Opinion

Influencers and bloggers don’t need a code of ethics if they conduct themselves professionally

In this guest column, blogger Nikki Parkinson, argues against creating a code of ethics for influencers and bloggers.

Disclosure #1: I’m a full-time professional blogger – or online influencer – to use the cool kids’ terminology for what I do for a living.

Disclosure #2: I’m also a journalist who spent 20 years working in regional newspapers before leaving the profession eight years ago and accidentally becoming one of Australia’s pioneer professional bloggers.

Disclosure #3: I’ve won a Telstra Business Award, so yes this online influencer business can be profitable one.

With those disclosures out the way, I’d like to talk about the ethics of what I do and whether I, and other online influencers, should be governed by a code ethics.

Whenever this topic is raised – and it’s been raised many times since blogging in Australia became a ‘thing’ – I roll my eyes out loud.

No one governed the journalism code of ethics when I was working in journalism. What chance is there that it would happen in the online sphere when most people are independently running their own businesses?

Anyone working in a commercial media organisation would, like me, have had to be ‘commercially considerate’ on frequent occasions.

I was often asked to include major advertisers in editorial features or to exclude a competing non-advertiser from the same editorial features.  Disclosure only occurred on specifically-marked advertorials or promotions.

Look at the travel section of a major newspaper. Is it a coincidence that stories included heavily favour the bigger advertising accounts?

In any major magazine, the big advertisers at the front have plenty of their product placed on editorial pages.

Beauty pages feature hundreds of products but you won’t find a disclosure statement that these products were gifted to the beauty editor and writers or that they attended and enjoyed the hospitality of an event organised by a beauty brand’s PR.

The scale of these events can be mind-blowing. Luxury trips away in Australia or overseas, just to launch a product. I know this because I’ve been fortunate in my new career to be invited to one or two of these events.

The difference? I disclose the relationship. I disclose on the Instagram and Facebook posts that I’m a guest of the brand. I disclose this on any subsequent posts on my blog.

I don’t do this because I’m governed by any code of ethics, but because it’s simply the ethical to do.

I don’t want to deceive my readers. I’m upfront about commercial arrangements, giving them the opportunity to click away. Only 4% of them do*. 96% of my readers are more than happy with sponsored content appearing on my blog or social media because they trust that I’ve made good choices about whom I work with in the first place.

And that’s the difference; I don’t take up every commercial opportunity that comes my way. On average I’d knock back two or three campaigns for every one that I accept.

Successful online influencer businesses are successful because the influencer values their community and works hard every day to maintain the trust of their community.

Trust comes from honesty and I don’t need a code of ethics to tell me how to be honest.  I just choose to be. As do all my close online friends. I get it, though. Not everyone in the online influencer space necessarily operates this way.

But seriously would an online influencer code of ethics change the way influencers posted to their audience? I think not.

I think the best thing we can keep doing is openly talk about best practices in business and encourage and support online influencers to self-regulate.

Any business – online or offline – is not sustainable long-term without implementing business practices that have an ethical foundation.

The quick dollar may appeal but that initial thrill will easily disappear if followers exercise their right to unfollow.

Those who remain true to themselves, understand their audience and consistently self-regulate disclosure around commercial arrangements will be in it for the long haul.

* Styling You/The Remarkables Group annual readership survey 2015 (1200 respondents)

Related: Influencer technology platform Tribe calls on industry to develop overall code of conduct

Nikki Parkinson has been blogging for eight years, the past four years full-time for her blog Styling You.

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