The Influencer Marketing Hub report published at the beginning of March this year predicted that the industry was set to grow to approximately $9.7 billion in 2020. With the huge popularity of the major social media platforms during lockdown, even this figure could be an understatement.
That same report also stated that only 14% of the influencer posts it sampled were fully compliant. Here in the UK the Competition & Markets Authority, (the non-ministerial government department responsible for protecting the public from being misled by businesses), was so concerned about this area of marketing that it has created clear guidance for brands and influencers using social media endorsements. The aim is to educate and help them avoid breaking consumer protection law, as well as the CAP Code rules overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Are there Rules for Influencer Marketing ?
Yes, and need to be vigilant about sticking to these rules, and make sure that the influencers they are associated with follow them too because they are equally responsible for being compliant. Posts must always be approved or checked beforehand to avoid bad publicity – even experienced influencers can make mistakes. In April 2020, the ASA, issued a warning to one of the UK’s most famous influencers, Zoella, for failing to label an Instagram post as an advertisement. The beauty blogger who has over 12 million subscribers believed that by labelling the post ‘*affiliate’ she was following the rules but as it was obscured by other graphics when viewed on a mobile phone it failed to comply.
Lockdown has brought a renewed public interest in influencers as we have more time for social media and the homes and lifestyles of others. A quick scan of any social media platform will reveal countless celebrities or fitness, fashion and makeup experts showing off their latest lockdown wardrobes or tech gadgets or luxury items – which if provided free, or paid to blog about them, must have that all important ‘advert’ label.
A surge in the popularity of micro-influencers is also a danger. These are levels below Zoella in both size, and most likely knowledge of the rules. Followers are more likely to identify and buy from someone ‘authentic’ that they can relate to during a crisis than a celebrity living a billionaire lifestyle. But do these micro-influencers know that there are rules too? Without management and brand involvement, and with their subtle advertising form, their posts can cause problems.
The other risk is that influencers can damage a brand’s reputation. Currently many of the public are struggling with grief and illness, mental health issues and loss of finances. Casual comments by Influencers, who are backed by brands, can have repercussions on the brands that they are associated with and must not be underestimated. Recently Jessica Pinili a fitness influencer came under fire for complaining that being on lockdown in a luxury Australian hotel was ‘worse than being a prisoner’ – despite being put up for free by the hotel who must have regretted their decision to let her stay there . Meanwhile Mrs Hinch, who has over 3.4m followers and is an ambassador for P&G and many other major brands, received bad press for apparently breaking lockdown rules and hosting a BBQ. And then there was the Chief Executive of Harrods appearing in a TikTok video with his daughter that appeared to mock victims of Coronavirus and had him pretending to cough and struggle to breath – he may not consider himself to be an influencer but he is undoubtedly a representative of the brand, just like any other. Linked to this, brands need to be sensitive about giving away things for free to those who are already privileged as it can create a backlash. So, it is important to know the rules, but also apply a good dose of common sense.
Prize promotions that go wrong
Another danger area is that during a crisis, normal procedures tend to be forgotten, or ‘amended’ and promotions, especially prize promotions, can go wrong. Inexperienced marketing teams or overenthusiastic influencers may not be aware of the rules and simply want to engage with their followers and offer them prizes or something exciting to do during lockdown. Those running prize draws and competitions on social media need to comply only with local laws, but also the rules set by each platform. (Did you know that Facebook will not allow you to give away petrol as a prize – or guns!) Breaching these rules, often unknown, can mean that your post will be removed, or your account blocked.