How Liable Are Influencers For ‘Hacks’ Gone Wrong?

We all know the value of influencer marketing: targeted brand exposure, building reputation and positive endorsement to name a few. Only last year I was writing about how Mrs. Hinch sent a loft ladder company’s instagram following from 49 to over 30,000 overnight from just a handful of Instagram stories.

Her influence is legendary.

With great power though, comes great responsibility. Influence isn’t always positive, and that’s what I wanted to talk about today.

The Hack You DON’T Want To Try

You might have seen the latest cleaning trend that involves unscrewing your sink plug to clean out the gunk that’s underneath.

If you haven’t, avoid it at all costs.

This stunt has been doing the rounds on TikTok, and more recently Mrs Hinch’s Instagram which has left a number of her followers with a substantial plumbing bill. To give you some context (though I want to say I absolutely do not recommend nor endorse this), the hack involves unscrewing your plughole with a knife or spoon to clean under it, then putting it all back together again. On the surface, this is a clever way to enjoy a satisfying clean and eradicate any bad smells; but for those who’ve actually tried it, you might be left with a trip to A&E or a visit from the plumber.

Professionals have also since spoken out to advise against unscrewing your sink plughole, warning it can damage the draining and the ‘gunk’ that many cleaning fanatics have been scooping out, is actually putty that prevents water leakage. It seems that Mrs Hinch herself knows this to be true now too, as her instagram Reel was taken down just hours after she originally posted it.

For some though, it was already too late.

Mrs Hinch’s Problem? You Decide…

When Mrs Hinch posts to her account, I know that many of her followers tend to save her videos (over 94% are classified as ‘highly engaged’ according to research by Rise At Seven); this means that despite her taking down her Reel – some are still continuing to try out her suggestion. I’m in a Facebook group where, even after the post was removed, there were handfuls of people still cleaning out their plug holes in this way. Aptly named “Mrs Hinch Made Me Do It” the group also had plenty of comments from people saying they’d tried if after seeing Sophie’s story, and subsequently ended up flooding their kitchens – or something to that effect.

Having read both of her books and being somewhat a fan myself, Sophie Hinchcliffe is often repeating and reinforcing how she is no professional, and simply wants shares her love for cleaning with her followers. However, I do think she has to accept a certain level of liability for the content she posts. I do think that this situation could have been handled better. Why?

  • She should have her followers interests at heart – Mrs Hinch often refers her followers as her friends, and so I was surprised that she didn’t issue any kind of warning to help them avoid potentially damaging their kitchens (and themselves). Posting the Reel was an honest mistake, but not speaking out about the risks thereafter seems negligent to me. Of course there’s a chance she’s still unaware the risks, but I doubt this to be the case.
  • Blocking users advising against the hack is ill-considered – there are examples of where Sophie has actively blocked users for commenting on her Reel advising against the sink hack due to the damage it can cause. She is passionately anti-troll, but I think there’s a difference between removing somebody for being rude, and removing someone who was genuinely trying to give helpful advice.
  • Posting unregulated content could be avoided – Mrs Hinch is often at various meetings, she has even been overseas in Brussels (yes, I’ve read the books, did I mention?), to meet with various regulated cleaning bodies and organisations. She does maintain that the content she posts on her account is genuine and not moderated, but she also does admittedly have a management team and I think when posting new advice, she would benefit from checking hacks through to make sure they are safe – knowing the influence she has. Though she is just one person, we do have to remember that Mrs Hinch has her own home range in Tesco, multiple book deals, a podcast and millions of followers, so a degree of ownership should be taken, in my opinion.

It’s also worth saying, that my difficulty with this situation isn’t just with Mrs Hinch, but the general way that influence works – and how dangerous it can be sometimes. I think there are multiple individuals and platforms that should be held more accountable for their actions.

Could More Be Done?

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing apps I’ve ever had my eye on, every day there’s a new hack or trend to try out. I do believe that the sink hack itself originated from TikTok and I am still seeing it on my feed now, despite all the warnings. It’s not just TikTok either, only recently was dancer Abbie Quinnen hospitalised at the hands a YouTube stunt going horribly wrong. As we continue to spend more time indoors, more of us succumb to the idea of trying something out because we’ve seen others do it well. Despite TikTok often labelling videos with warning alerts, the influence is often too strong to sway opinion.

Working in PR, you often see the great benefits of influencer marketing, but it’s also important to consider when influence goes the wrong way too. Though it shows how powerful certain platforms can do, it also shows the care you must take with this kind of power.

Do The Press Have A Responsibility Too?

In PR, there are many different ways to generate exposure for your brand and their story – one of the most common is in the media. We like to think of news articles as very influential. So, circling back to this story, do the media also have a responsibility to report with warnings? I’ve noticed a handful of articles going out covering the now-dubbed ‘Mrs Hinch spoon hack’ (despite her not being the original source), with no warning about the implications that it can cause.

We know that with stories like this, it’s not often they’ll issue an apology or retraction – as that doesn’t get nearly as many article clicks. So thinking once again about the platform that Mrs Hinch has – could she not correct her mistakes, and debunk the articles too? Though it’s not her responsibility to tell others what to do, sure, it would be nice to think she would do what she could to save her followers from a hefty plumbers bill or a trip to the hospital.

If it was down to me, I think she could definitely use her influence for good here, and put right some wrongs rather than sweep it under the rug.

What do you think? Is this a Mrs Hinch problem, and is it down to her to correct it? Or, should we let people think for themselves and not consider influence when it comes to individuals making their own decisions? I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on influence, and when it can go wrong, in the comments below or on Twitter.

It does beg the question, doesn’t it?

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