As social media has become an indispensable part of life, influencer marketing has grown with it, ballooning into one of the most powerful tools a brand can utilise.
Early on, companies clamoured to have online stars promoting their brand. In 2012, Instagram had 40 million users. In 2018 that had grown to a billion, and budgets are skyrocketing.
In a perfect world, influencer marketing offers a way to gain more authenticity and engage directly with customers, enabling brands to join conversations or cultural events as they happen. But since when was this a perfect world?
With the rapid rise of social platforms, early adopters had the opportunity to build huge followings of influencers eager to monetize their efforts, encouraging others to climb on the bandwagon; a lot of youngsters were lured into this new source of easy income.
But rather than giving genuine, honest endorsements, many became just another paid marketing tool. Worse, social media influencers have been prepared to lie about their identity and follower base to get brand sponsorship.
As a result, The Advertising Standards Authority have regularly cautioned social media influencers for not being open about whether a brand had sponsored them, launching new guidelines to help influencers stick to the rules. Twitter, Instagram, and other social platforms remove millions of fake accounts every week.
Not surprising, then, that a 2017 Millennial Shopper Survey by DealSpotr found that 52% of Millennials have stopped trusting influencers, who are no longer seen as promoting brands they like or giving honest reviews on products.
According to media agency UM, as few as 8% of people believe that what’s shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is true. Half that many when paid influencers are involved.
And when a corporate giant like Unilever suggests that Instagram and Twitter take action to rebuild trust, you can appreciate how far things have slipped.
That’s before we remind ourselves of the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica which made a big dent in the credibility of online behaviour.
Even with so chequered a history, there’s no doubt that influencer marketing will continue to present massive, multiple and growing opportunities for brands. But its future rests on a new era of genuine authenticity and transparency being at its heart.
Industry experts agree that the authenticity and transparency will depend on influencers who can offer brands the opportunity to build more intimate relationships with consumers in ways that value their communities above any short-term commercial deals.