Influencer Marketing: What Challenges does the Industry Face Today?
Influencer marketing industry reached $6.5 billion in 2019 according to Statista and is expected to grow to $22.3 billion by 2024. While many marketers have already understood the lucrative potential of creators’ publications, the industry itself is often seen as the one lacking transparency and regulation. How should marketers calculate the fair remuneration of a creator? Should brands disclose paid partnerships? These questions represent a major concern for the industry community. Before we go into details, let’s have a look at what influencer marketing represents today.
Influencer marketing is a practice which is utilized by a broad range of brands. Instagram solidly remains the main platform for creator campaigns which comes as no surprise considering major advantages the platforms offers both to brands and creators. According to Business Insider, nearly four in five brands predominantly tap Instagram for influencer campaigns. Commonly, brands which fall into categories of fashion, beauty, travel and photography enjoy the highest engagement rates. Aesthetics matter on Instagram, thus, brands which have it as inherent advantage benefit the most from campaigns with creators.
Nevertheless, brands such as TikTok, Coca Cola and KFC actively advertise on the platform showing that on Instagram there is enough audience for any brand. Another type of brands which actively use creator potential is digital native vertical brands. Being born on the Internet or exactly on Instagram, such brands see creators as the main communication and advertising strategy. According to the State of Influencer Marketing in 2020 provided by Influencer Marketing Hub, more than 380 new influencer marketing-focused agencies and platforms were established only in 2019. What’s more, large companies have nearly doubled the number of creators they engage per campaign in the past 2 years.
The industry has been growing steadily, however, the challenges that it faces have not reduced in number. So, what are those challenges that the industry confronts? What should be noted is that the way community responds to these issues not only impacts the ROI of advertising campaigns and brand image. Actions taken and practices used equally influence the overall state of the industry contributing to setting norms and standards which influencer marketing lacks today.
Challenge 1. To Disclose or Not to Disclose?
Disclosure of sponsored partnerships has been a controversial issue which industry experts have mixed feelings about. The Federal Trade Commission in the US and The Competition & Markets Authority in the UK impose strict rules in terms of paid partnerships disclosure. They require utmost transparency in sponsored publications and provide precise guidelines on how to mark posts. The issue with the sponsored publications is that they are negatively perceived by social media users, especially when the product placement looks awkward because of the incoherence between a creator profile and a product. We all, as consumers, do not like blatant promotion: we would rather see a genuine recommendation, than one doing product endorsement just for money. Thus, once the post is marked as sponsored, it often receives lower engagement, and due to this negative dependency brand managers may infringe disclosure rules.
The joint study of Influencer Intelligence and Econsultancy focused on the American and British market and revealed that a third of brands surveyed deliberately choose not to disclose influencer marketing as sponsored content. Their decision was based on the belief that this would negatively impact consumers’ trust. What these brands opted for was coming up with some alternatives to explicit disclosure while being fully aware of the advertising codes established in their countries.
You may wonder why disclosure rules are imposed at all. Authorities would probably not be that strict in this regard if there had not been several loud cases of companies trying to sell harmful products via creators. When a brand discloses a partnership, it explicitly claims itself responsible for its products. Therefore, if the marketing of some product is done in a way that infringes the guidelines of any community a.k.a. the marketplace, this brand will be held accountable. What should be noted, apart from the US and UK, other countries yet remain on the level of recommendations in terms of advertising norms.
However, the disclosure of the paid nature of a publication does not make it automatically genuine in the eyes of social media users. The importance of genuine brand endorsement has been highlighted numerous times as well as of the affinity between creators’ profile and a product advertised. But these are only two of the important criteria and the third key one we will study below.
Challenge 2. The Omnipresence of Fraudulent Practices
Some researches claim that the half of all likes on the Instagram is fake. This may seem as an exaggeration, however, according to the estimations of Cheq, a cybersecurity company focused on the digital media space, and University of Baltimore, fake followers cost brands $1.3B in 2019. Purchasing fake followers or, in other words, bots are one of the most widely used ways to artificially increase engagement numbers. While purchased bots put likes, comments or participate in polls in IG stories, the industry is losing money and its reputation.
Despite the presence of many tools on the market which allow to verify creators’ authenticity, members of the influencer marketing community do not have the same level of awareness of this issue. One the possible explanations to it would be the permanent emergence of new, enhanced fraud techniques. Long gone the days when purchased followers were enough: today, follower’s authenticity check takes several seconds. However, not every software is capable of detecting complex fraud techniques, for example, when fake elements of engagement are provided in a package in which they are mixed in a balanced way so that to minimize the possibility of fraud disclosure. Thus, unawareness itself can be expensive, but what to do if not all existing tools are effective in detecting fraud?
Challenge 3: No Established Guidelines for Setting Creator Rates
One the main challenges for professionals in the influencer marketing industry is the absence of standards as for creators’ remuneration. There are literally no generally accepted guidelines which marketing specialists could rely on. Often the eventual remuneration is a product of the negotiation of two sides – a creator and an influencer marketing manager. What specialists tend to look at in the first place is the number of followers that a profile has and the engagement that it receives – the infamous vanity metrics. More experienced specialists equally verify the evolution and authenticity of profile, what practices the creator used to grow the account and what share of the profile’s followers is actually real people.
This challenge of creators’ remuneration might be the most important one for brands. The existing guidelines do not give any precision as for setting prices and largely just show what the collaboration price depends on: the medium used, creator’s engagement metrics, campaign duration etc. So far, regulatory bodies like FTC have been mostly and solely focused on ad disclosure and the issue of influencer rates has been left aside. This gave ground to criticism especially since it is rather easy to find creators who receive “unfairly” high remuneration. In 2019, the issue provoked even more debate. According to one of the biggest influencer marketing platforms, IZEA, the cost of the average influencer post shared on Instagram went up by a factor of twelve in the period from 2014 to 2019, from $134 to $1,642. Thus, even though today the issue of influencer rates is not as much discussed as the ad disclosure, it is likely that in several years to come this topic will be appearing on the agenda more often since brands will be requiring more transparency and norms in terms of creators’ remuneration.
How to Preserve the Positive Image of the Industry?
Promotion of dubious products, companies sued for non-disclosure, creators buying fake engagement elements in bulks – this is exactly what you may stumble upon while reading about influencer marketing on the Internet. So, you may wonder what’s the power of it? The clue is simple: people believe those who they can or want to identify themselves with. Many marketing experts believe that ads with creators are significantly more efficient than the ones with celebrities and that conventional TV ads cannot be even compared to creators. However, compared to the TV, Internet and social media precisely remain significantly less regulated. The lack of established norms gives ground to the proliferation of fraudulent practices and also may result in harmful or potentially dangerous messages being spread on media.
Platforms, for example Instagram, do implement some stricter community guidelines, however these regulations do not concern the whole industry. Thus, it does not help to establish a single industry standard. What we may forecast is that the more brands will be investing in influencer marketing activities, the more the transparency of the industry will be questioned and the more it will be subject to regulation. Compared to establishing regulation, bringing more transparency is less complicated. Thus, we may assume that in the years to come regulatory authorities will keep focus on increasing transparency around creators’ remuneration and on the elimination of fraud, just like they are already focused on ad disclosure.
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