The fact that a large portion of these recent influencer trips unfolded on TikTok—where the creators’ content can be served up to anyone, not just their followers—is the root of some of the internet uproar around the trips, said James Nord, founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Fohr. When influencer trips were at their peak in the 2010s, creators were primarily posting their content from these trips to Instagram, where these posts rarely reached beyond those creators’ followers.
But when algorithms determine the content users encounter in their social media feeds, rather than who the user follows, “views often come from people that don’t follow that influencer, so there’s no context for their content and these people don’t know them,” Nord said. “Maybe they don’t even like them.”
And since the influencer marketing industry has ballooned in size since the 2010s, many consumers have also become more conscious of—and subsequently, more critical of—influencer trips than they were pre-pandemic, he said.
“In 2016, this industry was tiny,” Nord said. “Nobody paid attention to it; it wasn’t something that everyone was doing yet. But now, there’s just so much more attention on these trips than when they were happening six years ago or so.”
These controversies are having real impact on brands beyond just social media callouts. According to data from market research firm Morning Consult, U.S. consumers’ purchasing consideration from Shein dropped following the brand’s influencer trip from roughly 22% to 15%, and the percentage of consumers who reported “distrusting” Shein jumped five percentage points to about 17%.
Similarly, following Tarte’s F1 Grand Prix trip in May, consumers’ net trust in the cosmetics brand plummeted 11 percentage points, from 18% to just 7%, which Morning Consult retailer and e-commerce analyst Claire Tassin called “the biggest downtrend [she’d] ever seen for Tarte in terms of consumer trust.”
“These influencer trips are a huge investment for the brand because of their ability to take over a platform like TikTok,” she said. “But it’s kind of a double-edged sword. TikTok can be a fantastic amplifier of your message, but it can also be a fantastic amplifier of your criticism.”
Prior to Shein’s influencer trip, much of the controversy around these trips has stemmed from a lack of diversity among the creators involved, or from brands not paying creators beyond covering their travel costs, Bright said. Tarte has been accused multiple times of prioritizing white influencers when choosing attendees for these trips; and, in the case of the F1 trip, of providing a “tiered” experience for the different creators, where Jones, one of the Black creators invited on the trip, wasn’t invited to the final day of the race.
Recent news: Black creators drive higher media value, study finds
Brands should ensure all influencers on these trips receive equal experiences, rather than adjusting them based on the size of a creator’s following or any other factors, Silverstein said. And when selecting which influencers to invite, diversity should be one of the key factors considered along with standard metrics such as engagement rate or follower size, she said.
The responses from Tarte and Shein to their respective influencer trip controversies also fueled some of the internet firestorms surrounding them. In Tarte’s case, CEO Maureen Kelly responded to Jones’ video about being treated differently than other influencers with a now-deleted “get ready with me” video that many considered inappropriate due to its casual format. And attention toward the Shein trip was heightened when a few of the creators on the trip, particularly Carbonari, began doubling down on their claims of Shein’s sustainable manufacturing practices and safe working conditions with a flurry of social media posts.