If you spend any amount of time on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter – you’ve probably become pretty proficient at spotting brand advertisements. These social media sites indicate ads with wording such as “promoted post”, “sponsored post”, “promoted tweet” etc. but things become grey when shared content has the look and feel of organic content, when in fact it’s just straight up advertising.
Enter influencer marketing.
A social media influencer is an individual who has amassed influence over a particular audience and can impact potential action based on the social relationship they have built with said audience. Common methods of influence occur via blogging and social sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Snapchat. The term influencer in its simplest form means that one has the ability to influence another to take action. A common misconception is that to be an influencer one must have a certain number of followers. This isn’t true. For one, you can buy followers, but most importantly even an influencer with a small and engaged following can have a meaningful impact on a brand or business.
For example, let’s say that you’re an Instagram influencer with a focus on speciality coffee. It would be a natural partnership to align with a local coffee shop. You strike a deal to share a certain number of product images on your IG, as well as a coupon link in your bio in return for free product. You share images to your IG, directing people to the link in your bio and asking them to check it out. Influence in this case would be the number of followers who wind up heading to the coffee shop to use the coupon. If you’ve motivated even 5% of your followers to use the coupon, that’s considered influence. But it’s also a grey area because influencers often accept payment or product in return for endorsing or mentioning said products or services on their social media sites. (Which is advertising.)
What makes influencer marketing unique and appealing to brands and businesses is that it looks natural and consumers don’t necessarily realize that they’re being subtly sold to. Think about it this way: consumers already “follow” the IG account, so when they see the images and endorsement for the coffee shop encouraging them to “go check it out” they don’t necessarily stop to think that that’s actually advertising.
But it is.
Here’s another example: I’m an avid runner. I love workout clothes. In fact, I probably have more workout gear than regular clothes, which probably says a lot about me as a person. That aside, there’s a significant difference between me picking up a pair of tights from Old Navy to test them for a long run and posting my glowing review to social media. But quite another to have an agreement in place whereby Old Navy sends me products to test and then has me publicly review them on my social media sites. (Old Navy if you could add me as an influencer that would be super!*)
And that’s why there are new guidelines out by Advertising Standards Canada which applies to bloggers and any individuals who use social media to provide a testimonial or endorsement for products or services whereby they’re being compensated. The key is that Influencers are required to disclose any type of material connection they have to the company, clearly. (So burying it in your hashtags or an inconspicuous spot on your blog isn’t enough!)
“Material connection” is defined as any connection between an entity providing a product or service and an endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making a representation that may affect the weight or credibility of the representation, and includes: benefits and incentives, such as monetary or other compensation, free products with or without any conditions attached, discounts, gifts, contest and sweepstakes entries, and any employment relationship, but excludes nominal consideration for the legal right to identify publicly the person making the representation.- ASC
One other thing to keep in mind is that the Competition Bureau claims that the lack of disclosure by bloggers and influencers basically falls under the rules against misrepresentation and false advertising. They may actually have the ability to fine in the future! But any good brand manager knows that not disclosing this type of relationship can be hugely detrimental to the their relationship with consumers, as well as the influencers relationship with their followers.
It is important to note that there is a fundamental difference between Canada and the USA when it comes to cracking down on influencer marketing. The ASC doesn’t have the ability to issue fines compared to the FTC in the USA. Therefore their only recourse is to advise violators to cease offending actions; if they refuse, the ASC will approach the medium in which the offending content lives and ask them to block it from reoccurring.
With that said, if you’re thinking about hiring an influencer, here’s what you need to know:
* Engage influencers who make are a good fit with your business. (Just because someone has 100,000 followers in the makeup niche, doesn’t mean they’re good for the luxury home niche!)
* Put in agreement in place. (Some influencers are demanding as much as $15k per post; make sure you have an agreement in place that reflects business outcomes!)
* Make sure that everyone is clear about the relationship. (It’s not just their job to clarify the relationship, as a brand or business you should also be transparent!)
* Make sure disclosures are clear. Putting the disclosure in hashtags is not enough, at least according to Advertising Standards Canada.
To learn more about influencer marketing, check out this blog post.