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Caveat Influencer!

Influencer marketing has long been viewed as ‘the next big thing’. Modelling agencies have expanded their (literal) portfolios to include influencers, and there are now influencer agencies to manage partnerships and sponsorships. There are also online platforms such like FameBit.com and Revfluence.com which help brands connect with influencers. The concept builds on the word-of-mouth marketing thought, but on a larger scale in today’s social media age. According to DigiDay, approximately $570m is spent globally on Instagram influencer marketing. And that’s just Instagram!

There are multiple ways an influencer can profit from a post; sponsored posts, affiliate links, product placement, to name but a few. There are equally several ways a brand can profit from a partnership such as building fame, communicating complicated messages, localising international brands etc. When partnering with e-commerce sites, using referral links / codes can be of mutual benefit as it can help the brand give a more definitive ROI and creates transparency around the partnership. However, if the partnership is not disclosed explicitly to the consumer, this is a serious breach of trust and can be damaging to both the brand being advertised and the influencer’s own brand.

Transparency and trust has always played a significant role in advertising, and the same is true today in an age of ‘Fake News’. In the influencer and blogging industry, there have been increasing consumer distrust, with followers calling out influencers and brands who they believe to be ambiguous. In Ireland, Bloggers Unveiled is an Instagram account that calls out influencers and has garnered a whopping 162k followers since it was set up in January 2018.

In the US, as Proctor & Gamble focus on verifying their digital buys and rooting out any fraudulent data, they have increased spends in influencer marketing. A new study has showed that this may be a hollow approach, with two of their brands ranked in the top 10 in using paid influencers with fake followers. Additional American studies have shown low levels of compliance with guidelines and rules set out by the Federal Trading Commission (FTC). A 2018 Princeton research study showed that only 10% of YouTube videos and 7% of Pinterest pins that contain affiliate links contained any written disclosure. The impact of this has yet to be seen, but there are undoubtedly both short-term as well as long-term effects for all parties involved.

New guidance is being offered by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI), who hosted an event last month for advertisers and bloggers to ask questions, with an FAQ sheet circulated as well. It is in the interests of influencers to self-regulate and adhere to the guidelines set out to them. However, it is also up to the brands and advertisers to enforce these rules and to truly understand that transparency equates to trust, which should only then result in investment.

As the intermediary, the media agency should ensure that their clients work only with influencers that offer full disclosure and are compliant with ASAI rules, while also maintaining strong metrics that match the marketing objective.

*Figures correct at the time of writing.