Our Junior Account Coordinator, Sarah Clark, delves into the land of social influencers and how their paid partnerships work.

Waking up in the morning, the first thing I do is roll over and snooze my alarm 6-8 times. Then, it’s the daily peruse of Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat through eyes half shut, followed by a grandmarish shuffle to the kitchen where I make myself a coffee which my mother likens to tar – can you tell I’m a millennial? Or should I have included the smashed avo breakfast?

The world news is the topic of conversation for breakfast – and as much as I love Karl Stefanovic’s humour in the morning, I’ll flick through Twitter, the standard issue news app, and a little gem called Quartz to get my news up to speed. For the rest of the day my phone will bleat with notifications informing me that so and so has uploaded a new video to youtube, what’s her face posted what is undoubtedly a horrifyingly perfect selfie, or that some celebrity somewhere in the world has a new beau. It pains me to say it, but I live my life online. And a lot of others (millennials that is – and yes I mean all of them, even the vegans) do the same.

In being glued to your phone you get into the habit of following people, random people who take living their life online to a whole new level – we call them influencers. Between influencer getaways to the Maldives, their feeds are a string of ‘candid’ images that sell to us a life that is anything but candid. They make us dwell on a myriad of thoughts, from ‘wow, my life sucks’ to the even more shocking thought, ‘maybe I will go to the gym”.

But no matter where our thoughts lead us, there is one constant in the lives of influencers, and that is the #ad. The somewhat discrete disclaimer is a source of contention among followers – cue the ‘she’s getting paid to say that’, ‘get a real job’ internet trolls. And it’s fair enough that people are sceptical, after all we don’t really know these people we obsess over.

So how do influencers combat this apprehension?

It is a mistake to think that influencers are people who have no drive to maintain a career and just want to stay at home and snap pics – take Huda Kattan for example, she began as a makeup blogger on YouTube in 2010 and now has a cosmetics empire worth $4.5 million US.  And how did she do this? By maintaining a genuine image through only supporting brands she uses in her day-to-day life, and not compromising that for any price tag (despite bringing in a supposed $18000 per post).

Influencers know what they’re doing – they know who they’re talking to, what they want to say, and how they’re going to say it. They know that social media allows them to be watched like hawks, they know that they’ll get recognised when they’re out for the weekly shop…they know that they can’t afford to slip up. So when it comes to #ads they are well aware of what has to be done to keep their following satisfied and fulfill the brands requirements.

Unfortunately though, there are a few influencers whose post practices aren’t as transparent. They may allude to a paid partnership, but certainty aren’t making it easy to find. Luckily for us though, there are a few ways for us to clarify our confusion and see through the fickle world of social media.

Spotting a paid partnership

The #ad most often appears on Youtube and Instagram, occasionally supported by a Snapchat story. In my daily peruse of social media, I have picked up a few tricks to spot paid posts, and determine the level of genuineness.  

Youtube provides multiple options for clarification – in the description bar, a verbal disclaimer, inserting written text in the shot. For these reasons, I believe that Youtube forces a certain level of transparency, that if ignored speaks to the brand of the influencer. A bonus of video promotions also is that if a product, particularly cosmetics doesn’t fit in perfectly to the influencers typical regime and yet is still promoted and supported, we can see for ourselves that something isn’t adding up.  

For image based platforms (Instagram and Snapchat), the clearest way to see if the post is paid is to spot the #ad in the caption, story or post. If that isn’t there, the content of the caption may clear things up for you, e.g. ‘Loved teaming up with xxx to bring you this…’ or ‘Thanks xxx for having me…’.

Instagram has taken issues surrounding transparency of paid partnerships and now provide a disclaimer section to be filled out for all paid partnerships during the posting and editing process.

It’s a transparency miracle!

These changes came about early in 2017, after an era of posts that were indistinguishable as partnerships or otherwise. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) initiated a major crackdown on shady business practices online – Instagram’s developers heard the tune and started to sing along, leaving us with this lovely, shiny new sense of transparency and trust for brands and influencers.

In March last year, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) joined the singalong and introduced a code of conduct for all influencers across all social media. The Distinguishable Advertising Guidelines are based on the US policies and stem from the following clause:

“Advertising or marketing communications shall be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience.”

This means that influencers and brands have to make clear any paid partnership is in fact a paid partnership. In Australia, this code of conduct is not backed by any laws, but when you consider the nature of being an influencer, it seems clear that any breaching of this conduct would result in the end of a trusted relationship with your followers.

You can read more about the Distinguishable Advertising Guidelines here:

http://aana.com.au/clearly-distinguishable-advertising/

For those of you who really want to get into the nitty gritty of our influencer opinions you can keep an eye on their posts and stories to see what products have made it into their daily routines, and seeing if those products or brands are being supported with paid partnerships – if you know your influencer is interacting with the brand on a personal level, their interaction on a business level is more likely to be of a genuine support for the brand.

So, are paid partnerships okay?

Getting paid to give your favourable opinion to a brand or product is not a new idea – the new addition to the equation is social media, and ‘accessible’ personalities for average everyday people. Social media has broken down barriers between brands and customers, and influencers have been a massive part of that. They’ve provided a plateau of interaction that is invaluable to relationships, and this includes the #ad.

With regulations becoming more prominent, brands and influencers are being coerced into really weighing up the reasons why they should engage in a paid partnership. And I think this is a good thing. It increases transparency, and therefore trust. There is now a sense of legitimacy to the whole concept of the #ad, morphing it into a genuine business tool, rather than an attention grab.

There will always be someone to find some minute aspect of an #ad that is completely and utterly outrageous and absolutely warrants an unfollow. But for the most part, we trust that our influencer deities do indeed have our best interests at heart, even through a facade of friendship.