Responsible influence, not a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity

Responsible influence is not something you really hear a lot of people talking about but it’s something I think about a lot.

If we look at the words separately, Responsible means: having good judgment and the ability to act correctly and make decisions on your own. Influencer means someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave.

Responsible influence is therefore having good judgment over the decisions you make that may affect or change how someone else behaves.

girl sitting in field with rainbow above her in a blog post talkign about responsible influence

Pretty heavy stuff, right?

I never started my Instagram account for any purpose other than to play around and post photos of books. So when I found myself with the title of ‘Influencer’ I found it somewhat odd. I seemed to have been propelled into a world that was all about getting people to buy things and became an advertising channel for brands, which was very overwhelming and strange. And it’s so tempting to want this, that, and the other, to take every gifted item that is offered to you, and to take the large amounts of money people will give you to advertise their product. It can, if you are not careful, become a marketing machine.

That isn’t what I wanted for myself or the people who I apparently ‘influence’, but it is hard to say no.

Early on I decided that I needed to set myself guidelines to follow for the companies I worked with, and it wasn’t something I had seen other influencers do publicly (of course, this doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it privately). I called these guidelines my ‘Bee Good Manifesto’ and I stick to it as much as I can. This was my interpretation of responsible influence.  

Bee Good Promises

1. I will not knowingly ever promote single-use plastic items. I’m passionate about the environment and the damage that single-use plastic is causing and I will not promote it. Sometimes, without my knowing, items are packaged or arrive in single-use plastic, I try my best to avoid this and discourage it.

2. I will never promote something knowingly tested on animals. This for me is just a given. I always do my research and check online as much as I can but I’m not perfect and may miss something.

3. I will promote sustainable fashion wherever possible. I am a proud outfit repeater and try my very best to purchase items that come from small ethical retailers. I do succumb to the occasional fast fashion item, I’m human, but wherever possible I will promote garments that are not designed to be disposable.

4. I will never promote anything that is designed to play on people’s fears or make them feel bad about themselves, end of.

5. I will never knowingly work with a company or organisation that is discriminatory in any way and will always try and work with companies that are as diverse as possible.

6. When I travel I will always aim to be respectful of where I am, the culture and the environment, choosing locations that are not fragile or considered at risk from over-tourism.

7. And of course, I will do this by being as kind as I can to myself, others, and the environment.

It’s not really great business sense because I have to say no to about ¾ of the things I get asked to tell others about, mostly because they come in plastic. But for me having these values, these guiding principles are non-negotiable and I really do think we should all think a little more about what we are asking others to engage with us about.

Girl in bath with lilly pads

And to me, that is what responsible influence is all about – it’s about thinking of our community first before we think of ourselves. Thinking about what we are about to say, show, or do and could it in any way be hurtful or harmful to another.

Now clearly, we will make mistakes – it’s inevitable!, but I do believe that influencers must stand for something rather than a pretty picture, we must be doing some good in the world rather than just encouraging others to buy more, or making others feel insecure, or encouraging others to stand on the edge of a cliff for the perfect photo, or being disrespectful when we are taking photos at locations. Whatever we do in our online space, we are (perhaps inadvertently) encouraging others to do the same. Going forward, we all have a responsibility to make sure the campaigns we do and press trips we go on are as diverse as they can be. And if they aren’t what can we do with our influence to change this?

I think we have to offer the world more. We have to offer the people who follow us more. If we want to be Influencers, surely we should use this for good and use it for more than just affiliate links.

A common word that is being used at the moment is ‘Woke Influencer’. This has been used in both a positive and negative way to talk about Influencers who are talking about equalities and injustice, perhaps what we would have previously called them campaigners. They are people with influence, using it to put right wrongs as they see them.

There are so many activists that I follow online that have helped me on my journey, Gina Martin, Florence Given, Munroe Bergdorf, and Nadya Okamoto to name a few. They are all doing amazing things and share great resources that I’ve learnt so much from. 

This type of influence tends to be loud and attention-grabbing. Whilst absolutely activism needs to be loud and attention-grabbing to get the attention it needs, as an introvert myself I prefer to do things with less noise, just working away in the background and doing all I can.

I like to show the average person, who perhaps likes me finds the thought of public speaking terrifying, that we can also have an impact.

