Brands and influencers: is the honeymoon over?

Content is king. And in this kingdom, influencers are royalty. With growing tensions in the industry, many have started to question influencers’ effectiveness at communicating brand messages. How will we handle the explosive growth of influencer marketing? Here are some of the highlights I gleaned from Social Media Week Los Angeles.

The state of influence

Celebrities, spokespeople and the media no longer benefit from the public’s blind trust. Enter: influencers (or digital creators, for those who can’t stand the word anymore). These creators hold the dual identity of peer and expert in their category (for instance, beauty, fashion, sports, etc.). We relate to them, they’re more real, more candid.

At Social Media Week Los Angeles, Sybil Grieb of Edelman revealed that 84% of buyers will make a purchase based on the opinion of others. This influence is above any other factor or media. It’s no surprise that influencer spending has now reached $3 billion in the U.S. alone and is expected to double—at the very least—by 2020.

Built on trust, but…

For a movement that rose from lack of trust, influencer marketing has reached dangerously misleading heights: powerful brands like Unilever are calling out a lack of transparency in the very “media” that is meant to be authentic at all costs. Some creators are accused of having fake followers or buying followers, falsifying metrics to book more gigs, using bots and quite simply being irresponsible with the products they promote (remember Fyre Festival?). An increasing number of so-called influencers are in the business of buying fame to peddle products. Not to mention, virtual influencers like Lil’ Miquela are also gaining popularity, which seems counter-intuitive to the whole “authenticity” requirement.

Advertisers aren’t the only ones who are revisiting their opinion of influencers. Fans hate seeing influencers push products for money because it seems disingenuous. If it’s your job, you’re not an influencer. And the issue of illegitimate influencers is growing, as over 5,000 Instagram users call themselves ‘influencers’, according to Paul Dyer of Lippe Taylor. This number only represents self-identified influencers. Seems… excessive, no?

What should brands and agencies do?

If consumers turned to influencers because they stopped trusting celebrities or traditional ambassadors, what happens when they stop trusting influencers as well? Micro-micro-influencers? Anyone with over 1,000 followers on Instagram or Twitter gets a go? Maybe.

Beyond waiting for platforms to step up, agencies should act like a brand’s (overzealous) BFF—choosing the right influencer is like helping your friend choose a lifelong partner 😉

1 – Extensive research

Sometimes, the perfect partner isn’t so easy to find. Like tracking down your friend’s Tinder match online and analyzing their likes, Instagram followers and Facebook friends for signs of common interests (or sketchiness), finding the right influencer takes work. Verifying claims with careful research is key. For influencer marketing, this means calculating real metrics as much as possible and vetting the creator’s audience. Is what they’re saying real or is their reputation a lie?

2 – Passion, chemistry, substance

While online romances are great, it’s probably a good idea to meet in person. I’ve always felt like it’s easier to judge character and authenticity once you’re face-to-face. Is there chemistry between the brand and influencer? Do your passions align? Just like you wouldn’t let your friend date somebody whose values only sort of match theirs, the chosen influencer should be a true believer in the product. And everyone knows a good relationship is a collaborative one.

3 – Honesty

Honesty is the best policy. In business or love, all parties involved are better off knowing the full truth. The Ad Standards of Canada have released Disclosure Guidelines meant to regulate and improve transparency in the influencer marketing sphere. Forget that #sp (for sponsored)—advertisers and creators alike must stay away from vague hashtags hidden in heaps of comments.

This bubble doesn’t need to burst. There’s still room for an exciting, content-first approach to marketing, but I believe it’s our responsibility as advertisers to guide brands and influencers alike into healthy, happy relationships. As long as brand-influencer partnerships make total sense to fans, they won’t mind knowing that their fav creator is also raking in that cash money talking about something they love.

Article originally published on Infopresse

Photo: HelloComputer


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