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Trust issues putting influencer marketing model at failure risk

Despite the rise of influencer marketing, we live in a world where disinformation is now a frequent issue across many forms of media, which is a topic that has certainly been in focus over the past few months.
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Do we really know if the news we are reading is real? The result is that we trust information shared – such as influencer marketing – less and less. This trend has been much wider than just news around elections or referendums shared on social media.

The issue of trust has been prevalent for many years and it is now at a critical point as consumers trust brands less and less. When Nielsen published their global trust report, many of the results were not surprising, but nevertheless still concerning.

The most trusted communications channel was “recommendations from people I know” – which recorded 83 per cent trust from respondents surveyed. The next most trusted communication channel was branded websites with 70 per cent, then “consumer opinion posted online” at 66 per cent.

When the earned media space is compared to the paid, the issue around trust becomes far clearer as only 63 per cent of the group researched trusted ads on TV, 48 per cent trusted online ads, 46 per cent for social networks, and finally online banner ads with an incredibly low 42 per cent.

Whilst earned and owned channels are far more trusted than their paid equivalents, and with recommendation – which is essentially what influencer marketing does – the most trusted media channel, we still believe influencer marketing is on the cusp of failing as a communication method due to inherent issues around trust.

Why is this, if trust is fundamentally why these channels have been performing so well?

Fundamentally, influencer marketing has exploded as a tool as it offers brands an authentic way to communicate with large groups of people. These communications are effective as they are from a third party, who’s audience respects their opinion.

However, influencers only have this power when audiences believe what is being shared is their honest viewpoint.

As this communication channel has matured and payment or sponsoring of content has been added into the mix, the once trusted source is being challenged.

Followers are becoming wise to the payments that their favourite influencers are receiving, and asking the question: “Do they really think this, or is that the money talking?”

Recent legislation from the ASA has tried to make this clearer, by requiring #Ad or #Spon to be added to post that have been controlled by brands.

Followers of influencers can now more easily see if a post has been paid for –as long as these hashtags are used, and consumers understand what they mean.

When a post has been sponsored, the value of this influence can reduce as the reader questions if the opinion is real or has been bought.

Trust between consumers and brands is at an all-time low. We trust our peers or the influencers we follow on social media more than the information presented in ads, both online and offline.

The issue the influencer marketing model faces is that if payment is being made for content, will this ultimately bring down this media channel to the same levels of effectiveness as the advertising equivalents?

To stop this issue damaging the long-term viability of influencer marketing, all involved, from the brands and agencies to the influencers themselves, need to abide by clear ethics to ensure that payment doesn’t buy positive opinion.

This means that regardless of the fees paid, editorial control should never be yielded and the influencer should always retain their credibility by ensuring they only share honest and truthful viewpoints on the products and services that they get to try.

This is the only way that trust can be protected and this form of marketing continues to grow at lightning speed.

Francisco Ascensao is CEO of Youzz

Image: Shutterstock

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