Influencer marketing is still considered by some to be the “Wild West.” While influencer content is often considered more effective, authentic and trustworthy than branded content, there are still sceptics who believe there are no rules or access to performance data and that brands are more focused on vanity metrics than impact.
While this belief may have been true before -- and the lack of high-quality data and performance metrics created a perfect environment for the growth of various forms of influencer fraud -- the industry is going through an evolution.
As the industry matures, technological advancements yield reporting tools that help root out fraudulent activity. These new tools enable brands to protect their investment and reputation, and find the right creators for their influencer campaigns.
Toward Greater Transparency
Despite the importance of authenticity in influencer marketing, the industry is facing a transparency crisis. In 2018, fraud topped the headlines as one of the biggest issues in influencer marketing and there have since been reports of fake followers, fake engagement stats and the use of inadequate reporting tools.
In addition, businesses working with influencers have experienced difficulty accessing relevant data in real-time, which has been linked to the risk of data manipulation, including the use of bots to change engagement numbers.
The industry is also still pretty nascent, and thus far brands find it difficult to compare their influencer marketing investment to other types of marketing.
Without being able to compare influencer programmes to other media activity, brands struggle to understand its value, and by extension, how to allocate budgets appropriately. In Europe, many still consider influencer marketing to be a branding tool, and establishing benchmarks has proven to be challenging.
In the face of these issues, brand influencers and industry leaders alike are calling for increased transparency and more meaningful metrics. Instagram practically institutionalised transparency with a recent announcement that it would allow brands to turn influencer posts into advertisements.
This is a great opportunity for brands to move beyond working with celebrities. There is a huge benefit for brands willing to work with creators with a smaller, niche following and subject-matter expertise. Not only does this enable these micro-influencers to create branded content and reach a wider audience, it’s a way to combine organic creative with paid content, measure the effectiveness of the post, and maximise the brand investment.
Let’s Talk Disclosure
Are brands responsible for educating creators about disclosure requirements, or are creators responsible for educating brands? According to the ASA, brands or advertisers, bare the primary responsibility for knowing and complying with the rules.
The reality, however, is that both brands and creators need to share responsibility where disclosure is concerned. As a matter of reputation, both brands and influencers need to know what the disclosure rules are and take responsibility for compliance.
Influencers who want to appear professional are educating themselves on both marketing and relevant regulations. Now most influencers know the rules for proper disclosure of paid content and how to clearly identify a post as a marketing message. The problem is that sometimes creators decide not to include the necessary disclosure because they are given a clear directive from their brand sponsors.
Although influencers are called out more often for not being transparent, brands need to be clear with influencers about their compliance expectations during the briefing stage.
5 Ways Brands Can Ensure Transparency
As we move into an era of greater transparency in influencer marketing, here are some ways brands can facilitate this evolution:
1. Take responsibility. Creators aren’t the only ones whose reputations are on the line when disclosure isn’t clear; the brand’s reputation is at risk as well. It’s important for brands to be clear during the briefing phase and write contracts that require creators to include #ad in sponsored posts.
2. Partner well. Choosing the right partner is important. You need to align with a partner that you can trust to instill the same values in their brand and influencer partners, as you do. More so, they also need to have the technological know-how to be able to look deep into the first-party data — followers, engagement stats, etc. — and deliver you a gold-standard campaign you can trust.
3. Invest in co-creation. The time for transactional brand-influencer relationships is over. Brands need to invest in long-lasting relationships with creative influencers. Cultivating relationships helps to establish trust between the brand and creators, and reinforces brand disclosure expectations.
4. Seek brand-influencer alignment. Choose influencers who demonstrate similar values to your brand and a passion for what they are doing. These influencers will not risk losing their followers by being inauthentic and promoting something they don’t believe in; nor will they want to jeopardise their relationship with you.
5. Proactively support and promote transparency. Brands should support the educational efforts of regulatory agencies like the FTC and ASA, and proactively promote transparency among their partners. This kind of commitment helps to build trust and confidence in the industry.
While brands can help drive transparency forward, everyone working within the influencer marketing ecosystem needs to take responsibility. Make sure that you are up to date with, understand and are implementing the latest guidance from regulatory agencies like the FTC and ASA.
“I didn’t know” is not likely to cut it as an excuse going forward. This is a crucial period during which industry leaders can work together to increase transparency within the influencer marketing space.