Transparency In Influencer Marketing: Are We There Yet?
Influencer marketing has long been a popular technique among marketers. It’s been an effective way to engage with customers in an authentic, non-intrusive manner. As more brands get involved in the practice, platforms are evolving to accommodate for the increase in brand-influencer collaborations. Today, 49% of people feel as if some restrictions should be placed on the content that influencers are creating according to Bazaarvoice research. Much of this is because platforms have become cluttered with unnatural relationships and abrasive content strategies.
Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK has released a new set of guidelines with regard to transparency in influencer marketing. The primary goal behind this is to ensure that influencers communicate clearly and honestly with their audiences and properly disclose any commercial relationships they may have with brands. Ads should be clearly designated as ads, for example. The guidance also makes it clear what constitutes an ad and what they are not. It also discusses what may happen if a complaint is made. Finally, brands and influencers are given the means to determine whether or not content they are planning to publish is considered to be an advertisement.
“Compliance with these guidelines is a wise idea,” said Vlad Dobrynin, CEO of Humans. “Brands and influencers who do so aren’t just avoiding sanctions, they are taking steps that consumers want them to take. That can go a long way in restoring some of the trust that has eroded, ultimately allowing brands to create more meaningful campaigns that can have great lasting impact through social collaboration.”
Below are some ways that they can respond to these new guidelines.
Identify content as being either wholly or partially affiliated
Whether content is entirely produced for the purpose of marketing a product or service, or just happens to contain some branded mentions or appearances, they must be flagged in some way. For example, if an influencer has been paid to create a video, they must indicate that in the title or caption of the video. If only certain elements are sponsored, they may use a technique such as flagging the links to those products. In any case, all the ad placements should be clearly marked as such at all times.
Make a plan for each social media platform
It’s not enough to simply make a general commitment to comply with these guidelines. According to Cam Wilkie, co-founder of func.media, a millennial-run viral media agency, “There’s no one size fits all way to comply with these standards. Each platform has its own unique attributes. It’s important to look at all of the places you are present, then determine the steps you need to take in order to stay within established guidelines. Above all, brands can maximize their impact by collaborating with influencers who best align with their mission and values, rather than oversaturating the market with inauthentic relationships.”
When it comes to evaluating best practices, for example, you would tag sponsored content on Instagram differently than you would on YouTube because of the differences between the two platforms.
According to Maximillian Berger, “The good news is that many platforms have now built in tools that can help you comply with both the regulations established in the UK and the FTC regulations in the States. For example, Instagram now has a paid partnership tag. YouTube and Facebook also have mechanisms for brands and influencers to disclose their relationships. When there are no official means to comply, it’s still important to implement best practices. Use tags like #AD or #Sponsored to indicate that a post has been paid. Be aware that there are other tags that are popular, but not officially recognized. It’s important not to be too obscure or try to disguise the ‘#spon’ tag among the sea of others.”
Recognize that audiences are becoming savvier
It may be wise to understand the reasons behind these guidelines and more importantly increasing audience sensitivity. According to the same study from Bazaarvoice, 47% of customers feel tired of inauthentic content published by influencers. Not only are they recognizing when content is misaligned with an influencers personal brand, they’re becoming more aware of the practice in general as more companies enter the market. It’s not just about tagging ads. It’s about dealing with the increasing lack of trust and skepticism that outdated influencer techniques are creating.
Rather than simply planning to comply in order to avoid sanctions, the better approach may be to embrace new methods. These may help to improve audience relationships and increase trust. Audiences aren’t opposed to being marketed to. Many just disapprove of the manufactured nature and lack of genuine connection associated with certain sponsored campaigns. An honest, authentic approach could be seen as refreshing for brands entering the market in 2018 and beyond.