Lawyer turned Explorer. That’s how I’m known these days. Once upon a time, I studied law, then I had a less traditional but still legal-related career (particularly related to contracts). Two years ago, I became active in social media and about a year ago, I started my blog. Social media has done what I wanted it to do: it has helped me sustain long-distance friendships, and in-person friendships have been formed because of it. I’ve gotta say, the fun I’ve been having has been amazing! So many great events, friendships and family memories are because of this new lifestyle of mine. Then there’s the practical side of things…
Contracts: Hard to Avoid
Whether blogging pays your bills (like it does for some of my peers) or just gets you invited to some cool events (I fall mainly into this category), you don’t get too far as a “content creator/influencer” without being asked to sign a contract at some point. Yay! Contracts! Finally, something I understand. I like contracts because the terms are clearly set out and everyone knows what is expected of them (in a good contract, anyway). What people forget is, even if there is no formal contract in place, a contractual agreement may exist. An exchange of emails can suffice. If someone emails me and asks if they can send me something for free in exchange for some social media coverage, I create a contractual obligation the moment I accept that product. So, now what? If I don’t like the product, do I have to pretend that I do? That would be terrible, and it’s one of the reasons people are suspicious of Influencer Marketing.
When Controversy Arises
The reason I’m writing this post is because of a controversial situation that arose last week in Halifax. A local organization reacted poorly to a situation and many influencers want to distance themselves from the organization. Indeed, they feel it is their utmost duty to do so. And here is where influencer marketing gets a bit complicated.
There is Always A Cost
I fall into the lucky group of people who have already fulfilled my contractual obligations to the organization in question, there is no decision for me to make. Others are not so lucky. Like many life decisions, contractual decisions must be met with a risk/reward, cost/benefit analysis.
To meet their contractual obligations, influencers have to weigh the social or moral cost of doing so. This cost is hard to quantify, yet it must be weighed against the more tangible (usually financial) cost of breaching your contract. Sometimes, the choice is easy because the social/moral responsibility is large and the cost is low. That said, there can be additional factors that are hard to measure: will you be blacklisted by companies for not fulfilling your contractual obligations? Will you be perceived poorly by others if you don’t sever ties?
When I was new to the influencer scene, I heard my now-friend, Kayla Short, present at a social media conference. Kayla is considered one of the most significant local influencers. She was working with Tim Hortons and someone challenged her about her affiliation with them because the company was getting some bad press at the time. Her brilliant answer stuck with me. She said, “That’s why contracts have end dates.” How right she was! It’s ok to stick with a company you have historically believed in when it’s getting some bad press, then re-evaluate when it’s time to renew the contract. Other times, you might feel that you simply can’t stand behind the brand anymore and you have to end the relationship with the brand. Either way, there is a cost. One is social/moral and the other is (usually) financial, since a breach of your contractual duties can leave you open to a suit for damages. In my local example, my guess is that it’s very unlikely the local organization would seek damages of any kind if the terms were not met, simply because the damages are minimal and it would leave the organization open to potentially more bad press.
Keeping It Real and Keeping Obligations
When it comes to Influencer Marketing, your name is all you’ve got. Putting your stamp of approval on something you don’t like, support or use is both dishonest and bad for business (because people see through it quickly). Here are some tips to avoid getting caught in an inflexible contract:
- For goods/products, be sure to have written communication that you will not promote the item if you don’t like it. Some companies might want the item returned if you don’t promote it. If you were to be paid for the promotion of a product, your choice not to promote it would probably mean you would not be paid, but it would not mean that you have breached any terms of your agreement. Like many of my peers, I have turned down paid work because I refused to agree to promote a product I didn’t yet know was good, and there wasn’t time for contractual amendments.
- If you are agreeing to promote an event/product that is new to you, carefully review whether there is specific language that must be used in your social media. The more freedom you have, the better. For example, I once attended a kids’ movie for free and my review was that it was very entertaining but had some scenes that were not particularly kid-friendly, in my opinion. My reputation with my followers remained intact because they heard my honest review. Vague agreements allow for this sort of flexibility, as do specific agreements that allow for an honest review.
- If your perception of the company changes over the course of the contractual obligation, consider reaching out to the brand. They may be quite happy to sever ties with you if you no longer support them. A mutual end to the agreement would remove the need to breach your contract if you would like to stop working with the brand.
- Alternatively, if the brand would like you to keep your contractual obligations, review the language of the contract closely to see if they themselves are in breach of any terms. There might be an out for you yet.
- If the contract is long and complicated, consider hiring a lawyer to read it. Unfortunately, most “influencer” agreements are not financially significant enough to consider this option, but if it is, it might be worth your while to have a professional advocate on your behalf. If the contract is small but you are truly new to contracts, consider asking a friend who has more experience in this area.
**Please note that I am not a legal expert in Social Media Law and this blog post is not intended as legal advice.**