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Influencer intrigue or fatigue?

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Let’s go back to a time before teens were eating Tide Pods or purposely harming themselves for viral challenges, and talk about Myspace. Once the world’s largest social networking platform, Myspace allowed users to post content, design blogs and create profiles that shared their interests with users around the world.

With Myspace, users had to take the time and customize their blog using different fonts, photos, music and a theme. But now, social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram allow users to communicate in new and exciting ways. Everything about these new platforms is instant. You can immediately share posts and photos from your smartphone and have your friends interact with it by liking and commenting. And so, the social media boom began.

Though not all of these lived forever, with the slow demise of Facebook’s popularity, kids nowadays get to skip the “like my post if u think im cute :$,” over-edited photos and peace sign phase. Instead, jumping straight to Instagram and golden-hour selfies. Fast forward a few years and Instagram has exploded into a marketing and advertising hub for brands, corporations and influencers.

Emerge spoke to lifestyle bloggers, Rini Frey of @ownitbabe and Mel Hwang of @melhwang to find out more about influencers. Frey began Own it Babe in the spring of 2017 as a journal to document her eating-disorder recovery, but she had no idea it would grow into what it is today. Within six months, Frey noticed that her audience was growing as people began to discover her story and relate to it. Hwang is a blogging veteran and started Mel Inspired over 10 years ago to connect with people. She had a career in advertising and worked at companies such as Facebook and Instagram, but two years ago she left her job to take on blogging full-time.

Now, we all know what an influencer is, but Ad Standards Canada broke it down to a person who has the potential to influence others to take action and can do this on a blog, social media and other media publications.

Frey believes an influencer is someone who stands up for themselves and is inclusive. “A lot of us think that influencers are just these people with millions of followers online but we can all make an impact on people,” says Frey. “It’s about making an impact and whether that’s about doing work in the social justice movement or just sharing what kind of makeup products you use.”

According to Business Insider, influencer marketing is predicted to be worth about $15 billion by 2022, but what is the fascination with influencers? Before influencer marketing first hit the scene in the 2010s, many brands engaged in using notable entertainers and celebrities to endorse their products and services. We’ve actually been exposed to influencer marketing for quite some time now, but where did it all go wrong?

“Creator marketing is such a new form of media and just like any new form of media in the space it’s still being worked through, it’s still being figured out. I think there’s value. I think that the future of the industry is bright,” says Hwang.

In a world where every post seems sponsored; from marriage proposals, announcing pregnancies through a brand partnership, to children promoting toys – how can we tell what’s real and authentic in a world of sponsored content? I know I’m not the only one who sees a post from Kylie Jenner about some hair gummies and can’t help but wonder how much she got paid to promote it, or if she actually uses this product and genuinely loves it.

@brentrivera

Can you pop your gloss like us 😂 ##ButterGlossPop @nyxcosmetics ##ad

♬ Butter Gloss Pop – NYX Cosmetics

Sponsored posts are making their way to Tiktok, an emerging platform. NYX Cosmetics created a jingle and teamed up with some TikTokers to produce some entertaining ads for their Butter Gloss collection.

With any phenomenon, there are lovers and skeptics. As much as there are benefits to brands using influencers, there are threats that contribute to why some consumers are beginning to experience influencer fatigue.

Here are a few:

1. Consumers can smell fake followers and engagement from a mile away.

Ever come across an influencer with 100k followers but only 200 likes and six comments? Some influencers will join Instagram pods which are forums that are used to boost engagement on their posts. A user will alert pod members about new posts and in turn the others will engage with the post creating a higher engagement rate for said influencer.

About these pods, Frey says, “it is such a world where we all compare our numbers to each other’s numbers and if somebody isn’t genuine about it, it can make all of us feel worse about ourselves.”

Whereas Travis Hawley, the Director of Social Media and Influencer Marketing at Viral Nation, notes that because influencer marketing is becoming more popular and accepted, saturation could become a threat to the industry.

“Everyone thinks they’re an influencer and everyone pretends to be an influencer. I think that is having and will continue to have a negative impact on the trust and authenticity of influencer marketing, which is what we’re supposed to be based in,” says Hawley.

Hawley adds that influencer marketing could become less effective in getting consumers to purchase the product or service being sold.

“If it’s not one platform, it’ll be another. This is just the new wave of how we share our lives and how people share and consume content,” Hwang says. “I think growing tired of just means frustration with change and frustration with an industry that’s still trying to figure itself out.”

Aside from pods, some influencers go as far as buying fake followers to increase their follower count. CBS News says that influencer fraud was projected to cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019. Hawley acknowledges that influencer marketing is behind in catching fraud because it’s still new, but technology is being built to detect it. For someone who has worked in the industry for some time, Hawley also credits human intuition and being able to look at an influencer’s followers, comments and engagement rates can detect influencer marketing fraud.

Hwang says that fraud appears in all types of media and the threats to influencer marketing can be similar to threats in other marketing initiatives or any form of media.

“I think that you can really see synonymous threats with creator marketing to be synonymous with threats to any level of marketing or any channel,” says Hwang.

2. Product-hopping influencers

Another threat is influencers who are “product hoppers” as Hawley calls them. They use one brand’s items one day and swear by it, but within a short period, they switch to another brand and the cycle goes on and on. For Kitty Lana Carr, The Influence Agency’s Client Success Manager, it depends on the industry.

