How to become an influencer
Becoming an influencer requires dedication, drive, hard work and attention to detail. Starting and growing your social media platform will require you to:
choose a niche (ie the area you want to focus on) - this should be something you’re passionate about and have knowledge about or skills in. Your niche may be something like fitness, books or cooking
determine (and understand) your audience - work out who you want to reach and what type of content resonates with your intended audience. By considering things like demographics, interests and needs you, will be able to tailor your content to your audience
decide on a social media platform - look into the different social media platforms. Consider which (one or more) works best for the type of content you want to create (eg if you want to make vlogs - ie video blogs - YouTube may be suitable, while short-form videos may be more suitable for TikTok) and for your intended audience
create content - post engaging, relevant and high-quality content for your audience. It is a good idea to use a variety of formats (eg blog posts, videos, images and podcasts) to effectively engage your audience. Make sure to review your analytics and insights to understand what your audience likes, to help you decide your strategy for new content
be consistent - to keep your audience engaged and build your following, it is crucial that your content is consistent. Not only will regular content keep your audience engaged but social media platforms also tend to prefer accounts that post regularly. As a result, it is a good idea to decide on a posting schedule to help increase your visibility and following
engage your audience - actively interact with your audience (eg by responding to comments, messages and questions) and consider collaborating with other influencers. This can help build a community around you and your content
be open to collaboration - not only should you consider collaborating with other influencers, you should also let businesses know that you’re open to collaborations or sponsorships. Consider updating your profile to say that you are open to collaborations, messaging relevant businesses with pitch ideas or registering with an influencer agency
stay authentic and genuine - authenticity is key to building trust and maintaining long-term success, so stay true to yourself and your values
Remember that becoming an influencer will take time and effort and will require continuous learning and adapting. Make sure to stay open to and on top of changing trends and to adapt your content accordingly, to continue to engage and grow your audience.
Do influencers need to register their business?
For many, social media is just a hobby. However, when you start to make money from your social media platform it becomes a business that needs to be registered. Whether or not you need to register as a business depends on your business structure and how much money you make through your social media presence.
If you operate your social media presence as a sole trader (ie as an individual), you will need to register with HMRC for Self Assessment. You will need to report your income, pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs), file annual tax returns and keep accurate records of income and expenses. For more information, see the Government’s guidance on setting up as a sole trader.
The other most common business structures in the UK are partnerships, limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and limited companies. Partnerships do not need to be registered, but the partners must each register for Self Assessment. LLPs and limited companies must both be registered with Companies House. This is because they are considered to be their own legal entities.
For influencers, the most common business structures are sole trader or limited company, which each have their own advantages and disadvantages. For more information, read Choosing your business structure or Ask a lawyer.
Do influencers need to pay tax on their income?
Influencers, just like all other people in the UK, need to pay tax on their income (eg income from sponsored posts, brand collaborations and other forms of advertising).
Generally, income earned by influencers will be considered income from self-employment and will be subject to income tax. Note that income tax rates are different in England and Wales and Scotland. Self-employed influencers need to file annual Self Assessment tax returns and pay relevant income tax. For more information, see the Government’s guidance on Self Assessment tax returns.
However, if you operate your influencer business under another business structure, you will have to pay the taxes that are applicable to that business structure. For limited companies, this means corporation tax on any company profits. For more information, see the Government’s guidance on company tax returns.
Can influencers be paid to endorse products?
Influencers, like brand ambassadors, can be paid to promote and endorse a business’ products, services or brand. It’s common for influencers (especially larger influencers) to collaborate with businesses for brand partnerships and sponsored content. In such situations, influencers receive payment in exchange for promoting and/or endorsing products, services or brands on their platform.
Whenever an influencer receives payment to promote or endorse a business’ product or service, they must disclose this to their audience. This means that the piece of paid-for content must be labelled as an ad. For more information, see ‘What do influencers need to disclose?’ below.
