My career has centered around influencer marketing. I’ve always known it had the power to authentically move people through fresh and sincere content, in a way that the rest of the marketing industry could only dream of.
Some called me brave, but I believed and took a gamble. My business partner and I set up the world’s first full-service influencer marketing agency. We were true pioneers and traveled the world in an attempt to convince brands to try out influencers as part of their marketing mix. This was a true contrast to today’s landscape, where this kind of digital storytelling is now the epicenter for many branding campaigns.
Since then, influencer marketing has skyrocketed and, as a byproduct, has become a hot news topic. The industry is still trying to work out what its place is within marketing budgets and the overall marketing ecosystem.
Simultaneously, consumers are becoming savvier to influencer marketing, and in this fast-paced media environment, how do we work this out? We’re living in an age where digital avatars are the new social influencers and an egg is the most “liked” picture on Instagram. Does authenticity even exist anymore?
A Fork In The Road
Recent news of “luxury” music festival Fyre Festival has shown the power of influencers, building up buzz and brand equity through partnerships with the likes of Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski. The backlash to the success of its influencer marketing prowess is that none of the influencers abided by influencer advertising law, by not disclosing that the posts were #sponsored.
Meme influencer accounts have also come under fire, whereby comedians are calling on the internet community to unfollow an account that was not being honest and transparent and wasn’t crediting content. The Instagram account in question has dropped almost a million followers.
And to top it off, Instagram has silently culled millions of accounts in an effort to combat bots, spam accounts and inactive accounts, leaving some of those with the coveted blue ticks, like Ariana Grande, down millions of followers.
What we can take away from this is that the power of social influence relies on its authenticity. The only way for influencer marketing to survive will be to ensure the legitimacy of partnerships, and this can be done by protecting the industry.
What Can Brands Do?
While the onus may be on the content creator to make sure their work is above board, brands also must commit to audiences by doing their due diligence. Here are some key things we recommend when partnering with influencers:
Make sure they’re abiding by influencer advertising laws.
When influencer marketing as a medium was coming up, the lines were blurred in terms of advertising. Brands and influencers commonly collaborated on paid partnerships without audiences being aware of any such financial relationship.
As the industry has matured, marketers have to mature with it by being transparent and sharing when compensated for campaigns. It’s now the law in many countries to disclose these partnerships with #sponsored or #ad or by using the Instagram Paid Partnership pin.
It’s our job to make sure all our partners share these hashtags, or those relevant to local law. Brands have a job to ensure the influencers post this and should consult a specialized legal counsel or their local agency for advice on best practices.
Make sure the content on their feed is original and properly credited.
Similarly, in this social age of sharing, many popular influencer accounts share content. Whether it’s a beautifully crafted shot or snackable meme content, billions of pieces of content are shared every day.
When looking to partner up, look for original content and credit where credit’s due, whether that’s shouting out the crew on a shoot or crediting a repost of someone else’s work.
Make sure they haven’t bought fake followers.
Many influencers have succumbed to buying followers to cheat the system, appearing bigger than they are in order to secure that coveted brand partnerships. This may seem obvious but is often overlooked. Brands must make sure that due diligence is done on their chosen influencer’s audience.
Aside from the industry tools that are out there, you can also sense check their followers. Have their followers spiked in the last six months? Does an Indiana-based influencer have a disproportionately large Brazilian following? Do they have a terrible engagement rate?
You’re trying to connect with audiences via an authentic partnership, which means they not only need to be engaged and relevant but must be 100% real.
What Can Agencies Do?
At our agency, we’ve started introducing new metrics and benchmarks like saturation rate. That way, we can advise clients on the authenticity of influencers, ensuring they’re working with genuine content creators so they can establish more meaningful connections.
It’s also important that, as an industry, we continue to protect influencers and not just ride this wave. The trend of using influencers to promote at all costs should not be to the detriment of the industry, diminishing the reputation of influencer marketing in its wake.
This is where we, as industry peers, need to take a stand — to pledge that we will stand together to protect influencer marketing. We can do this by striving for transparency and authenticity before we create irreversible damage. The future of the industry depends on it.