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While disclosure, fake followers and brand safety are big issues creating a crisis of confidence for influencer marketing, there’s every reason to believe that they can and will be addressed. But in the past week, the influencer world has been rocked by what could be some of the most disturbing claims yet about what goes on behind the scenes.

Monetising negative reviews

As detailed at The Verge, according to Marlena Stell, the CEO of Makeup Geek and herself a beauty vlogger, some influencers are offering brands the ability to leverage their influence not just to promote brands’ products but to tarnish those brands’ competitors as well.

Stell says that one unnamed influencer’s representative pitched her on the ability of their client to create a dedicated negative review for a competitor’s product at a cost of $75,000 to $85,000, a hefty premium on the $50,000 to $60,000 it wanted for a positive review of Stell’s product.

While a number of influencers who responded to Stell insist that they have never heard of such a practice, thus calling into question the veracity of her claims, another influencer went on record stating that she has personal knowledge of instances in which brands have offered to pay more if an influencer trashes the competition.

“They specifically said we are willing to pay more if you are willing to say that our product is better than the other one, or that you recommend our product over the other one,” the influencer, who goes by the name Pretty Pastel Please, explained.

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Rotten to the core?

It has become increasingly obvious that the influencer marketing ecosystem is in need of greater transparency and accountability, but these latest claims, which have created a furore in a beauty influencer market that was already reeling from a scandal involving racist tweets made by one of its biggest stars, suggest that the problems in the ecosystem could be far more extensive than previously believed.

If influencers, through their representatives, are indeed offering to slam competitors or publish false reviews that paint competitors’ products in a less positive but entirely false light, it would effectively constitute a modern-day extortion ring run not by experienced criminals but by sleazy opportunists drunk on their digital fame.

While we don’t yet know just how extensive this behavior is, the industry, including brands and reputable management agencies who rep influencers, would be wise to get in front of it and stamp it out because this type of behavior poses perhaps the gravest threat yet to influencer marketing.

The reason? It opens up a legal can of worms that is likely to be far more complex and costly than anything the industry has faced yet.

After all, it’s one thing for an influencer to be fined for failing to disclose that she was paid to publish an Instagram post or YouTube video. It’s another for an influencer and the brand compensating her to be sued over an allegation that they conspired to falsely tarnish the brand’s competition, potentially costing it millions of dollars in sales and doing incalculable damage to its reputation.

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Given all of the scandal and growing consumer angst over aggressive influencer shilling, influencer marketing can ill-afford even one lawsuit of that nature.

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The post Are influencers being paid to badmouth companies for a fee? appeared first on Econsultancy.

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