Did The Health Department Get It Wrong Paying Social Media 'Influencers'?

There's a government inquiry underway, but did the government completely miss the mark?

What you need to know
  • The government has been paying social media influencers to promote women’s exercise
  • The health minister announced a review of the initiative after it was revealed some of the influencers were controversial
  • Experts say the government's intentions may not have been completely out of line

Branding experts say taxpayer funding isn't necessarily wasted on paying social media influencers to promote public health messages to young people.

It comes as Health Minister Greg Hunt launches an internal inquiry into the funding of a social media campaign, run by his own department, designed to encourage young women to exercise more.

A Daily Telegraph investigation revealed the Health Department spent more than $600,000 in taxpayer funds on hundreds of Instagram influencers as part of the #girlsmakeyourmove social media campaign.

This includes paying the social media personalities to post fitness photos on their Instagram accounts with the accompanying hashtag, often including a detailed caption about why young girls should become more active.

The campaign came under fire for employing infuencers who have also used their platforms to promote alcohol products and potentially harmful diets like intermittent fasting. One influencer was even forced to issue an apology last year for using racist language and homophobic slurs on Twitter.

Australian-based model Lily May Mac was forced to apologise last year after tweets she posted in 2013 resurfaced. Image: Lilymaymac Twitter

The Health Department was also scrutinised for spending money on influencers who were not deemed "valuable" from an advertising perspective.

However advertising executive and commentator Dee Madigan told ten daily it's unsurprising the government took this path, considering 80 percent of people are more likely to make a purchase at the recommendation of a friend, than as a result of traditional advertising media.

"If the government chooses the right influencers, especially if people distrust government advertising like they do at the moment, then it's a smart move," she said.

"If they’re trying to get to young people, influencers aren’t a bad way to go."

From university students taking dedicated digital advertising classes to international brands employing social media managers, the department's attempt to tap into influencers seems to have at least come from an informed position.

"If the government’s objective is to get the word out there and for people to listen then social media is definitely a good choice, because people actually listen to these influencers," Sara Bhuller, social media expert and director of Model Scout Academy, told ten daily.

Yet as Bhuller explains, a large Instagram following doesn't always translate to a successful advertising bid, with fake followers or members of an unintended demographic potentially making up the numbers.

“It’s got nothing to do with quantity, its got to do with the quality of followers," she said.

In response to the investigation, a spokesperson for Minister Hunt told ten daily a review of the government expense was underway.

"Minister Hunt has launched an immediate review of the use of these influencers," the spokesperson said.

"The Minister does not endorse these posts and finds them offensive."

The spokesperson also confirmed the advertising firm used to commission the influencers no longer has the Government advertising contract.