From the niche bloggers of the early internet to the social media celebrities of today, influencers have grown and evolved into a multifaceted group servicing a variety of different categories and demographics over a number of different platforms. In 2018, influencers reach almost every corner of the digital landscape, making them widely known to online users, brands, as well as government agencies and watchdog groups. It’s no wonder the influencer marketing industry global ad spend is projected to reach $5-10 billion by 2020.
While brands had previously been more averse to influencer partnerships, the business world has begun to accept that online creators are today’s trendsetters and tastemakers. Last year, influencer sponsored content with the hashtag #ad nearly doubled, boasting a 198% increase over the previous year.
Utilizing word-of-mouth techniques augmented by the tools of social platforms, influencers are making a real impact for brands. Still, some influencers fall short, broadcasting inauthentic content and/or coming across as opportunistic in their sponsored posts. Moreover, some influencers engage in deceptive tactics, such as purchasing fake followers, likes, and comments, which further erodes trust.
While many top brands are utilizing influencer marketing, not all consumers find the technique credible. According to a study by Bazaarvoice, more than half of surveyed audiences in Europe feel that influencer sponsored content “takes advantage of impressionable audiences by being too materialistic (55%) and misrepresenting real life (54%).”
Indeed, poorly conceived and repetitive influencer content can be off-putting to consumers. These instances, combined with the phenomenon of fake followers, have inspired appeals to clean up the industry. Recently, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith Weed, called for, “urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”
Despite the issues that some influencer sponsored content produces, thoughtful and relevant campaigns can still provide value to audiences. As tastemakers, influencers have the power to offer useful tips and advice, which may or may not include products or services. It’s when influencers make irrelevant, insincere, irresponsible, and too frequent recommendations to their followers that influencer fatigue and rebuff can occur.
According to CPC Strategy’s 2018 Influencer Marketing Report, more than 30% of consumers value the trustworthiness of an influencer over the number of followers they have on their channel. When asked what makes an influencer recommendation on social media trustworthy, 28.4% of respondents said the influencer being an expert in the field was sufficient, while 30.5% claimed influencers who actually use the product or service lent more credibility to endorsements. As CPC puts it: “Trust means everything in influencer marketing.”
In a poll by Bloglovin’, influencers were asked how brand guidelines affected the authenticity of their posts. Among respondents, 54% of influencers didn’t feel brand oversight negatively affected the content, while 51% said it had some detrimental effect on post performance, and 64% claimed to resist brand guidelines.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States (US) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the United Kingdom (UK), as well as nonprofits like Truth in Advertising, have raised concerns about the transparency of influencer sponsored content. Investigations by the CMA, as well as actions taken by the FTC, have largely revolved around influencers and brands that fail to disclose the paid nature of their posts. In a review of top celebrity posts on Instagram from last year, more than 90% of ads were found to fall short of FTC guidelines.
While influencers who produce inauthentic and untrustworthy content tarnish the influencer marketing industry, reputable and credible sources have the power to offer value to brands and audiences. Influencer marketing agencies work to produce authentic influencer sponsored content by pairing brands with influencers who are original, creative, and genuine. By vetting influencers, researching their previous brand collaborations, and ensuring posts observe up-to-date FTC guidelines, influencer marketing agencies can help influencers and businesses partner on honest and principled campaigns. Agencies have insights on how audiences perceive influencers so they can help brands tailor their message.
Influencers who don’t follow advertising best practices or government guidelines risk compromising the integrity and reputation of the influencer marketing industry as a whole. For influencers interested in producing valuable content, being transparent and authentic with their audiences is integral to success for all parties.
Despite issues created by disreputable influencers, influencer marketing has become a widely-accepted method for reaching online audiences. Brands partnering with influencers who observe industry guidelines and best practices can ensure campaign transparency, as well as maintain influencer marketing’s reputation as a viable strategy. After all, reaching and pleasing target audiences determines ultimate success.