Influencer marketing is still marketing

Posted by Jeremy Spitzberg • Jul 23, 2019 6:28:05 PM

Influencer marketing, while a new channel for brands, requires the same careful attention to ensure that the message - and the medium - is brand safe.

That's the major takeaway from an article in MediaPost describing the challenges brands face when they engage with social media influencers. A lack of professionalism, opaque data, and questionable metrics all speak to a still-maturing channel for advertising budgets.

The article goes on to discuss mutual disclosure, and greater transparency among all players as the keys to getting the most out of this type of campaign.

The reality, however, is that both brands and creators need to share responsibility where disclosure is concerned. As a matter of reputation, both brands and influencers need to know what the disclosure rules are and take responsibility for compliance.

In breaking out five "ways brands can ensure transparency", the article raises the sorts of issues that we at the Brand Safety Institute are concerned with and are committed to help solving. In particular, our Brand Safety Officer certification encompasses these points in our series of educational modules.

1. Take responsibility. Creators aren’t the only ones whose reputations are on the line when disclosure isn’t clear; the brand’s reputation is at risk as well. It’s important for brands to be clear during the briefing phase and write contracts that require creators to include #ad in sponsored posts.

Not only must brands take responsibility, BSI co-founder Mike Zaneis says that they need "a certified BSO who is working to protect their brands on a daily basis."

As for briefings and contracts, they need to do more than focus on the legally-required ad disclosures, which should be a bare minimum. They should also focus on how the influencer will appropriately represent the brand in the marketplace.

2. Partner well. Choosing the right partner is important. You need to align with a partner that you can trust to instill the same values in their brand and influencer partners, as you do. More so, they also need to have the technological know-how to be able to look deep into the first-party data — followers, engagement stats, etc. — and deliver you a gold-standard campaign you can trust.

One of the tenets of brand safety, and a focus of the Brand Safety Officer certification is "knowing your partners". This applies to influencer marketing as much, if not more so, than more traditional digital advertising because the campaign is so intertwined with the partner's identity. In addition, marketers should know whether an influencer’s audience is organic or whether they’ve purchased followers in order to boost their reach, which often raises the amount of fraudulent, non-human engagement.

3. Invest in co-creation. The time for transactional brand-influencer relationships is over. Brands need to invest in long-lasting relationships with creative influencers. Cultivating relationships helps to establish trust between the brand and creators, and reinforces brand disclosure expectations.
4. Seek brand-influencer alignment. Choose influencers who demonstrate similar values to your brand and a passion for what they are doing. These influencers will not risk losing their followers by being inauthentic and promoting something they don’t believe in; nor will they want to jeopardise their relationship with you.

These points blend from "knowing your partners" to another brand safety concern: "ad quality and customer experience". Again, because the relationships here are so direct and so personal, it's incumbent on the brand - via their brand safety officer - to ensure that message suits the audience, and will be well-received by them.

5. Proactively support and promote transparency. Brands should support the educational efforts of regulatory agencies like the FTC and ASA, and proactively promote transparency among their partners. This kind of commitment helps to build trust and confidence in the industry.

Not only should brands promote external brand safety efforts and organizations (we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the efforts of the Trustworthy Accountability Group, among others) but they must be committed to growing an in-house expertise in brand safety. These trained, knowledgeable (and certified) Brand Safety Officers will lead all the above listed efforts. These brand stewards will understand the dangers of ad fraud, the need for brand-customer alignment, and the technology and legalities around these issues.

“I didn’t know” is not likely to cut it as an excuse going forward. This is a crucial period during which industry leaders can work together to increase transparency within the influencer marketing space

We whole-heartedly agree, and are actively building the community of professional leaders who will make it happen.

Topics: Brand Safety, Certification, Brand Safety Officers, Ad Fraud, Customer Experience, Brand Reputation, Knowing Your Partners, Ad Quality, Influencer Marketing