Free Is A Very Good Price…but at what cost?

Recently, I participated in a conversation about the support that content creators need from brands and agencies to create good quality content and what motivates us for content creation in general.

While a lot of us said things like, “We would love to see you reposting, liking, and commenting on our content. Providing engagement costs next to nothing and takes a fraction of your time.” and, “Provide us with technical resources that we can use to effectively promote the product.” There was one topic mentioned that hit a nerve.

“Free product really motivates me!”

*head, meet desk*. As a content creator…influencer…digital storyteller…social media darling…whatever you choose your title to be, authenticity is key to connecting with your audience. Being motivated solely by receiving free product eventually takes away from the authenticity factor. Look at the drama surrounding the “beauty gurus” like Mikayla Nogueria and Jeffree Star on social media. Mascaragate, the latest kerfuffle, exposed how sponsored content works…and the inherent flaws that lie within. It’s also busted the door wide open on the authenticity factor. How authentic are these reviews if the reviewer is in a cycle of only posting about products they received as PR?

Have I gotten free products, trips, gadgets, etc. throughout the time that I’ve been doing this? Of course. But I can also tell you that my personal investment in products, ingredients, gadgets, trip expenses, etc. far exceeds the amount of promotional opportunities I’ve received or have been invited to. Paying out of pocket for my own products, travel, food, etc. is a way to keep me honest. If I’m using my own hard-earned money on a product or service, then it’s an indication that it’s worthy of me investing my time and money into it.

…and yes, sometimes my initial introduction to those products was through receiving it as a sample. If I go back and purchase the product, it means that I find the product suitable to my preferred level of quality. Or, it’s just so damn delicious that I know it needs to be a part of my collection.

What Can We Do?

As influencers/content creators, we need to remember that our audience is going to be seeking out these products. But, and this is a big but, we as content creators should also be buying these products when we need to restock, especially if we truly love the product. We should not rely on the brands we work with to stock our bars, refrigerators, etc. If we truly enjoy a product, then we need to put our money where our mouth is.

By spending our own money, we are investing into the brands that took a risk on us. We are also helping our own credibility because we are using products we purchased.

How Can We Stay Authentic?

If we are using products from previous campaigns that we absolutely love, we can use Ina Garten’s, aka the “Barefoot Contessa”, approach of using neutral language.

Using phrases like, “good quality (product category)” instead of mentioning a specific product, or, “Use what you have,” or “Get (the item) that best fits your budget.” By using neutral language, our audience won’t feel obligated to purchase something that may be out of their budget.

Going Forward

How am I going to keep myself authentic? Well, the Federal Trade Commission has a well-defined set of rules for those of us who get product in exchange for reviews.

Disclaimers have always been used here on this site when I’m using something sent to me for review. My disclaimers will always be at either the very beginning or the very end of my posts. If I receive some form of compensation beyond a complimentary item, including commissions from affiliate programs, those will also be included in the disclosure. Most, if not all, campaigns require this when we agree to participate.

When I’m posting on social media, I will include the “paid partnership” or “sponsored” tags in clear manner, and not bury it in the caption. Again, this is often a required step when we agree to promote products.

When I’m using products from campaigns I’ve been a part of, but have repurchased for my own use, I will try my best to use neutral language when describing the product. Any products shown will have generic labels like, “Really Good (product)”. These kinds of posts will also not contain any affiliate links, nor will they mention any specific retail establishments (whether it be brick and mortar or online) where the product can be purchased. That being said, if you’d like specific product recommendations, you can always reach out to me via email or Direct Message.

I would be amiss if I don’t include this important side note/general disclaimer: My real-world job is with a very large hotel management company. As a benefit of my employment, I receive discounted hotel rooms at not only properties within my brand via our franchise agreement, but also other hotel brand properties operated by the management company I work for. If I create a post where I mention I stayed at a hotel and I’m affiliated with them somehow, I will use a disclosure similar to, “My stay was discounted due to me being an employee of this properties management company or as a benefit of a brand franchise agreement.” This kind of disclosure isn’t required by the FTC, but it’s morally right.

By committing myself to doing this, I’m staying authentic to myself, and to you…my audience.


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