New Article: Ethics of Authenticity: Social Media Influencers and the Production of Sponsored Content

The Journal of Media Ethics published my new article, “Ethics of Authenticity: Social Media Influencers and the Production of Sponsored Content.” My co-authors and I argue that social media influencers do not approach the creation of sponsored content without ethical consideration, like many critics of influencers suggest. Instead, we argue that the framework they use to make ethical decisions is misunderstood. Influencers consider ethics through their relationship with their audience and their personal brand. If they believe the sponsored content is authentic to both their brand and their audience, they believe it’s an ethically sound production. Read the full article at the Journal of Media Ethics.

Here’s the full abstract:
Media coverage of influencer marketing abounds with ethical questions about this emerging industry. Much of this coverage assumes influencers operate without an ethical framework and many social media personalities skirt around the edges of legal guidelines. Our study starts from the premise that influencer marketing is not inherently unethical but, rather, the ethical principles guiding production of sponsored content are not well understood. Through a case study of the travel and tourism media industry, our findings demonstrate that influencers use the concept of authenticity as an ethical framework when producing sponsored content. This ethics of authenticity is premised on two central tenets: being true to one’s self and brand and being true to one’s audience. This framework puts the influencers’ brand identity and relationship with their audience at the forefront while simultaneously allowing them to profit from content designed to benefit brands and destinations.