Sixty-seven percent of marketers believe influencer marketing provides a more targeted audience. And, when you consider the ROI – one that’s 11 times higher than traditional advertising, it more than confirms their beliefs. All eyes are on influencers. Consumers are trusting these people to guide them to the best purchases. But, not all eyes that are looking to them are necessarily desired, like those of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
It was one year ago when the FTC sent out letters to 90 social media influencers. The purpose was to reinforce the guidelines for proper disclosure of brand relationships. And, it wasn’t even six months later when 21 of them received a second warning. The communication came on the heels of “the FTC’s first law enforcement action against individual online influencers.” (The offenders? Two YouTubers who promoted their online gambling site without stating they owned it.) Yet, this communication called for specific action from influencers to comply. And, it prompted updated guidelines that are required for both influencers and marketers.
Despite the FTC’s crackdown, a new study by Princeton University finds brand influencer marketing still toeing the line. And in some cases, it ignores these requirements almost entirely. Of 500,000 YouTube videos and 2.1 million Pinterest pins, researchers saw only 10 and seven percent, respectively, had disclosures. This begs the question: Why, in a society of consumers craving transparency, are influencers and/or brands failing to provide it? Further, why are they leaving themselves open to scrutiny from the FTC?
Advancements in technology and the age of the millennial consumer has ushered in a new perspective on brands. A brand’s word was no longer the word. Instead, consumers relied on others’ input and experiences to shape their buying decisions. And, today, peer recommendations, even those of strangers, influence 70% of millennials. That’s because, as one infographic puts it, “the internet democratized influence,” giving “regular people” a platform. Blogging and social media “shifted advertising towards word-of-mouth.” They gave rise to influencers.
With influencers, consumers have authentic means for information on products and services. These people have built their reputations – and some, full-time careers – on being trustworthy. And, this is where influencers’ concerns with the FTC disclosures comes in. If they make paid partnerships with brands known, can they maintain authenticity? Or, do their social media pages become walking-talking advertisements of days old?
An Event Marketer article reinforces the need for real, two-way relationships with consumers. It says “next-generation” consumers expect influencers to declare a “formal connection” with brands. That’s because they see themselves, influencers and the brand as one community. And, without this admission, there’s no transparency in the relationship, which can be detrimental.
Transparency is of utmost importance when it comes to consumers’ buying decisions. In fact, 73% of consumers consider a brand’s transparency more important than its prices. And, like brands must be transparent to get sales, influencers must do so to keep followers. A Forbes article says this will be critical as paid partnerships grow. Consumers “may start demanding more authenticity,” while “watching carefully” for transparency.
In the UK, a whopping 88% of consumers believe they should be made aware of paid partnerships. Yet, 61% feel brands are not being transparent about influencers. And, this may leave them feeling deceived. The good news is brand perception improves two-thirds with transparency. The trick is to disclose relationships in an authentic way. This will be one in which the entire community is comfortable.
An Adweek article may sum up the issue-at-hand best. “Influencer marketing has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool for marketers, but growing consumer skepticism requires new strategies.” It’s time for influencers to step out from behind the screen. It’s time to engage audiences face-to-face. This is why Adweek cites experiential marketing a viable solution to brand influencer marketing.
The most important benefit of experiential marketing is the ability to gather the community in one physical place. Brands can have influencers give educational presentations or mingle with consumers. The personal interaction can amplify influencers’ authenticity and offer value for attendees. Further, brand perception receives a boost, since 74% of participants report a “more positive opinion” post event. This is per the Event Marketing Institute’s EventTrack 2015 report. Last, the brand-influencer partnership is understood, leaving no need to make verbal disclosures.
Another big benefit is the content that derives from the event. Influencers can build their arsenal by capturing images and videos of their experiences. These can be shared with social followers, who get to verify the “formal connection” with the brand. Also, consumers in attendance will appreciate the chance to take photos of – and get photos with – these online celebrities. After all, the Event Marketing Institute finds 98% of attendees will create content. Better yet, all will share it, making it a win for all community members.
It should be noted that, even with branded event content, Event Marketer recommends influencers be clear about their involvement. The recommendation is to give followers “a heads-up, and then—cover the event from a cool, personal or exclusive angle, to the delight of fans.” This adds to the many considerations for these partnerships. And, it shows another way experiential marketing can build the brand-influencer relationship.
Event marketers and agencies can host exclusive events to give influencers information to best represent the brand. This can not only include new product info. It can also touch on the recommended FTC disclosures to ensure compliancy on social media. Just as important, these events can allow for networking and fun to strengthen the relationships.
It’s worked for brands like REVOLVE online clothing retailer and luxury appliance maker Jenn-Air. Both host experiential marketing events for influencers, showing the diverse application. Most important, they provide great examples to maintain authenticity and be transparent now, when it matters most.
At Elevate, we provide the event staff who bring authenticity and transparency to any community. Contact us to discuss your next event or experiential marketing activation.