On the 21st February in the middle of my placement at Karmarama, the company held a panel and discussion around the controversial but growing topic of social media influencers. With the influencer marketing industry expected to hit $10 billion by 2020, it’s no surprise advertising agency’s are trying to understand and incorporate them in to their work for not only the direct reach they can provide, but the creativity they can add.
The panel consisted of AR designer and Instagram creator Thomas Webb, Youtube personality Josh Pieters, CEO of Influencer.com Ben Jeffries and Karmarama’s Head of PR Jamie Mancini. A running theme as the conversation starting flowing was the idea of authenticity. Influencers have an enhanced eye on them to not ‘sell out’ despite this usually being their business, as followers are quick to point out when something doesn’t seem right on their feed. This means good matches need to be arranged between the company advertising and the influencers they choose to use. Picking those with the most followers doesn’t mean the most sales; the audience needs to be interested in what their favourite media star is selling in order for it to land ie. a beauty influencer advertising a sports brand isn’t going to work for either party.
This good match also relies on collaboration from both sides. An influencer holding a product for a photo is obvious and patronising to an audience, but a video of creative content like the influencers usual portfolio is going to increase sales and their own authenticity will stay intact. This isn’t always easy however, as creatives here at Karmarama have to be willing to give up some of their creative control in order for the influencers to put their own spin on the brief, which we can all agree isn’t as easy said as done. But it’s that relinquishing of control that makes the best content and ultimately allows influencers to do what they do best as oppose to only being seen as a way to increase engagement.
The recent government changes regarding social media advertising also came up during the debate. The rules state every paid promotion, gifted item or previously worked with company needs to be addressed in the caption (#ad #gifted) to aid transparency. Although this means audiences can now know for certain when content is paid for and make their own purchasing choices from that, it does raise an interesting question on why the rules are so much more strict on social media as oppose to traditional advertising. The panel raised the point that footballers for example, who are many kids heroes and therefore have influence over them, wear sponsored kits when they play without disclosing the sponsorship. Although to many of us that seems second nature, to kids who just want the kits their idols wear, they are subconsciously buying in to that promotion. On the other hand however, influencers have a more personal connection with their fanbases compared to footballers or other advertisers, with 4/10 millennials saying their favourite influencers understand them better than their friends, and therefore are likely to accept their suggestions. Some say the relative newness of the industry reasons the strict guidelines to pave the way for transparency in the future, but others could argue it creates more barriers between online and traditional media which already hinders social media stars reputation.
The whole conversation focusing around this idea of authenticity interested me as it seems to be the ‘trend’ or buzzword of the moment. Influencers need to be authentic to keep a following and companies seem to be highlighting their CSR teams in order to appear caring and less corporate. As this generation who isn’t scared to call out inconsistencies grow, businesses realise in order to keep them, they need to stand for something they resonate with. The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2019 shows that out of all institutions including businesses and even the government, media remains the least trusted at 37%, with social media being the least trusted out of all forms. These guidelines then seem beneficial to bring up trust, with well suited collaborations paving the way for great consistent content, paid for or not.