Online row could change the rules of influencer marketing

A well-publicised social media spat has put the spotlight on the growing role and murky rules of influencer marketing.

After Ophelia and Fionn, we didn’t have wait long for the next storm to hit. Recently, the owner of a well-known Dublin hotel received an email from a UK-based blogger asking for a free stay in return for some exposure on social media.

The hotel owner published a scornful reply on Facebook, pointing out that his own social following was bigger than the blogger’s and criticising her for having the nerve to look for a freebie. He also included her original email (minus her name which he blanked out).

Whoosh! A social media firestorm duly erupted, with most comments split into roughly two camps: the blogger was wrong to expect something for nothing and the hotel boss was right to call her out; the blogger was just doing her job as an ‘influencer’ and the hotel boss was wrong to call her out.

(For our part, the blogger made a couple of fundamental communications errors, the most glaring of which was a failure to take the time to properly research her target audience. A cursory search would have told her that the hotel in question does not need any outside influence to generate publicity.)

Popularity of influencer marketing

Either way, the whole episode placed the spotlight firmly on the evolving role and skyrocketing popularity of influencer marketing. It’s big – and it’s going to get bigger.

Indeed, according to Forbes some 92% of consumers now trust influencers more than traditional advertising or celebrity endorsements. That’s backed up by Chief Marketer, which reported last year that influencer marketing is now both the fastest-growing and most cost-effective channel for customer acquisition.

Those metrics will undoubtedly strike a chord with anyone who is big on social media. Influencers have become celebrities in their own rights and the benefits they can bring to a product or campaign are many and varied: authenticity, spontaneity, relevance, creativity, not to mention unique, story-driven content.

These are precisely the qualities every big brand aspires to, and they are the reason influencer marketing is one of the big trends to watch out for in 2018 and beyond. There is, however, an elephant in the room – the lack of transparency around the difference between influence and advertising.

This grey area is made possible by the fact that the Irish advertising sector is not governed by any consumer protection laws, and that there is no mention of blogging or social media influence in general Irish consumer law.

That may be about to change.

'Influence' under review

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has announced that it will review issues relating to social media influencers and consumer protection at European level. Given the noise generated by ‘bloggergate’, it’s fair to say that the incident recounted above had something to do with the review.

If the CCPC succeeds in bringing more certainty, clarity and transparency to the Irish influencer community then all parties are likely to benefit – influencers, the brands they endorse, and most of all the consumers who follow them.

Topics: blogging, marketing, public relations, social media, influencers

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