WHEN it comes to being a beauty “influencer”, be it on YouTube, social media, or good ol’ fashioned blogging, there’s always that expectation that we must be rolling in products.

In a way, it’s true. We do receive a lot of products, so much so we sometimes don’t know where to put half the things we get.

What most people don’t realise, though, is that these products come at a price.

There are so many underlying codes, ethics and intentions in play, that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Let’s explore some of these, shall we?

Now, brands send influencers products so they can receive exposure through his or her blog or social media channels.

Influencers like receiving products, because it helps to widen the product range available on their sites. Plus, everyone likes a good freebie. Seems like a win-win, right?

But what happens when an influencer is underwhelmed by the product? Or if the product causes a bad skin reaction? Brands get upset over bad reviews, sometimes to the point of cutting off all contact.

It may seem like a no-brainer. Of course an influencer should be ethical and be honest about bad products! But if influencing is someone’s rice bowl, it can be difficult to stay on the straight and narrow.

Coming from a blogging background, I can see the huge differences between the blogging world – which is more closely regulated, especially overseas – and the new battleground that is social media.

While bloggers are expected to clearly state if a post is sponsored, social media influencers are regularly given client briefs that state a product is to be described as something he or she “stumbled upon”.

It’s straight-up unethical, and it’s something that’s common worldwide.

But this can spell disaster for the industry.

For one, it’s becoming clear that some brands don’t understand digital marketing and social media. By targeting vast groups of influencers, any discerning reader would be able to tell that it’s a sponsored post, despite the “stumbled upon” brief.

This ruins the consumers’ trust in the influencer – rendering the influencer, well, influence-less.

I’ve seen blogs where review after review is nothing but glowing, gushy happiness – once you realise that the writer loves every single product she or he is sent, their reviews start to lose credibility, and you stop reading because you know that you won’t learn anything you can’t already read off a brand’s press release.

I do think brands shouldn’t target huge influencers just based on their numbers. Lesser-known bloggers or influencers who possess a much more dedicated following might actually be more effective.

And from the influencers’ point of view, having brands engaging huge pools of influencers might seem like a good thing for everyone, but it’s actually not. Why should a brand pay anyone for a review, when a hundred other people are out there doing it for free?

This has caused a world of drama in other countries where blogging is a little more established, with some full-time bloggers labelling themselves as “professional”.

That indirectly undermines the value of the others who are now seen as “non-professional” bloggers, even though there are many out there who pride themselves on professionalism and integrity, but who aren’t full-time bloggers.

But how, then, can someone who charges a fee to review products make enough to pay the bills?

On top of all that, influencers face a tonne of competition from “talent agencies”, who charge a large, all-encompassing fee to their clients (the brands), and gather a large pool of influencers to generate buzz for the client, sharing only a small cut of the fee with said influencers.

Because they are a one-stop shop, most brands find it easier to engage these agencies rather than reach out to bloggers one by one.

But these agencies could very easily undercut the influencers.

The age-old “that’s all the budget the client has, can you work with that?” phrase is their usual ticket into the Instagram accounts and websites of the influencer world, where clients can – and will – dictate direction, content and even the outcomes of those reviews, which comes back to the ethics question.

Like I said: it’s hard to stay on the straight and narrow.

All these issues only skim the surface of the challenges influencers face in their jobs. It’s not all free products and happy selfies!

Don’t get me wrong – this is a great profession to be in, and I’m thankful to be able to do what I do.

But this job involves just as much grit, ethics and hustle as the next profession, and I hope people – especially those considering making this a full-time job – understand that.

Emily Quak is a YouTuber, blogger and avowed beauty addict at For more of her stories, go to

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