“For example, if you take the makeup space, there are a million different makeup brands and so many different products. For an Influencer to be exclusive to one mascara for one year would be a difficult and expensive ask. However, if you look at a different industry like the auto industry, it makes much more sense for an Influencer to be exclusive to one car brand for a longer period of time,” says Carr.

“Frey recalls a time where her audience asked why she had switched skincare products within three months. For her – honesty was the best policy and once she explained that she was using both products, all was well.

‘That was a way for me to be really, really genuine about it and not just kind of hop back and forth and confuse my audience because our audiences are smart.’

Carr and her team avoid working with influencers who talk about one brand and then another brand in the same industry because of the fear that they may do the same to them. She also notes the importance of researching influencers and looking into their feeds dating months back to ensure it’s not a possibility.

3. Inauthentic content

In 2018, Kim Kardashian-West sent social media in a frenzy in a now edited Instagram photo when she posted an ad for Flat Tummy Co’s appetite-suppressing lollipops. Actress Jameela Jamil called out Kardashian-West in a tweet saying, “you’re a terrible and toxic influence on young girls.”

Source: Huffington Post

The biggest threat to this industry according to Frey are influencers that partner with brands whose products have harmed consumers – like dieting products – but have the budgets to spend on notable celebrities for a campaign.

“That has created a really bad rep for all of us,” says Frey. “Because people start to think that we’re sellouts or that we take on every deal that we get.” 

Carr says that influencers who don’t take pride in what they’re doing and see influencer marketing as a way to make quick money give the industry a bad reputation.

Both Hwang and Frey have turned down partnerships that they believed weren’t a good fit and didn’t resonate with them. 

“Being in this influencer world, it does come with responsibility,” says Frey.

Hwang adds that she says no to things more often than yes because she wants to be selective with what she’s sharing unless it aligns with her messaging.

4. Brands and influencers who don’t follow the guidelines

Brands and influencers both have the responsibility to follow advertising guidelines, including those set by Ad Standards Canada’s Influencer Marketing Steering Committee Disclosure Guidelines and the United States’ Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers. Both set standards for when influencers should disclose their partnerships and detail best practices for disclosure placements for social media platforms, blogs and video content. Guidelines include using widely accepted hashtags like #ad, #sponsored, and that disclosures must be near the endorsement and not buried within a caption.

Not following the guidelines could have major consequences. For example, Teami, a detox tea brand known to work with big-name influencers and celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Cardi B, was recently under fire with the FTC for misleading consumers and not effectively disclosing payments to influencers.

The complaint states the FTC alerted Teami in April 2018 that all material connections with influencers must be clearly disclosed in the endorsement, use plain language, and the disclosure must be in the first couple of lines of the caption. A month later, Teami responded by creating a social media policy that was sent to influencers and outlined the guidelines they must follow, but some Instagram posts by influencers still didn’t disclose the connection within the video and/or didn’t disclose within the first lines of the caption.

The FTC and Teami came to a settlement where the tea brand must pay $1 million to consumers who were harmed and the FTC also sent warning letters to influencers who didn’t properly disclose their relationship to Teami.

In mid-2019, Instagram revealed branded content tools to “bring transparency around Branded Content to the Instagram community.” This included the “Paid partnership with __” tag displayed on the top of an ad.

Carr believes that Instagram is aware that consumers are losing trust in the industry, hence why they created the tag. Carr says consumers were “just blindly absorbing content” before, but this feature gives power back to the audience because consumers can instantly see that the post is sponsored, question if it’s authentic, and decide if they want to feed into it.

On another note, Hawley adds that the guidelines do form restraints on the type of content influencers create and can affect the authenticity, creativity, and effectiveness of a post, but it’s a trade-off as the guidelines help protect consumers from being misled.

Carr adds that sponsored posts aren’t all bad unless the partnership isn’t the right fit for that influencer, but once consumers see “#ad” and “#paid,” they’re immediately turned off from the post. She adds that the bright side is that it forces influencers to be more creative with their content.

Hawley says that consumers should get used to influencer marketing but also hold influencers accountable and give them feedback on their content.

Frey understands consumer frustrations but believes they will grow to be more resilient to influencer marketing. She says that people have the option to keep scrolling past sponsored content.

Referenced Links:

Own it Babe’s Instagram: @ownitbabe

Mel Hwang’s Instagram @melhwang

Own it Babe’s website

Mel Hwang’s website

Business Insider – Influencer Marketing: State of the social media influencer market in 2020

Marriage Proposal – Welcome to the Era of Branded Engagements

Announcing pregnancies through a brand partnership – @malika on Instagram

Children promoting toys – @samiaslife on Instagram

NYX Cosmetics TikTok jingle

Viral Nation’s website

CBS News – Influencer marketing fraud will cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019

The Influence Agency’s website

Jameela Jamil’s tweet

Ad Standards Canada’s Influencer Marketing Steering Committee Disclosure Guidelines

United States’ Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers.

Teami was under fire – Tea Marketer Misled Consumers, Didn’t Adequately Disclose Payments to Well-Known Influencers, FTC Allege

Branded Content Tools on Instagram