In the early days of social media—when tweets and blogs dominated and TikTok wasn’t even a twinkle in a marketer’s eye—it was a bit like the Wild West. There was no playbook for engaging bloggers, so early adopters of social media marketing drew upon the tenets of strategic communications and public relations to serve as a framework. We were creating and executing the discipline of social media marketing nearly concurrently.
The early bloggers were predominantly women—moms, specifically—and those pieces of sponsored content were earnest and straightforward in the best of ways. There were no image filters, not much more than basic photo editing and few (if any) hashtags. While content appeared basic by today’s standards, what was born then and hasn’t changed since is the sense of duty to tell a brand story truthfully and from personal experience.
At the time, many of us perceived this accountability to be born from the principles of traditional journalism. While I believe that still to be true in part, hindsight tells me that we knew we were on the precipice of something big and we wanted to protect its viability.
Skeptics often perpetuate the idea that influencer marketing is Instagrammers who take pretty photos, stage too-perfect-to-be-real vignettes and parrot pre-written captions sent to them by managers. While every industry contends with some challenges, after executing 10K-plus brand/influencer partnerships, I have it on good authority that smart, strategic, well-run influencer marketing campaigns deliver content that is as real as it gets.
Below are three things I know to be true about sponsored social media content that’s real and trustworthy.
As influencer marketing began to take shape, marketers were excited to build out a new piece of the pie, but for bloggers, the stake was a little different.
Where do you go when you need to know the best leak-proof diapers, gluten-free snacks that taste great or ways to save on back-to-school essentials? Someone you trust who has been there.
Moms in every corner of the world have long been sharing recommendations in real life. When they could financially contribute to their families while being a voice for brands they already knew and loved, they recognized the huge opportunity in front of them. The same dedication to truth when offering advice offline, they took online. Credibility was their currency.
I recently read an article in which the subject interviewed defined being authentic as making people believe your message is genuine, even though someone paid for it. Perhaps it’s semantics, but making someone believe your message is the antithesis of smart influencer marketing.
When a person chooses to follow someone, they do so because they get some sort of value. There should be no “sell,” no compelling of an audience to believe what someone has to say. This doesn’t mean a follower has to agree with everything a creator shares, but there is a foundation of trust or there isn’t. Creators who have built their communities in organic, authentic ways don’t need to convince their followers that a message they’re sharing is authentic even thoughit’s sponsored. It reads as authentic because it is.
Savvy creators know that one of the quickest ways to lose trust is to inauthentically represent something to those who turn to them for recommendations. Their credibility is everything. At the most basic level, trust equals influence, and influence equals sponsored brand deals. Presenting information grounded in fact and enhanced by genuine, firsthand experience is the gold standard in influencer marketing.
Despite a perceived move toward automation in the name of efficiency, effective influencer marketing is, fundamentally, a human-to-human discipline with multiple points of interaction between the brand/influencer marketing agency and the creators.
A well-run campaign can include a personal influencer invitation, product or service sampling, onboarding session to review campaign messaging and mandatories, concept proposal, image and copy review, revisions, final content sign-off, publication, monitoring, responding to comments/questions, syndication, and reporting on metrics.
When you’re dealing with a campaign in any sort of regulated industry—financial, pharma, even OTC healthcare—those interactions can easily number into the hundreds. Content review alone can be subject to multiple rounds of review by PR, brand, legal, medical, regulatory and others.
However, this level of involvement doesn’t mean that the resulting content loses what makes it real and successful. When executed well, it’s quite the opposite. The role of a skilled influencer marketing agency is to act as an intermediary between the brand and the influencer, ensuring that all content is clear, accurate and authentic. The goal isn’t to convince or to sell; it’s to deliver value to all parties—the brand, the influencer and the reader.
When a creator publishes a sponsored post, remember that it’s already had eyes on it by dozens of people whose job it is to communicate truth on behalf of a brand.
The concept of truth in social media also extends to the proper disclosure of endorsements and brand relationships. The first tangentially relevant guidelines for social media marketing were the FTC guidelines for internet advertising released in 2000. As social media matured, the FTC released endorsement guidelines that have been updated over the past few years.
The onus to ensure compliance started with marketers and has since extended to the content creators. As an early example of this shift, in April 2017, the FTC proactively contacted 90 influencers with absent or noncompliant disclosures to educate them on being clear and conspicuous in representing their relationships. As simple and easy to understand as the very guidelines they enforce, the FTC’s Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers document is required reading for all marketers and creators.
In this day and age, it’s wise to consume content with a healthy degree of scrutiny. But when social media content is disclosed as #ad or #sponsored, it’s fair to say that any ethical brand and its influencer marketing partners are coming from a place of credibility, authenticity and accuracy. Our livelihoods—and reputations—depend on it.
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