Integrity in Blogging

Lately I’ve had a few people ask questions like ‘Can’t you just let it go this time’. With my financial position in mind they say, ‘maybe you should just suck it up’ .

‘Can you really afford to be this picky, Soph?” .

It’s true that lately trying to maintain integrity in the blogging world has been hugely inconvenient to me. In the last month or two I’ve lost out on hundreds if not thousands of pounds for an unwillingness to loosen my morals, as well as losing a percentage it for people who have an invested financial interest in my career. But if I’m really honest sometimes it’s not even about my personal morals when I’ve declined a collaboration or sponsor. I’ve known that in accepting I would potentially have disappointed my followers because I’ve been aware the ‘thing’ doesn’t sit well with them, or that they would expect better of me. And there’s nothing worse than being a disappointment. As someone that’s a natural people-pleaser who hates confrontation. I try my best to avoid situations that could lead to difficult questioning or judgement. So even if I would have been okay with the collaboration myself, knowledge that people who support my journey wouldn’t be has put me off enough to decline.

I am currently saving money, not only in the hope to eventually move out of my family home, but also for a trip to California for a friends wedding In August. Money is needed now more than ever, and I should probably being saying yes a bit more, but I know myself far too well to give in. I know that any pleasure gained by the work or an increased presence in the industry, or the stress relief I could gain from being more financially comfortable, would be overwhelmed by guilt and a self hatred formed from  not staying true to myself. When my parents see me stressing about money they occasionally ask me to think whether it would be worthwhile to ‘do it this one time’. Parents don’t want to see their offspring running themselves into the ground trying to make ends almost meet. But they quickly change tack when they see my expression and hear my empassioned reasonings. In the end they always agree that in the long term any financial loss will be soothed by the choices I made.

It’s also forced me to have awkward conversations, which is something I’d generally like to avoid where possible too. How do you decline an offer without sounding ungrateful or judgemental? What if someone has worked hard to get you that collaboration, not being aware of a red flag that would make it impossible for you to accept?

I always try to be polite when I decline, and hope people replying on my behalf will be the same, but you can’t help but wonder whether from that point onwards you’ll be labelled as difficult, a diva, or a troublemaker. I prefer to linger in the shadows and hate to be the focus, so I can assure you that would never be the case, but to someone that only knows you via email interactions and tweets, it might be easy to form that opinion.

Then there’s the conversations with friends who may have accepted an offer that you turned down on a moral basis. It’s inevitable that could cause friction or at least some level of unease between you. They might assume that you are making judgements about their decision, and even the person they are as a whole. They might think that you believe you are superior because you’ve decided to take the moral ‘high road’. I’m an advocate for choice, and doing what’s right for you, so would try not to give off that impression. But perhaps if they do feel that maybe that’s their conscience questioning whether they made the right call.

I actually had an in depth conversation with an influencer pal last night about all of this, as we have actually faced these decisions in recent days, both in the running for the same jobs and receiving the same event invites. I explained where I stood with a certain company and why I opted out, and she accepted them as very valid reasons to disassociate myself with the brand. But we then discussed the audiences we had formed via our platforms, which are extremely different in terms of demographics and interests. We agreed that mine would be more aware, and probably care more about the issues we were discussing, whereas hers would be less inclined to be bothered by it. So she concluded she might be able to turn a blind eye to the stuff I’d told her if the product was one she genuinely liked or enjoyed. So should our decisions take our audience into account? Whether they’d be interested in the product. Whether they’re likely to be offended.

I’ve formed a relationship with my viewers through extremely honest and soul baring posts, so I think for me it would incredibly damaging to work with a brand that didn’t appear to fit in with the ethic or ideals I have been spouting about for the last few years. If your relationship is one built on trust it can only take on will advised collaboration to break it – a realisation which terrifies me.

So does that mean I regret being vocal about my stance on certain issues? Well I wouldn’t say regret, but if I’m honest it has effected my ability to make money and perhaps build a bigger audience. One non-cruelty free brand deal I was offered would have undoubtedly increased my followers and catapulted me to a position of being able to earn greater amount and more regularly moving forward. But once you say you’re trying to only cover cruelty free, or if you regularly tweet about issues such as diversity or responsibility when it comes to promoting body positivity etc, you put yourself in a position of being quite rightly called out if you deviate for the sake of financial gain or self promotion.

But it’s also a minefield. and I now find myself very anxious whenever I write a blog post, conduct an interview, or consider a collaboration. What if the band I’ve accepted an invite to interview has been embroiled in a #metoo related incident and I’m not aware of it, and then look to be supporting them? What if the brand I thought was cruelty fee turns out not to be? What if the film I’ve promoted turns out to have a very problematic message or feature an actor that’s said something controversial? There’s so much information to consume these days, and so much of it is inaccurate, so how on earth can you safe-proof yourself completely? Well…you can’t, but you just got to try your best.

This came up at a skincare event I attended at PUSH PR yesterday. The founders of Haute Custom Beauty were explaining how so many brands are being less than honest about the credentials of their products and the ingredients that are used. It’s very common for different words to be used to hide the more recognisable names, the familiar (and publicly damned) terms that would veer us away from making a purchase. It was a real wake up call that I was still being duped by clever marketing or vague descriptions. For example the products that talk about encouraging cell growth. They pointed out that of course it’s great if its encouraging the increase in positive stuff – an increase of collagen is helpful and the idea of the regeneration of cells instantly gives us the idea that our face my look fresh or new. But what if the its making damaged ,or even cancer cells grow? Scary huh? The point I’m making here is that we put a LOT of trust in brands and the PR’s we communicate with that we are getting accurate information about the products via their press releases and websites, and we might even form a lot of the theory within our blog posts around it. But how do we ever know what we’re reading or being told is telling the full story? After-all they have a job to do too. Plus we even know how official medical boards can get things wrong, so can we ever be 100% secure in the knowledge we are supporting the right things?

