Influencer marketing is growing at an unprecedented speed. It is an industry currently worth more than 10 billion dollars worldwide, with some researchers estimating that this value will have nearly doubled by 2020. While the exact statistics differ between the studies conducted – with the industry changing rapidly – there is no question that this form of marketing is growing at a huge rate, with more than 73% marketers claiming that they have an allocated budget for influencer marketing. With nearly endless possibilities, and a huge number of involved parties, some aspects of these marketing strategies may prove to be problematic.
Advertising revolution: how the current generation engage with products
David Meerman Scott, writing in 2010 on changes in PR and Marketing industries, pointed out that “with the average person now seeing hundreds of seller-spun commercial messages per day, people just don’t trust advertising”. That was nearly a decade ago, and this has never been truer…
Today’s consumer no longer trusts the one-way process of traditional advertising, with TV-scripted ads or pop-up ads on the Internet websites ceasing to have any prolonged effect, especially on younger generations, millennials and generation Z. In fact, nearly 50% of online customers use ad-blockers to free themselves from demanding and aggressive advertising. Instead, we look for a more meaningful connection with brands that allow for a higher level of engagement.
In this modern world, where the current generation consumes media and products in a very different way than those before, influencer marketing has become ever more relevant. Advertising and marketing money has started pouring into developing the relevant influencer marketing strategies, with more and more marketers and brands realising the potential of using content-creators and posting on social media platforms as part of their advertising strategies. Social media influencers are becoming “the faces of the advertising revolution”. They open endless doors, as they have direct access to the end consumer.
The legal guidelines of influencer marketing: theory and practice
BBC Panorama recently ran a feature on their insights into the influencer marketing industry, with a reporter Catrin Nye investigating recent trends and obstacles in using “the new digital superstars” in brand marketing, predominantly focusing on the United Kingdom.
According to Jay Baer, “the key to effective use of influencers is their ability to cause behaviour/action”. From an ethical point of view, advertising something without full ad disclosure is misleading and can lead to actions or behaviours based on false assumptions that may or may not have been different if the proper labelling had been given. As a result, most countries nowadays, have legal frameworks guiding influencer marketing practices. But as Catrin Nye unfolds in BBC documentary, the reality is more complex.
In theory, influencers should always disclose clearly if they are advertising a product, which includes instances of both paid and somehow sponsored collaborations. At Swayy we fully advocate and support this. This can include cases where the product has been either gifted or loaned to an influencer, according to rules set by the Competition & Markets Authority in the UK. In fact, a recent set of guidelines were published on 23rd January 2019 asking influencers to be transparent with their followers.
However, the theory is very often different to the practice. According to research done by Catrin Nye, the number of posts that should be counted as advertising but are done deceptively is enormous. George Lusty, working for the Competition & Markets Authority, supported this, by saying that a number of posts they have investigated had no clear disclosure on partnership and advertising. The CMA says that they will take court action against those who don’t comply with guidelines; both brands and influencers alike. However, because influencer marketing is being undertaken on a large scale, globally, the problem of jurisdiction comes to the fore in numerous cases. Influencers are often promoting products for brands in a different country, marketing brands that potentially appeal to the international audience, creating issues for taking legal actions.
How open is influencer marketing about selling a product/experience? And what happens when it isn’t?
In an internet defined world, where the majority of 12 to 35 year-olds (or often even younger users!) are obsessed with social media, “brands have found a way of reaching directly into our lives” through the use of influencers in their marketing strategies. About 70% of teens trust influencers’ opinions and recommendations on social media platforms as if they were coming from their friends. On average, 95 million posts appear on Instagram every day, with a vast proportion containing promotional content. However, this is not always made clear for the audience.
According to Zara McDermott, one of the influencers Catrin Nye interviews, “social media makes products more real” allowing consumers to see a product in a real environment, as an influencer shows their followers insights into their daily lives, building trust and genuine relationships with their audience.
Influencer marketing allows for direct access to the end consumer.
However, brands and influencers can abuse this trust if they choose to advertise deceptively: either through negligent behaviour or through intentional actions. The effect of this can be especially damaging for members of the younger, more vulnerable audience.
In the BBC’s documentary on influencers, they tell the story of a 13-year old boy who became a victim of a gambling scam as a result of improperly disclosed influencer marketing. Those involved in influencer marketing must remember the effects their actions and behaviours may lead to. Social media influencers tend to share content that is or may seem very personal in nature, making the audience feel like they know them and like they should trust them implicitly. It is easy to understand why impressionable audiences are prone to mimicing their favourite stars’ behaviours.
Who pays the price when influencer marketing isn’t transparent and open?
With most teens today spending 7-10 hours a day on their phones, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat feeds, social media can have a deteriorating effect on their mental health. It may lead to self-esteem issues, and in worse scenarios, to self-harming and suicide attempts. The youngest pay the highest price for social media influencing power when they try to aspire to the “perfect lives” unfolding in front of their eyes.
This why both marketers and influencers should always think of their audience, and what their content is saying, whether covertly or overtly.
How to work with influencer marketing correctly?
In a recent interview for our executive series, Shawn Lim, (marketing manager at Marriott’s the Andaman resort in Langkawi) stated what he believed to be the most important questions when taking an influencer on board for future collaboration. These include: “What are they delivering? Are they compatible with our brand? What message are they delivering?”.
Influencers should be approaching brands in the same manner. It would be tempting to accept every attractive proposal, but content-creators should always remember what they stand for when choosing the brands they wish to partner with. For one, promoting brands and content that aligns with an influencer’s own values and aesthetic will come across as more genuine and relevant for their audience. However, more importantly, perhaps, is remembering who your audience is – and the fact that in the modern world, young and vulnerable audiences have access to social media platforms and the content that influencers create is of enormous importance to this. As an influencer, you have a responsibility to your audience. As Zara McDermott recalls: “I would never want to sell something that could be potentially harmful and dangerous to someone”. Remembering your audience and who can potentially access your content should always be taken into account when advertising a product.
As Sonia Simone says, “The web isn’t really made up of algorithms. It’s made of people. In all their frustrating, imperfect, and complicated glory”.
One of the beauties of this is that it allows for nearly endless opportunities to use influencer marketing in advertising strategies. But it must be undertaken responsibly. Again, one of the reasons why Swayy was developed in the first place, to increase accountability, transparency and create an environment of trust.
Swayy and influencer marketing
Swayy is an online influencer booking tool for hotels and restaurants that allows for effective collaborations between venues and our pre-vetted influencers. We ask everyone working with us to follow the legal framework and be transparent with their audience. Our system allows venues to set the specifics they want to achieve in a particular campaign: whether it is a particular number of posts they ask for, or specific locations they want pictures to be taken in. After the job is done, our platform allows hotels to check the content that has been produced to make sure that everything is the way it has been requested.
At Swayy, we know that influencer marketing is growing, and that it is a hugely vital strategy to develop for your brand. And we provide a great solution to making sure that influencer marketing campaigns are done effectively.
If you’d like to find out more about influencer marketing, check out our recent post on the dos and don’ts of influencer marketing.