To # or not to #?

Social media advertising, or influencer marketing: a popular and effective marketing tactic to reach a targeted audience and increase brand awareness.

The plug

So, “influencer marketing” is a trendy buzz word in communications, an approach that has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years, taking the marketing world by storm. It’s no surprise why. Done right, influencer marketing can lead to unparalleled sales growth results and can generate oodles of ROI for a brand or business.

Put simply, influencer marketing is the promotion and selling of products or services through the influencer’s online platforms or social media channels; YouTube, Snap Chat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, you get the gist. An influencer can be anyone with a mass of following – a celebrity, athlete, or a key spokesperson in a particular field, a credible title or online platform, due to their social media standing and online presence.

Brands work with such influencers, leveraging a partnership through gifting products or by sponsoring social media posts to amplify their own brand awareness and popularity by association.

Influencer marketing hinges on two key features – authenticity and relevance. The brand working with the celebrity or influencer needs to makes sense in order to connect with the influencer’s audience. There’s no good lifestyle and beauty blogger Zoella promoting steel toe cap boots and hi-vis clothing… that’s not her audience and so it wouldn’t reach the right people. There needs to be a strong strategy behind it.

Most big and small brands are now enlightened and see the benefit of an influencer marketing programme, particularly in B2C where companies allocate big budgets to these types of campaigns. Influencer marketing can be an important and worthwhile strategy for a business to invest in… if done correctly. Many brands have latched on to the approach as it has become more popular than ever before and the proof is in the pudding. For instance, fashion brand Missguided’s sales BOOMED following its Love Island partnership this year as sales saw an increase of 40% week on week during the time of each episodes airing[1]. An example for B2B: Dr. Martens recently joined forces with women-in-construction title Womanthology, a leading and influential platform inspiring and celebrating women in industrial careers. The competition-led campaign increased traffic to the Dr. Martens’ website and product landing pages, which ultimately drove sales through to two of the core styles of the new women’s range. This resulted in a topline sell-through figure of 144%. It started conversations amongst female industry workers and leaders, encouraging discussions around the issues they face with not just their footwear, but all Personal Protective Equipment. Read more about the Dr. Martens campaign here.

The # controversy

All sounds gravy, right? WRONG.

Influencer Marketing Hashtag

Since the rise in excitement of social media and influencer marketing, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has had to intervene a number of times in order to draw the line of between seemingly-authentic posting and sponsored, paid-for advertising. In 2016, new rules were introduced that require influencers to disclose and communicate clearly when content is paid-for or is part of a sponsorship deal by including hashtags like #sponsored, #sp, #spon, #ad[2]. Brands and influencers were not particularly happy as this dilutes the post’s sense of authenticity – one of the most attractive characteristics of influencer marketing.

Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director for Consumer Enforcement, said: “Social media personalities can have an important influence on people’s views, especially young people. It is therefore crucial that when people decide what to buy, they should not be misled by adverts on social media that read like independent opinions. Businesses, marketing companies and authors of online content all need to play their role in ensuring that advertising is clearly labelled as such.”

On 16th August 2018 the CMA announced it is launching a new investigation “into concerns that social media stars are not properly declaring when they have been paid, or otherwise rewarded, to endorse goods or services”[3]. Enforcing the rules must be challenging; the internet is an ever-expanding entity which is not easy to police. However, in a bid to clamp down on rule breakers the CMA is threatening to name and shame influencers and celebrities found to be flouting the rules[4].

It will be interesting to see if this slap on the wrist will impact on influencer marketing and the way in which brands work with influencers and celebrities. With the key selling point of authenticity further compromised, will brands still be bidding to work with the likes of Instagram’s biggest and brightest? Or will the frenzy of hashtags and required clarity in brand collaboration start to take the fun out of this popular marketing trend? In marketing and publicity, authenticity matters. The entire field of content creation evolved from a demand for authenticity, and we don’t see this evaporating any time soon. Today consumers are not passive, and grow quickly tired of obvious advertising, gravitating more towards seemingly more authentic, trustworthy information. With social media users being quick to comment on signs of insincerity and inaccuracy, I think it will be harder for influencers and brands alike to keep audiences engaged – only time will tell.


Next time: Social media marketing – B2B vs. B2C


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