The Ethics of Sponsored Posts

With the increase of sponsored posts on Instagram, users are beginning to question the integrity of what others are sharing. The question being, “Is this person being paid to post this or are they personally endorsing this product or company?” On Instagram there are two types of sponsored posts:

  1. Official sponsored posts are automatically integrated into your feed regardless if you follow that company. These posts have a sponsored label in the top right hand corner of the post.
  2. Another version of sponsored posts, which will be the topic of today’s conversation, are user generated posts that the user has been commissioned to create and share. These posts don’t explicitly state that they’re sponsored, and are only viewable to that users followers.

Here are some examples of user generated sponsored posts:

Utah’s wide open fields are perfect place to shoot photos with @Acura at #Sundance #AcuraLive A photo posted by Cory Staudacher (@withhearts) on

Unofficial sponsored posts like the one above which are commissioned through specific users are becoming more and more popular for many reasons. Firstly, sponsors are able to advertise to a more engaged audience compared to their own. Secondly, sponsors are able to directly target a specific audience. Take Cory (@withhearts) for example, his followers are interested in his mobile photography and more specifically his travels, so it makes sense for Acura to utilize his audience who are engaged in his posts to advertise that their vehicles are, too, great for traveling/adventures. By commissioning Cory to photograph the image himself he doesn’t have to jeopardize his feed’s aesthetic or entirely sell out, and instead he’s being hired for his craft.

Line Graph of Hate

As these types of sponsored posts increase so does the ignorant hate towards them. If ignorant is too harsh for your tastes, try misguided.

In one of Rogie King’s tweets he brings up an interesting speculation:

“That thing where you really wonder if people’s instagrams/tweets/posts are even sincere anymore, or if they’re being paid to post.”

At first glance this annoyed me, but after some thought I realized he was simply bringing up an observation and relaying it in a thought provoking statement. Before these unofficial sponsored posts found popularity users would have to go out of their way to promote products or companies because they genuinely believed in them, meaning they were not contacted by those companies and were not paid to post about them. Now that this has become common practice, it’s difficult to tell whether or not these posts are backed by money or if an individual is personally making a promotion. My only issue with Rogie’s comment, whether intentional or not, is that it implies that someone can’t be getting paid to post something about a company and it still be sincere.

The ignorance comes from those who immediately and completely disregard sponsored posts all together. But hasn’t this become the typical nature of the internet? It’s ridiculous, however, to make assumptions and judge those that you are choosing to follow. If there is a problem then the simple solution is to unfollow them or to follow up with them in polite conversation. Immediately and completely disregarding sponsored posts; however, is rude and disrespectful to those that you follow and are passionate about what they do and share. Erin, also known as Calivintage, runs a personal lifestyle blog with is pretty darn popular. She is constantly sharing fashion advice, informing people of great deals, exposing her followers to new brands and trends, and sharing the most adorable photos of her baby. Not to mention she does an amazing job at photographing everything she posts about, which is a profession in and of itself. Below is a recent post of hers which features a naysayer as described in this section along with her wonderful, polite, and appropriate response:

hate is a strong word

“I love your blog and Instagram but hate sponsored posts.” Let that sink in. Nothing on this post 100% indicates that is it sponsored. Despite looking as though it is having tagged Glade and using one of their hashtags, claiming that it is sponsored is backed entirely by assumption. Erin’s reply then reveals that it likely is sponsored, but even if she had wrote in the description that it was sponsored who cares? Erin’s caption serves as a great reminder to enjoy the quiet moments especially following the holidays, and her photo is composed really well. What bothers me about the immediate hatred towards sponsored posts is that what if the situation was altered slightly and Erin was hired by Glade as a photographer, and after the shoot decided to share some photos on her Instagram? How would that be perceived? Likely, no one would even bother to raise an eyebrow because she would be getting paid to take photos for Glade, right? This situation is no different, she was paid to photograph the candle and share it on here Instagram.

Because getting paid for your service or your craft is outrageous, right?

Things to take away:
  • To criticize someone’s choice to share a sponsored post is to undermine their decision making and is disrespectful. Understand that these people are typically professionals and care about what they do, and so they have a right to make their own business decisions. They take pride in their work and wouldn’t want to sacrifice the quality of their posts.
  • Sponsored posts can be really cool, and can enable the person posting it to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone when creating something for the sponsor.
  • Just because it’s sponsored doesn’t, by default, make it any less real. In case you may forget, these people that are posting are real people. Just because
  • Sponsored posts deserve to exist because artists, designers, photographers, and other influencers deserve to get paid. It may come off as radical, but we do in fact deserve to get paid for our work. Sponsored posts create business market diversity and is actually strengthening/displaying the importance of art and design in our world.
  • Lastly, don’t be a jerk.

To close, I just want to reiterate that this entire post references posts that are actually created by the user and not given to them by the sponsor.