Responsible influence isn’t necessarily something we shout about, although we should, it is more of a way we are in the world or a set of morals and judgments that we personally hold. I’m not saying that everyone should follow mine; that would be ridiculous, but from what I see most don’t even know what values or judgment others are aligning too.

As influencers, we must recognise that we are not ‘normal’ people, we have people who look up and follow us. When we go on holiday we aren’t just like a tourist, we have thousands of people watching how we behave. When we step into the middle of the road to get the perfect picture, we have many who may copy us. When we hold up our latest purchase we may encourage others to purchase it too, and how we act may have an impact on others. If we are affecting behaviour then we become the benchmark of the behaviours we want to see in others.

We are not ‘normal’ people

We can’t keep on behaving like your average Joe; if we have the influence we have some responsibility. And yes, people are responsible for their own actions but that doesn’t negate what we do or let us off the hook. I’m also well aware that people will follow the people who hold similar values as them, but I still feel we must hold ourselves to higher ideals, personally.

I think long and hard about everything I tell my followers about. Even though I may occasionally consume some chocolate out of a plastic pack, I would never share this with my followers as I’m not encouraging plastic use. Even though sometimes I might buy a cheap fast-fashion item, I won’t work with big-name fast fashion brands or accept gifted items from them as we all know that fast fashion isn’t great for the environment. And even though often I’m tempted by the free dresses some people want to send me, some research on the companies tells me that they don’t treat their employees or paying customers well, so I say no.

girl holding period cup for an article about responsible influence

Hold Yourself Accountable.

I try not to encourage mindless consumerism or encourage plastic use or work with companies that are not doing good. While making sure that the campaigns I’m in are exclusive, I don’t always get it right but I try my best not to associated with hurtful things or do anything that might make someone feel less than.

I’m not saying this to make myself feel good and others bad, that’s not my point at all, my point is that we must all try a little, try to recognise that what we as influencers do isn’t just us being us, it’s us being a better version of us and encouraging others to do the same.

I’m holding myself accountable here and saying that I definitely haven’t done enough in the past. There are times when I haven’t asked about how diverse a campaign is, or how many BIPOC will be on a press trip or looked at how diverse a brand’s feed is as I got wound up in my own excitement. This was wrong of me and something I’m changing going forward. I don’t always get it right and I make mistakes, we all do, but it’s also about admitting when we were wrong and finding some sort of solution or way to help.

Do we want the influencer hate to stop?

If we want the Influencer hate to stop, if we want to make this industry truly equal (yes, the privilege does exist here too) and if we want others to take what we do seriously and as a ‘proper job’ then maybe we need to start taking what we are doing a little more seriously. Maybe we need to think a little more, perhaps we should spend time thinking about what we are telling those that follow us and we should strive to be real, true, authentic, and caring.

If you are an influencer who wants to think about responsible influence here is what you can do.

1. Think about what your absolute ‘no’s are – who or what would be a deal-breaker to you?

2. What do you care a lot about and want to share with others?

3. What are your values? What’s important to you? How can you get these more in the work you do?

4. Take note of the privilege you have and think about how you could help other influencers who don’t have so much.

5. How do you want your followers to feel?

6. How would you like your followers to describe you?

@rachel.cargle has many different templates that you can find on her Instagram profile for you to use. You can sign up to @nicoleacardoza’s daily emails on ways to practice anti-racism. @vixmeldrew has loads of great resources for us.

If you are a brand/business, what should you be thinking about when it comes to responsible influence?

1. Think of the campaign, your company’s values, what you are trying to achieve, and the people this campaign is trying to reach. Think about what your customer’s values are, get clear perhaps with the top three words.

2. Then search for influencers that first match these criteria, before even looking at numbers, etc. A small influencer who has an engaged audience in the thing your customers care about is far better than one with a large following but out of alignment. And look through the influencer’s feed and stories, get to know them. It’s no good signing them up for an eco-campaign if they pose every day with their plastic star bucks cup.

3. Look hard at your campaign and see if it could offend people. I know this might sound odd but this is something you really need to think about.

4. Make your campaign as diverse as possible, and this isn’t just adding the one token coloured person to tick the box, it’s ticking much further than that. It’s thinking in terms of race, age, body type, lifestyle, sexual orientations, gender etc.

If we all just thought a little bit more about what we were doing, then think of the impact that influencers could have on the world.