It’s important to note that influencers must not make false or unsupported statements about products or services. For example, an influencer shouldn’t say that a product works well if they have not tried the product. Similarly, influencers shouldn’t make claims that aren’t proven (eg by saying that a detergent is environmentally friendly if this can’t be proven), nor should they exaggerate a product’s results (eg by editing or retouching photos or using photo filters in a misleading manner).
Is it legal for an influencer to get free products?
Influencers can receive free products from businesses. In fact, influencers often receive free products for review, promotional or entertainment purposes as part of a business’ influencer marketing strategy. As with paid-for content, any content featuring free products must be clearly labelled as ads and the influencer must not make false or unsupported statements.
What do influencers need to disclose?
Whenever an influencer receives payment to promote or endorse a product or service, they must clearly identify their content as an ad. Payment includes freebies or gifts.
In the UK, sponsored posts are regulated by either the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which have collaborated on joint guidance on ads posted by influencers. This guidance requires you to clearly disclose when any content is sponsored or paid for. In other words, whenever you post content in collaboration with a business, you must label your content as an advert. Appropriate labels include ‘ad’, ‘advert’, ‘AD’, ‘advertising’, ‘advertisement’ and ‘#Ad’.
It should be obvious that a piece of content is an ad from the start. As a minimum, include a clear and prominent label at the beginning of your content identifying it as an ad. Don’t bury your advertisement label or place it somewhere where it will be hard to see.
Ads which are not clearly labelled are known as ‘hidden ads’. These are illegal and posting them may result in sanctions.
Do influencer posts need to be accurate?
Influencers need to make sure that they do not mislead their followers - not only by clearly identifying a sponsored post as an ad, but also through the content of the post itself. Influencers must not mislead their audiences by claiming (or giving the impression) that the results they achieved or experienced with a product or service being advertised are first-hand if they are instead being paid to give this impression despite not having experienced these outcomes.
Further, influencers must not make false or unsupported statements about a product or service featured in a paid-for piece of content. Influencers should refrain from:
making claims about a product or service if they have not tried it themselves (eg claiming something tastes good if they haven’t tried it)
making unsubstantiated claims about a product or service (eg saying a product is ecologically friendly if they cannot prove this)
altering or exaggerating the effects of a product or service (eg by retouching photos or using filters)
Can influencers host competitions or giveaways?
Influencers may use competitions and giveaways (eg sweepstakes) to engage their audience and as a fun way of offering prizes and promoting products. If an influencer hosts a competition or giveaway, is it essential that they do not make these unlawful lotteries under the Gambling Act 2005 (ie lotteries that aren’t licenced). To ensure a competition or giveaway is not governed by the Gambling Act, you should either:
make the contest free to enter (paid-for entries are seen as gambling and must comply with licensing obligations under the Gambling Act), or
turn it into a competition based on contestants’ skills, knowledge or instincts. This must genuinely rely on the contestants’ skills, knowledge or instincts, and should not be structured in a way that prevents most people from entering or winning or in a way that is too easy
For more information, read Prize competitions and free draws.
Before hosting a competition or giveaway you should check the relevant social media platform’s rules on giveaways and follow them. For example, Instagram’s promotion guidelines require you to provide terms and conditions (detailing things like eligibility requirements), comply with your country’s laws and explain that the giveaway is in no way affiliated with Instagram.
The ASA offers detailed guidance on competitions and prize draws. As a general rule, when hosting a competition or giveaway, you should:
clearly outline key information (eg rules, entry instructions, restrictions and start and end dates) as part of your competition/giveaway content
provide easy access to the terms and conditions of the competition/giveaway (eg by setting them out in the description or by linking to them). The terms must not be changed at any point during the duration of the competition/giveaway
deal with participants fairly. You must be able to show that all participants who entered the competition/giveaway correctly (in accordance with the rules) have a chance to win and that a reliable method of collecting entries is used
choose a winner at random (eg using a random winner generator or an independent person)
take appropriate steps to inform the winner. Simply contacting them once is not sufficient and you should take steps to contact the winner multiple times. If, despite your best endeavours, you are unable to contact the winner, you do not have to award the prize to them. You may choose to award it to another contestant
award the prize to the winner as soon as possible (and typically within 30 days)
comply with data protection laws
What legal responsibilities or risks may influencers face?
