Whether you’re on Instagram, YouTube, or a vlogging site, it’s difficult to avoid posts from influencers. It’s not surprising considering that more than a third –38% –of industry professionals now work with social influencers, investing an average of £42k annually, according to a survey from Takumi. However, it’s not always easy to tell whether an influencer’s posts are #sponsored.

That’s where ICPEN –a network of consumer protection authorities –has stepped in this month, publishing several sets of guidelines on online endorsements. The UK’s CAP has had guidelines in place for some time to regulate influencer marketing –essentially, brands have to make it clear when content is sponsored. But the study from Takumi found that 31% of industry professionals are reluctant to follow the guidelines, and another 12% aren’t even clear what the guidelines are. These stats suggest that many marketers are missing the point of influencer marketing. Here’s why:

1) Authenticity is what makes influencers influential
The huge following that online influencers attract is no coincidence. Their followers buy into their content, not only watching them on the screen and following them on social media, but listening to them on a personal level, whether it’s trusting recommendations of food brands from The Body Coach himself or tracking down beauty products advocated by reality TV stars. This is why consumers consider bloggers’ opinions to be the third most trustworthy after family and friends(AffilinetMay 2015). This trust is the key reason brands want to work with influencers –if a brand isn’t actively protecting that relationship then they are probably on the road to producing an advertorial, not an influencer partnership.

2) Reach is great, influence is better but advocacy is best
Marketers should focus on influencer engagement rather than influencer marketing. Ideally your chosen influencer is genuinely on board with your brand messaging. This means speaking to a number of influencers about your objectives early on, getting their feedback and moving forward only when there is an authentic connection between brand and influencer. In our experience this often requires working with multiple, less high-profile influencers over time, which is more effective than a single influencer working on a single brand-led campaign. In this scenario, tagging a post as paid-for endorsement will not compromise the authenticity of the endorsement.

3) Nobody likes being lied to
If a consumer has to dig around to discover that their favourite influencer’s content is sponsored by a brand, it feels like a betrayal. The brand is viewed as manipulative, the influencer is seen to have lost integrity and that all important trust in the influencer is degraded. Even if the influencer is honest, failure to highlight content as sponsored will do far more harm than good to the brand.

There are two approaches to influencer marketing. One involves sourcing influencers with the highest reach, briefing them on what to say and paying them to say it. ICPEN’s latest guidelines should only be of concern to these brands, if they feel they have something to hide.

The other approach focuses instead on finding influencers to become advocates. The brand is open with potential influencers about its objectives, and content is created through a partnership. This means the partnership is not undermined when the influencer follows regulations and admits the post is #sponsored, and this is where the value of influencer marketing lies.

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