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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

This week’s topic: Paying Influencers

Influencer marketing is all the rage these days. Whether or not it works, and is worth the money, is the subject of another post, and not the intention of this series. We want to know, what are the ethical considerations involved?

Influencer marketing is the modern day combination of product placement and celebrity spokesperson. Companies actively seek out people who have a large and engaged social media following and contract with them to promote their product – usually in the form of paid posts across a variety of social media channels.

Ethical questions are involved when it is not made clear that a company is paying to have their product promoted.

For example, most of us know that when a star athlete is wearing clothing with a big Nike swoosh on it, Nike is paying them to do it. We also know that when a movie goes out of its way to show the Ford logo on its main character’s car, Ford is paying for that pleasure.

But what about the fashion company paying the style coach on Instagram to feature their latest pieces? If they don’t admit to being paid, that person’s followers are being misled. Even if the fashion brand does make great clothing, and even if the style coach would have featured it anyway, the fact that they are being paid changes the nature of the relationship.

It is important for any brand that is going to pay people to use and/or promote their products to confront this reality. You may not want your influencers to tell people they are being paid to do what they’re doing, but if they don’t, all you are doing is tricking your potential customers.