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Full Disclosure: The Ethics of Social Media Influencers

Full Disclosure: The Ethics of Social Media Influencers

The way in which we use social media continues to change and evolve over time. Despite the advantages it possesses for developing strong and meaningful relationships with consumers, the emergence of social media ‘celebrities’ is changing the face of not only social media itself but also advertising and marketing in its traditional forms.

Nowadays, the younger generations tend to look to Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for their latest trends and celebrities, whereas previously we would be flicking through magazines and watching TV shows.

You name it – bloggers, models, and everyday people, are now recognised online due to their cult-like followings and “insta-fame”. So much so that many brands and businesses are turning towards these people to help get their brands out there rather than through traditional media.

The power of social media influencers

So what exactly is a social media influencer? An influencer is anyone who has a large and engaged following in the social sphere. Their online followers are loyal and are likely to trust their opinions.

These influencers can provide companies with significant leverage when it comes to reaching their target market, especially those with smaller yet loyal audiences. In fact, new research found that mid-level influencers (2,500-25,000+ unique monthly visitors to blog or social networks) drive 16 times more engagement than paid media and “mega-influencers”.

The rise of influencer marketing

As a result of the influx of social media influencers, hundreds of brands and agencies are partnering with bloggers and social media influencers to create brand awareness and drive sales. Thus, influencer marketing has had an explosive growth.

Brands and businesses are now working with these influencers more than ever before. They will pay or provide products in exchange for posts across social media and blogs. These posts show how the influencer has integrated these products into their everyday lives.

However, where there is an opportunity, also comes plenty of downsides.

The ethical dilemma and the law

The rise of influencer marketing has raised plenty of questions regarding the legal concerns about whether it is necessary for influencers to disclose a commercial relationship. With many people calling out issues of the authenticity and transparency of these brand-influencer relationships. Should sponsored and paid posts be disclosed and clearly visible to the public? Where do the legal boundaries lie with this? Are these influencers being deceptive or are they just savvy entrepreneurs who are using social media as a foundation for their brand?

In Australia, influencers are not required by law to disclose a sponsored post on social media. However, the ACCC does suggest that commercial relationships should be disclosed to avoid misleading consumers but they have not stated how they need to disclose it. The latest ACCC guidelines for business and online review platforms suggest that the best practice is to:

  • Be transparent about commercial relationships
  • Don’t post or publish misleading reviews
  • Don’t omit or edit negative reviews

In order to remain transparent to their audience, many influencers use hashtags such as #ad and #spon to identify all paid or sponsored content. But are these hashtags sufficient to disclose a commercial relationship or do they require something more? It’s still a grey area and there’s definitely not a one size fits all approach as many platforms face different limitations – just imagine trying to fit in a full disclosure with just the 140 characters on Twitter!

The newly launched Australian company, Tribe, is a marketing platform for brands and influencers that supports disclosure on all paid social media posts. Tribe recommends that all influencers add #spon to sponsored posts despite the fact that the ACCC does not currently require individuals on social media to reveal paid content.

In reality, people of influence should stay true to their brand and their audience. Many influencers do go to great lengths to remain transparent and build trust with their audience. They will only work with brands and products that they love – so is sharing a genuine love for a product really a bad thing? Perhaps not!

While traditional media and advertising have strict regulations, social media is still not heavily regulated due to the challenging and changing nature of it. It will be interesting to see how the law changes over the next few years regarding this.

If you want to work with social media influencers we can help you! Contact us now.

What are your thoughts on social media influencers? Do you think commercial relationships need to be disclosed?

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Full Disclosure: The Ethics of Social Media Influencers

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Kelly Ross

Account Manager at Social Concepts
Kelly discovered a love of social media after starting her own travel blog. She believes every type of business can benefit from social media.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Alex says:

    I cannot say I have ever seen an influencer hashtag #ad or #spon. I have however seen some influencers tag the DailyMail.

    Do influencers have to maintain KPI’s?

    • Jessica Humphreys says:

      Hi Alex,

      There are currently more than 80,000 posts on Instagram using #spon, 400,000+ using #sponsored and 2,900,000+ using #ad – you’ve probably just never noticed them!

      In regards to KPIs it depends on each individual agreement.

      Hope that helps to answer your questions!

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