The search for authenticity in influencer marketing

Influencer marketing grew on the basis of trust. It’s simple — people appear more trustworthy than corporations. But in recent years, the influencer marketing terrain has faced a loss of authenticity. As brands continue to spend more on influencers, it’s important to consider how they can maximize the effects of their partnerships and what the future of influencer marketing will hold.

The issue with disclosure statements

We’ve entered an age where branded content is no longer standardized, and this presents ethical and legal challenges.

According to a study conducted by influencer marketing agency Mediakix, only about 7% of endorsements on social media from the top 50 celebrity influencers comply with FTC’s guidelines of appropriate disclosure verbiage. Furthermore, Harvard Business Review reported that 28% of influencers were requested by the sponsoring brand to not disclose the partnership. It seems like the ability to deceive has somehow become tied to an influencer’s worth.

The lack of transparency from influencers is troublesome. Truth in Advertising, a media watchdog organization, recently filed an FTC complaint against popular “kidfluencer” YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview, for failing to disclose ad deals and deceiving young viewers. External entities are no longer sitting still and we can anticipate an increasing emphasis on adhering to disclosure guidelines that have previously gone overlooked.

Influencer fraud

Influencers are a confusing entity, and although everyone can be an influencer, not everybody should be. The lack of a unified system has created some bad apples.  

Brands compensate influencers based on their reach. Yet many influencers falsify their “influence”by buying followers through software programs that use bot accounts. A research study conducted by cybersecurity firm Cheq and the University of Baltimore reported at least $1.3 billion of spending on influencer marketing is lost to fraud annually. Many influencers boast high — but fake — follower numbers, which leads to brands paying for impressions and views they won’t actually receive.  

However, these deceptive numbers may soon be a thing of the past. Consumers and brands are catching on, and marketing firms are experimenting with data that measures consistency and are using artificial intelligence to make assumptions based on engagement rates. As technology improves, we can hope that these insights will weed out the fraudulent influencers and give brands more clarity and choice over their partnerships.  

Influencer marketing — what's next? 

On the USC Annenberg Center for PR’s Relevance Report Survey, 34.7% of respondents said online customer reviews would most likely influence their purchase decisions in the coming year. Review sites have become popular avenues for people to discuss products freely and honestly. Consumers crave more genuine recommendations.

This is not to say that influencer marketing is going away any time soon. The question is, how can brands engage in influencer marketing effectively and authentically?

People trust their family and friends. Brands should consider leveraging word-of-mouth that is based on close circles and relationships by diversifying their partnerships and considering nano-influencers. Although nano-influencers may have a much smaller follower base, around 1,000 to 10,000 followers, they are seen more as subject experts and have higher engagement rates. Nano-influencers are considered “everyday people,” which can enhance their credibility.

Although audiences generally don’t mind branded content, they expect it to be executed ethically. In order to preserve the integrity and authenticity of influencer marketing, brands and influencers must hold themselves to higher standards and make consumer trust a top priority.


To download a full copy of the 2020 Relevance Report, click here.