Influencers can get into legal trouble if they do certain things or fail to do certain things, not just if they fail to comply with the ASA’s and CMA’s disclosure requirements. Other legal areas influencers should be aware of, as they could have potential legal repercussions for them, include:
Intellectual property rights and infringements
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are legal rights that protect creations of the mind, like inventions, works of art, names and logos. Influencers need to make sure that they are aware of IPRs and must make sure to avoid infringing on existing IPRs. Any infringement of IPRs may result in a legal claim being brought against an influencer. Specifically, influencers should be aware and mindful of:
copyrights - these are used to protect tangible creative works (like literary works, artistic works and music). Before using copyrighted material, influencers should ensure they have the right to use copyrighted material in their content or obtain the proper licences or permissions to do so. Note that there are certain exceptions to copyright protection (eg for review or caricature purposes). For more information, read Copyright and How to avoid copyright infringement
trade marks - trade marks protect a business’ brand (eg its name, logos and slogans). Influencers should avoid using trade marks without permission (eg a Trade mark licence) or in a way that may cause confusion or dilution of a brand. For more information, read Trade marks and passing off and How to avoid trade mark infringement
image rights - influencers should be mindful of using someone's image without their consent. If images of individuals are used (particularly of recognisable faces, like celebrities), it is advisable to obtain their permission or have proper releases in place to avoid violating their image rights. For more information, read Image rights and Model release letters
All in all, influencers should strive to create original content, avoiding copying or imitating the work of others. Whenever someone else’s work is used or referenced, proper attribution should be provided to acknowledge the original creator.
For more information on the effects of using IP without the correct permissions, read Remedies for intellectual property right infringement.
Influencers need to make sure not to post any content that may be considered to be defamatory in nature. Defamation occurs when a (written or spoken) statement is made about someone which is untrue and which damages their reputation. While there are certain defences to defamation (including truth and honest opinion), the lines between opinion and truth and defamation can be murky and it is crucial that influencers understand the laws on defamation. For more information, read Defamation and Defamation in Scotland.
Data protection and privacy
In the course of business, influencers may process (eg collect and store) personal data (eg names, addresses and dates of birth) belonging to individuals. This must be done in compliance with data protection laws (ie the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018). Any mishandling or unauthorised use of personal data can result in penalties. Influencers should adopt all relevant GDPR-related documents to make sure they comply with data protection laws. For more information, read Data protection, Complying with the GDPR, Data privacy and cookies and Data protection for businesses.
Influencers who enter into contracts or agreements with businesses should carefully review all contracts before signing them. Once signed, they will generally be bound by the contract’s terms and must fulfil their contractual obligations. Failure to do so can result in claims for breach of contract and potential legal disputes. For more information, read Breach of contract B2B. Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about a contract and its terms.
What documents do influencers need?
Depending on their specific situation and needs, influencers may require various documents. For example, an influencer that is working with others (eg brands to promote their products or services) will often require an Influencer contract. Having a written contract in place provides clarity to everyone involved and can prevent potential future disputes. Depending on the nature of the contract, an influencer may need to provide an Invoice to the business. For more information, read Influencer marketing.
Other documents that may be necessary when collaborating with others include:
a Photography contract, to hire a professional photographer
a Model release letter, to gain consent from individuals to use their image
a disclaimer, to exclude certain liabilities, depending on the nature of the content (eg influencers providing health advice may wish to adopt a disclaimer stating that the content is for informational purposes only and not professional advice). You can use Rocket Lawyer’s service to get a bespoke disclaimer
Influencers that have websites should also consider making:
a privacy notice, to provide easy-to-understand information about data processing. You can use Rocket Lawyer’s service to get a bespoke website privacy notice
It is important to note that the specific legal documents needed can vary based on the nature of an influencer's activities, partnerships and business structure. Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about what documents your influencer business needs. Consider making use of our Bespoke drafting service for any tailored documents.