Influencer marketing in the UK has been afflicted with several issues, from influencer fraud and lack of transparency to the inefficiency of measuring return on investment. These are not new problems; however, they are habitually brought into the spotlight with fresh accusations of bought followers and falling engagement rates.
Back in 2014, Carrie Harwood, one of the original UK online bloggers said to the Daily Mail, “it’s really important that bloggers are responsible and disclose how they’re working, what they’re getting for free and what they’re being paid to write.” Five years later and the problems are the same and conversations continue.
So, how can we clean up the influencer market in the UK and make it work for influencers, companies, and consumers? This all starts with regulation, which is likely to increase in years to come. A transparent and regulated market with clear rules on ad labelling will create more efficiency and provide much-needed maturity to what is now a 10-year-old marketing method. However, it is not just up to regulators – brands and agencies have a role to promote transparency and drive meaningful campaigns that are not propped up by fake followers and less-than-genuine influencers.
What do the regulators say?
One of the main problems facing the market in the UK is the lack of regulation. In September 2018 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CAP) published “An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads”. The main message here is that a piece of content is an #ad when there is payment involved (including freebies) and the brand has some level of control over the content.
More and more influencers are now coming forward to say they will be a lot more upfront about their paid collaborations, including YouTuber and fashion influencer, Jim Chapman and celebrities like Alexa Chung.
All of them point to the same thing – transparency. Any time an influencer is working with a brand in a commercial sense, the consumer has to be made aware of this. It is the job of influencers, companies, and agencies to ensure this – they are all responsible for ensuring transparency to consumers.
What about labelling?
At the moment, the rules around labelling content are vague. There are no laws on which labelling method to use, where to put it in the post and how much information to give.
As a guideline we recommend the following to ensure posts are clearly labelled while remaining inspirational and interesting to the audience:
- Label the content as a paid collaboration within the first line of your post – if the user has to click on your post to “see more” then this is not in line with ASA’s guidelines
- Use #ad – ASA prefers it to the other more questionable labels (stay away from “Thanks to the brand for making this possible”). The good news is #ad received the highest average engagement rate when compared to other ad markers. Instagram paid partnership interestingly received the lowest engagement rate. (CampaignDeus, Influencer Index 2018)
- Tag the brand – this makes it clear who is paying for the published content and will encourage click-through to the brand’s own social channels
The laws on this are bound to change, so make sure you are always checking the latest information. ASA and CAP are the best places to find out.
Finding the right influencer
Data suggests that one in eight influencers in the UK bought fake followers between January and June 2018 (CampaignDeus, Influencer Index 2018). Instagram has said it will strip fake likes and comments from third-party apps. However, as the influencer market continues to grow and regulation still low, the problem is likely to persist.
Brands and agencies can have an impact here and it is important they are responsible for finding genuine influencers who have high organic engagement and deliver value to their audience. The point of influencer marketing is to target a specific audience of people who trust and respect an individual’s recommendations. The use of fake followers and bots reduces this trust and diminishes the genuine reach of influencer content. Brands and agencies should follow guidelines on how to find the right influencers, which in turn will improve campaigns and promote influencers who have genuine followers.
Do your research
When looking for an influencer to work with, do not just look for someone with the most followers. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that micro influencers (10k to 25k) receive far better engagement than larger influencers. Monitoring tools like Plugr, combined with manual research is the winning combination.
When an influencer is identified, check their likes and comments compared to the number of followers. If the influencer has 500k followers but averages 10 comments on each post, this suggests the influencer may have bought followers or have a very disengaged audience.
There are also some handy tools to help show an influencer’s statistics. Hype Auditor shows an account’s follower growth and average engagement rate. If there are large spikes in followers, this could suggest an influencer has bought them.
Most influencers now create media documents or at least have to hand their average metrics. This will show their engagement rate, their audience demographic, location and brands they have worked with in the past. All this information can be a strong indicator of whether or not they are the right type of influencer to work with.
If influencer marketing continues to be perceived as a soft marketing method with a lack of clarity on return on investment (ROI), it will continue to suffer from the above problems. So, how can you measure the success and prove the ROI on influencer campaigns? Proving their worth to brands will ensure influencer marketing is taken seriously and improve efficiency and transparency.
At the beginning of a campaign, brands must have concrete objectives, for example, brand awareness, sales, etc. The KPIs of the campaign will depend on the objectives. There are a number of ways to track the success of an influencer marketing campaign depending on the objective:
- Brand awareness:
- Post impressions
- Interactions on the post
- Tagging friends
- Driving sales:
- Traffic to website measured by trackable links (bitly.com)
- Purchases made measured by campaign discount codes
- Improve the perception of the brand
- Comments: not just the number of comments, but also the quality of the comments. For example “Love this product, I am going to buy this” proves the success of a post compared to “Nice photo, please come check out my page” (probably a bot)
Building trust between brands and influencers
Influencer marketing campaigns should be understood first-and-foremost as a marketing tool. There are regulations which must be followed. Transparency and trust need to be built between brands and influencers, and a proper strategy based on objectives and KPIs is essential to measure ROI.
The priority for brands, agencies, and influencers should be creating transparency with proper regulations, guidelines, and practices. Once this happens, consumers will have more trust in the industry, which will then increase the overall success of the influencer marketing ecosystem.