Why PR people need to protect influencers' mental health

Here's a test. Open Instagram and go through the first 10 posts. How many of them are from people you know?

The PR industry has a duty of care to influencer's mental health, argues Lucy Steadman
The PR industry has a duty of care to influencer's mental health, argues Lucy Steadman

For me it was only one, amidst the masses of ads and influencers. While not all influencer or brand content is ad-related, I think (as a PR person) it’s easy to get hyper-aware of these often perfectly curated posts.

I know I look for product placements or try to guess what is being promoted before reading a caption.

I’m also guilty of occasionally comparing my life to those I see on social media – something I’m not alone in.

Research published in ‘Psychology of Popular Media Culture’ shows that for women there’s a correlation between the frequency of Instagram use and depressive symptoms.

But of course, social media is a ‘living my best life’ highlight reel – so what toll does this have on influencers?

The toll of the influen-cycle

Influencers need to have the most appealing content, post constantly, and open the door to their lives (and people’s comments) to maintain their following.

It’s vicious, especially since a social media hiatus will be negatively punished by algorithms.

The pressure to push out content and present a perfect life can take a serious toll on influencers’ mental health.

YouTuber Bobby Burns says influencers create a fake personality but keep going because it’s addictive.

Another influencer, Ruby Matthews, also recently spoke about using cocaine, coffee and cigarettes to maintain her figure and said this is common practice for influencers.

The ethics of influencer PR

When searching for an influencer, there’s generally a sweet spot: you want someone with a relevant following, who comes at a fair price, posts other content relevant to the brand, and can speak authentically.

Hitting this sweet spot is tough, but it’s interesting that it doesn’t consider the person behind it all.

That does come into the ‘authentic voice’ and ‘relevant content’ pieces, but it’s more about how they present themselves – not who they really are.

Think about how many influencers’ posts you’ve seen with a caption like, "How cute is my floor mat? Love having this under my feet and it’s now 25 per cent off | AD". (I’m exaggerating, but you get it.)

PR people need to better support influencers’ wellbeing. While it’s not our responsibility to manage their mental health, we can be more ethical.

How can we do better?

The PRCA Code of Conduct and CIPR Code of Conduct both have guidelines that are applicable. 

The first is to act honestly – look for an influencer who would use the product were they not being paid.

Secondly, PR people should conduct professional activities with proper regard to public interest, so be transparent and let your influencer speak honestly, rather than like a robot.

Finally, trust your gut – if the partnership doesn’t feel ‘right’, don’t do it.

With this in mind, take another look at those top 10 Instagram posts. Do they feel authentic? Do they seem like they use the brand?

This isn’t to make you think badly of the influencer – it’s so you remember there’s a person behind it and to help you better target your campaigns.

Lucy Steadman is a senior account manager at Firefly Communications

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