Rules of influence, art of transparency

Last year, influencer marketing became a billion-dollar industry—and it’s poised to break records for marketing spend in 2018.

But it’s not all good news for influencers. With scale comes scrutiny. People instinctively like industries that are small, scrappy and disruptive. When they grow, the public holds them to a higher standard. They must, to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg, start acting like grown-ups.

That’s what makes a recent white paper by Prizeology all the more worrying. Entitled ‘Under the Influence’, it examines public perception of social media influencers and the role brands play in developing partnerships.

It found that 71 per cent of respondents believe that there are no rules surrounding the use of influencers within marketing. They’re wrong. 61 per cent don’t think influencers have a duty to state that they have been paid to talk about a product. They do.

Small wonder, then, that almost half of those surveyed see influencer marketing as “damaging to society”.

‘#Ad’ rules and the disengaged public

One of the causes of this misconception may be the confusion surrounding ‘#ad’ or ‘#spon’ within influencers’ branded content.

These hashtags are Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) legislation that should be used by content creators who are incentivised to discuss a brand. But we often find ‘#ad’ nestled within an array of other hashtags and this can be easily missed by the public.

Making relationships transparent and authentic

‘Under the Influence’ found that 88 per cent of the public want to know if influencers are being paid to promote products, and 60 per cent agree that their perception of a brand is improved when there’s transparency about product promotion. Often the most successful influencer campaigns tap into the people who are already brand ambassadors before any partnership, and the audience then appreciate the genuine collaboration.

Last August Instagram made the move to add a “paid partnership with” sub-header on sponsored posts and stories for influencer’s content. Instagram explained: “Partnerships between creators and businesses are an important part of the Instagram experience, and a healthy community should be open about paid partnerships.” This has been hailed a positive move for stakeholders overall.

Final word

As with traditional marketing, ‘your customer is your best marketer’ is the theme at the heart of influencer campaigns.

Facebook’s latest changes to its algorithm will undoubtedly impact brands and publishers striving for our attention, and influencer activity could prove itself a welcome remedy. Content creators with established audience relationships will succeed, but it’s up to the influencer community and the brands with whom they collaborate to use this attention in an innovative and ethical way. If they don’t, the criticism aimed at influencer marketing will snowball.

The blind faith we once placed in brands and social media platforms is running out. With consumers more cautious than ever, a little bit of candour goes a very long way.