Do you have a blog or Instagram account that includes ads, gift and sponsored posts? For example, did the owner of a sewing or fashion business give you something for marketing purposes? In my sustainability writing I’m forever talking about transparency and greenwashing, and after seeing some chat online I was thinking this also links to the way we do sewing business marketing on social media.
What’s the problem with ads?
There is a lot of “gifted” stuff going around with almost always positive reviews. But the amount of sponsored / gifted posts and ads is only a problem if it annoys you personally. However, I suspect there is often an accuracy problem in the language being used. Gifted usually implies an ad (more on that later) – and knowing if something is an ad might affect how you view a brand or the person posting the ad.
Can we really be unbiased if we did not pay for items?
Instagram captions or blog posts of gifted/sponsored items can feel rather disingenuous, if the language is always positive. Knowing something is an ad might lead you to subconsciously (or consciously) thinking – is the person really unbiased? Do I really trust this? I’ve often written “all views are my own … “ but is this really possible if I’ve been given the item and didn’t pay for it? Even if I’m conscious of it there might be some kind of subconscious bias going on.
Part of this might be due to the party that has given the item. There are a LOT of solo and small sewing businesses that rely on Instagram land for traffic, and if you’ve been given something you probably feel bad about giving bad press. Better to say nothing at all right? Someone asked me recently if I’d ever seen a negative review of a gifted/sponsored item and my answer was … actually, no (but maybe I’m not spending enough time on social media or reading captions closely enough).
There are rules around social media advertising
Given the rise of social media advertising in recent years, the relevant bodies in each country make rules for bloggers and instagrammers. These relate to different ways that you should be labelling your posts (depending on what you’ve agreed to do and how much the brand can influence what you post). Here are some useful links:
- UK: Read the blog post by Alex (Sewrendipity) – she went as far as to email the Competition and Markets Authority specifically about sewing and what to write
- US: see the FTC page here (scroll halfway down the page for examples of specific situations which can apply to sewing)
- Netherlands: The Dutch Advertising Code (in English) specifies what to do with social media – see page 61. Spoiler: they want you to use hashtags.
Terminology and language
From my reading of the UK, US and Dutch rules, what they do have in common is that you have to disclose when items have been given to you for promotional purposes.
The most common terms I see being used on Instagram (and I’ve used them myself) are terms like “gifted” or “for free in exchange for a post” or “gifted for review”. But…
A gift does not require you to give anything back.
So unless you’ve been given something with no expectation to talk about it unless you want to, then it’s not really a gift … is it?
Thanks to Jay Jay @thecamdenstitch for highlighting this to me in an earlier conversation.
Now I’ve thought about that I’m going to stop using the word “gifted” on my posts. A friend giving me a fabric gift is different from a sewing business giving me fabric or patterns and wanting me to post about it – what I’m receiving from a sewing business is not a present.
“Gifted” is a term that sounds nicer than “ad”
Similarly, “ambassador” sounds better than “promotor” or “representative”. I wonder if the term “gifted” makes us feel validated in some way. I guess it depends on your definition of success as an influencer. For the ones that make an actual living from being an influencer, I would imagine that it largely relates to the ability to make money from your blogging or socials. From my limited understanding of the influencer sphere, the relationship between influencers and brands is not yet seamless, and there is room for improvement on both sides.
Brand/blogger relationships need to be shaped to be valued and viewed as a positive opportunity to grow your business, instead of being seen as a necessary evil.Be More Hive, a London based brand consulting agency
Psychology of social media ads
What do you think of social media ads? A quick survey of my sewing buddies ranged from not caring, to glossing over them, liking the picture, ignoring the picture, to downright annoyance.
Then I came across some (obviously non sewing) academic research from The International Journal of Advertising. This paper looked at consumer reaction of IG sponsored posts on snack bars and how it differed depending on disclosures and wording (e.g. positive view / balanced view / clearly stated that it was an ad etc). Of course there were limitations, e.g. the participant population was small (c400). But there were some interesting high level outcomes:
- If it was clearly stated that a post was an ad and people recognised it was an ad, people switched off from the brand and it negatively impacted the credibility of the influencer.
- If the caption stated that the post was not an ad, consumers generally had a more positive reaction.
To advertise or not to advertise?
That almost suggests that it’s not good for anyone to be doing any advertising. But I and others I know have definitely bought things or at least increased brand awareness by seeing people advertise things on socials. Now that my own IG is at around 8.7k and day job is freelancing for pattern brands (rather than banking), it is sometimes nice to be able to sew with fabric and patterns I like and don’t always have to buy myself … because I do a lot of sewing!
Also, if you like the products that are being offered to you, you have control over what to make and when to make it, and it was something on your wish list anyway, then why not? Here’s one of my ads (I’ve recently updated the terminology).
What to write if you do advertise?
As well as following the Dutch guidelines and stating when things are ads, I think in future I’m also going to give context for the reason for the post. Something along these lines:
- “Pattern/fabric was provided in exchange for a blog/Instagram post/review”
- “Pattern/fabric was provided for review with no obligation to post”
- “This was made as a design test using a rough draft of a pattern as part of the pattern development process.”
- “Item X was made during a sewalong as part of my work for @fibremood”
Pattern testing is not the kind of work I do for free, but if I do see others post it online I’d love to see a delineation between pattern testing vs promotion. If it’s promotion, just say it’s an ad! Also I think it’s important in general to be balanced in the caption or post or keep it factual (e.g. modifications I made). Chances are, there are things you liked and things you didn’t like in a project.
And whilst I don’t know of anyone in sewing who is as big as Michael Jordan advertising Nike (am I showing my age here?) I reckon many of us have friends and/or followers that are genuinely interested in our opinions on something. So why wouldn’t you want to be as transparent as possible?
Finally, I haven’t worked out what to say if I made something using a pattern/fabric that was provided to me, and then I decide to post the garment again later (no request from the brand). Is this a case of once an ad, always an ad? Or is it only the first time when I’m actually obliged to post? If you have any ideas on this please let me know!
Till next time (I’m off to edit some of my old posts now and mark them as ads….)