For years on end, two names have dominated Australia’s fitness scene: Kayla Itsines and Ashy Bines.
Both women are undisputed social media stars with millions of followers online — and millions of dollars in the bank.
Last year, Ms Itsines, 27, and her fiance Tobi Pearce, 26, even catapulted to equal fifth and sixth place on the coveted AFR Young Rich List with an estimated combined wealth of $486 million.
But that success has also come with its fair share of controversies, with Ms Bines in particular facing allegations of plagiarism, overcharging customers, blocking and deleting negative comments, and bitter legal feuds over the years.
In 2015, it was revealed large sections of her clean eating recipes were taken from other websites, and in a YouTube video Ms Bines claimed her books had been outsourced to a nutritionist and that she had been “too naive in not checking the origins of these recipes”.
According to Aussie public relations expert Nicole Reaney, Ms Bines, 30, was one of the pioneers of fitness social influence and she managed to leverage her position as a “social media juggernaut” to establish her empire, boasting a “massive following” to this day.
She said Ms Bines had aligned herself with some positive causes and had been quick to share her side of the story when things went wrong.
But when a brand was so closely linked to a personality, she said handling negativity was even more critical.
“With Ashy a favourable aspect is that she has got in front of a camera and explained her side by creating a YouTube video. She was on the front foot in terms of the speed of response,” she said.
But she said it was a mistake to react defensively instead of acknowledging opponents’ perspectives.
“You need to demonstrate how you will make a change. If you’ve got X number of consumers complaining, you need to take steps to make things more transparent and build trust that way,” she said.
“Going forward, as an incident arises there must be an immediate response and transparency, along with acknowledging responsibility where reasonable and taking any steps to repair it.”
Fellow PR expert Catriona Pollard said Ms Bines’ reputation had taken a serious hit from those early accusations of plagiarism, which she has denied being directly responsible for.
“When something like that happens while you are building your personal brand, if it’s not dealt with effectively and taken really seriously, it can impact the brand moving forward,” she said.
Ms Pollard said the best way to respond to the crisis would have been to go “above and beyond” by giving away cookbooks or holding an event so she could meet people in person to build “real relationships” with followers.
“With Ashy there’s also that idea of coming from a place of humility, finding and demonstrating a purpose as well as coming back to the value you’re offering people — a lot of social media influencers can be seen as coming across as being in it for the money, but people don’t relate to that,” she said.
“Another thing is how you deal with comments, and unfortunately Ashy had so many negative comments at times there was even the suggestion it was bordering on bullying.