According to research, we now trust social influencers almost as much as our own friends. 40 per cent of consumers have bought an item online after seeing it used by an influencer on Instagram, Twitter, Vine or YouTube, and 20 per cent have shared something they have seen from an influencer.
There's been a clear shift in the way brands promote themselves online. People are influenced as much by ordinary people with a small but highly engaged following (otherwise known as 'micro-influencers'), as they are by media mega stars and celebrities.
Social media influencer Zoella who has 11 million YouTube subscribers
However, this pivot has also called for new forms of regulation as guidelines look to protect consumers in the same way as they do across the rest of the advertising ecosystem. As a result, we are now seeing #ad in a bid for brands and influencers to clarify when a post has been paid for. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a number of letters to influencers warning them of the rules of disclosure when it comes to sponsored posts. They made it clear that placing an ad on social media without disclosing that it is paid for is taking advantage of consumers' trust.
Although most people have wised up to the fact that #ad means the content is sponsored, some influencers don't believe this makes content any less authentic. At our recent 2017 Symposium London, influencer Lily Pebbles said she only ever works with brands she loves. She's proud of her sponsored content and explained there was no difference between her paid for and non-paid for posts.
Keeping trust in influencer marketing
Lots of people felt cheated by influencer marketing around the disaster known as 'Fyre Festival'. Promised as an idyllic getaway in the Bahamas with top tier performers and luxury treats, it ended up being 'disastrous', with reports of poor food, people being stranded at airports, and shoddy accommodation. The event was promoted through influencers, so when the event was not what people expected the credibility of individuals like Kendall Jenner (81.1m followers), Emily Ratajowski (13.2m followers) and Bella Hadid (13.3m followers) was questioned. Many of these celebrities began deleting their posts about the festival as news from the ground unfolded, distancing themselves from the event they had promoted.
What does a good partnership look like?
Alongside sponsored content being marked transparently, to make influencer marketing credible in the eyes of the public, influencers need to stand by the brands they work with and become real ambassadors.
What Fyre Festival shows is that influencer-brand partnerships need to be built on the premise of a relationship like the one Lily Pebbles describes: a partnership where the influencer would feature the brand whether the content is sponsored or not. The influencer must provide relevant, authentic and impactful content or they risk losing their own audience.
Putting transparency and authenticity at the heart of influencer marketing is the way to give it long-term credibility. Whilst regulation needs to play a part in this - influencer marketing should not be seen as 'sneaky advertising', for example, and must be clearly marked - a huge part is getting the brand-influencer relationship right. Consumers will only trust influencers when they work with brands that match their own values.