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Is it appropriate for influencers to resell gifts?

Last week on TikTok I came across a lovely and humbling video of Britney Spears during an interview clip filmed in the late 90s or early 00s. In this video she spoke transparently about how baffling it was to her that while growing up poor, she never received anything for free, yet now that she’s making a lot of money, she finds herself not having to pay for luxuries like clothes and makeup because she gets gifted an obscene amount of products. The modern equivalence of this would be influencer sponsorship.

While creators normally get paid to create sponsored content, some brands pay in products, and it’s also common for them to gift clothes, makeup, or other items to be on an influencer’s radar and hopefully solicit a post or a mention in their content. Others get sent products simply to review them, free of charge.

Some influencers are starting to speak out about how wasteful and unsustainable it is starting to feel. One of those influencers is Victoria Paris, an influencer with 1.5 million TikTok and over 315k Instagram followers. “A lot of it felt excessive and gluttonous,” Paris told Insider about gifting. “At one point, packages just started showing up that I didn’t even approve because companies will sell your address or use it for brands you don’t even know about.”

Others, perhaps more ‘scandalously’, have started reselling their gifted products to followers. On one hand, this is a fairly sustainable approach as if the products weren’t being used, it is better to pass it on to someone who needs it and will use the product sustainably. On the other hand, perhaps it would seem more moral for the influencer to pass the products on in a giveaway format rather than make profit from something they never bought or even got paid to receive. 

“If you’re not making any money, or you’re not a full-time influencer yet, selling those things and getting a little bit of cash in return could be helpful in covering some of your bills,” said Sonia Elyss, founder of influencer-marketing firm RoundTwelve.

While Annelise Campbell, founder and CEO of marketing agency CFG reminds us that reselling gifts “is frowned upon […] Brands will stop working with creators.” One particular brand Campbell worked with in the past would even vet influencers by checking if they were reselling gifted products on third-party websites before partnering with them.

For many brands, seeing an influencer reselling a gifted product is a definite red flag. But creators should also think about how it could hinder their relationship with their audience. Naturally, selling a product online shortly after posting about it on social media could suggest to a creator’s audience that they actually didn’t like it, which can lead followers to lose trust in them. Not to mention that influencers who consider reselling gifted products should also be careful about their taxes – these items are intended as a noncommercial exchange between them because the product is not intended to be sold. 

If anything, brands are fully eligible to consider including a clause on resale in their terms and conditions, and if creators sell goods for more than $600, they could receive a form 1099-K and have to report their income to the IRS.

It is certainly worth mentioning the nuances in public reselling. Reselling a gift from Amazon and reselling a gift from a small, low-income company can do very different things to tarnish an influencer’s image. Liv Schreiber, founder of agency Brand Caffeine and micro influencer herself publicly spoke out about a friend who runs “a small clothing company and a well-known influencer recently publicly listed, posted, and sold her product after it was gifted […] the pain this influencer inadvertently and unknowingly caused will forever stay with me and this small business owner.”

Equally, one may even blame a big brand for clearly gifting a product to the wrong influencer if they are so keen to resell the product. “It feels like the brand is not taking the time to target the right type of influencer,” says Randi Matthews, founder and CEO of marketing agency Multi-Hyphen Media. “You’re sending a product to that influencer so that they can share it with their audience, and if they’re reselling it then it’s almost the exact opposite.”

It is a topic which encompasses many nuances. I think it’s safe to say that if a creator is being paid in gifts over cash then it’s more understandable to resell products but for influencers making a true bank, it’s less forgivable. Brand size and revenue also plays an important factor. 

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