The Competition and Markets authority is rewarding social media influencers who demonstrate true brand affinity in their content.
Earlier this week the Competitions and Markets authority - the UK government watchdog charged with protecting the consumer - announced a pledge by 16 celebrity influencers to play by its advertising rules.
The new guidelines remind influencers that they must declare any material brand connection whenever they’ve been paid, given or loaned things.
Any form of reward, including money, gifts of services or products, or the loan of a product, is considered ‘payment’ – whether the influencer originally asked for it or got sent it out of the blue (e.g. ‘freebies’). If influencers have not purchased a product or service, but received it free, they must make this clear.
So far, so obvious. But the guidelines now state that past relationships matter too. Even if an influencer no longer has a relationship with a brand, if there was a past relationship (or if he/she received product loans, gifts and/or other incentives) people need to know about this.
The watchdog believes consumers need to be aware of any former relationship over a reasonable period of time. How long is reasonable? “anything within the last year is likely to be relevant to followers” according to the watchdog.
The move to insist on transparency surrounding past collaborations will promote fewer, but deeper and longer-term relationships between brand and influencer. There is now a financial disincentive for influencers to work with dozens of brands in tent-pole influencer advertising campaigns. Many will baulk at the requirement to tag each brand featured in organic content that they have or had a relationship with.
Communicators will increasingly look beyond an influencer’s audience reach and engagement numbers during the selection process. They will now look holistically at the appropriateness of brand/influencer fit over the long run.
Influencer selection will include softer measures such as: brand sentiment, tone-of-voice, their values and ethics, and their creative style.
The vetting process is time-consuming. It requires a blend of third-party tools and the contextual intelligence of the communicator to detect nuance. This makes the selection process expensive - in the short run.
Advertisements ‘must be obviously identifiable as such’. If influencers don’t wish to clearly and consistently mark gifts or payment up to a year after receipt they now have a choice:
- Not incorporate these gifts and paid-for products into their organic content.
- Not accept these gifts and paid-for products in the first place.
Without appropriate disclosure, people may reasonably assume that an influencer who is promoting, endorsing or reviewing a product or a service, does not have a relationship with the businesses they are promoting. They may think that an influencer has purchased the product themselves and therefore considers it good value for money or of good quality.
As consumers we don’t have an issue with advertorial and sponsored content on three provisos:
We don’t feel hoodwinked into thinking the content is organic. If it's an ad it ‘must be obviously identifiable as such’. This means we should be able to recognise something is an ad without having to click or otherwise interact with it. Since it needs to be ‘obvious’, consumers shouldn’t have to work too hard to figure it out. We don't like to feel tricked.
The content is relevant to us and of good quality; it educates, entertains, informs or inspires us. By relevant I mean the partnership between brand and influencer feels natural because it feels credible. There is an obvious affinity between brand, influencer and audience.
We're not inundated with paid-for content - our favourite influencers produce a ratio of organic to paid-for content which we deem to be acceptable. This is probably no more than 1:3 sponsored to organic and ideally 1:4 or fewer.
The new guidelines underscore these points of transparency, quality content and promotion vs organic content ratios.
Transparency and the bottom line
More than half of US consumers (53%) are likely to consider brands that are transparent on social for their next purchase.
Eighty-six per cent of people are likely to take their business to a competitor when there’s a lack of transparency on social This is according to a survey undertaken by social media management tool - Sproutsocial: Social Media & the Evolution of Transparency [gated content].
Sixty-one per cent of women said they won’t engage with an influencer’s sponsored content if it doesn’t feel genuine, according to a global survey of 20,000 conducted by Bloglovin, a blog aggregator site.
Social media endorsements: guide for influencers
You can read the full guidance and information on complying with consumer protection law when endorsing products, brands or services on social media here.