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Social media influencers feel heat from watchdogs

The use of social media influencers as a marketing tool is under the microscope after it was discovered that many have been bending and breaking advertising rules.

Influencers are users of platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. They build large followings which allows them to charge money in return for promotional posts, essentially selling their feeds as advertising space.

One of the best-known is Kylie Jenner, of the Kardashian family fame, who can reportedly demand as much as $1m for a single post. With low barriers to entry, almost anyone can set themselves up as an influencer, though the amount they can command is generally in proportion to the size of their following and most are dealing with much, much smaller figures.

The right mix of brand and influencer can generate incredible results. It’s paid-for space, so the brand gets guaranteed coverage, but it seemingly has the seal-of-approval from a real-life popular human, which makes the endorsement seem more credible.

However, the blurred line between what’s an advert and what’s a genuine opinion is where the Advertising Standards Authority has had to step in. Apparently, one in six of all complaints the organisation receives (spanning TV, radio, billboards too) is in reference to an influencer who plugged a product but didn’t make it clear that they were being paid to do so.

Now, not every complaint is upheld or even legitimate. Anybody can complain about anything, and even a celebrity post that wasn’t paid for can be flagged up to the ASA by a confused member of the public.

But whether the influencer is being dishonest, or whether the audience simply can’t tell one way or another, it casts doubts on the whole industry. Does influencer marketing work? Is it honest? Is it right for your brand?

Advertising works, some of the best-known companies in the world have the biggest advertising budgets, and that’s no coincidence. Partnering with an influencer is a form of advertising, and an effective one, too. But it’s just like any other form of marketing: it’s vital that you consider audience, message, timing and cost. Influencers aren’t a magic, no-effort route to sales heaven. They’re a tool which requires studying and smart decisions.

What you can do

Follow best practice advice

The government has published best practice advice specifically relating to the use of social media influencers within marketing. It covers the law, and advice on running legally compliant campaigns. It’s a straightforward read and worth delivering into whether you’re already running a campaign or considering doing so in the future.

Evaluate your choice of influencer

It’s easy to judge a social media user by their number of followers, but ultimately that’s not an especially important metric. First, it’s possible to ‘buy’ pretend followers. Second, if the followers are not the right demographic or in the right location, they’re no use to you even if they’re real people.

What really matters to your brand is clicks and purchases, and so the best way to suss out whether an individual has all the influence they claim to have is to look at their previous posts and look for comments, likes, shares, and other evidence that the world at large is genuinely taking note of what they post. You can also ask if they have data on their followers or results from previous campaigns, and check how these align with your desired audience and marketing objectives.

Inspire organic posts

As stated above, influencer posts can be effective because they imitate genuine enthusiasm for a product. Even better would be the real thing. You can encourage your customers to post their own rave reviews, and this will both have more impact – as it really is genuine – and save you money. Ways of encouraging users to post content range from simply displaying a hashtag on your marketing and packaging, then responding to those who use it, through to competitions and rewards for the most creative posts. Like all marketing be creative, be genuine, and your customers will buy-in.

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