2019 was a tricky year for influencer marketing. It started with the release of Netflix’s ‘The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ which documented how Fyre Festival’s organisers used influencers to dupe consumers, and then it ended with three well-known UK influencers unknowingly promoting a diet drink laced with cyanide.
With the spectre of Fyre Festival hanging over the industry and warnings from the ASA about ad labelling, 2019 saw more scrutiny of influencer marketing than ever before. But we are now in a new year and there remains plenty to be optimistic about; 86% of UK/US marketers trust influencers, the spend in the sector has grown by 83% and long-term partnerships between brands and influencers are becoming the norm.
In this spirit, the influencer marketing industry should commit to three New Year’s resolutions to improve the transparency of the sector and dispel any lingering concerns.
For both brands and influencers to respect ASA regulation and share responsibility of compliance
Despite governing bodies issuing more warnings over incorrectly labelled social media content, it seems some brands may be pressuring influencers into omitting ad labels disclosing brand partnerships – presumably to make endorsements feel more ‘organic’.
Shockingly, our recent whitepaper research found that 62% of influencers from the UK, US and Germany have been pressured by brands to contravene ASA guidelines at least once. Thankfully, 28% of this group say this is a rare occasion.
But for consumers, who are increasingly savvy when it comes to influencer marketing, this will not cut it. Consumers understand how paid partnerships work and expect brands and influencers to be transparent about commercial content. Failing to correctly label adverts creates further confusion and may lead consumers to doubt how trustworthy the brand and influencer are.
Brands giving influencers the creative control they need to succeed
Finding the right balance between creativity and control is a challenge for the influencer marketing sector.
Creative control is the main concern for influencers when working with brands – 83% of UK influencers regard it as their main priority.
However, it is just as valued by marketers who want to protect their brand’s identity. Specifically, one in five marketers (22%) want to influence the visual element of the influencer’s post.
While marketers’ desire to manage influencer marketing content may come from a good place, it can hamper the effectiveness of the post. After all, influencers are most in-tune with their audience and can deliver the most genuine content that best resonates with them.
Giving more control to influencers allows them to fully explore their creativity, portray the brand in a style that fits their profile and audience and reinforce the authenticity of the collaboration.
This is something that can be established within the brief for an influencer marketing campaign. If brands avoid being too prescriptive with their briefs and avoid strangling creativity with numerous clauses, they can boost the impact of the campaign.
Essentially, it boils down to brands needing to brief better and be brave enough to entrust influencers to decide their own content.
To leave vanity metrics in 2019
Social media platforms started out with what are now known as ‘vanity metrics’, which led marketers to measure success simply by an influencers’ follower count or the number of likes per post, but this is changing.
In November Instagram announced it was taking trials to ‘hide likes’ global. If – as is expected – this trial becomes permanent, marketers will need to explore metrics that demonstrate deeper engagement and prioritise creativity.
Two alternative KPIs that have been mooted are the number of times a post is saved and the number of direct messages an influencer receives. Both options encourage marketers to make their content as creative, shareable and engageable as possible to catch the users’ eye.
As well as generating more creative thinking, hiding likes across posts is a great step towards reducing the potentially negative impacts of social media on mental health. Removing like counts gives users more space to connect with friends and family, as well as accounts that genuinely interest and inspire them, rather than simply liking the most popular ones or trying to keep up with the like counts of others. If permanently hiding likes on Instagram boosts creative thinking and promotes improved mental health, then who is going to complain?
If 2019 was a stress-test for the influencer marketing industry as it scaled and managed its reputation– then 2020 is a year for maturity. Everyone involved in the industry has a huge opportunity to dispel any negative perceptions and take the steps needed to make influencer marketing more transparent, balanced and trustworthy. If the sector can stick to these New Year’s resolutions then it can find the answers needed to create a hugely positive outlook for marketers, consumers and influencers in 2020.
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