The new wave of authenticity in the influencer community: aspiration or regulation?

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One of LRR’s core values is to ensure we recommend products and brands to consumers through the media channels that make a difference. Whether this be in magazines, newspapers, television, radio, or through social media, our purchasing decisions are influenced in so many ways. The birth of social media and the rise of content creators brought a new level of recommendation-based shopping to the surface – but has it been backed up by authentic views and opinions?

 

As social media has risen through the ranks to become one of the top marketing tools of choice, brands have become more fixated on the importance of working with the right influencers who authentically promote the similar values and aspirations as the wider messages of the brand itself. A reputation for authenticity has become the golden currency amongst content creators when appealing to potential brands for collaborations.

 

Three months ago, the governing bodies that control advertising content online introduced a new set of “influencer guidelines”, which aimed to remove any confusion around paid and sponsored content on social media. Nearly three months down the line, we take a look at how these regulations have changed the landscape of this community, and the new movement of “authenticity” amongst content creators.

 

(Interiors content creator, Kate Watson-Smyth)

 

The History

In 1962, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was introduced to regulate and monitor the content published by any brand across all media platforms, from social media to mainstream TV and event sponsorship. The ASA historically has very clear guidelines when it comes to traditional promotional methods, however the new generation of social media users, influencers and online businesses has created the need for a new set of guidelines which encompasses the modern approach to marketing…. Which brings us on to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) –a similar organisation that focuses more on the authentic portrayal of promoting content online.

 

Now, that was a lot of technical talk, so in layman’s terms this is what we mean; when you see an advert on TV, it is usually obvious that the brand has paid for this slot of airtime. However, frustrating these ads may be (we’re looking at you Compare the Meerkat!), you at least know it’s an ad. On social media however, it can be much harder to decipher what content is a paid advert, and what content is authentic… until now.

 

 

(Content creator, Mike Queyen)

 

The Original Rules

ASA and CMA have been working together to create a list of influencer guidelines over a period of several years, with each update becoming more limiting for creativity, or more transparent for viewers, depending on the point of view you take. The most recognised incarnation of these rules was the introduction of #ad; when an influencer was paid to create content for their social media platform, they had to include #ad within their post as a disclaimer to show there was an exchange of money for the post. This only took into consideration paid posts, not press trips, gifting, vouchers for spending, or discount codes that are often provided for influencers to gain a percentage of revenue from any sales resulting directly from their content. The new set of influencer guidelines published at the end of January 2019 cleared up (or created more confusion) for this.

 

 

(Musician, Laura Hayden)

 

The New Rules

Now, it is the responsibility of the influencer to be honest about the content of a social post. For example, if a blogger took a picture outside of a country spa which they were on for a press trip, wearing boots that were gifted, a jumper that was bought with a voucher, and a pair of jeans that they are being paid to post about, they must detail all of this through terms such as #presstrip, #gifted, #voucher, #collab and of course #ad. This previously could have all been included under the general umbrella of #ad, which as you can see from the above example, would be quite unclear as to what part of the post is paid for, and where everything else came from. If you are still confused, CMA, ASA and the Committee of Advertising Practive (CAP) have joined forces to create a detailed “how to label your ad” guide here.

 

 

(Lifestyle influencer, Lydia Millen)

 

The Response

The initial response from the influencer community to the new rules was not so warm. Many influencers who work hard to earn the trust and appreciation of their following felt they were being “punished” for the poor ad-labelling of others. It also, in many ways, makes the process of creating content much harder and messy. For example, if an influencer has a lovely scatter cushion in their bedroom that was a gift from a brand several years ago, and they post a photo next week which contains that cushion, they have to remember to mention that they used to work with the brand and that it was #gifted, even though they no longer have a relationship with that brand. Since many content creators receive such an enormous amount of free product through the PO box route, it has become crucial to create a log of all products, where they came from and if they were gifted. Moving forward this is relatively simple, but going through everything you own and trying to remember if it was a gift, bought with a voucher, or paid for would be an almighty task!

 

 

(Content creator, Toni Tran)

 

The Consequence

The new influencer guidelines have forced influencers to consider even more the importance of working with a select number of brands that successfully represent the message that they wish to convey to their following. Considering a brand’s reputation or relationship with a subject area that defines your point of view as a content creator is now more important than ever, whether these be political, environmental, or social issues.  It has also prompted influencers to share more content that isn’t affiliated with a brand. It’s no secret that paid for content receives considerably less engagement than authentic content on the average influencer’s page analytics, so with increased regulation around ads, it is more important than ever to show your audience that you also go out, like every other human, and buy things… from actual shops.

 

What’s next?

Having read several articles about the response to, and detail of, the new CMA guidelines, it does leave one wondering: what are the next steps? Will we ever get to the stage where influencers have to detail the value of items gifted, or the amount they are being paid for #ad posts? It was only this week that entertainment mogul Kris Jenner revealed that her famous Kardashian children are paid six-figure sums per sponsored Instagram post… so how long before this becomes common practice? It also raises the question: if influencers have to share when product or services are gifted, will mainstream fashion and lifestyle platforms have to do the same? If we see Mick Jagger wearing a Prada leather jacket on the cover of Mojo, which then sells out the next day, do we as consumers deserve the right to know that he was gifted product and paid to wear it?

 

We recently discussed the impact of the new influencer guidelines on content creators and brand alike at our second Rooster Sessions event in London, with the panel including acclaimed interiors expert Kate Watson-Smyth. For more information about this event and the insights we found, read our recap here.

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