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The rules for influencer marketing have changed

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Over the past few years, influencer marketing has grown to become a key part of many brands’ communications strategies.  Terms like ‘micro’, ‘macro’ and even ‘nano’ influencers have become commonplace.

The use of influencers is certainly one of those spheres where the lines between public relations and marketing are blurred.  And that’s because influencers rarely do something for free.  This is where the confusion comes in: Can your brand exposure through influencers be equated to ‘free editorial’ in a media channel? Or is it an advertisement?

It’s really a hybrid channel, and that has caused confusion in the market. This confusion coupled with the rise of influencers has led to some controversy, with both brands and the influencers getting themselves in trouble from time to time because advertising rules haven’t kept pace.

Back in 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released guidelines to better control and manage transparency around both native advertising and influencer marketing. These guidelines required all advertising content, including that on social media, that was in some way controlled by the advertiser to be identified as such.

While it was generally accepted that #sp, #spon or #ad was to be used in an influencer’s post, there were no specific rules around the hashtags brands and influencers should use.

The ASA has upheld two complaints regarding influencer Simone Anderson in July for failing to adequately disclose a commercial relationship, setting a precedent of the exact hashtags they would like to see used.

The decision showed that the hashtags #collab and #gifted are not enough when influencers receive goods and services in return for social media coverage, and that the more clear-cut #ad and #sponsored should be used in future.

The ASA Complaints Board also advised that the ASA consider publishing further guidelines on how to sufficiently identify the commercial relationships between influencers as advertisers and brands/companies.

Since the decision, there has already been a notable change with many well-known influencers expressly stating when products are a gifted product, with #ad appearing on many more posts in the place of #gifted. Being transparent about commercial relationships is now considered a way of being authentic; influencers who are up-front with their audience will gain increased respect.

For organisations who want to work with influencers, there are some key lessons we can learn from this recent ASA decision that can help set a standard of best practice:

Clarity: Be clear with social media influencers you work with that they must disclose your relationship. This will avoid brand damage from being associated with an incorrectly labelled social media post, which may not always be immediately apparent; you want to avoid your brand equity being eroded over time.

Content: Look to work with influencers who are good content creators first and foremost and are up with the play on how to work with brands and companies. This means they will respect your brand and come to the relationship with a professional approach.

Relationship: Build long-term relationships with influencers you can trust, rather than doing a one-off campaign. We’ve heard the crazy stories of brands selling out in minutes after mega influencers like America’s Kylie Jenner or China’s Anny Fan post – for a fee of $1.5m-plus I might add.  Our Kiwi influencers are not in that same league.  So having a long-term strategy with some nano and micro influencers will most likely serve New Zealand brands best. As well as building authenticity, the influencer will become knowledgeable on your brand, which will ensure the right messages out to your audience every post.

And one last note – make sure you always read the room when planning social media influencer campaigns.

Case in point is Colgate’s recent White Night In, which was slammed in June as being tone deaf in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

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About Author

Heather Claycomb is director of HMC Communications, a Hamilton-based, award-winning public relations agencys.