Revealed: 5 things you may not know about influencer-marketing
Influencer marketing, whilst not a new term remains a grey area for consumers.
Whilst the Advertising Standards Authority (ASAI) and other industry bodies implement guidelines and provide resources to ensure influencers are adhering to rules and regulations, the Irish consumer wants to know more about the responsibility influencers have when working with brands and sharing content day-to-day.
Companies shell out thousands of euros every day to see their brand featured on the social media pages of Ireland’s most-followed. But how can the consumer remain in control over what and who influences them?
Here's a five-step checklist for ensuring the consumer takes control and ensuring brands become more responsible.
1. Know the hashtags
If you’re a brand or a consumer looking to learn more about how influencers and brands work together, the simplest place start is with the hashtags. Hashtags generally indicate the level of partnership and inform a consumer if a social media post is an advertisement, rather than the opinion of the influencer.
The most frequent hashtags are #ad meaning advertisement or #sp meaning sponsored. Both are the social media equivalent of the everyday advertising we’re familiar with in print, on television or on billboard. Just like a brand paying for a spot in a national paper or on prime-time TV, these hashtags indicate that a brand has paid for a social media post. Consumers should always look closely at social media posts for these hashtags to ensure they are totally informed and in control over how they are influenced. Often-times these hashtags can be missed at first glance or found muddled between other hashtags so it’s worth having that second look.
Instagram has recently introduced a paid partnership tag, allowing influencers to highlight more clearly if a post is an advertisement. This is an excellent step-forward in transparency as it is much more obvious to the consumer than a hashtag.
Another common hashtag is #af, meaning affiliated. This hashtag also belongs in the advertising category as it can lead to an income for a social influencer. This one will most regularly be found on an influencer’s Instagram stories accompanied by a call to action to ‘swipe up to shop’ or on a blog post accompanied by a link back to an item on an e-commerce website. It’s a fair warning to the consumer that the influencer in question will earn a commission when a purchase is made through the trackable link.
Lastly, it’s the online discount code. These are great for brands as they can monitor the real influence an influencer has through the frequency at which a unique code is used. However, influencers regularly disguise these posts as gifts for their followers and in the excitement of it all forget to declare that they are earning a commission each time it is used.
2. Recognise an undeclared partnership
Any influencer who is paid by a brand is probably established enough to know the guidelines and use the appropriate hashtags. However, it’s not just the influencer’s responsibility, the brand or its acting agent should also ensure the influencer complies.
When we work with brands on influencer marketing, a big part of what we do is monitor an active partnership to ensure the influencer includes the correct advertising indicators and represents a partnership correctly. We also feel strongly about educating the brands we work with so they too understand the guidelines and expectations.
Unfortunately in the never-ending stream of content on social media, some influencers get away with not declaring partnerships, making it difficult for even the savviest of social media users to make informed decisions. There are a few things consumers can do to stay sharp
“If your favourite influencer uses the hashtag #brandambassador or #ambassador #work in a post, don’t be fooled – they are not sharing a certain product or proudly snapping at an event for the good of their health. Whilst they may not have received payment for the post in question, they likely have been paid by the brand for other activity.
Similarly, if an influencer is sharing quite a lot of information on behalf of a brand, for instance deals from an airline or snaps from inside a hotel room, this is likely the equivalent of the benefits-in-kind we are all familiar with in our own work. Whilst no money may have exchanged hands, the influencer may have been gifted an experience. This should be declared as a partnership as the opinions shared by the influencer on the experience may not be totally honest and lead the consumer to believe something untrue.
The closest traditional example of this is when a consumer reads a restaurant review in their favourite magazine – however, the journalist in question will have paid for their own meal leaving them open to share their honest thoughts. We’re all familiar with one-star restaurant reviews after all. By the same rule, we’ve all grown to recognise the ‘sponsored content’ tag on Ireland’s leading news outlets, carefully and respectfully letting visitors know that they are reading a paid for feature.
3. Know your macros from your micros
In the industry, we refer to an influencer with a large, global following as a macro-influencer whilst an influencer with a smaller, local following is considered a micro-influencer. You may think that a micro-influencer’s content isn’t paid for by a brand because they have a small following but this set of social media gurus have massive influence within their local communities and are more regularly being identified by brands as a mechanic to get a product noticed.
However, consumer trust should remain high amongst locally-focused influencers as from our experience working with them, we find their content honest and authentic. More often than not, it is this set of influencers who will work exclusively with brands they truly rate themselves.
4. Be wary of product placement
Product placement is becoming the next red flag and an area where a lot more transparency and control is expected in the coming months. A consumer might see a car brand in a music video or beer brand in a movie and recognise it as paid for product placement. However, this is still a huge grey area on social media. Whilst influencers, just like anyone, have the right to choose what content they share, it can be unclear whether images or video that subtly feature a brand in the background are in partnership with that brand.
Whilst Irish influencers are generally quite transparent and declare partnerships, consumers can rest their own minds by monitoring previous and future posts. If the same brand seems to be appearing subtly time and again, the influencer may be working with the brand in some form or trying to get its attention to work with them in the future.
5. Look beyond the influencer
To be sure the consumer makes informed purchasing decisions, I would firstly suggest that if an influencer sparks an interest in a particular product, seek it out in-store to try yourself rather than buying online based only on the influencer’s review. Alternatively, give it a google search, it’s likely you’ll find a trust-worthy review from a journalist who didn’t benefit from the brand to share their thoughts.
Second to that, if a consumer is not keen on an influencer earning a commission from a discount code or an affiliate link for a dress recommendation, they shouldn’t use the code and shouldn’t swipe up. If it doesn’t bother you then absolutely go ahead and enjoy the discount provided to you – it’s saving you money after all.
6. Respect the work involved
Whilst there is some work to be done educating consumers on identifying influencer marketing, the content influencers provide is highly-creative and much harder to turn out than you might think. Not only is there the conceptualisation stage of a project, there is also the production stage, the scheduling stage, the replying to every comment stage and all of the admin that goes along with being self-employed. The content should absolutely be enjoyed for what it is and if it makes you smile or gives you the tip or advice you need, engage and let the influencer know. They have worked hard to provide it for you and are most definitely deserving of the rewards they receive for both the time invested and the unique skill-set required to what they do.”
Limerick-born Eimear McManus is the founder of Digital Works Agency which operates in both Ireland and the UK.