After its first adoption in the National Assembly, the bill that aims to regulate influencers in France and define online practices deemed “dangerous” such as promoting dropshipping, cryptocurrency or plastic surgery, should soon be considered by the Senate. Robin Cohen, co-founder of Follow, an agency that has been supporting online content creators and brands for 6 years, has agreed to Forbes France to give us his vision of the profession in a bid to restore its image.
How did the idea to launch Follow come about?
We never thought we could get there… At the time, I was working at Rad.co, a specialist in custom ready-to-wear, with my current partner, Samuel. Our friends Nathan and Robyn launched their own brand of hats. It was at this time that we at Rad witnessed the emergence of the first “bloggers” on social networks. We made our first partnerships while we were still at Rad. We made ourselves known with iconic T-shirts like “Madame jalouse or Madame chiante” and we were already imagining partnerships with Burger King, Evian, Nekfeu … Then we signed our first contracts, in particular with Madame Figaro, and we were already exploring how to work with bloggers. We used to say “bloggers” back then because there were simply no influencers yet.
It was then that we realized something was going on: when we sent a T-shirt to the little bloggers on Instagram or Facebook, we could see several hundred thousand euros being collected in the following days. Even our boss couldn’t believe it and wanted to check the numbers! We also thought that these young influencers were not moderated at all, and brands often made a lot more money than these influencers got.
How was the impact on social networks by brands?
Visual blogging wasn’t necessarily good, and some already thought it would infringe on a journalist’s work. With the arrival of video, these same guys started filming themselves all day long and we can’t tell it was really a job. But we were already convinced on our part that it was going to be such a profession and we had to make sure we could organize it.
We collaborated very early on with young talents. Nobody takes us seriously but we bet everything on the future career of influence. From the beginning, we chose to meet the parents of these creators because we knew it was a huge turning point for them in their family life. Some parents of creative people have even decided to stop their profession to help their children manage their activity.
How do you convince an influencer to pay for the services of an agency like yours instead of doing it alone?
First of all, it was a failure because we didn’t really know the influence marketing profession and clients didn’t necessarily understand how interesting our services were. Ironically, it was easier to persuade when the influencer profession was not present due to the need for support.
Today things have changed and we are seeing a reversal in the balance of power: money is starting to run low and creators are no longer chasing brands. Some logically wondered if they could become more independent and others preferred to delegate the management of partnerships to an agency. This is the case of Paola Locatelli, who collaborates with us because she seeks to be able to focus solely on her content.
Creators have to think about content every day and don’t necessarily have time to manage the commercial part. There are of course exceptions, like Lina Mahfouf for example, who manages a lot of things independently. The benefit of being accompanied by an ecosystem of experts, particularly legal or financial, seems even more apparent, especially as some scandals have erupted and regulatory means to regulate these practices are beginning to be explored. And to prove: in 2022 we reach a turnover of 25 million euros and we have one hundred employees. Our risk-taking has paid off, as has our strategy of retaining creators, enabling us to face stiff competition.
At the end of March, a bill was adopted in first reading by the National Assembly to better regulate the practices of influencers and fight scams, promoting cryptocurrency or even plastic surgery … they deliberately chose to break some rules. Do you agree ?
Yes, it happens that the rules are broken voluntarily but we must remember that most of them respect the rules. For example, 85% of influencers show their business intent according to the latest ARPP numbers. The problem is that the opening of distribution channels and the rise of social networks has brought thousands of call boxes onto the market, with somewhat varying degrees of morality. As a result, 5% of French creators – mostly reality TV – are starting to denigrate the influencer’s career.
These influencers have generally taken advantage of the advent of television to promote products, while purely original digital content creators have shaped their community over time. As a result, the acronym was created quickly and influencers were tarnished. At Follow, we categorically oppose these practices – particularly the promotion of dropshipping or cryptocurrency – and we advocate for Responsible Influence certification from ARPP (Advertising Professional Regulatory Authority). All of Follow’s content creators have passed and received the ARPP Responsible Influencer Certification. Our employees have also attended customized training with ARPP.
You should know that rules already exist about online advertising, but the challenge today is to give more resources to the DGCCRF (Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control) to better implement these rules. At the same time, it is also necessary to show the teaching methods with the creators to make them understand that not everything is allowed online and they are subject to penalties.
We fully endorse and support the regulations passed by the National Assembly in March. We’ve been very involved in discussions over the past few months to ensure this law is as close to the realities of our business as possible and supports creators while protecting consumers. We are among the founding members of the Association of Influencer Professions and Content Creators, the first professional association in the sector, bringing together today the major players in influencer marketing.
Would you say that influencers are the subject of general misunderstanding today? Why ?
I think the generation gap is one of the main reasons for the general misunderstanding of content creators: It’s a new job that’s come out on the media and the older among us just don’t understand it. They especially hear the astronomical sums involved and the excesses of a minority of the profession.
But I can give you a large number of examples that best show the profession. For example, for almost 5 years, Paola Locatelli has been the godmother of the Aida Association founded by Lia Mokanas. Aida is committed to improving the course of care for sick adolescents. Thanks to Paola and the resonance she gives Aida on her networks, thousands of young people across France have committed to supporting other young people with cancer by going to hospital with them.
Do you think influencers have a responsibility to the audience?
As an agency representing content creators, this is the first case of conscience that should shock us. To date, we and all of our creators have a global audience of 30 million people, so we have to measure the importance of the responsibility we have. Today’s youth hardly watch TV, and the only way to send them a message is through social networks.
In the same way, we must do more education with our talents to explain to them the importance of environmental and social issues but also to make them aware of the fact that it only takes one wrong step in communication for everything to fall apart. Our policy is crystal clear: if example is required, lead by example. This is also the purpose of the Responsible Impact Certification, which in this case requires some notion from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to obtain.
We encourage less plastic or aircraft use but in the end it is true that the creator is free to do whatever they want. In this case, we would advise the influencer to at least not show his not-so-virtuous lifestyle as it could lead many people down the same path.
Of course, there are limits that should not be crossed and we always prefer long-term contracts with people we trust. For the record – I’m not ashamed to say it – we’ve deprived ourselves of millions of euros by refusing to collaborate with Shein.
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