In the past few years, influencer marketing has served brands extremely well in building authentic connections with their target audiences and promoting their products. But like all good things, there are some people who exploit it and use it to trick consumers. They throw all influencer marketing ethics out the window just so they can make a little extra money.
These exploiters focus too much on their own benefit that they resort to practices that exploit consumers. This could involve anything from lack of proper disclosure about promoted products to inauthentic reviews and promotions. They trick consumers into buying the product they’re promoting – whether it’s good or bad – so they could make some money off of it.
What that means for brands is that they need to be more aware of the ethical aspects of working with influencers. This will help them in forming authentic partnerships and executing campaigns that people can trust. If you’re new to influencer marketing, this post will help you understand some of the top influencer marketing ethics you should know about.
The Prevalence of Unethical Influencer Marketing and Its Impact
Brands need to keep a close check on unethical influencer marketing practices and come up with a game plan to avoid them. But they aren’t just responsible for monitoring the activities of the influencers they partner with. They should also examine their own practices to see if they’re employing unethical tactics that they may not have been aware of.
In some cases, brands are the real victims to these unethical practices because some “influencers” have even resorted to buying fake followers. So they have no real influence. But they’re still being paid by brands to promote products. For brands like the Ritz-Carlton, for instance, 78% of their influencers’ followers were fake.
In a few cases, however, the brand or influencer may just be unaware of what’s ethical because there is so little information about it. So there is no malicious intent behind the unethical tactics they’re using. Either way, it has a horrible impact on the overall influencer marketing industry because people are becoming less trustful about most campaigns.
The following are some points you should remember about the ethical aspects of influencer marketing.
#1: Make Sure Every Post Includes a Clear Disclosure
You might already know that influencer marketing ethics require every sponsored post to have a disclosure. Some influencers and brands may fear that such disclosures will make the content less compelling.
So they try to bend the rules and bury their disclosure at the bottom of their post or within a string of hashtags. Sometimes, they’ll add ambiguous disclaimers that could be mistaken for something else such as #collab, #partner, #sp, etc. #Sp, for instance, could even mean Spanish so it’s really conspicuous.
This is extremely misleading and unethical, as you’re trying to make the post appear organic when it’s actually been paid for. Your disclosures should be clearly visible close to the message. And you should feature them clearly with both audio and visuals in case of videos. In short, people should immediately know that it’s a sponsored post.
Your influencers should use clear disclaimers like #sponsored and #ad and avoid hiding it between multiple hashtags. For example, see how the following influencer uses the #sponsored hashtag along with only three other relevant hashtags in her post.
Even if the influencer wants to use more hashtags than this, they should add the disclaimer first and then follow it up with the other hashtags. You could even make the most of built-in disclosure tools that are available on platforms like Instagram. This makes your job and that of the influencer much easier, and the disclaimer is more prominent for the audience too.
Take a look at the following sponsored post created by Aimee Song for The Volon, for example.
#2: Include a Legal Disclosure Policy in Your Media Kit
Even when you’ve done everything you can from your end to follow influencer marketing ethics, your influencers may not comply. And you may not have the power to do anything about this unless they had signed a contract legally requiring them to follow your disclosure guidelines.
So your influencer media kit should ideally include your legal disclosure policy along with the details of other guidelines and campaign requirements. Once they agree to partner with you, this will make them legally bound to follow your disclosure policy. In case of any failure to comply from their end, you will have the authority to take action.
#3: Keep Track of Influencer-Generated Content for Compliance
It’s not easy to keep track of the sponsored content created by influencers for your brand. Especially if you’re working with more than one influencer. So you might find it challenging to ensure that each sponsored post includes a clear disclaimer and follows your guidelines.
Instead of manually checking the posts generated by your influencers, you can use influencer management platforms like Grin. This platform lets you track each piece of influencer-generated content for your campaign so you can ensure that they’re complying with your disclosure policy. You can also track how these posts are performing so you’ll get a fair idea of which influencers are best for you.
#4: Work with Authentic Influencers
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re in compliance with influencer marketing ethics is to work with authentic influencers. Authentic influencers tend to be honest about their opinions on a product, even if they have been paid to review it. This makes them more trustworthy to the audience and in compliance with disclosure guidelines.
So after you’ve shortlisted potential influencers to work with, you should vet them thoroughly to see just how authentic their content is. Go through their content feed manually and look for any sponsored posts they might have created for brands. First, look for disclaimers and examine whether they’re complying with the disclosure guidelines discussed in the first point.
See if they managed to effectively promote the products without being biased or overly promotional. And make sure they’re not holding back from relaying any negative experiences they might have had.
The following micro-influencer, for instance, gave her honest experience using Pixi products that the company had gifted to her. She clearly mentioned in her post how she didn’t see anything coming out of her pores like with usual nose strips. But she took care to balance that point out with a positive experience.
#5: Avoid Being Excessively Controlling
One of the biggest mistakes brands make is when they try to control everything the influencer is saying. They will provide the influencers with pre-written captions for their sponsored posts, which wouldn’t really match the influencer’s natural voice.
Sometimes, they will even try to control what content the influencer creates so it won’t really have the influencer’s essence anymore. Although this isn’t exactly unethical, it can seem very inauthentic to the audience. And they may end up losing trust in your brand and in the influencer. It is one of the easiest ways to come across as a sketchy brand and destroy your influencer relationships.
For your influencer marketing campaigns to have the desired impact, you need to hand over the reins to the real content creators. Give them a basic guideline and let them know your expectations, but don’t micromanage every aspect of the campaign. There’s a reason why they became influential in the first place, so let them work their magic for your brand.
Following influencer marketing ethics isn’t hard as long as you’re familiar with the rules. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the FTC guidelines or other advertising laws in your country. And use the tips given above to get a fair idea of what you need to do to succeed with influencer marketing.
Brian Mechem is COO and Co-Founder of Grin, a software solution for companies who run influencer marketing programs. Grin's software powers some of the best influencer programs in the world, providing insights on ROI and adding efficiency to the influencer marketing process.