Influencer marketing is very closely tied in with PR. And don’t get me wrong, it can be an extremely valuable tool – if it’s done right.
Unfortunately, however, with the market becoming saturated, and with more and more individuals seeing influencer marketing as a method of making a quick book – the practice is now experiencing its own demise. In moderation and with education, using influencers to promote your products is still wholly effective. The thing is though, that this isn’t always the case. In fact, very few have fully got to grasps with influencer marketing and how to utilise it as a tool instead of a practice that may come back to bite you. But those that have – do it well, and it pays off. Swings and roundabouts.
What’s The Matter With Influencer Marketing?
There are deep-rooted problems within influencer marketing. They’re not detrimental, but they’re impactful. And if we don’t weed them out (pardon the pun) they threaten putting the whole marketing practice at risk. But what are the problems exactly? Well, there’s…
- Influencer fraud – which is something that’s been in the press a lot lately. More and more influencers are being outed for having false followings and lying about their engagement. Which, when a brand is paying you on the basis of your interactions, constitutes fraud. You can read more about #influencerfraud here.
- Poor targeting – influencer marketing also becomes ineffective when you don’t do the research into your influencers properly. For example, if you ask a lifestyle Instagram personality to promote your latest baby products, there’s a much lower likelihood of the reach having any kind of sales impact than if you approached a well-known parenting blogger, for example.
- Trust signals – another issue with influencer marketing is what influencers actually promote. The tables can, and do, turn. Take the infamous FYRE festival – which you can read more about here – and the impact it had on influencers. Those roped into promoting the debacle effectively marketed and falsely advertised, and now there are even talks about subpoenas being sent out. When you jump at the chance of an inviting pay packet as an influencer without properly researching what you’re about to promote, how can your fans trust what you’re saying?
- Ethical influence – and branching off from that, what about when influencers begin to promote something that isn’t ethical at all? Should there be a line drawn in the practice wherein (like with PPC) you can’t promote something that could potentially carry dangerous risks? You can’t stick an advert on the T.V for tobacco, and you can’t do any paid search around porn – so why should influencer marketing be any different? Let’s take a look…
How Ethical Does Influencer Marketing Need To Be?
Georgia Harrison, ex Love-Island star and reality icon, recently come under fire across social media and in the press for running a promotional Instagram campaign around so-called V24 ‘Weight Loss Gummies’. And let’s just say, she didn’t receive a welcome reception from it.
Honestly, I don’t know what’s more problematic about this whole fiasco. The fact that (as rightly mentioned above) she’s promoting to impressionable young men and women an unnatural product that disrupts their bodies natural processes. The ironic hashtag #bodypositivity when actually, her message is effectively: “if you don’t look like me, then you need weight loss supplements to be body positive”. Or, the fact that on top of all of this – she’s actually had the cheek to photoshop the photo itself, so to conform with what’s perceived as a ‘positive body’, or whatever.
Which therein raises the question: where do you draw the line in influencer marketing? If you’re an influencer, at what point would you refuse to promote a product for the wellbeing of your followers, despite the money being offered? And if you’re a regulator of influencer marketing – should this be allowed at all?
I mean, if Georgia (or any influencer for that matter) had a cigarette in hand saying “I’ve been smoking for over 5 years now – and I’m loving the benefits #TryIt” would that be acceptable? Absolutely not. So why is it okay to promote something that, though not as impactful as tobacco I’m sure, is still a damaging product to young people?
A lot of rhetorics, with not a lot of answers. And that’s because there really isn’t all that many. Influencer marketing – with a social media accentuation – is still a relatively new thing, and we’re all still learning the ropes. However, with all the grey areas – it’s one that needs to be ironed out pretty quickly.
I spoke to Bryony, who works in Influencer marketing and has worked with Georgia herself on a number of campaigns.
“Georgia Harrison, an ex-Love Island star is currently under scrutiny for promoting a ‘starvation diet’. Now I’ve worked with her and plenty of other typical, modern influencers such as Ashley Cain, Georgia Cole and Frankie Foster and each time, I’ve written the caption for them and told them what image to post and even what time to post it, paid them a huge fee (for one post) and all they have had to do is press send.” She explained.
“Influencers like these are not genuine and they don’t care what they promote as long as they are getting paid and I wish brands would learn this and stop working with them just because they are attracted to the high following. These influencers need to learn how to make an honest living, such as people like Olivia Buckland and Emily Atack who work hard and raise awareness for good causes.”
“Personally, I believe the way forward is to work with micro influencers (up to 100k followers) who will only promote products that they are interested in and will genuinely use. I’ve had influencers turn me down before because they feel the product doesn’t work for their audience or brand and that’s fine, and I respect that because they are making an honest living and will have built a trusted audience, however I’ve worked with many an ex-reality star who don’t care what they promote as long as they are getting paid for it and they don’t care about what harm this may cause to younger girls who look up to these people as role models and aspire to be and look like a face tuned, enhanced image.”
And Scott Guthrie, who’s an expert in influencer marketing.
“Previously influencer marketers tended to consider compliance solely through the lens of whether or not a piece of paid-for content had effectively been declared as an ad.”
“In the UK when it comes to disclosure and transparency, the ASA and the CMA are the only regulators. But that doesn’t mean an influencer post couldn’t breach a whole host of other laws from other regulators. For example, if an influencer was actively promoting Botox treatments on behalf of a clinic, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) may take action on the basis that Botox is a prescription-only medicine that should not be advertised to the public.”
“ASA regulations also address the use of post-production techniques which exaggerate the effects of an advertised product and could mislead consumers. This might include photoshopping images in the ‘after’ section of a ‘before-and-after’ campaign for a cosmetics manufacturer or a slimming product, for example. In short, advertised claims (including visual claims) should not misleadingly exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving.”
“Increasingly our attentions are moving beyond legal requirements and are considering the ethical dimensions of an influencer’s creative work.”
“Last year we saw Logan Paul vlogging in Japan’s ‘suicide forest’. This year opened with his brother, Jake Paul, promoting Mysterybrand – a gambling site – to his fans. Rice Gum and Morgz also promoted the site. Aside from potentially being in breach of gambling laws, there is an ethical dimension. The average age of these influencers’ core audience is between 8 and 15. Promoting Mysterybrand in the first week of the year seems like a fast way for children to jettison their Christmas money.”
“Influencers have a moral obligation – and a legal requirement – to do the right thing by their followers. The people who have made them influential in the first place.”
And How Does It Affect Your PR?
Well, influencer marketing and PR are very closely interlinked. Sisters rather than cousins actually. I’ve dabbled with it myself in my career in the past, and suspect it won’t be the last time I do either. However, when it comes down to ethical influence – influencer marketing begins to have a fundamental impact on your public relations too.
Reputation management 101 – ethics is everything. And when influencer marketing draws attention to your questionable ethics, you’re in hot water.
V24 are certainly in the firing line for this at the moment. Not that they seem to care.
It wasn’t too long ago that influencer marketing was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons again, this time highlighting an Instagram personality who was slammed for depicting ‘unrealistic standards’ on her platform as part of a Listerine ad.
Unsurprisingly, all the negative press and conversation diverted back to Listerine. Some even contending that they need to be better in their influencer marketing if they’re going to use it at all. In fact, It’s not uncommon for fireback to direct towards the brand behind the promotions, and that’s when it can become an absolute nightmare for your comms.
It’s a multi-faceted issue when influencer marketing turns problematic.
What Do You Think?
So let’s answer the question. Influence and ethics – where do you draw the line? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or feel free to tweet me. I always love hearing your inputs.
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