We are all influencing and being influenced, following and being followed, but we are not trusting all, and not all are being trusted.
When we play the game of trust, we win, or we ruin.
At its core, Influencer marketing is supposed to be a scaled and accelerated version of word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), the most trusted and organic form of marketing.
But, it failed. It failed to earn trust, the ultimate currency exchange.
It’s lacking authenticity.
Who should be blamed for that? -Drum roll, please- Brands, social platforms, and of course the so-called influencers. All are doing it wrong.
Behavior changes from time to time.
Change is part of its nature and DNA. It’s something associated with learning. And people’s belief and behavior change when they observe, feel, and learn new things.
People are conscious. They have found that most influencers are no longer authentic enough to be trusted and followed. People are observing something that supposed to be as authentic as friendship turned into a marketing technique and a multi-billion industry, something that is measured by hundreds of tools and vanity metrics.
Many brands have invested in such a marketing technique in order to not rebuild the lost trust, but to boost sales, which makes it worse.
Bad players have appeared!
Some influencers have become just a promoter/salesperson, getting part of the brands’ sales department, striving for paychecks and not improving people’s lives, and even unethically hiding their relationships. Majority of their created content are “fashionable nonsense.” Their audience are just an asset.
Influencer marketing will definitely weather the storm, but not all influencers. There are clear signals that it’s significantly evolving.
Puzzle pieces are falling into place
- Trust. People trust in leaders, social networks, brands, and ads less than ever, according to the recent Edelman Trust Barometer. They will stop buying from a company that can’t trust, regardless of its reputation or the celebrity or influencer promoting its products.
And “a brand without trust is just a product, the difference between the two is trust,” said Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever.
- Fraud. Some influencers play the game in an unethical way. Fake followers, likes, view counts, clicks, and engagement cost brands millions of dollars without any ROI, and even their reputation. So they demanded more transparency and visibility from social media platforms, marketing agencies, and influencers.
Some brands like Unilever warned to stop working with non-transparent influencers and platforms. Some like Nike and Birchbox created internal influencer marketing teams managing their efforts in-house, and others like Lego and Oath create and maintain a close relationship with influencers and evaluate their content and personality alongside with technical measures. Amazon rolled an invite-only program for social media influencers into its huge, well-designed influencer marketing ecosystem.
- Regulation. Lack of regulation, formal guidelines, and scalable monitoring solutions in the influencer marketing space are seriously weakening it. Since 2017, Federal Trade Commission guideline required influencers clearly and honestly disclose their relationships to brands. They have to tag sponsored posts as #ad, #sponsored, or #spon, however it’s still far from the ideal. Yet some big brands and influencers break such a simple ethical rule.
There are non-profit organizations that keep up with some of the famous influencers on social media to find undisclosed relationships.
Big brands like Unilever have reminded all brands and social platforms of their responsibility to collaborate in developing some standards to improve transparency in the influencer space.
- Authenticity. Social media platforms have to do their part to make their platforms more transparent and authentic, even though it’s for improving the user experience, indeed, for transparency and profit!
Twitter removed tens of millions of fake followers. Instagram has begun removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts using machine learning tools.
Facebook, the largest social media network in the world, updated its News Feed algorithm in 2018 to show more content from friends and family and drive more authentic interactions, which has caused a significant drop in brands organic reach.
Influencers’ worst nightmare -zero organic reach- is also coming true. As social media platforms will not let influencers shrink their share of advertising budgets, very soon brands and even influencers themselves have to boost the sponsored posts to get enough exposure. The free ride is getting over for influencers too.
A manifesto for influencer marketing
Influencer marketing needs to change. People demand honesty, transparency, and value. Influencers should remember that their ultimate responsibility is to build a kind of community -not a follower base- around a shared purpose, lifestyle, etc. If a brand also values that purpose and is eager to be included and support the community, the influencer as the community leader can clearly and transparently share the brand’s story.
So inspired by two decades old “Agile Manifesto,” it’s time to declare a manifesto that authentic and smart influencers value, kind of a declaration of independence.
“As a true influencer, we have come to value: “Inspiring over Promoting,” “Authenticity over Platform Rates and Stats,” “Credibility over Appearance,” and “Audience Trust over Contracts.” That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we strongly stand for items on the left.”
Such an influencer will survive any upcoming changes including updating the algorithms, brands scandals, and technology advances.