A popular influencer training academy, With Honors, has been accused of copying another influencer’s work "word for word, or just slightly changed" in its course materials, setting off larger questions about how the program sources some of its course materials.
The academy, which charges its customers hundreds of dollars, is part of a burgeoning industry where influencers — or the people who know the secrets to building an engaged following — help businesses grow and hone their image. It’s collaborated with big names in the industry like Bachelorette star Hannah Brown and Lauren Evarts Bosstick, aka @theskinnyconfidential.
The company dismissed the criticisms to BuzzFeed News as an example of "cancel culture."
It began about a week ago when Elise Darma, a 33-year-old influencer who teaches small businesses about marketing on Instagram, received a message from one of her members who had taken a With Honors course. The person told Darma a With Honors Google Doc called "Social Suites" included a section that read "incredibly familiar" to a product Darma had previously offered her followers.
The section featured prewritten social media caption prompts that looked extremely similar to one Darma had written for her Caption Vault product.
The caption guides lead with similar themes (“NICHE” versus “YOUR NICHE” and “OFFER” versus “YOUR OFFER”). The descriptions read similarly to each other.
“This is the specific segment of your industry that you specialize in and focus on,” Darma writes beside the “Your Niche” subheading. With Honors' “Niche” subheading is followed by “This is the specific person or industry you’re speaking to.”
For the definition of “OFFER,” Darma writes, “The #1 most relevant offer of yours to talk about and share.” With Honors writes, “The #1 service, package, transformation, or sale that you’re marketing to your audience.” The two are formatted almost identically.
The copy is almost identical in another slide as well. “ACCOUNTS I LEARN FROM EVERYDAY,” Darma says in introducing the first point on the page. “You might know me as a dashing [YOUR SERVICE PROVIDER]...” With Honors’ opens the exact same way. Multiple points in both versions of the slide share very similar language.
"Looking at their version, I could see that the layout and categories within the product were very similar, as well as many of the captions themselves were word-for-word or just slightly changed," she says.
Darma created a Reel highlighting these similarities and story-pinned it under the caption "Plagiarism."
"I decided to make this public because it was one of the most blatant ripoffs of my product by a bigger brand name, which made it more shocking," she says in a series of Instagram videos.
She and other members said they think With Honors deleted that section after being called out.
In response to these accusations, Heather Catania, a brand strategist who helped create the With Honors program, told BuzzFeed News she's tried to "have a meaningful discussion about this situation" with Darma.
"We regretfully were met with no response and public anger, hate and backlash," she added. BuzzFeed News later asked about the claim that they had deleted the section in question.
(Darma later told BuzzFeed News she did respond to their direct message, and provided a screenshot of that response.)
Catania said the company is moving toward “meaningful growth” and “working together to resolve disputes.”
“As we continue to grow, we urge everyone to cultivate a community and culture that honors communication, rewards meaningful growth, and creates a world where we empower and support each other and emphasize working together to resolve disputes rather than bullying or cancelling brands that are created by people who have poured countless hours, love, hardwork and dedication,” Catania said.
Darma confirmed that the With Honors account had reached out to her over DM. But she was not interested in the "meaningful discussion" Catania proposed.
"To rectify this situation, my only ask to them was that they communicate to their customers the truth about the plagiarized product and, ideally, refund their customers' money," Darma said.
But two customers told BuzzFeed News they have not heard directly from With Honors about the situation.
One customer who works as a creator and influencer, and who wished to remain anonymous, said she was at first pleased with With Honors' offerings — especially the Social Suite and caption prompts.
"I was blown away by the resources they provided, and I was super impressed with them. I thought it looked great," she said.
However, the customer started to notice "some weird things" that came up in other parts of the online course. For example, she came across content written in British English despite the creators and program being based in the US.
"They spell 'ton' like 'tonne.' I was, like, that’s kind of weird. The voice they’re using in their copy doesn’t match the voice they use in their videos but I figured maybe they outsourced their copy," she said. "But it was weird because the whole thing was so polished and glossy."
Catania did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
In another instance, the customer noticed that a template that creators could use to fill in their own information and stats in order to pitch sponsorship deals had a very random brand name and website on it, which she thought was odd. (She provided BuzzFeed News with these course slides to review.)
"You’d think With Honors would use their name and website," she said. The name and website was FallonTravels.com, another brand marketing website. In a preview for the influencer media kit for sale on its site, some pages also resembled ones in the With Honors program.
When asked about this discrepancy, Catania said With Honors is “conducting a site wide audit.”
“We take all intellectual property matters very seriously and are conducting a site wide audit to ensure compliance in all respects,” she said.
"That was really concerning,” she said, “that was the big one." BuzzFeed News has reached out to Fallon Travels for comment. With Honors has turned off all comments on its Instagram page.
When this customer saw Darma's plagiarism allegations on social media, she said her suspicions about the program started to make more sense.
On top of these allegations, some customers say the course was simply uninspiring.
"Before the plagiarism allegations, I was sold on it based on the clean-ish design and the fact that they featured two Black women that I was interested in hearing from," said Odette Rivera Davis, 32, who's a content strategist. But now Davis believes With Honors focused more on "slick branding" with appealing "thin serif fonts [and] pastel colors" instead of offering their clients original information.
"I don't plan on using any of this information that I sent you or anything in the courses, mostly because you can find information like this in a number of places, and also because I can't trust that it's decent info at all," Davis added. She and others who've paid hundreds of dollars for these membership resources want to be refunded. But they mostly want With Honors to take full accountability.
"I want them to be honest with their customers, address this publicly, and honor my refund," Davis said.
"[With Honors] is always talking about authenticity and being real and showing up on social media," added the anonymous customer. "Their name is With Honors: I think it’s ironic and awful."
This story has been updated with a statement from Darma that she had responded to With Honors' DM.