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‘Wild west’ of social media influencing is coming to an end

Originally posted on stuff.

A landmark decision from New Zealand’s advertising watchdog will bring order to the “wild west” of social media influencing, a marketing expert says.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently upheld four complaints that Kiwi influencer Simone Anderson failed to make clear to her 314,000 Instagram followers that certain posts were essentially advertisements, and that using the hashtag #gifted was not enough.

Anderson responded to the decision in an Instagram post, saying the complaints against her had been upheld as a “precedent-setting example”.

In its decision, the complaints board asked the ASA to publish further guidance on best practice for influencers and how they should identify commercial relationships.

ASA chief executive Hilary Souter said that work was already under way, and they would be consulting on the updated guidance over the next few weeks.

“Obviously this decision has amplified the need to get that out into the market.”

The ASA first updated its guidance to cover influencers in February 2018, spelling out that if a brand controlled the content of an influencer’s post, it should be considered an advertisement.

But New Zealand now looks set to follow the lead of the UK’s advertising watchdog, which this year published an updated influencers’ guide stating that any sort of commercial relationship should be disclosed – including cases like Anderson’s, where an influencer has received a “gift” from a sponsor.

Auckland University of Technology senior marketing lecturer Sommer Kapitan said until now the social media landscape had been a “wild west”, but agreed Anderson’s case had set a new local precedent.

“This means that influencers in New Zealand now always need to declare and disclose when there’s a commercial partnership,” she said.

“It’s the first one that says, if you’ve benefited from a [free] hotel stay, and you post about the hotel, that’s a commercial relationship. Before, that wasn’t always the advice.

“So this is drawing more consistency from the ‘wild west’. It’s giving us all a lot more clarity.”

Kapitan said having to declare almost everything as an advertisement would seem like the “death knell” for some influencers, as it went against their fundamental appeal as authentic personalities.

Influencers preferred to be viewed as “content creators” rather than paid promoters, she said.

“The more someone is perceived as a paid promoter… the less likely we’re swayed by their recommendations for brands.”

However, more successful influencers would be able to navigate that tension, and being more open about their commercial relationships may even help build trust with their followers.

“Most people if they’ve followed you from the beginning will be like, good, you’re being authentic. We know you have to make money and we’re OK with that.”

Stuff contacted a number of prominent influencers for this article, but all declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Laird Management, which represents several influencers, including YouTube beauty guru Shaaanxo and The Bachelor couple-turned-Instagram stars Art and Matilda Green, said its policy was if there was monetary exchange for a post, its content creators must include a disclosure tag such as #ad, #spon, or #collab.

If a product had been sent to an influencer for free and there was no formal relationship with the brand, they encouraged them to use the tag #gifted.

Influencer marketing agency The Social Club said the latest ASA decision wouldn’t affect them as they already recommend their talent use the tags #sponsored or #ad instead of #gifted.

“However, we believe it is a step in the right direction for the ASA to outline which hashtags are and are not acceptable for influencers to use as disclosure,” said co-CEO Melanie Spencer.

The Social Club had found that as long as collaborations were authentic, there was no change to the reach, engagement or results of any content.

“Consumers are savvy and majority will understand that when an influencer posts about a brand, there is likely a relationship behind the content,” Spencer said.

“Therefore seeing this clearly stated as part of their caption just confirms this for them.”

Souter of the ASA said while they hadn’t received many complaints about influencers in the past, she believed there had been a “tipping point” that had led to Anderson’s case.

“It may just be that now these platforms are much more established and advertisers are using influencers a lot more that people are seeing that come through in their feed, and they’re asking questions,” she said.

“They’re going, ‘Hold on a minute, she’s been out in five different outfits, what’s the background to that?’

“I think the prevalence may well have increased, and that’s making people look at things a bit more critically.”

Source: stuff

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