Is a Code of Conduct enough to rein in misleading influencers?
How will social media influencers respond to a marketing industry Code of Conduct?
This is the intriguing question the industry will see answered in the coming months and years after advertiser trade body ISBA launched the guidelines last week.
Influencer marketing executives have broadly welcomed the Code as a move towards more transparent marketing and better working relationships between creators, agencies and brands.
The impact of how powerful social media content can be, particularly for younger people, was laid bare within days of ISBA's new Code being announced. Instagram's leaked internal research, published by the Wall Street Journal last weekend, showed a third of teen girls who use the platform said it made them feel bad about their bodies and many teens blame the social media platform for increased anxiety and depression.
Discussions around responsible social media marketing are growing as the influencer marketing platform industry was estimated to be worth $6bn in 2020 and is forecast to more than quadruple to $24.1bn by 2025, according to a Markets and Markets report in December 2020.
Scott Guthrie, director general of the influencer marketing trade body due to launch this year, noted that the number of influencer platforms and agencies has increased from 190 to 1360 over the last five years.
He added: “It’s inevitable that whilst most incumbents are good actors, there will be some who do not act in good faith. Marking yourself out as one of the good guys starts with accountability. Signing up to this code demonstrates that commitment to accountability.”
Similar worries about young people's welfare have prompted the UK government to draft an Online Harms Bill which would make it the responsibility of content-sharing platforms and search services to moderate their content where Ofcom would be able to fine companies and block access to sites if they do not comply.
Katie Hunter, social and influencer lead at Karmarama told Mediatel News: “Overall, I think these [ISBA] guidelines make a lot of sense and reflect what many of us client, agency and creator side have been saying and asking for a number of years.
“The “co-creative process” and “agreed programme of work together” called out are particularly welcome and reassuring, as this is really key to good work and great relationships. A less transactional and more creative partnership should really be the goal.”
Hunter agreed with the Code of Conduct about use of filters and editing to trick consumers.
However, she added: “This isn’t banning the use of filters entirely, but instead prevents them being used to mislead followers about a product’s performance or credentials.
"In a world where transparent marketing is welcomed by consumers, this is only fair and protects the creators/influencers as much as the brands’ integrity.”
The Global Web Index Social Media Report Q4 2020 showed Gen Z consumers are almost as likely to follow influencers as brands and, in general, followers of influencers wanted more unfiltered content they could relate to rather than "glitzy backdrops".
While Annalie Coia, senior account manager at Gen Z specialist agency Fanbytes, warned last week that it would be difficult to get influencers to post totally unfiltered content.
Coia went on to explain that that misleading filters are rare in sponsored formats but more of a concern for the beauty, health and wellness product industries.
The Advertising Standards Authority already has an influencer's guide to make sure it is clear when influencers post content that consumers know when it is sponsored advertising.
However, ISBA's code also contains guidance for agencies and brands in order to improve the working relationship between all parties at each stage of a social marketing campaign.
Crystal Malachias, global growth and development director at talent and influencer marketing agency ITB Worldwide, said: “Our industry needs a code of conduct which we all adhere to in order to continue to work in harmony and prevent any reputational risks to any party or the industry as a whole.
"We are especially pleased that the code of conduct outlines best practice for all different types of players in the industry in a simple and actionable way."