Recent headlines have been littered with calls to clean up the influencer marketing industry. Whether it’s the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) backing the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) latest probe, or similar conversations coming to the fore in Australia, it’s clear that finding a solution to falling authenticity and transparency has become an industry-wide priority.
Both the ASA and CMA point to regulation as the next necessary step to ‘clean up’ the industry. Certainly, nearly half (49%) of the consumers recently surveyed by Bazaarvoice felt as though it was time that an influencer marketing association embed stricter rules for content that social media personalities produce.
But regulation only stems from the problems, it doesn’t tackle the root cause. Commenting on influencer marketing, Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever recently highlighted that “It’s [the] pace of change that means we are in a different place from that which any of us intended.”
While many wouldn’t have heard of influencer content five years ago, today, 49% of UK consumers now expect new content on a daily basis from the influencers they follow.
Failing to signpost sponsored content, misrepresenting real life and buying thousands of fake followers are just some of the symptoms Keith Weed describes as the “unintended consequences” of the speed at which influencer marketing has become such a prominent marketing strategy. Here’s why marketers need to find the right level of output for influencers in order to maintain quality and authenticity.
Finding the right level of output
Across the region, more than half (52%) of those surveyed are watching more influencer content than a year ago, with the most popular category being entertainers (62%) – comedians, gamers and sports personalities. This puts enormous pressure on production to remain authentic and high quality.
This means that brands must have realistic expectations of what influencers can produce and how quickly they can produce it. While many influencers are now full-time professional content producers, many micro-influencers and bloggers balance their hobby with other commitments – the risk being that they drop this and prematurely adopt paid relationships that endanger their credibility.
At the core, influencer marketing is really intended to be about word-of-mouth; a timeless tradition of sharing our latest discoveries and preferences. Therefore, there is also a very important balance to be struck with promotional content and the results that can be expected and achieved.
Ensuring a ‘customer-first’ strategy
Putting the customer at the centre of the strategy isn’t a goal so much as a method for generating exemplary influencer campaigns. In a report carried out by Bazaarvoice, it was found that 43% of European consumers are yet to make a purchase based on a recommendation from an influencer they follow. Rather than a distrust of influencers, this insight highlights how today’s consumers are looking to corroborate what they see or hear in one place with the information they find elsewhere.
Regardless of whether you sell cosmetics, apparel or even groceries, plenty of consumers want to get a sense of how highly rated a product is en masse. Being customer first means putting the views, opinions, and experiences of fellow customers where they can be seen.
For social media stars and brands, sharing the workload with real customers is a win-win. Not only does it reduce the number of promotional content influencers do but it demonstrates real transparency on the part of the brand.
An end to unintended consequences
Without sounding cliché, influencer marketing is about balance. Given that 62% of consumers currently feel as though influencer content takes advantage of impressionable audiences, and 54% stating that such content misrepresents real life, it’s clear this balance has skewed from quality and authenticity.
Brands need to pause and think carefully – influencer marketing by its very nature is a delicate task. An alignment in values and cultural fit is key to getting cut through with their followers and building trust, as Johnson & Johnson found recently after their partnership with Scarlett Dixon, caused an uproar.
Putting an end to negative perceptions starts with accepting that influencers achieved their status by producing content in their own way, at a pace that allows them to explore creatively and execute flawlessly.
With the CMA and ASA already clamping down on influencers that are failing to signpost branded content, it’s on the advertisers and the agencies to take the time to better understand how influencer marketing excels, at what level of output, and how it fits into the wider marketing mix.