I remember the first blog I started, I dread to think how long ago. A horrendous wash of garishly patterned backgrounds, animated gifs and pointless drivel - it wasn’t the finest moment in my writing career.
Little did I (nor anyone else for that matter) realise that blogging and social media would become respected careers in their own right only a few years later. At After Digital, we’re always on the hunt for influencers to work with on outreach projects for clients, and we’re certainly not alone. On a trust index by affilinet, bloggers and social media personalities were ranked third and fourth respectively in terms of the trust consumers place in them for information, beaten only by friends and family. Brands meanwhile sit second from last, more deserving of our confidence than only one group - politicians - a frightening accolade whichever way you look at it.
Collaboration with demi-gods of the new media sphere seems like a sweet deal for scorned organisations and (with the lure of money, fame or freebies) influencers have taken it up en masse. Promotion is no longer a game dominated by ‘celebrities’, and even comparatively small online presences are worthy of a #sponsored tag in the eyes of many. Taking a look at statistics, it’s not hard to see why. 53% of respondents to Headstream’s 2015 Brand Storytelling Report said they were happy to read sponsored content, with only 8% completely refusing to give it a try.
However the seeming indifference of brand-led content making its way to the accounts and posts of top influencers hasn’t prevented corporations attempting to pull the wool over readers’ eyes when it comes to sponsorship. And it certainly hasn’t stopped the ASA pulling them up on it.
The latest in a long line of organisations to come under fire for their approach to sponsored advertising, drinks mogul Britvic has been told it must halt a series of Instagram adverts created in collaboration with Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh. The post that kicked it off, a video of Mackintosh performing yoga with the words ‘J2O spritz #BlendRecommends’ at the end, was accompanied with the words "More of my #BlendRecommends with @drinkj2o Spritz to come! #sp" underneath it. #Sp enough to show it was sponsored in the eyes of the brand and the reality tv personality, but not sufficient to advertising standards who deemed it not “obviously identifiable” as a sponsored promotion, thus breaching codes.
So what can you do to avoid getting in trouble?
In a word, it’s all about honesty. It’s not just about preventing content getting banned, but also making sure advertising and association doesn’t have the opposite effect than what you intended. Misdirection is as bad as over-exaggerated sales pitches in the eyes of buyers, and you’re far more likely to gain leads from a sponsored collaboration that’s honest and quality. 71% of consumers consider it either important or vital that brand-created stories are differentiated from editorial stories. Not making it clear enough is not only a waste of money when it comes to getting them banned or taken down, but it’s also a huge risk with your audience. It takes a long time to build a relationship with a buyer, but only seconds to lose it.
Video, in particular, is inherently difficult when it comes to sponsored advertising. Like Britvic’s embarrassment on Instagram, brands utilising the power of YouTube and Vine have battled a plethora of bannings and controversy. Oreo , for example, had a huge campaign using well-known British vloggers taken down due to the videos not making it explicitly clear they were sponsored advertising. A waste of money and a thorn in the side of the organisation going forward.
Personally, ‘sponsored’ posts aren’t my favourite way of working with influencers. I prefer exploring more organic ways first (think collaboration, reviews, interviews, competitions) as it benefits the blogger as much as the brand and is far more engaging for an audience. That’s not to say I don’t use and appreciate it, however.
Ultimately it’s down to us to find the best way forward for individual circumstances. It’s estimated that by 2020, 85% of relationships will be managed without any human interaction. The vast majority of transactions and dealings will be done online - pitching your voice digitally is absolutely crucial to success. Like your own website, influencers and bloggers are the online version of a sales representative.They are no longer just advocates of your brand, but sometimes the only person a buyer will interact with before purchasing. Using them in the wrong way is as beneficial as contacting my gif-embellished 2003 monstrosity and hoping for the right results. Be honest and truthful - both to the audience and your brand - or you’ll pay the price when it comes to sponsored advertising.