As part of its push for greater transparency and to combat fraud in the digital ecosystem, Unilever said over the weekend that the company would no longer work with influencers who buy followers. The company unveiled its new policy at the Cannes Lions Festival.
“The key to improving the situation is threefold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact," said CMO Keith Weed.
In addition, Weed says Unilever brands themselves will never buy followers and the company will prioritize partners that help eradicate fraud and support increased visibility and transparency.
Marketers currently have limited visibility to accurately measure influencer programming and track authentic engagement, he says. At the same time,marketers are relying more on influencers to get their marketing messages across, believing that such messages resonate with consumers.
“We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever," says Weed. He cites the critical importance of this decision due to the "scale and scope" of influencer marketing. It is growing at pace and holds increasing sway as a way for brands to speak to people given influencers’ deep and direct connections with their audiences, he says.
The more people influencers reach, the more money they make, he points out. According to data collected by Captiv8, a company that connects influencers to brands, an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000.
Still, it is unclear how Unilever will effectively determine whether or not these influencers purchased followers. Or whether banned individuals will be able to challenge the decision. Unilever says it will use "a number of tools" and work closely with agency and platform partners to track fraudulent behavior when it sees it.
Nonetheless, the intention is clear, says Weed, reiterating his long-held belief that marketers need to rebuild trust back into the digital ecosystem and wider society and that platforms need to help eradicate fraud themselves.
"One of the ways we can do that is to increase integrity and transparency in the influencer space," says Weed.