In 2017, Splendid released a report that demonstrated how influencer marketing was in the middle of an Authenticity Crisis. It pulled back the curtain on a damaging lack of creativity, transparency and accountability.
The research revealed that 43% of British social media users feel that influencers are inauthentic, working with brands they don't really believe in. Perhaps more concerning, over half of us assume that if an influencer is talking about a product then they must have been paid to do so, regardless of whether they have or not.
Paying someone to endorse a brand which they don't believe in, or a product they would clearly never use, is pointless. It also raises ethical questions of the companies involved.
September was Ethics Month - ICCO’s global campaign encouraging creative organisations to place ethics at the centre of their agenda. It was a reminder that we, as communications experts, have a responsibility to ensure brands retain their ethical integrity by insisting on authentic collaborations, not pay-per-post fraudulence.
Although social media offers a wider platform than ever to find and leverage real influence, the public aren’t fools. Bad briefs and ill-fitting, shallow partnerships risk tarnishing the whole industry – and everyone is starting to take notice of this.
With Listerine grabbing the wrong sort of headlines for its recent influencer work, the pressure is on to prove authenticity to social audiences. This can only be achieved with transparency, accountability and creativity.
When brands blindly throw money at influencers without thinking through the joint story they want to tell, the lack of authenticity is evident.
So, how can brands and agencies foster genuine partnerships, and keep ethical and moral conduct at the centre of their marketing efforts?
Firstly, use robust identification criteria. This isn’t just the choice between “micro” or “macro”, it’s about relevance, impact, craft, authenticity, and talkability. Clarify what success looks like to clarify the selection criteria.
Make the collaboration count. Exclusivity is important to brands, but for influencers this is their livelihood and they’ll be working with many brands –finding a happy middle ground is critical.
Craft rich, culturally relevant, multi-faceted stories that resonate in real terms with real people; inserting your product into an obviously staged setting will fool no-one.
Be joined up. We find that isolated influencer activity is never as effective as when it forms part of an integrated, wider campaign.
Advocate Match, a bespoke influencer marketing approach developed by Splendid Comms for our clients, is built on these principles.
Coming from the worlds of talent partnerships, cultural creativity, and social content creation, we know that the deeper an influencer is involved in the collaboration, the more personal and engaging the output will be.
The bad press given to influencer marketing is disappointing for us because we know that in its purest, most effective form it can deliver impact on a very meaningful level. The right voices telling the right stories can change how people think about a brand, drive them to purchase, and then advocate to others.
But bad briefs, given to the wrong influencers with unclear objectives, are damaging the credibility of influencer activity across the board.
Brands and influencers need to take responsibility and think more about the #PowerOfEthics in how they try to reach their audiences.