I recently read a press release by a company looking for reviews and it set off alarm bells in my head. A quick bit of Googling and I discovered the company didn’t have the history it claimed and wasn’t located where they said they were. I don’t know if everything else was real, but it was enough red flags to stay clear. If influencers work with that company and share the information provided in good faith they would be misleading their audience. It might not be intentional, but they would still be misleading them. 

Checking out companies that approach bloggers for collaborations as due diligence using stock image from canva

It made me think about what responsibility we have as bloggers, influencers, promoters (whatever you call yourself) to ensure we are sharing accurate information and whether at some point we could be seen as partly liable for promoting a product that doesn’t perform as advertised.

When worked in IT on contracts I was familiar with the concept of due diligence. It’s essentially checking the accuracy of claims made to ensure the chosen company is a good fit and that the company seems stable . How often do bloggers and influencers just accept what a company tells them? How often do they do their own research?

Why You Should Check Out The Brands You Work With And Their Claims

I appreciate that when you first start to get offered reviews or paid work, or if you don’t get offers regularly, it is really hard to say no or even to push back. Sometimes information is only revealed part way through a relationship which makes it even harder to walk away, but it’s our reputation on the line and one day it could be more than that. 

Greenwashing for example is pretty common right now. It’s when a company claims that they or their product has more eco credentials than they really have. Consumers want to make better choices and will pay more for a product that claims to be greener, but there is often little transparency about how eco-friendly the product, production method and company actually is. Before we promote a product for being eco-friendly we should ask questions, and having a direct line to the PR or the brand themselves puts us in a great position to do this and hold them to account. 

I recently worked with a company that claims it gives a percentage of their profits to charity. There was no mention anywhere of the charities they supported which seemed odd. I then looked the business up on Companies House and either many of their claims about the success of their business were a lie or they were doing some serious tax dodging. Should bloggers worry about that though? So many big businesses including Amazon take advantage of tax loop holes and yet we will still buy from them, we might even be affiliates. Are we responsible for the morals, honesty or performance of a brand we promote?

When bloggers or influencers promote a company that has let people down in the past they become a public face of the company and get targeted by disgruntled consumers. This can be difficult to deal with and know how to respond to, even with the support of the PR agency. This can be completely unexpected if you haven’t checked out the company, but there are some areas we ALWAYS need to be extra careful about being seen to give advice or promoting products including any medical claims, financial products or legal advice. It needs to be very clear what is your opinion rather than facts and that you are not qualified to give advice. A bit like how insurance brokers can give you information, but can’t tell you which one to go for. Or how loan adverts on television have small print about your home being at risk.

Even financially qualified people who encouraged people to buy products in the past have later had problems, eg PPI being mis-sold. In these cases it has been the companies taking the financial hit, but as sole traders (which most bloggers are) it is possible that individuals could be asked to pay compensation at some point in the future for bad advice, and without the protection of a company that is our personal finances and our homes that could be at risk.

Increasingly bloggers and influencers are taking out insurance to provide protection against possible risks. Let me be clear that I am in no way advising you to do so or not to (it would be laughable if I was, given the topic of this post), but depending on the conditions of the insurance it may provide legal fees to support a blogger if a claim was made against them. There is a huge amount of small print in insurance cover though so read very carefully to ensure you are being protected for what you expect. 

So what can we do about it? 

My approach has always been to be as honest as possible in all promotion and reviews. I test out products and services and write about my experiences, recognising others may have a different experience. I don’t promote or link to companies which I feel are unethical (like high interest loans) and when opinions are not my own, like in guest posts, I make it clear it wasn’t written by me. Increasingly I don’t feel this is enough though. 

I am working to make my income more stable so it is easier to turn down opportunities that make me uncomfortable. I no longer trust press releases. I search for information about the companies on Facebook and search engines. I am asking more questions of brands and using my position to provide feedback for future products. 

It’s not yet known what level of liability might fall on the individual blogger if a product or service turned out to be harmful, not delivered or otherwise problematic. While there has been a backlash on a few products it might never be a legal or financial issue for individuals. To be on the safe side I think we owe it to ourselves, and our audience, to do a little due diligence before we work with brands, that when we promote products we have actually tested them and can be sure they do what we say, and that we tell the truth as far as we can be reasonably expected.

How much care do you take over who you work with?

*Disclosure this is all my opinion*