Brands And The Decline Of Influencer Trust

There’s new evidence that suggests we may have passed the peak of influencer marketing. In a Winter 2017 report, Dealspotr found that a slight majority (52%) of Millennials said they trust influencers less than they used to. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s only a slight majority.

While it’s true that consumers are turning to influencers for advice, ideas and recommendations, with 41% in the Dealspotr survey saying influencers are a primary source of fashion picks, the continuously evolving landscape on social platforms is changing the way users relate to information. Growing awareness of ‘fake news’ has awakened many to question the validity of what they are being told. Further, as the influencer landscape has become more commercialized, the line between sponsorship and authentic recommendations has become so blurred, the FTC had to publish guidelines around disclosure.

This commercialization of influence has also catapulted a certain echelon of influencer into full-on celebrity. So, while customers may have felt a personal connection to their favorite make-up vlogger a few years ago, today that same vlogger might have a small army of people managing their posts with a follower count well into the millions. And what’s personal about that?

It can get even worse. In an Instagram post by Kevin James Bennett, an Emmy Award-winning makeup artist and cosmetics developer, he describes the “mob-like behavior” of high-profile beauty influencers and the management teams he was in contact with to do reviews for beauty products he was releasing under his own name. He claims the influencers offered to trash a competing product in comparison to Bennett’s products in exchange for $75,000 to $85,000. Just look at the options he details:

  • $25K – product mention in a multi-branded product review.
  • $50K-$60K – dedicated product review (price determined by length of video).
  • $75K-$85K – dedicated negative review of a competitor’s product (price determined by length of video).
  • A minimum 10% affiliate link or code to use on IG and YT.

As marketers, de-positioning the competition is an important tactic to have in the toolbox, but to pay someone for an outright negative review seems to hit below the belt.

There’s no denying that influencers will continue to play an important role for some brands, but it will become more important to be deliberate in the way brands engage. Here’s five brand management tips:

1. Be clear about the difference between an influencer and a spokesperson. At least to me, paying an influencer to do a positive review about a brand feels more like hiring a spokesperson than courting and nurturing genuine industry influence.

2. Look for micro-influencers versus influencer-celebrities. They may have fewer fans, but those fans may be more prone to trust an influencer they feel they can actually interact with personally.

3. Be sure any influencer you use is compliant with FTC guidelines. While some platforms have added native tools to help, be sure your audience knows when an endorsement is compensated. Is trust in your brand worth gambling the audience won’t find out?

4. Audit your influencers. In an era of ‘outrage archaeology’ anything an influencer has ever done or said has the potential to harm your brand. What may have been considered crass and sophomoric five years ago could be perceived as harassment and racism today.

5. Influence a movement. The great thing about movements is, they are bigger than any one person. TD Ameritrade crafted their Human Finance Project as a movement rather than a campaign. They did this by using real, ‘regular’ people as influencers to connect with the public, reminding us that influencers don’t have to be famous celebrities; they just need to be relevant to your campaign and your audience.

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