5 Tips to regain trust in influencer-marketing

By Jacqueline Bosselaar, 06 September 2019

Influencer marketing is highly effective. But how can it help your brand maintain (or regain) trust and enhance its reputation?

Last week, the BBC published an article on Instagram influencer Tiffany Mitchell who had posted photos of a motorcycle accident she allegedly had. But the photos, complete with a clearly visible bottle of Glacéau Smartwater, looked so ‘beautiful’ that the accident had clearly been staged. When asked, Tiffany denied this, "I would never turn a very important personal story like this into a brand campaign." True or not, it caused much consternation on the internet.

Two days later, the Dutch paper, NRC Handelsblad, published an article with the headline “As well as their credibility, influencers now also losing their likes”, including the following: "Instagram are experimenting with hiding the number of likes per post. And that's bad news for influencers. Not only do these online opinion makers need their likes (it’s their earnings model), they’re now also struggling to retain their credibility. Will they become victims of their own success?"

Success refers to the number of followers or subscribers. Problem is, it appears that increasingly often that popularity is fake, according to an article in Dutch paper AD: you can buy (fake) followers, you can fiddle with engagement levels (comments, likes) — influencers applaud each other's posts to boost one another's reach — and the over-produced content is presented as if it were real just to make a bigger impression. Anything to boost the numbers of followers, thumbs up and hearts! Regardless, once again much consternation, this time amongst influencers.

Add to this the fact this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer showed that of all media people have the least confidence in social media. In addition, Adweek reported last month that $1.3 billion will be spent by brands this year to achieve influencer reach that thus in practice doesn't exist. So there can be little doubt: influencer marketing is under pressure.

And that's a pity, because several studies* confirm that influencer marketing is extremely effective (Estée Lauder spends no less than 75% of its marketing budget on influencers, according The Drum two days ago). So something needs to be done to regain trust and improve the reputation of influencers. Here are 5 tips!

#1 Promote transparency, stick to the rules and show what you really think is important. 

Fortunately, there’s a lot happening in this area. On the advertiser’s side, Unilever, for example, will no longer work with influencers who have fake followers; the Stichting Reclame Code (Advertising Code Foundation) has recently called on influencers to use #Ad if a post is advertising; the new Media Act legislation (coming out next year) will prohibit surreptitious advertising on YouTube; and, as mentioned, the platforms themselves are beginning to stir: a Social Code already exists for youtubers and there’s that experiment by Instagram. Embrace and go along with these initiatives

#2 Develop new business models 

Make influencers less dependent on advertisers and short-term success. This is a tip for influencers, who as first-generation pioneers are still inventing the wheel (this is, when all’s said and done, a very young industry); but even more so, it’s an appeal to their managers and agencies. 

The current earnings model relies too heavily on that of traditional media: advertising rates based on numbers of viewers, readers, listeners and - in the case of social influencers - followers and hearts. This 100% dependency makes their position vulnerable. With alternative sources of income, influencers will become less tempted to buy likes or followers. So become more than an influencer: become an artist, writer, entrepreneur, investor — make the most of your talents and high profile.

Youtuber EenhoornJoost, for example, is primarily a musician, but recently turned to writing books, on the back of which he tours the Netherlands. That makes him both less dependent and highly credible, because he not only does his thing on social media, but also offline, where fewer people will get to see it.

#3 Go for the long term and build real relationships

Nothing is less believable than when an influencer promotes Pepsi one day and Coca-Cola the next. Go instead for a long-term relationship and maintain it, just as you do with colleagues and friends. And when you give people the time and space to discover and get to know your brand personally (and not just through that quick briefing), they may actually come to love it. This will then benefit the authenticity of your collaboration, which in turn will be reflected in the quality of the content produced around your brand.

#4 Work with genuine influencers

This may sound obvious. But how, as an advertiser who isn’t privy to a given world, do you know whether someone really is an influencer in that world? So make sure you do know; or that you partner with parties who genuinely know and hang out with these bloggers, vloggers, youtubers and instagrammers. Because real influencers don't buy likes, engagement or followers. There are charlatans in every industry and they’re spotted immediately by insiders, who know whether it’s plausible when follower numbers suddenly increase. There’s often a good reason for it. And if there isn’t, they’ll immediately know all too well: it’s fake.

#5 Work intensively or even together with influencers 

Forget the credo ‘let go of your product or brand and trust the influencer.’ I often hear that brands get this advice, with the argument that the influencer knows their audience best, and how to use the product or brand in their content in an authentic manner. That’s true, of course; but, in my opinion, the reality is a little more nuanced. It’s like giving someone the keys to your office for a week and say: go nuts!

On the contrary, I prefer to advise my clients to work closely with the influencer themselves, possibly alongside an agency like ourselves. This allows you to use the expertise and creativity of the influencer, but also influence (not control!) the creative level and credibility of the content – just look at Tiffany Mitchell. Because it’s the quality of the content that pulls people in: people follow good content.

Another benefit of working shoulder to shoulder: you’ll come to recognize when the influencer is being authentic. You’ll spot when they have a genuine passion to create good content and in so doing grab the public’s attention.

And no purchased like or staged bike accident - no matter how beautifully lit – is a match for that.