been dumped in an almighty fashion by those they genuinely thought were friends, only for their ex-buddy to move on to someone with more Instagram followers. Mean Girls at its worst.
6. Bloggers are outsourcing not only photography, but video editing and even their writing, in an effort to look as polished as possible when they don't have the skillset themselves. In theory I have no problem with this whatsoever - as long as it's clear to your readers or viewers. If you've got the cash to spend outsourcing work, then go for it. But when you try to pull the wool over peoples eyes to make you look like you're juggling a million tasks a day while ensuring everything is absolutely perfect, then we need to have a word.
7. Bloggers are just outright lying about their stats or manipulating them to provide a much more positive impression of their influence. I know sites that have spent an absolute fortune on Facebook and Google ads to direct traffic to their site, taken a screengrab and from thereon in state that that's their monthly readership. It's not; it's manipulation.
So with all this crazy stuff happening, what can we actually do about it? Unfortunately, not a lot. As readers it's incredibly hard to tell what's going on behind the scenes without becoming incredibly cynical (and that's not good for anybody.) However, it is quite easy to spot when an audience has been bought. There are lots of tools to spot fake Twitter followers, while it's relatively easy to identify Instagram fakes based on the percentage of followers to likes - and the profiles of those followers. (I'm pretty sure that Christmas lattes and pink lipsticks aren't massively popular within the male population of Asia.) Simialrly, if a blogger is claiming they're getting 500,000 uniques a month but only actually have one or two comments on a post, then it's pretty obvious someone is telling porkies. From a brand point of view, it's about doing a bit of digging and taking the time to get to know those that you want to work with; checking credentials, asking for proof of stats or case studies of previous collaborations is more than acceptable - don't be scared to do so if you have your doubts.
The bigger problem is that until things change in the industry, this is just going to keep on happening. So much value is placed on the numbers a blogger can offer, rather than the relevancy of their content and the engagement of their audience; until the love is shared about a little bit more and brands really start to understand the different ways in which you can work with influencers, young men and women are going to continue to feel the pressure and fake their way to the top. What's even more concerning is that a lot of PRs actually know this inflation and fakery happens, but they're happy to continue working with these bloggers because the brands are super pleased with the stats they can provide during their monthly reporting. Although this provides happy clients in the short term, in the long term is doesn't help anybody. I have really mixed feeling about all of these things that happen within an industry I'm so passionate about: on one hand I feel let down by my fellow bloggers, but on the other hand completely understand the pressure we're all under to provide bigger and bigger numbers.
There's no magic answer. There's no right or wrong. There's only individual accountability - and I personally prefer to keep it real, even when it lands me in trouble.
What do you think about this 'fake it til you make it' culture that's saturating the blogging world?