So you’ve read my post on how to start working with brands as a small content creator. Perhaps you’ve even started receiving PR. Maybe you landed your first sponsored campaign! But as you go further into the world of brand work & content creation, you’ll uncover the uglier side of social media freelancing: brands sometimes treat influencers quite poorly. How should you handle this bad behavior? This post will cover 9 common violations of brand etiquette, and how to handle them.
Having content requirements for gifted collaborations.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves! It is perfectly acceptable for brands to not want to spend money on influencer marketing; It is also perfectly acceptable for influencers to accept PR in exchange for a social media post/feedback. The issue arises when brands gift product yet expect to set content requirements in return. If you are not offering me a sponsored campaign, you do not get to dictate how I shoot the product or what content I create.
If a brand sends me a gifted campaign with content requirements, I respond asking for their budget for this activation. Sometimes they respond that there is none. Then I tell them I cannot agree to any content requirements without compensation. If they’re still interested in sending the product with no obligation to post, then we can discuss further.
When gifting product, being pushy & asking when we will post.
Another issue that often arises with gifted campaigns is brands getting pushy about seeing a post. I personally never agree to a deadline for PR, because I want to work it into my content schedule naturally. I don’t like feeling pressured by brands. If they do pressure me, I lose any inclination to post about their products. It’s fine to follow up and ask for feedback, but don’t harass us about posting.
If a brand gets pushy with me, I respond with a screenshot of the terms we agreed to (where I’ve explicitly stated the product is being received with no obligation to post). I also remind them that I will post about it if it works in my content schedule.
Leaving us on read when we pitch.
I understand that brands can’t send product to everyone who asks. In my work as a social media intern, I’m sometimes the one turning down influencers’ requests for collabs. But it is incredibly rude and distasteful to straight up ignore a pitch. A polite “no” is all we need! But don’t leave the message unanswered.
If a brand leaves you on read, I would follow up one more time as messages can slip through the cracks! But if they do it twice, I would just mark it down as a no and move on.
One of the most common brand etiquette violations: sending us collab offers where we purchase the product with a discount code.
I get at least 10 emails a day from brands asking for a “collab” where they offer me a discount code to purchase their products. Newsflash: if I am spending $$, it’s not a collaboration; I’m a customer. If you’re too cheap to even send out the product as gratis, don’t engage in influencer marketing.
I usually delete these emails outright. If a brand is using this tactic, they’re not interested in authentic influencer marketing.
**Note: this is different from a brand responding to a pitch with a no but offering you a discount code if you’re still interested in trying the products. That is obviously not a collab yet they’re still trying to maintain the relationship with you.
Thinking affiliate programs are sufficient compensation for content and/or asking us to be affiliates without ever trying the product.
Another pet peeve of mine when it comes to brand etiquette is when brands ask me to be an affiliate yet I have never tried their products. Usually this comes as a campaign offer where the compensation is your potential affiliate payments. There are two issues with this:
First, it is disingenuous to become an affiliate for products you have never tried. I am only an affiliate for a few products, and all of them I have purchased myself. I would never join an affiliate program for something I don’t genuinely love.
Second, affiliate payments are not guaranteed and thus cannot be considered fair or sufficient compensation for the work we put into our content. You wouldn’t say to a doctor, you can only receive your salary if your patients purchase a drug through you! Our content is valuable regardless of if people purchase products through our links.
When brands offer these affiliate schemes I respond by explaining the above issues. If I’m interested in the product, I ask what their budget is for compensation, or if they will send the products without obligation to post.
Expecting us to hand over usage rights to our photos without sufficient compensation.
A major grievance I have with brands is the predatory way they try to secure usage rights to photos. They hope that influencers don’t understand what exactly they are signing away, or attempt to underhandedly include the clause in small text so the influencer doesn’t notice. You should always, always read the fine print of any contract or email to ensure you’re not accidentally giving away these rights. Additionally, if a brand comments on your photo asking for permission to repost & includes a link to T&Cs, ALWAYS go and those! They usually involve signing over all rights and royalties to your photos, meaning that photo is now owned by the brand. Huge yuck!
If a brand contacts me about a campaign and asks for the deliverables to include usage rights to the content I create, I am quick to explain to them just how valuable those usage rights are and give them my rates (which start at $2000/6 months for 1 piece of content). What you create is valuable, and the brand wouldn’t be asking for usage rights if they weren’t. Think of it this way: the brand wants to use your content to sell products. That means they’ll make revenue off of your work BUT unless you negotiate payment for those usage rights, you won’t see a cent.
P.S. if you’re not sure what exactly usage rights are, check out my Insta post that breaks them down here.
One of the worst violations of brand etiquette: stealing our photos from our feeds without compensation or credit.
At least when brands request usage rights we can turn them down. But the WORST is when you find your photo reposted or used on other social media platforms/advertisements without your consent. This isn’t just bad behavior from the brand – it’s copyright infringement and you can hit them with legal action if you wish.
I handle this situation differently depending on the brand and the situation. If it’s a brand I have a good relationship with, and they’ve just shared the photo to their instagram, I usually permit those reposts. But if it’s a brand I don’t have a working relationship with or they have used the content for advertisements, then I get mad – FAST. I immediately invoice them with my usage fees plus an inconvenience fee tacked on and make it clear that if this is not paid and the content removed I will be pursuing legal action. Brands LOVE to take advantage of small content creators because they think we won’t stand up for ourselves. They try to get content for their social media platforms & marketing the cheap way, hoping we don’t catch on. Do not allow brands to walk all over you!
Getting angry when we post critical/negative (read: honest) reviews.
Brands put a lot of time, energy & money into their products. It’s natural they want everyone to love them! But it’s also normal and expected that not every product will work for every skin type. The biggest thing I emphasize to potential brand partners is that every review will be honest, regardless of whether the product is gifted or I purchase it myself. I’ll never lie or gloss over issues with a product just because I received it as PR.
Brands should never get mad at you for sharing an honest review, but if they do remind them that they should value authenticity. It’s unrealistic to expect every product to work for everyone. It’s bad brand etiquette to ask their partners for dishonesty. Point out that asking for fake positive reviews actually hurts their credibility as a brand and you won’t hesitate to share this behavior with your followers. It also hurts your credibility as an influencer; you shouldn’t risk your audience’s trust in you to satisfy a brand.
Not being willing to pay influencers for their content when influencer marketing is a booming industry.
My biggest pet peeve when it comes to brand etiquette? When brands claim that you don’t offer something of value as an influencer so they can’t pay you. If my content isn’t valuable, why the hell are you reaching out to me? Oh yeah, because it is. You’re just hoping I devalue myself so you can get content for free.
According to this article from Business Insider, the influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth $15 million by 2022. Influencers are freaking valuable! When used correctly, they can be a strong asset to a brand’s social media strategy and create social support as well as drive conversions. There’s a reason some influencers have made it their full time career!
If a brand doesn’t have the budget to pay influencers, that’s fine – admit that. Some small brands just can’t afford to. But to claim that we’re not worth monetary compensation is bullshit. You know it, I know it, and brands know it.
The best response to brands that pull this type of underhanded maneuver is to just walk away. If they don’t value you, they’re not worth your time.
Brand Etiquette Final Thoughts
I love working with brands – it’s one of the best parts of having my skincare page – but it has also led to some tough lessons. I hope the above advice can help you navigate your brand relationships!
Have you encountered any of the situations above? Let me know in the comments!