One of my biggest pet peeves with the influencer marketing industry is influencers not declaring ads. I’ve said it time, and time again, but it really does frustrate me.
By not declaring an ad to your followers, you are basically lying to them and pulling the wool over their eyes. But how do we stop this and how do we control influencers that don’t declare?
Most influencers I follow do declare everything, whether they’ve received a gifted PR product, where they’ve used an affiliate link or whether they’re posting an ad. However, it’s the reality TV stars-turned-influencers who so blatantly disregard using ‘#ad’ on their posts that really get my back up. Case and point:
But would it annoy you more if I told you that sometimes there are actually no consequences if the influencer doesn’t declare paid partnerships? That more often than not it’s just a slap on the wrist?
Well, if you were an influencer and found that a lot more followers were interacting with your organic content vs your paid content, and you could forgo ‘ad’ without any consequences, what would you do?
A MORAL COMPASS
Moral compasses are quite hard to come by these days – have you read the news lately? – but for me, it’s an influencer’s duty to be transparent and honest with their followers.
No, I don’t need to know everything and anything about their life; I would just like to know, as a consumer, whether the product or service they are promoting has been paid for or if it’s an organic promotion.
That’s all I ask. But why don’t influencers do this naturally? Well friend, according to everyone on Instagram, the algorithm isn’t favourable towards paid content and instead favours organic content (and Reels it seems).
Therefore, to gain more engagement, influencers may ‘accidentally’ miss out ‘#ad’ or plop it amongst the 30 hashtags they’ve added to the post in the hope of disguising the exchange of money for the post.
As an influencer, you want to gain the trust of your audience, right? You don’t want to be found to be withholding information, going against Instagram’s guidelines or pretending to like a product for the sake of a few pounds.
Your followers won’t be happy if they found out, put it that way.
IS IT LEGAL NOT TO DECLARE?
Believe it or not, it is legal to not declare whether your social media posts are advertisements. I found this out when listening to Scott Guthrie’s Influencer Marketing Lab podcast when he was in conversation with Anne Dolinschek.
In South Africa, it’s merely a ‘please don’t do that again’ from the powers that be. Whereas, in the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will reach out to an influencer and ask them to change their post to include ‘#ad’ but will rarely fine or cause any issues for them.
However, every formal ruling on an influencer misbehaving/not declaring gets published and usually catches the attention of the mainstream media, discouraging a brand or influencer from withholding ad information again.
If there is a big enough case, the ASA can forward the misconduct on to the Trading Standards who have authority to pursue a case through the courts if needed.
WHERE IT’S ILLEGAL
Illegal makes it sound like these influencers are going to serve life sentences for forgetting to include two letters in their Instagram posts, which of course, isn’t the case. But something should be done, right?
In the US, influencers firstly get a telling off, but can also be fined up to $40,654 for not declaring their social media posts as ads or paid partnerships.
I don’t know about you, but I would very happily add the letters ‘ad’ to my Instagram posts to avoid a $40k fine, wouldn’t you?
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
In my humble little opinion, Instagram needs to roll out a feature that when creators go to post and have tagged a brand/product in the post, the question ‘Is this a paid partnership/advert’? pops up and the influencer should answer accordingly before posting.
Only then will an influencer be blatantly going out of their way to not declare where money has been exchanged and is therefore basically conducting fraud.
We’ve talked a lot about influencer fraud when it comes to buying likes, followers and doctoring images, but not declaring adverts and lying to followers is also deceitful.
Related: Influencer or Fraud?
AN INDUSTRY GROWING OUT OF CONTROL
Another solution to the problem is the ASA cracking down on influencers and making examples of those that repeatedly break the rules on social media.
This is much easier said than done, clearly, and I can see why as there are hundreds of thousands of social media influencers out there, if not millions.
But perhaps we should have regional teams within the ASA? A small team that monitors influencers in Liverpool, another team for Belfast, another team for Leeds and a larger team for London.
Each team would be responsible for monitoring the social feeds of influencers in their designated area and question anything they may flag as a not-declared-advert.
Otherwise, it’s merely impossible for the ASA to monitor every influencer in the UK as the industry continues to grow rapidly with no sights of slowing down.
To sum up this whole blog post, there should be consequences for influencers that aren’t transparent with their audience when it comes to paid advertising on their platforms.