Photo by Carol Yepes / Getty
If you’re an Instagram user, you already know there’s no escaping the influencer. You almost can’t help but doom scroll through their mindless reels, silently judge their cringe dance moves to a song you’ve memorised against your will, engage with their elaborate skincare routines, or simply just appreciate the aesthetic of their filter-dipped selfie. Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying there’s a small part of you that wants to live their life. After all, they’re always getting free stuff from brands, eating at the most exclusive restaurants, spending their weekends lazing in opulent villas, and charging an average person’s monthly salary just to post one Instagram story.
But what’s the catch? What could go wrong? Apparently, a LOT. From an influencer who recently stomped all over the plants in a conservatory for a photo opp, to one who compared her life to underpaid rice farmers (and subsequently quit social media in the face of intense trolling), to another one who climbed on a Holocaust memorial to be photographed doing yoga, some influencers can’t help but behave wildly and inappropriately. In fact, a 2021 study by Halmstad University in Sweden on how unethical influencer behaviour impacts consumer behaviour concluded that brands irreparably end up losing credibility if they associate themselves with unethical influencers. So the ripple effects of such influencers, it seems, go far beyond Insta apologies and archiving problematic posts. We spoke to industry insiders, journalists, PR and marketing managers who have faced the raw end of the deal when it comes to influencers.
“This is a much-loved Indian influencer who puts the most quirky, heartfelt, and humorous content out there around Indian families. His videos keep going viral and most Bollywood stars follow and collaborate with him. But to work with him was like going back to the feudal ages. He made us wait for two hours outside his room because he was cuddling his cat to sleep, with no regard to the shoot and the piling costs. When we did manage to get in, he asked the fashion stylist to avoid ‘gender-bending’ clothes because he’s done ‘scoring woke points’. This was all the more hurtful because the fashion stylist was an openly gender non-binary person.” – Morgan, makeup artist
Made us wait for hours outside his room because he was cuddling his cat.
“An important aspect to the lives of influencers that people ignore is the price their friends and family have to pay, particularly for the times when they will go out of their way for content. This becomes quite disturbing when you have been friends with them well before they became ‘influential’. With this particular influencer, she would record almost everyone around her for goofy content because that was her vibe. Nothing was off-limits – not even the most personal moments. Things came to a head when I was telling her about my depression following a toxic job, and she just secretly recorded the whole thing and put it on her Insta stories. When I found that out hours later, she refused to take it down saying that mental health is real and there must be no shame in being public about it. I have never felt so violated in my life. I didn’t even want to fight with her. That was the last time I spoke to her.” – Arihant, designer
Secretly recorded me when I opened up about my depression.
“I was working on a fashion trend story last year. I was exploring a very interesting trend around that time, and there was this one Indian influencer who was famously sporting it. Her management asked for my story’s brief and all the questions too. For almost a week, they didn’t respond to my subsequent queries, saying that she was just too busy. She never responded. A week later, I came across her reel where she used my story brief and the questions to explain that trend to her followers. This is an influencer who has more than a million followers and was copying a young journalist’s idea. When I wrote her an email, she panicked and responded to my questions within two hours.” – Shubhanjana Das, journalist
Stole my story idea without crediting me.
“Influencer marketing is a bubble that is going to die very soon. For starters, brands are now realising that big influencers with verified blue ticks don’t necessarily give any substantial returns. Barter doesn’t work anymore, it’s all about paying them massive amounts of money. It’s no surprise that influencers these days refuse to even share statistics on their online reach and engagement, which becomes really difficult for clients to collaborate with them. Only recently, a popular influencer who was doing up her house asked for some really expensive products from this home décor brand I represent, in exchange for an IG story shoutout. It’s been eight months since and no word from her. We keep following up, but to no avail. Sadly, this is more common than you think and, often, PR managers end up paying from their own pockets to compensate for the loss.” – Laveena Nambiar, PR manager
Didn’t post about the product and ghosted us when we followed up.
“For a project on understanding social media perception, we had to interview three influencers. The idea was to understand how the way they deal with public perception has changed over the years. When I interviewed this one influencer whom I really respected, she told me the most motivational things on the record. Later, I found out through a common friend that not only does she buy her followers, but she also harasses PR folks into giving her expensive beauty products and threatens to call them out for dangerous allergies if they don’t.” – Aakansha, mass media student Follow Arman Khan on Instagram and Twitter.