Aiken PR

The Briefing

The ability to inspire others is not to be taken lightly

The ability to inspire others is not to be taken lightly Banner

by Aiken PR

21/09/2021

The term influencer has become so much more nuanced than the dictionary definition would lead you to believe.

Merriam–Webster defines the word influencer as ‘a person who inspires or guides the actions of others.’ An individual capable of platforming a company or product. To draw connections between business and consumer and essentially cut through the white noise of social media in a manner that is relatable and, in theory, authentic.

No mean feat, though it’s an endeavour that has come under increased scrutiny, with online platforms now requiring would–be influencers to disclose any paid sponsorship – be it gifted products, merchandise, or any permutation of freebies – in advance before the subsequent content is put before scrolling eyes.

Such is the rapid pace of this novel industry that, before #ad became the go–to identifier and platforms like Instagram incorporated influencer–friendly tools to help categorise commercial relationships, scores of content creators had their knuckles rapped for failing to disclose that they had been paid, incentivised or in any way rewarded for their online endorsement.

Now that social media users have tuned their ears to brand collaborations, any such content is met with questions over transparency and authenticity… or lack thereof. The issue, really, is that social platforms were too slow in their implementation of proper regulation. And without it, budding content creators, eager to work with brands and carve out a corner of the Internet to call their own, have found themselves in disputes over misleading their followers, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Only in 2020 did Facebook – parent company of Instagram, a time–honoured cornerstone of the influencing world – introduce new measures and algorithms that were designed to weed out hidden advertising. The so–called #sponcon crackdown, as it was known, came after an investigation by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

Not on their own accord, then, which is symptomatic of an industry that for too long placed profit and digitised growth – likes, followers, engagement – over the interests of the creators themselves, whose wellbeing and reputation were seen as little more than footnotes in the overall discussion around #ad.

Now, in 2021, there is a thriving culture of content creators, bloggers and social media luminaries, many of whom exist proudly under the umbrella term of ‘influencer.’ That same culture made headlines this summer when the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee held its first session in an inquiry to examine the growth of the influencer world.

Listed on the agenda was an examination of influencer impact across media and popular culture, and consideration of the absence of regulation on promoting products and/or services online. A timely inquiry, particularly with government research suggesting that more than three–quarters of influencers “buried their disclosures within their posts.”

Not necessarily out of deceit, it must be said, but rather in fear that any sponsored content will be viewed as hollow or even disingenuous in the eyes of their impassioned followers. It is a very fine line to tread. The need to ensure ads are aligned to an individual’s brand and voice, while the onus is also on followers and the wider public to recognise that influencers and advertising are not mutually exclusive.

There is, of course, a greater awareness of influencer marketing and its machinations, the Digital Marketing Institute found in recent research that 49% of consumers rely on influencer recommendations when making a purchase. However, one early takeaway from the committee inquiry has been that the nuanced role of influencers is far from being fully understood.

Last week Nicole Ocran, co–founder of the Creator Union, gave evidence to MPs alongside former Love Island contestant Amy Hart. Part of Ocran’s statement pointed the finger at social media platforms who, in her experience, “don’t move fast enough and, in some cases, they don’t move at all” in terms of tackling misrepresentation.

Which is why the Creator Union and its mission statement, to regulate the influencer marketing industry and protect its creators, should be welcomed with open arms, both by digital architects and governments exploring the need for further legislation. Its foundation is also a telling sign that, unless platforms keep apace and implement regulation of their own, it may well be taken out of their hands.

Influencing, in itself, ought to be viewed as an extension of the marketing industry. Where the ability to platform products, to make that connection between business and consumer, is often placed on the shoulders of a single individual.

It is an industry that has grown up too fast, forcing government officials and even the very platforms on which the content is produced to play catch–up. But it is also one worthy of careful consideration around ethics, transparency and the wellbeing of creators, as the term influencer has become so much more nuanced than the dictionary definition would lead you to believe.