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Why We Need to Think People Over Platform to Move Past So-Called Authenticity Issues

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

This piece was originally published on leading influencer publication, Talking Influence.

Over the last month, the media-storm around BBC One Panorama ‘Million Pound Selfie’, and the infamous Fyre Festival on Netflix has caused yet another backlash about the lack of transparency and authenticity in the influencer marketing industry.

Celebrity endorsements are not new news though. Whether we like it or not, celebrities have been promoting brands for hundreds of years, 250 to be exact. The first known history of celebrity endorsement globally dates back to the 1760s when a pottery and chinaware company called Wedgwood used royal endorsements to show value in the company and promote its products.

It’s only until now that marketers have cast a cautious eye on these celebrity influencers – people who have gained influence through talent such as musicians, actresses or models – because they have been failing to mention #AD in their posts, which seems to be at the top of everyone’s newsfeed.

However the media has completely ignored the evolution that has happened over the last decade, a new influencer has formed. A content creator or digital influencer is someone who has influence because they create digital content – social, blogs, video – they are passionate about for their community. Therefore, they care deeply about being authentic and transparent with their audience. This type of influencer is one who brands partner with because they have proven to be more effective than your traditional celebrity influencer.

Despite this crucial difference in motive, I’m not going to ignore the fact that digital influencers have had their own issues with authenticity. Last year there was a reported 12% of influencers who had suspicious accounts, meaning they bought fake followers, and brands were concerned about wasted marketing spend.

A wider look at digital and authenticity in influencer marketing

But if we take a look at the wider digital industry, this issue is quite minimal. According to the IAB,  $8.2 billion dollars is wasted every year on programmatic ad fraud – that’s four times more than we spend in influencer marketing total. Programmatic ad fraud has been a major concern for over ten years yet we don’t see any major outlets publicising this issue. Despite programmatic being more of a concern, with the threat of a brand being placed next to hate speak, porn, and other evils.

Could it be that the celebrity factor in influencer marketing has escalated a relatively normal issue we face in almost all digital channels? Here’s a quick recap of the measures the industry has put in place to ensure brand safety and authenticity:

  • Instagram announced last year that it is cracking down on accounts using third-party apps to enhance followers and engagement. They stripped users of fake “likes” and comments from third-party apps.

  • Most influencer agencies and platforms have a fraud detection system in place whether it’s utilising machine learning technology to measure influencer engagement ratios or follower growth and whether they have utilised a bot app or direct access to influencer accounts.

  • It has become quite obvious when an influencer is buying fake followers or acts in an unprofessional way (the previous posts are all public), and marketers everywhere are able to do a spot check of content manually.

So is transparency as big of an issue as we think?

The issue is not because of lack of tools in the industry or that nobody cares, the issue is due to a focus on platform over people, fast campaign turnaround, and the belief that this is simply a marketing tactic instead of what could be a full funnel approach. The industry is maturing and we (marketers, agencies, platforms, social media platforms) have strict measures in place to blacklist and weed out influencers who are not being transparent or authentic.

So, although the media has put a big bright shining light on a relatively normal issue in digital marketing, it’s now time for us to focus on what’s more important; how we can be more creative and strategic in our influencer approach. An Instagram post of an influencer holding a shampoo bottle smiling at the camera is not effective anymore (and was it ever really?).

We really need to move past these so-called authenticity issues and think more like humans instead of marketers, because the issue is irrelevant when you’re working with professional and quality influencers. The questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  • Do we have a strong quality control process?

  • Have we established a good working relationship with these influencers?Are they professional and are they going to work with us collaboratively?

  • Is their content creative/high quality?

  • Are they respectable in their community and have they generate strong engagement?

  • Do people genuinely engage with their content?

  • What content is their audience most engaged with and why?

We need to stop buying influencers programmatically through platforms and start treating them like people.

The future of influencer marketing could be bright

There are so many passionate and quality influencers who create content and build digital businesses because of pure love for their niche. These influencers are entrepreneurs and creatives, whether its art, food, parenting, tech, travel, entrepreneurship, beauty or fashion, they are people who are real and honest and have grown an authentic community around their passions.

If you’re working with the above type of influencers then authenticity and transparency issues are not a problem anymore.

Becoming a digital influencer takes a lot of time and effort, so it’s not about making a quick buck, it’s about fuelling a life-long passion. If we don’t fuel this passion by shifting our thinking and approach as humans, then yes, we will see this industry become less authentic and less effective. But I have hope that marketers are more human than we think.

We want to shed light on the authenticity of these creators, so we’ve summarised quotes from influencers, both micro and macro, in our community to share the passion and honesty in this industry:

Nyomi Winter, Geordie writer who runs feminist family lifestyle blog, Nomipalony: “I think I’ve focused on the blog because it’s what I enjoy the most. If I won the lottery and money wasn’t a factor, I would still want to write. It’s cathartic for me…

.... I’m not sure any brands have had a big impact on my growth but other bloggers have. I’ve been blown away by the generosity of other bloggers who have supported me since the start.”

Dominique Davis, writer & Instagrammer, from @allthatisshe: “You need to be passionate about what you do, and not just be in it for the money and 'free stuff.' If you're passionate about the work that you do, the images you create, what you write, what you say and your audience, then that will show in what you produce. It wasn't until I stopped looking at other accounts to see what they were posting, and instead, started to create and share images that *I* loved that I saw my account soar.”

Aimee River, content creator of @aimeeriver: “For me, being a part of a creative community is what made most of the growth happen. There’s this lovely mindset, community over competition.”

Heidi Nazarudin, influencer and founder of Marque Media, from @TheAmbitionista: “For me it starts with being authentic. The feed is really me. I post what I love, and I don't post what I don’t care about.”

Sue Mariscal, content creator of @_susandrea_: ““For as long as I remember I’ve loved to create things for others. When I was in the 6th grade, I remember coming up with the idea of making... let’s say "quirky gifts" for my girlfriends {*laughs*}; using cardboard from recycled cereal boxes + toilet paper + watered down school glue. I'd make tiny boxes with a tiny card hidden inside as a birthday present—and the image of their happy faces receiving my cards, are still today with me.⁣ See, at such a young age I figured: if I made other people happy, that happiness was going to mirror in myself. Content creation is just the modern version of that same thing for me.”

Maggy Woodley, writer, crafter, and popular YouTuber of Red Ted Art: “It may be a little cheesy to say.. but it is so true: Believe in yourself.. if you are passionate about something, you can do it!! Don’t worry what other people say.. just follow your passion. However, you do need to be consistent in your work and keep at it. Hard work is definitely part of success!”

Laura Medalia, programmer, writer and Instagrammer of @codergirl_: “Authenticity, creativity, confidence, kindness and work ethic is what makes a content creator.”

Elizabeth Sagan, co-founder of My Book Features and creative content maker of @elizabeth_sagan: “All my content revolves around books. I love reading them, and I want to inspire people to read them too. I think that as a content creator you find yourself in a position of influence, which gives you the opportunity to share your message to a large number of people of all ages.”

Ciandra Birnbaum, writer and Instagrammer @love_ciandra: “For me being a content creator is like the growth of a flower. You need to nurture your social media until it blooms.”

Katy English, writer and creative content maker of @misskatyenglish: “I have three favourite things about being a content creator: the freedom to set my own schedule, being able to flex my artistic muscles and create beautiful images, and the connection with my community, with people from all over the world.” For more, check out our hashtag community #AuthenticInfluencerMovement where influencers in our community share their passion and why they decided to become content creators/digital businesses. #DoWhatYouLove

Find out how to improve your influencer marketing strategies by working with authentic influencers.



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