Last week, Marnie Simpson was rapped firmly on the knuckles by the ASA for breaking CAP code rules and promoting brands without making clear she was paid to do so. There was coverage across OK!Magazine, BBC, Sky News, Daily Mail and so on. High profile and badly reputation damaging for Marnie. She looks like she was duping fans and avoiding the transparency consumers want on social media.
We were invited to talk more on the subject by the BBC. Whilst prepping for the interview, it became clear that whilst influencers need to bring authenticity to the fore and protect their fan base, advertisers also need to take active responsibility in helping influencers to manage their reputation.
There are ethical reasons to do so: many brands work with young inexperienced influencers who may not understand they are governed by the Advertising Standards Authority, when paid to promote products and services. Advertisers need to help out those not professionally qualified to manage the regulators.
However, there is also a brand reputation issue. Something that is likely to be more prominent in coming months. In fact, the ASA has already stated that is will be doing further research and policing more, as it believes that influencer advertising is not where it needs to be. Better not to take the risk. Better to be prepared for rules that may get tougher still.
So, what should brands do to protect their reputation when working with influencers:
- Build it into your contracts and influencer communications
CAP’s guidelines ask advertisers and creators to warn consumers that content is paid for before they engage with it. Best practice is to use #ad. However, a number of brands and influencers use #sp or #spon. These are not so well recognised by consumers. A company or influencer wanting to be authentic, should use #ad which, a recent survey shows, is at least understood by a third of consumers.
Build this rule into your influencer agreements (ISBA has a nice template). That is the most basic thing you can do. Better though, is to ensure that in all communications you evidence that you have requested the use of the hashtag and make clear that the post is promoted. You should set out the rules internally and externally and then keep repeating it with your online celebs and influencers.
- Flex your requirements with the platform
Every platform operates differently. Whilst hashtags work for some social channels, it doesn’t work for all. For instance, branded video will need an ‘ad’ warning at the beginning. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc are all very different and the platform functions change regularly. However, this is not a fair excuse under the rules. Don’t be tempted by loopholes that appear when new platforms emerge or functionality changes. Transparency should be your watch word. It is also not worth the risk – the governing associations are hot on your heels these days.
Some of the channels are making things easier too. They’re helping you make clear that your post is promoted. They also offer better metrics for the brand and influencer alike. Instagram has a ‘paid partnerships’ tag that makes life a whole lot simpler for your influencer. It’s accompanied by an insights tool that makes tracking posts, alongside engagement and reach metrics, more valuable to the brand too.
- Police and follow-up
Last year, the UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) made it clear it is prepared to clamp down on social media campaigns that mislead consumers. The onus is on the brand (and its agencies) to ensure that consumers are informed that content is paid for advertising. Check up on your influencer promotions regularly or be at risk of breaching consumer protections laws. That means monitoring posts, building a good relationship with your online talent and maintaining strong, trusted, communications that allow you to make changes to stay ahead of the rules.
The bottom line: advertisers and their agencies need to take responsibility for disclosure. Taking ownership avoids reputational damage at best, or fines by the Trading Standards Authority at worst. Most importantly though, brands need to maintain a trusted relationship with its customers. You won’t do that by being dishonest!