Skip to content

Never work for free

Ada Slivinski: Brands asking ‘influencers’ to work for free devalues their worth.
May or may not be compensated.

The byproduct of the success of influencer marketing is that it has created many “content creators” looking for their big break.

They are neither trained photographers nor professional models, but have a keen eye for “Instagrammable” locations. They will spend their own time and money to get there, set up the photo, and come up with a clever and relatable caption that will keep the likes rolling in.

They are also a group that some brand marketing teams are taking advantage of, because in their quest to be instafamous, they will work for free. Outdoor brands like Boost Oxygen, CreekKooler and Renogy all have “influencer programs,” where those selected receive discounts on products in exchange for shooting and posting near-professional quality photos on their accounts – which they’ve worked to build targeted followings on.

Clothing brands and swimwear companies like Zarnea, Zahara, and Tulum, have similar programs. You have to purchase their products to become an influencer. Yes, you get a discount and discount code to share with all your loyal followers, but you are still paying to work for these brands; not just the cost of product, but travel and potentially photography as well.

From a business perspective, getting influencers to buy your products so they can take photos and advertise them for you makes obvious sense from a cost-savings perspective. But for the young people buying into the promise of the influencer lifestyle, it’s a slippery slope. For professional models and photographers, who make a living off brand shoots, it’s insulting.

Professional street-style photographers started using the #NoFreePhotos hashtag years ago to protest influencers using their photos without pay or permission on their own social media accounts.

Influencers and (especially) micro-influencers have immense value for brands. Their following is so niche, and it’s easy to see which kind of posts get engagement, what kind of things they’re interested in. Engaging with them in a meaningful and authentic way provides an opportunity to reach very targeted audiences for a fraction of the investment of old school advertising.

One old school value does remain true: the best work and the best outcomes come when you show people that you know and appreciate their worth.

In that respect, asking young aspiring models to buy swimsuits at a discount so they can spend hours shooting photos of themselves wearing them hoping to get a repost, doesn’t go very far. When brands are increasingly bragging about their values and social responsibility, they should examine the way they work with influencers how those two things align.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]