How consumers are being sold to is changing as social media influencers have changed the way users connect with brands and also how companies promote products. A BBC Panorama investigation into digital influencers called the ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’ found that a 13-year-old boy was encouraged to ‘gamble’ on YouTube, and another influencer who had previously suffered from an eating disorder was asked to promote a ‘weight-loss’ drink. Reporter Catrin Nye wanted to know whether companies are being up front when working with social media influencers and how this impacts consumers.

However, several companies and influencers within the industry have criticised the BBC as the 30-minute documentary focused on the darker side of influencer marketing.

Who is responsible?

In the programme, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield called for more action to be taken by social media companies, saying that if they don’t start tackling irresponsible advertising by influencers, in the future they could be fined or even shut down. Longfield said “very little concrete action” has been taken by social media platforms to tackle these problems. She is calling on the government to introduce a legally enforceable measure to force them to take more responsibility. YouTube told Panorama that creators’ content must ensure that their content complies with local laws and YouTube guidelines, including disclosing if they’ve been paid to promote products. Meanwhile, Snapchat said it relies on the influencers and brands to make clear if there is a commercial relationship and to work within advertising laws.

What did the industry have to say?

In a Tweet, Hashtag Ad, which provides brands, agencies and influencers with training on UK regulations for influencer marketing, stated: “#BBCPanorama exposes the seediest of influencer marketing but does it fully recognise that this $4billion market is also saturated with responsible brands, conscientious influencers, and agencies that know the rules and play by them?”Meanwhile, Joe Rohrlich, CRO of Bazaarvoice said, “Ultimately, consumers want to feel as though they can rely on the information they turn to online. More than three-quarters of consumers say they’re turning to the reviews, images, and blogs generated directly by their fellow consumers on brand and retailer pages to verify what an influencer is saying and remove bias. As the relationship between brands and influencers matures, it’s up to brands to find ways of augmenting and curating what true, customer content they can generate to ensure this is the information being accessed online.”

Influencer Kristabel Plummer tweeted: “Is a nuanced documentary about influencers too much to ask?! The term can now include faded reality tv stars, tv presenters, authors, activists and those of us who started blogs ten years ago. We don’t all want to sell our souls for skinny tea.#BBCPanorama

Interesting#bbcpanorama on influencer marketing but where were the examples of influencers who DO take responsibility for their audience?” tweeted Nicola Slavin.

Influencer and journalist Erica Davies said, “Transparency and honesty is key. But equally, the playing field needs to be level. If one platform is under the microscope, then there should be a united set of rules targeting ALL advertising across newspaper and magazine journalism, print titles AND social media#BBCPanorama
There are a lot of responsible, trustworthy people trying to provide interesting, creative content on social media, that doesn’t just involve ‘selling stuff.’ It’s a shame#BBCPanorama didn’t talk to any of them,” Davies continued.

Lifestyle, beauty and fashion blogger Frances Hemmant “I don’t deny that#Panorama tonight was very one-sided and grouping all influencers as the same, but I think it did emphasise even more the importance of thinking SO carefully about all the content you put online. Yes, so many people are doing amazing things with social media…”“It is inevitable that influencer marketing, an industry enjoying an enormous growth spurt, will also suffer some growing pains. The Panorama documentary showed little to no balance. That is to the film’s detriment. There are plenty of good, decent creators, influencers, agencies and brands pushing the industry forward.Context is important. Glance at the Advertising Standards Authority’s rulings each Wednesday to see all the advertising complaints against other channels beyond those of social media influencers,” commented Scott Guthrie, influencer marketing consultant.

In response to the recent headlines, celebrity, Jameela Jamil created a petition to try and stop “celebrity endorsement of pseudoscience detox/diet products that can be harmful to your health, and can encourage disordered eating.”


The ASA and CMA have started to take action and created regulations for both influencers and brands in the UK to follow, and some of the social media’s biggest players like Twitter and Instagram made an effort to crack down on the fakes who are misleading consumers.

As the fast-paced industry matures and behaviours of consumers change, rules and regulations will chop and change to overcome the challenges that arise.

Do you have thoughts on the BBC Panorama investigation? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet us at @talkinfluence

Share this post