I’ve posted glowingly about brands doing sustainable lines, only to find out their main line has very questionable manufacturing processes and god awful working environments. I’ve supported ‘cruelty free’ brands, only to discover a PR failed to tell me they still traded in China. I’ve featured Lime Crime in a NY Beauty Haul at a point when I was completely unaware about all the many reasons people have distanced themselves. I’ve posted photos of band who further down the line have been ‘cancelled’ after allegations surface online.

But everyone wants everything now these days. Content, content, content. They want regular videos, regular posts, fast fashion, fast beauty etc. Well at least we think they do, or we feel a pressure to keep up with that notion. But surely if we spent a few weeks on a post, gathering information, doing research and really investigating we would pushing towards a more fact-driven, knowledgeable, honest and helpful industry. We might be more powerful in forcing change because our combined understanding of the industry, the dodgy practices, the questionable ingedients, the many falsehoods being shared around would be hard to ignore.

Some things are out of our hands too and have an impact on our ability to be as grounded in morals as we’d like to maintain. In terms of film collaborations, they want your ideas and your answer as to whether you’re interested in collaborating days if not weeks/months before you even get to watch the film. I’ve asked if it can wait so I can see the film to then decide whether it’s one I like and want to promote, but it just doesn’t work like that apparently. Recently I had to drop out from one collab because I saw online that American audiences and critics (who tend to see the film before us in the UK) found the storyline and message of the movie problematic. I knew then I wouldn’t be happy to be seen to supporting it via a collaboration, but I was lucky I happened to see those tweets and read an article on it. If I hadn’t I would have found myself facing a possible backlash having been locked into a deal. The way I work round this issue in general is that I will never agree to lie about what I think of the film. I won’t say I loved it or it was amazing if it isn’t. I will tell people what it is (genre/storyline/themes), who’s in it, when it’s out, and let people make up their own minds. So rather than the collab being me stating ‘I love this’, it’s saying this is available to you if it sounds of interest. So I think you can find a happy level for you if you slightly tweak how the collaboration works….if that brand is willing of course.

Some bloggers are happy to be vocal about brands they don’t’ support. Like Zoe London’s in-depth reminder thread on Twitter yesterday. And that’s great because the more transparency there is the better this industry will eventually function. But you can understand why many aren’t too.When you’re small or starting out you don’t want to ruffle feathers. You want to attract brands, not be perceived as someone potentially difficult or to be avoided. You don’t want to blast a brand publicly in case it’s seen as unprofessional, or if the brand is looked after my a PR agency that looks after lots of other brands that you do genuinely like. You don’t want to burn that bridge. Of course in an ideal world we would all be vocal and make sure people are informed and aware of the brands that don’t deserve our support, in turn shining a positive light on the companies doing things right. But realistically smaller bloggers who have yet to establish a stable position in the industry, still hussling to try and secure enough paid work to pay their bills, might not want to stick their head out in this way and diminish their potential for earning or harm their reputation. So we really do need  the bigger bloggers, who don’t need to worry about upsetting the odd brand here and there, because they know they have their many other options and opportunities, to say what we’re thinking, but also to educate their audience who may be oblivious to that particular storyline. That said I think in the long run those smaller influencers who are happy to stand up for causes and be transparent with their feelings will be rewarded by an engaged and trusting audience, but in today’s climate where money is tight and time seems to disappear so fast, unfortunately many of us are thinking with the the short game in mind.

I know this is ground I’ve gone over time and time again on this blog, but I don’t mind repeating myself on subjects like this because it’s something that people clearly need reminding of. The industry (myself included) still has a hell of a long way to go.

So what should we do?

I think we have to try and make the best decision we can based on the knowledge we have. Try not to let the allure of money, fame, goodie bags, or merely something ‘cool’ to post on insta stories, get in the way of what we know. Listen to your gut. For me, it will often be asking myself whether I’ll b happy to live with that decision, but also asking how it will effect people who might observe my decision. Maybe as an industry we need to put emphasis on quality over quantity (and I’m not just talking about high quality pictures) – I mean make sure we allocate time to more thorough research and reading up on the subjects we’re covering. Also we should be honest about the discoveries we make during this process – inform our trusting audience on realities and truths. If brands knew that we would be making efforts to dissect intentionally confusing or mixed messages and information, and looking hard at their practices and ingredients, they might be more inclined to be open about what they do, or work to improve for fear of being found out.

None of us our perfect, and I know I can’t guarantee a flawless approach to this weird world of ‘influencing’ but by talking and sharing we can help each other help shape the future of this industry and guide it into a kinder and more honest place.

The outfit – All photos by the amazing Ami Ford. 

I thought this would be an interesting choice for an article about ethics. Here I am wearing a band tee, but it wasn’t bought from an official merch store it was bought from an online fashion store. I have to admit I bought it because I loved the colour, and on this occasion I didn’t check to see whether the band would get any percentage of the profits for the use of their logo. Just one of those everyday things you do without thought, that in hindsight perhaps should have taken some pause. I guess at the time I may have said to myself ‘Metallica have enough money, so it doesn’t matter either way’, but if we’re talking right and wrongs here, they deserve some money for the use of their name. (disclaimer : I don’t know the deal here, so maybe they did).

Then there’s the the coat with it’s faux fur details. I have to be honest I took the item description as proof enough that it wasn’t created from an animal, but as we well know there have been examples of when brands have displayed things as faux fur when in fact they either contain animal fur or a synthetic material which is still far from ideal.


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