When an eagle-eyed Twitter user noticed an influencer posting images with identical cloud formations, he wasted no time in calling out her "spooky" behaviour. Matt Navarra’s tweet about Martina Saravia (@tuposaravia) received 35,000 likes. Articles followed, reporting on her being "caught" and "admitting" her work was edited.
Rather than being shamed by the debacle, Martina’s response was frank and open. Yes, she edited her pictures when the sky was overexposed, or didn’t look right. Why always the same clouds? Because she thought they looked the best.
Authenticity has become a buzz word when it comes to influencers. Part of their appeal has been their relatability and difference from celebrities and mainstream media. It is what has made them such an effective marketing channel for brands. Audiences come to trust them and take their recommendations.
Social media has also allowed a more diverse range of voices to be heard. Social users can find influencers that speak and look like them. Unfiltered body positivity advocates, mummy bloggers showing their real home lives, fitness influencers posting their outtakes.
But not every influencer and social content creator is on a crusade for complete authenticity. If a social user has become popular for posting beautiful images, their objective may have never been to share an unfiltered reality.
If candidness was never promised, is it fair to expect it?
According to amp creator Anoushka Probyn, like shooting at vibrant locations and coordinating outfits, editing is just part of the process”, says Vamp creator Anoushka Probyn (@anoushkalila). Most images are edited in professional industries, from fashion magazines to traditional advertising and it’s simply accepted. Yet because influencers are under pressure to be ‘authentic’ all the time they come under fire for doing the same thing. Fellow Vamp creator Jona Mendoza explained that editing is one of the reasons for his popularity on Instagram. He said his following initially grew because he was posting my images before and after he used Photoshop and other programs. He added that editing helps show his creativity and push his artistic boundaries.
With so many content creators on Instagram, not to mention a quality-orientated algorithm, it is in the interest of anyone posting content to make it the best it can be. For influencers and brands alike, high-quality, captivating content gives them the best chance of being discovered.
Moreover, it is good to have a feed that can stand out and has a nice flow to it. Followers respond well to that consistency, Vamp creator Aida Tabrizi explained. As a content creator amongst millions of beautiful pages, it can be hard to stand out, so having your own style helps.
Of course, authenticity is still an integral part of an influencer marketing campaign. They should share honest experiences and never mislead audiences. Content creators should have a genuine connection with their followers. These aspects are all still important. But we can’t conflate any type of editing with a betrayal of authenticity.
Back to Martina. Martina’s quick explanation of cloud-gate proved that dishonesty was never her intention. She explained her editing both before and after the tweet went viral. Similarly, the influencers I spoke to said they have always been open and honest about manipulating images. Anoushka said she regularly share edits in her stories and even on her feed, because people are interested in seeing the process. She added:
Instagram is a highlights reel, and people are aware of that. I don’t spend my entire life sipping unicorn milkshakes in flower-filled cafes!
While she can see why it could be problematic for influencers who post more raw, unedited images as their USP if they started editing things, Anoushka said it’s not for everyone. "I know that’s not what my audience follows me for. They want to see bright, fun, uplifting images and that’s what I try to deliver - with the help of the odd fake sky,” she explained.
The article is written by Aaron Brooks, the co-founder of mobile content and influencer marketing platform, Vamp.