Is it possible to buy friends? In the realm of influencer marketing, some brands seem to think it is. Let’s call a spade a spade: paid-for likes and shares create what is essentially a fraudulent illusion of high product endorsement.
“Sponsored” tags embedded deep within posts’ comments sections are inevitable. And because higher following means more attention, everybody feels the pressure to keep up. However, once an influencer is exposed as excessively using bots to generate traffic, they are black-listed. So it’s a catch 22 for brands who lack true grit. Most importantly, consumers value brand authenticity. A huge following means nothing where there is no trust.
Keeping it real is the new deal
Brands may find themselves treading a fine line, because influencer marketing has gone mainstream and is highly lucrative, bringing in almost $2 billion revenue in 2016, often delivering an 11x higher ROI. Of course, paid endorsements are almost old school now; they are common practice, and marketers have come to depend on this tactic.
32% of marketers say they cannot live without them. Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance between showcasing high-end popularity, but also communicating brand experience from everyday people. Relatable feedback builds connections between consumers and brands. Trust in a brand is invaluable in the long term.
Living the dream?
With great power comes great responsibility. If you could buy likes and followers at a vending machine, would you? Well now you can, in Moscow, via credit card none the less. This seems a far cry from the good old days of word of mouth brand recommendation. What happened to an endorser epitomising what the brand stands for, having actual connections to and experience of the brand? Consumers want true stories, relatability, and can tell the difference between what’s hot and what’s “bot”.
New measures are being taken in an attempt to weed out fake media frenzies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent “reminder letters” to some major influencers due to inadequate disclosure of bought advertising. The FTC now requires that more restrictive guidelines be followed, including disclosure in the first three lines of text of a post. Sanctions of up to 20 years have been imposed for inadequate disclosure.
One suggestion is to shift the focus to incentives for disclosing paid-for sponsorship; for example, boosting posts that make disclosure. Instagram is moving towards a standardised disclosure process. Posts may soon include a tag disclosing paid partnership which also allows partners to view data relating to engagement.
Bot spotting is easy for the savvy consumer. Extreme peaks and lows in comments and engagement disproportionate to the number of followers per user generally indicate misleading marketing ploys.
Instagram has unfortunately created the perfect environment for “pod problem”. Some influencers use Instagram’s algorithm to increase their visibility in Instagram’s Explore tab. This is done by joining with other influencers in a mutually beneficial relationship to make daily comments on each other’s posts. This increases engagement numbers and visibility. False brand competition and, ultimately, a disconnect between brand and target market are the undesirable results.
The most vital element in the brand-consumer relationship is authenticity. This is not a new concept, but it is refreshing to step back and recognise what matters. Brands with foresight see further than likes and shares. People want integrity and ethics from brands that are relatable to real lifestyles and needs. Quality brands will generate engagement because of what they stand for, without the need for grandstanding.
All we can hope is that with any new trend, the kinks get ironed out and these #ad posts get less #annoying and more #authentic.