10 Responsible Practices in the Ethical Influencer’s Toolkit

By JoAnna Haugen

Influencers: You stand at a pivotal moment. You can go back to business as usual, inspiring your followers with stunning backdrops and tales of fun travel adventures. Or, you can approach your work a bit more mindfully and intentionally, taking care to minimize your negative impact on people and the planet while maximizing your incredible influence.

Your influence is very real. You have a direct impact on your followers’ decisions, attitudes, expectations, actions, and behavior. In the travel context, what your followers read and see – and how they interpret that information – shapes their decision-making, including:

  • Where they will travel.
  • How they will get there.
  • What they will see and do when they arrive.
  • What their expectations will be of the destination and experience.
  • How they will behave.
  • How they will share their own stories about their own travels.

As people begin making travel plans again, influencers are in a position to help nudge them toward decisions that are more environmentally, socially, and culturally responsible. Harness the power of this influence with the following tips.

Minimize Flying

Influencers and air travel go hand-in-hand, but it’s time to rethink flying. As you make plans for future travels, combine multiple trips or campaigns. Develop relationships with domestic partners and participate in campaigns that don’t require flying at all. If you do fly, find out if hosts will offset your carbon emissions. If they won’t, do it yourself.

Also, travel tends to be focused on the destination, but it doesn’t have to be. Shift that narrative and build the journey into your overall story. Encourage followers to engage in more thoughtful travel patterns as well.

Learn About Climate and Sustainability Initiatives

Find out what hosts are doing to address the climate emergency and embrace sustainability. Ask how they want those initiatives shared with the public and what travelers can do to support them. Also, find out if there are any environmental or social campaigns influencers can promote, such as anti-geotagging campaigns.

Bypass Swag

As fun as it is to receive gifts, do you really need another tote bag? Be a conscious consumer as well as an influencer, and bypass swag. Let your host know in advance that you don’t want any gifts. If they insist, ask that they offer a way for you to support a local business.

Following through with your conscious consumption commitment, don’t forget to pack reusable items like a water bottle and coffee mug.

Seek Context

Influencers are notorious for “selling” places as two-dimensional, beautiful backdrops — leading countless travelers to do the same. Destinations are unique because of the historical and cultural context that defines them. Your job is to find out what that is and invite others to learn with you.

Call Out Destructive Activities

Before agreeing to a campaign, make sure you carefully review the fine print and raise red flags if anything concerns you. Even subtle mentions of harmful practices, such as riding elephants, can encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Go out of your way to avoid promoting any dangerous activities even if it means passing on a project that otherwise interests you.

Be Mindful of Language

Travel and colonialism are two peas in a pod, and the language used to describe travel-related activities reflects this. Think carefully about what you intend to say when using words like “exotic,” “discover,” “untouched,” and “explore.” This kind of terminology without context reinforces systems of oppression and violence toward marginalized people, gentrification, and commodification of cultures.

Be an Ally

Being an ally never ends. Hold sponsors and hosts responsible for diversifying their influencers, and if you aren’t able to participate in a campaign, recommend an influencer who identifies with a marginalized community to take your place.

You have a responsibility to speak up against injustices in all aspects of your work. Say something if you witness racism toward a fellow traveler or local resident.

Acknowledge the Climate Crisis

Beyond cutting back on carbon emissions from flying, be aware of your negative environmental impacts in the destinations you visit. From water scarcity to wildfires, every destination is dealing with environmental challenges. Learn about these challenges and what you can do to minimize harm while traveling. This might include everything from keeping the air conditioning off to taking shorter showers.

Part of mitigating your environmental impact also includes acknowledging and talking about the climate crisis. It is essential that all of us normalize talking about the climate crisis, what it looks like, and what action to take without normalizing the climate crisis itself. In the influencer context, this means, for example, not glorifying those wonderfully warm, off-season days if these unseasonably warm days are due to a warming planet.

Don’t Center Yourself

By their very nature, influencers’ work is self-centered. However, in the travel-related context, this can harm local communities and people because a traveler-centered focus doesn’t account for wider ripple effects or consequences.

It’s time to shift that focus so local people are centered and considered in all decisions and actions. The key question to ask is: “Is this in the best interest of the people who live in this destination?” Take appropriate action from there.

Embrace Honesty and Transparency

Ultimately, what you put out into the world is the content your followers consume. They don’t know what you don’t share, so moving forward, embrace openness and honesty. This doesn’t mean you need to put every detail of your personal life out on social media. However, it is an opportunity to share the reality of living, working, and traveling in a world overwhelmed with environmental, social, and cultural challenges.

Share your creative process and ethical struggles. Disclose press trips and compensated experiences. Help travelers learn about what they don’t know so they, in turn, can make informed decisions that benefit people and the planet.

Decide today to be more transparent about your work, your impact, and your commitment to a better influencer model.

You may also want to read:

Storytelling with Social Media

9 Tips for a Climate-Conscious Press Trip

For Influencers: How to Report Your Campaign Results

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