Influencer marketing is so much more than sending your new trainers to Jennifer Anniston and hoping she wears them the next time she’s papped on her way to get her morning mocha. Cemented in the world of social media, influencer marketing sees brands partner with accounts that have a significant number of followers and are either celebrities – think reality TV stars from the Kardashians all the way down to Love Island D-listers – or have a dedicated area of expertise – like Mrs Hinch and her passion for cleaning and grey-tone homewares. After identifying your influencer you agree to pay them a fee in exchange for them to use their “influence” and profile to push your product or service to their followers.
Easy. Or so you might think. Firstly, you have to navigate the choppy waters of what to pay these influencers as well as creating contractual arrangements to ensure they present your brand in the best light. Not to forget that many of these personalities come with egos that can also be a nightmare to manage.
As influencer marketing has become more common across social media in recent years, the less value it provides brands. Like everything, at first this technique was novel and clever, but the experience for users scrolling through Instagram and seeing insincere endorsements and #ads on every other post has become tiresome.
The industry is put into even more jeopardy when badly-thought campaigns (who ever thought it was a good idea to sign off the Pepsi ad with Kendal Jenner at a protest which trivialised Black Lives Matter?) or even pure social media trickery is called out by consumers.
We can all roll our eyes at the latest celebrity being caught out by manipulating a photo to show a slimmer waistline, but how about when you’re using the Paris filter on Instagram while being paid to promote a beauty product? Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) cracked down on this misleading tactic ruling filters should not be applied to influencer adverts if they exaggerate the effect of the product.
And this isn’t the first time the watchdog had to wade into the world of influencer marketing. Back in 2018 the ASA worked alongside the Competition Market Authority (CMA) to investigate whether influencers were being transparent about paid-for endorsements, this resulted in guidelines requiring influencers to clearly label their posts with ‘#ad’ to ensure they are being open and honest with consumers.
Another recent backlash was during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown when a number of UK influencers escaped to Dubai on what they called a “work trip”. Posting photos of themselves sunbathing by the pool when the rest of the country was suffering a seemingly never-ending winter lockdown did not go down well with their followers. While not technically breaking any rules, these influencers were judged by a jury of users who had been stuck at home for months and voted with their fingers, by simply unfollowing this insensitive behaviour – and don’t forget, less followers, less influence, less money for influencers to make.
What consumers are constantly craving for online is authenticity. The last year has seen us all spend much more time on screens and social media than ever before – which is great to get eyeballs on your brand, but we also need to be mindful that everyone’s mental health has been pushed to the breaking point. Customers are fed up with not being represented online – and the backlash of a highly-edited Kardashian selfie or a Dubai Covid “work trip” photo by the pool reinforces the fact that we want to see more “normal” people online, normal bodies, normal lives, warts and all. There’s a reason why accounts like “cleanfluencer” Mrs Hinch, or musical theatre actress Carrie Hope Fletcher keep raking up the followers, because they show the good alongside the bad and talk openly when they struggle with life just like the rest of us. Meanwhile, Zoflora and Disney are happily tied up with accounts delivering authentic content.
We should be questioning whether you want to align your brand with an influencer who doesn’t make your customer feel good. Mental wellbeing is of the utmost importance. So what does an ideal brand ambassador look like today?
Sure, if you have the marketing cash to spend, look to align with the Mrs Hinch’s of the world (but she’s likely to be pricey, with her follower count currently standing at over four million). Another way to approach this area of marketing thoughtfully would be to partner with micro influencers who may only have a few thousand followers – they’ll be cheaper to work with, so you could partner with several and will most likely have a very strong influence over a particular niche that you should be looking to target.
Just make sure you choose wisely. This area of marketing should be taken seriously and require a lot of research and relationship management with your chosen influencers. Because, don’t forget, if they come under fire for breaking any rules or being insensitive to their followers, your brand, by association, will also suffer the wrath of the social media keyboard warriors and you may go viral for all the wrong reasons.