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What this social media agency thinks about YouTube's latest indiscretion


It’s been a while since we posted anything relating to YouTubers and their understanding of the editorial and advertising standards that govern other media platforms. Given last week’s news, though, it’s probably high time for a new blog on the subject.

You don’t have to be a social media agency to have picked up on the scandal that broke recently, whereby some stars of the world’s top video sharing platform have been paid to promote the services of a company that will sell students professionally written essays on any subject.

Needless to say, the powers that be in education are not impressed, although ironically it would only be the students themselves that could get in trouble. Apparently there is no law stopping people selling academic writing, but submitting work as your own when it was penned by someone else is a punishable offence within seats of education.

This is just the latest in a long line of examples where influencers have been called out on their ethics— from disguising ads as ‘reviews’ and opinions, to putting their weight behind events and products that are destined to fail. Whether that’s the Fyre Festival debacle, or latest must-have make-up we’ll all have given up on in two seconds because it’s actually not that great at all.

There’s a curious shortsightedness to this approach. Here at Smoking Gun, like many a social media agency, we constantly talk about reputations, the importance of transparency and how bad bed partners will likely come back to bite businesses, or at least haunt them. This is infinitely true for brands, but arguably truer for individuals-as-brands.

Trust is the lifeblood of anyone who plies their trade solo; you wouldn’t hire a freelance you didn’t have faith in.

Put simply, then, the longer these kind of controversies prevail— with influencers seen to promote either rubbish or morally questionable products and services just to make more money from themselves— the greater the risk is that the entire influencer marketing model will be rendered obsolete due to growing distrust in the concept.

We currently live in deeply uncertain times, not least for content creators battling a tidal wave of fake news, misinformation and sponsorship deals disguised as neutral ideas. Surely the only way forward is to raise the bar higher, concentrate on producing more engaging, accurate and useful content, thus reassuring the public that its sources of information are still worth reading, watching and listening to?

It’s a mantra we’ve been preaching to clients within the context of branded content and partnerships since this social media agency was established. Winning the coverage, engagement and exposure war requires a long-term commitment to quality, and any action that could be seen as lowering those standards is unarguably counter-productive.

Getting paid now is good, but still earning in another half decade’s time is a far better prospect. And, to those who simply don’t understand where the line should be drawn we say get educated or get off the train, because the decisions of a few are currently threatening to derail many legitimate and professional creators.

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