Scott Guthrie sabguthrie #followmeto and ftc influencer marketing

Is #followmeto global travel brand falling foul of FTC?


The couple behind Instagram travel hashtag sensation #Followmeto is becoming an influencer marketing broker between influencer and brands. But is it taking regulation seriously – asks Scott Guthrie

Murad Osmann and his wife Nataly, the couple behind the #Followmeto project with a combined Instagram following of 5.3m are setting out to build a community connecting brands with travel influencers.

Through #followmetotravel the couple publishes travel-related articles like “Best 10 Parks in Moscow” by Miloslav Chemodanov, Chief editor of ParkSeason, a park guide.

The site is also a place where travel bloggers can set up accounts and talk to one another.

Ultimately, however, the purpose of #followmetotravel is to create a platform for sponsored content. For example, a place where a hotel brand could sponsor an influencer’s post about top travel tips.

Hotel mamounia
The FTC requires influencers to make “clear and conspicuous” disclosures in their posts if they are paid for talking about a product. #ad would have sufficed here.

But one passage from an interview with Murad Osmann in Adweek earlier this week troubled me: “We’re very specific about how we try to keep the integrity of the projects. If you go to our Instagram page, you will never see a direct commercial,” Murad told Lauren Johnson from Adweek.

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These two sentences strike me as the antithesis of integrity.
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The Federal Trade Commission says in its December 2015 guidelines on native advertising that influencers must make “clear and conspicuous” disclosures in their posts if they are paid for talking about a product.
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As consumers we don’t like feeling hoodwinked. To obfuscate a commercial arrangement between brand and influencer does far more harm than good to both parties.

We won’t buy from brands if we feel duped by them. We won’t follow influencers if we feel they haven’t been honest with us.

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It appears, however that Murad and Nataly are flouting both ethical best practice and legal requirements.
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Social media influencers as the new celebrities

Earlier this year the Osmanns became the face of Macy’s private International Concepts label.

Incidentally, in doing so the couple replaced previous spokeswoman and fashion model Heidi Klum giving yet more weight to the argument that social media influencers are not an alternative to celebrities; they are the new celebrities.

 

And, according to a recent article in PR Week UK PR and marketing professionals are now more likely to use social media influencers than other types of ‘traditional’ celebrity.
Yet, in at least one Instagram post (shown below) the couple fail to disclose the commercial nature of their relationship with the Macy’s company.  
 .
muradosmann
The Osmanns are the face of Macy’s private International Concepts label. The elite brand is tagged in this Instagram post – though there is no attempt to communicate the commercial nature of the content.

 

Growing pains of influencer marketing

As a discipline influencer marketing is suffering some growing pains. My take on it is that there is a bright future as long as authenticity, transparency, long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships between brand and influencer can be forged and allowed to blossom. Relationships which allow both brand and influencer to explore deeply each other’s values and proposition to create genuinely creative and compelling content which will resonate, entertain and inform key audiences. And, ultimately nudging this audience to take action in some form.

Influencers should be led by the carrot of enlightened self interest rather than be feel hit by the stick of regulation.

But failure to comply with regulation may kill the goose that laid the golden influencer marketing egg through heightened legislation designed to protect us, the consumer.

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