The Kardashians are probably used to doing whatever they want, which is why it isn't terribly surprising that they posted product endorsements on their Instagram profiles without disclosing that the posts are actually ads. According to the Federal Trade Commissions's guidelines, posts like these must be clearly labeled as endorsements, and if not, the FTC plans to crack down. Looks like the Kardashians will have to start keeping up with the FTC.

The New York Times recently reported on the Kardashians' influencer marketing practices after the sisters, who have more than 320 million combined followers on Instagram alone, were called out for not accurately disclosing their relationships with various brands. This brings up the trending discussion of trust -- specifically whether consumers can really trust what influencers are saying when we all know money changes hands behind closed doors.

With the controversy the Kardashians have added to the mix, there are some important things to consider as you continue to navigate and utilize influencer marketing.

Avoid Shady Practices

Just because you're able to get away with something right now doesn't mean you'll continue getting away with it -- or that it's even a good idea to try. I'd compare this to the early days of SEO when people took advantage of black hat link-building tactics. People got away with it for a little while, but when search engines caught on and laid the smack down, many companies lost traffic and search rankings overnight. You can't build a credible brand on these types of practices.

Exercise Caution

It's easy to look at the money and take in some quick cash, but it could be a mistake for your brand in the long term. If your audience members buy a product based on your recommendation and find out that the only reason you recommended it to them in the first place is because that brand paid you thousands of dollars behind the scenes, you could quickly and easily lose that trust. Don't take your audience's trust for granted -- it's the biggest factor in successful influencer marketing.

Instead, try to align yourself with brands and products that you actually like. Your endorsements and recommendations will be much more authentic that way, and your audience will likely be more understanding, even if you're earning money for them.

Earn First; Spend Second

Answer honestly: Do you think the Kardashians (or any mega-influencer, for that matter) will remain loyal to the brands that pay them tens of thousands of dollars for one post? No, they won't. If a competing brand with a bigger budget offers more money, they'll probably take it.

That's why doing everything you can to earn your own influence before putting spend behind these relationships is important. If you can naturally form mutually beneficial relationships with influencers first, you can build stronger, longer-lasting relationships with them and the audiences they attract -- and only put that kind of spend behind the relationships that deliver the greatest ROI to your company.

For example, I've contributed to Content Marketing Institute for a few years now. My team and I have recorded some solid engagement from those posts, so we know that the audience Joe Pulizzi and his team have developed is valuable to us. In the process, we've earned the opportunity to build a mutually beneficial relationship with Joe and his team. That's why we said, "Yes," when he reached out and asked us to be a sponsor of Content Marketing World this year.

We've earned some influence with CMI, we've built a real relationship, and we already know the audience does well for us. We'll see how it goes, but it's a clear example of how a relationship that's earned naturally can evolve into a paid or sponsored one.

When it's all said and done, the question remains: Is the influence worth the money spent? Is it honestly worth it to spend, on average, $187,000 for a post on YouTube or $75,000 for one on Instagram or Snapchat?

As influencer marketing becomes more valuable, it's important that you don't take for granted the basis of its appeal: trust. By avoiding shady practices, exercising caution, and earning relationships before throwing money at them, you can actually build that trust -- and you'll never have to worry about the issues that come along with dishonest influencer marketing.

Published on: Sep 1, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.