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Few social media influencers are charging money for amplifying Covid-19 SOS requests

Few social media influencers are charging money for amplifying SOS calls for blood plasma on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This comes at a time when Covid-19 related supplies — oxygen, blood plasma, medicines– are in short supply, and citizens in need have been taking to social media looking for a solution.

Many of such influencers are associated with The Indian Influencer Network (IIN), a platform of 15,000 influencers spanning across over 65 cities. The IIN website says that the network finds influencers based on the ‘target customer segment’; that it has 32 data points to select the right influencer group and that it can “launch your campaigns for specific age groups based on customer profile”. For the Covid-19-related campaign in question, the IIN has been approaching brands/startups to partner in helping citizens find plasma donors.

A campaign email accessed by MediaNama says that brands and startups have to integrate an IIN-provided plasma portal on their websites. For a fee, influencers will promote this portal through their social media handles, and when requests for blood plasma pour in, the influencers will also amplify these SOS requests. IIN has also partnered with an NGO, which facilitates communication between donors and recipients. To be part of the campaign, the brand or the startup will have to pay a fee to the IIN, who in turn pays the influencers and the NGO.

The campaign works like this:

  • A ready to use plasma portal will be integrated into the brand’s website
  • Influencers on social media will make a 1-minute video about the brand’s initiative and share it from their social handles along with a link to the brand’s website
  • Patrons of the website in urgent need of plasma will register their requirement on the portal
  • The plasma requirements will be amplified by influencers in respective cities through social media handles in the form of stories
  • IIN has partnered with an NGO that will facilitate communication between donors and recipients

Nothing unethical about this: IIN

A spokesperson for Indian Influencer Network said that many companies are working with them as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. “Before the initiative began, our partner NGO was receiving four to five registrations of blood plasma donors per day. Afterwards, the NGO has been receiving 20-25 donor registrations per day,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that most of the income from this campaign goes towards the payment of influencers and the NGO. “While there are influencers who do the work for free, there are many who charge a sum based on the number of followers they have,” the spokesperson added.

When asked about the ethicality behind an influencer charging money for amplifying Covid-19 SOS pleas, the spokesperson emphasised that there was nothing wrong with influencers taking a fee for their work. “Influencers also need to survive. This is their job and for many their sole source of earning money. There is nothing unethical regarding this.” Sources of income have dried up for few influencers in the last two months due to the spike in Covid-19 cases.

Others are not of the same opinion: “There is no price for human life”

“As an influencer, we are successful because of our audiences. We have an impact on the lives and decision making of our followers. It’s our duty as an influencer to use the influence for the right reason and give it back to society. I have been personally promoting Covid-19 related stuff throughout the first and second waves within any means possible and without any expectations,” Bengaluru-based Nivedith Gajapathy, known as Macro Traveller on social media, told MediaNama. Gajapathy has over 2.30 lakh followers on Instagram, nearly 2 lakh followers on Facebook and around 34,000 on Twitter. Like him there are many influencers who have been amplifying Covid-19 related pleas across social media platforms.

Karthik Srinivasan, a communications strategy consultant with over two decades of experience, and also an influencer with over 52,000 followers on Twitter, said, “Influencers are nothing but media vehicles. In the commercial sense, they offer visibility to a brand just like a mainstream media print publication or TV channel. This is all good when the brand/product is something that does not involve a life or death situation. In this case, the offer from the agency is that they will use their influencer network to beam the plasma-required message to a wider audience and help the patient get the required plasma. One could replace plasma with oxygen or ICU too, in the current context.

Should the influencers charge money for such a task? If we replace influencers with a mainstream media publication, the media may argue that they are a professional business and their product is the audience’s attention, and hence, they should charge for any task that mine’s such audience’s attention. But even the media may prefer doing this pro bono because the ask here is not simply for any product or service. It is for a life-saving item — if that is not administered to the patient, human life could be taken away. There is no price for human life, even if the agency argues that influencers too are professional who mine their followers’ attention like media – Karthik Srinivasan, communications strategy consultant

He added, “A lot of influencers tweet/share blood-required messages from handles that specialize in them, like Blood Donors India on Twitter. They do that purely to save lives, given that they can offer the much-needed visibility to such cries of desperate help. Charging a fee for such cries of help is no different from a person screaming for help in the street and someone else offering their phone to that person for a fee so that they can call a hospital or the cops.

Also read:

Update 9.01 pm, May 14: Added more details about Indian Influencer Network from their website

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