Everywhere we go, in every area of our life, we are bombarded with so many different products. There are a thousand types of food (vegan, organic, gluten-free, light, “authentic”, locally-sourced, you name it!), so many clothes’ brands and God knows how many shoe styles. And it’s not just things, but services too!

Amidst this excess of commodities and things to buy, we need some way to differentiate what to choose. Price is no longer enough of a factor, because even within the same price range, there are so many options. Advertising is a good way to get informed about a product, but still, we can’t always be sure they deliver on their promises.

We resort to the next best thing: word of mouth. We rely on people we trust to suggest and recommend. We ask a friend who’s tried the new hair salon and our cousin tells us of this new boutique down the street that has the best quality at great prices. But because there’s no way we can know someone who’s tried everything, we start looking for reviews. With everything at the tip of our fingertips, online reviews have spread along with the convenience of social media outlets.

Online reviews also brought about bloggers, “influencers”, social media celebrities and small-scale “experts”. Some are specialized – they’ll tell you about the latest fashion, beauty, photography or food products – while others review a variety of things. Because these people are essentially us (we know someone who knows someone who knows them, or we went to college with them, or they go to the same places we go), we think of them as our friends and cousins and acquaintances, telling us about all the things they’ve tried recently and what to get from where. In short, we trust them.

What we fail to see, however, is that this is just another form of advertising. It’s ingenious, but it’s advertising all the same. While some of these bloggers are genuine people with a passion for what they do-reading, learning and then posting about it-many of them are simply targeted by public relations firms and advertising agencies because of their relatively big social media following. Many have not tried the product and/or service they post about so that it’s no longer an informed review, but simply an advertisement.

Even though this seems like such a small concern in the midst of all our problems – after all, we’re already bombarded by advertisements everywhere we look or go, so what difference does it make? – it is a genuine one. When you don’t know a post or photo is actually an advertisement, you’re less likely to be critical of it or questioning of its motives. When the blogger you relate to and whom you’ve been following for a while now recommends a new restaurant or hair salon, you will probably think more about it than if it were a normal ad.

Only last month, blogger Zeinab Azzam opened up about her own experience with the industry; she was burned getting laser treatment from the same salon she had previously endorsed without trying. Her post on her account (below) about her experience is sad, but also incredibly informative and important for non-bloggers to know about. We appreciate her honesty with her followers about taking responsibility for her endorsement without having tried the center or services first (and wish her a quick recovery!).

Thank you @inshapeclinic !!!!! So about two weeks ago I did LASER HAIR REMOVAL. I switched over to INSHAPE clinic. I’m quite disappointed in myself because without even trying any type of services, I sat and did a video talking about how they are the best of the best with highly qualified professionals and equipment. As the woman was doing my legs and thighs I told her this is so painful and it’s not like my old clinic! I can’t even describe the pain. She advised me this is a different machine and to tolerate the pain because this is normal. So I did, like an idiot. After about 2 minutes of completing the first thigh, I felt incredible pain! As if my legs would burst into flames, it burned so much. I could tell in her eyes she knew she was wrong and quickly grabbed a pen and paper to write medication. She assured me after 24 hours the swelling would go down and it wouldn’t leave any kind of scar. Meanwhile I had my trip to Morocco in just a week. I told them this before I started so they know I’ll be in the sun. What surprised me even more is that the doctor of this clinic, Dr Hany Nabil, didn’t even call me right away!!! I had to wait hours for an apology. He advised me that it will be gone within 3 days and would not leave a scar! Also telling me he would personally assist me throughout the healing process. However he went on vacation and handed over everything to his assistant. Which was insulting because I’m supposed to be doing business with this guy. But he couldn’t care less!!! After two weeks. Still not a word from this doctor, I called my friend that was the mutual ground for the business and she said he ASSUMED I was better ? Not even a phone call to check up. So I assume you get the message that this won’t fly by me. Advice for anyone seeking laser hair removal please make sure the clinic is what is says it is! My legs haven’t healed and doesn’t look like they will heal for a very long time!

A photo posted by ز.ع (@zaynebazzam) on

So, what do we do?
Advertisements will always be there, and so will endorsements. Our job is to make sure we don’t take these recommendations at face value. A new restaurant that all bloggers were dining at together tonight and are posting about has more than likely invited them for that very specific reason. This doesn’t mean the food is bad – but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, either. If the person you’re following is posting every few hours about a new product (especially in different areas of interest) and is all over the place, chances are he/she haven’t had the time to try them all, if any. Stick to people or products that actually specialize in one thing, not ones that lack focus or expertise. It’s also important to consider the follower/like ratio on someone’s profile. If they have tens or hundreds of thousands of follower, but only a couple hundred likes on pictures then most likely they’ve paid for followers in order to gain paid advertisements.

This isn’t to discredit any or every blogger on social media. As an incredibly new industry on the radar of social media and advertising, bloggers and influencers can be great ways to keep up with what’s trending and new in the different industries that interest us, but they make mistakes and sometimes bad decisions just like anyone else. It’s important to raise awareness for followers of these figures to keep a clear mind about what they’re viewing and to keep in mind that their seeming accessibility does not make them your friend. And experiences like the one we see above also serve as a wake up call to bloggers and influencers to be responsible for what they’re selling.