More paid, more problems
Apart from a massive seagull snatching your phone mid-selfie, the biggest hazard a social media influencer can face is the tricky business of sponsored posts.
Sponsored posts on social media are one of the biggest potential sources of income for influencers. And because they feel more targeted, relevant and less like an advert, it’s easy to see why more brands than ever are building sponsored influencer posts into their marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, it’s also probably the element of social media influencing that comes with the most baggage – creating tensions around authenticity, creative control and the transparency of a paid relationship.
The American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are paying far more attention to this kind of marketing, while organisations like the Australian Association of National Advertisers this year issued new provisions for sponsored posts – and some pretty stiff fines to enforce them.
Even Instagram were spotted tentatively experimenting with a more sustainable way to flag paid promotions in the form of an ‘add partner’ button.
So how can brands and influencers navigate through the creative and ethical challenges of a sponsored collaboration?
Not keeping up with the Kardashians
If there’s one example not to follow then it’s pretty much anyone with the surname Kardashian.
Aside from the fact that they are largely terrible at being transparent with their sponsored posts (the Truth in Advertising organisation claimed in 2016 that between the sisters they had amassed over 100 sponsored posts that were not labelled as ads) the creative integrity of the posts is eye-wateringly poor.
But while Kardashians are famous enough to get away with such artificial pictures and disingenuous captions (see both Kim’s chewing gum endorsement and Scott Disick’s hilarious ‘copy & paste’ blunder) real social media influencers should never put anything onto their feed that does not look like it absolutely belongs there.
From your own recognisable photography style, to an authentic and activating caption, the best brand/influencer partnerships tell a story in a way that is not only a million miles away from advertising, but feels like someone with a genuine passion for that product.
Honesty is the best policy
Once brands and influencers have worked hard to get the tone, style and message of their sponsored posts right, it can all be horribly undone if they forget to tell people that it’s actually a sponsored post.
The most fundamental way to get this across is to include #ad or #sponsored in the caption for the post (and no, burying #ad somewhere in the middle of 30 other hashtags is not going to fool anyone).
It’s also worth remembering that failing to take ad transparency seriously is not only going to undermine your credibility with a distinctly ad-savvy social media audience, it could also land you in big trouble with some increasingly strict media watchdogs.
The FTC have recently reached out to some of social media’s biggest stars (admittedly most of them celebrities) to remind them of their responsibilities when issuing paid posts. And, if you think a stern letter is all you have to worry about, they have also imposed a hefty fine on Warner Bros for failing to disclose paid influencer marketing for a video game.
Now none of this is designed to scare brands or influencers away from sponsored posts. The reality is that sponsored posts on social on media can be inspiring, effective and genuinely persuasive when they are done right (simply scroll through our Collabary Instagram feed to see just a few of the amazing campaigns that can be achieved).
But whether it’s the creativity of the posts, the integrity of both brands, or the transparency of the relationship, it is the responsibility of both parties to make sure they aren’t wasting their time, money and credibility on something that misleads – or disappoints – their audience.
(Or just change your name to Kardashian and do whatever you like.)