4 Min Read |
(London) – Over the past few years, social media influencers have become an integral part of the marketing mix, every facet of life seems to have someone who’s made a career out of talking about their chosen subject online.
And brands have embraced social media advertising. Influencer Marketing has grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry, built on followers who put their trust in their chosen influencer.
For the most part, followers regard influencers as impartial advisors, trust them as experts in the field or even regard them as ‘friends’. It’s this trust by the majority that compels brands to invest in influencers for promotion.
But many followers may not be aware that a significant number of influencers accept payment from brands to promote products, and influencers with sizeable followings seldom have to purchase the products they review. The items are often delivered in a box ready for that essential Instagram shot. Like traditional product placement an influencer doesn’t even have to review a product; instead the product may be strategically placed on the reviewers’ desk, or behind them- within camera shot.
“When a brand rewards an influencer with a payment, free gift, or other perk, any resulting posts become subject to consumer protection law.”
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these practices it does raise the question; are influencers independent advisors or have they become salespeople?
Influencers can be coy about earnings and while some claim to only advertise products they truly believe in; the temptation can exist to promote a product and overlook shortcomings when there is money on the table. There is little consistent data on any actual earnings of influencers and so, in a vacuum of information, inevitably there will be speculation.
Recently, a study conducted by Rakuten Marketing found that marketers were prepared to pay up to US$95,000 for a single post mentioning their brand by someone with over one million followers and an average of US$,2000, per post, to ‘micro-influencers’ with a following of less than 10,000. And it’s not just positive reviews that can earn money.
In more recent and controversial cases, influencers have reportedly been paid up to $85,000 by cosmetics brands to post derogatory reviews about rival products. With such secrecy within the industry it’s difficult to tell who is getting paid how much and for what purpose.
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Influencers & The Law
In an effort to bring some regulation and transparency to the market, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK in collaboration with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently published a guide for social influencers. It comes down to two essential points: “When a brand rewards an influencer with a payment, free gift, or other perk, any resulting posts become subject to consumer protection law. When a brand also has control over the content, they become subject to the UK Advertising Code as well.” Shahriar Coupal, CAP Director, said “Responsible influencer marketing involves being upfront and clear with the audience, so people are not confused or misled and know when they’re being advertised to,” The ASA has already banned several influencers who failed to make it clear when their posts were ads and earlier this year launched a project to ensure that ASA standards were being followed.
The Tide Could Be Turning
The public perception of influencers seems to be changing. According to a report published in August by Bazaarvoice, there are signs that the public may be becoming dissatisfied with content and less enthusiastic with influencers. The report surveyed 4,000 consumers across Europe, half of which were from the UK. Chief concerns were the repetitive nature of content (47%) and lowering quality (23%). Among the key findings were that 49% of UK and 68% of French consumers now expect new content daily from the influencers they follow.
The report goes on to suggest that along with pressure to create more content and reach more people at a higher frequency there is also an increasing problem with fraud and the phenomenon of ‘fake followers and fake engagement’.
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The trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by the big corporations. Unilever has committed to improving integrity and transparency among its brands. As the owners of brands such as Dollar Shave Club, Simple Skincare and Dove, they have stated that they will no longer work with influencers who manipulate their following or engagement and have promised that its own brands will never engage in such practices. Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO said “At Unilever, we believe influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”
Building a reputation as an influencer, despite appearances, is not an easy task. It take a lot of dedication, hard work, time and energy, and often many years, to build a loyal following. And influencers have to earn a living too. But the cornerstone of the Influencer/follower relationship has always been based on trust. If influencers are prepared accept large amounts of money from brands in return for promotion it reflects on their impartiality. If their judgement be compromised then it’s only a matter of time before public doubts and mistrust sets in. Then the public will ask, what’s the difference between them and a salesperson telling me the benefits of a product over the counter?