The power, as well as the ethics and accountability, of influencers has been a hot topic on communication airwaves for some time.
Whether they are labelled (confusingly) KOLs, celebrities, ambassadors, vloggers, or microfluencers, their effectiveness at leading younger consumers to making purchasing decisions is the whole point of marketing.
But, there is a darker side to the world of online influencers; the question over whether influencers should be regulated and held to account, just like publishers, arises.
It is becoming more difficult to discern whether influencers are publishing ethically and genuinely.
Some red flags to watch out are unexpected spikes in followers and one-word comments, said Annouchka Behrmann, head of brand at Edelman Hong Kong.
The usual scenarios are when "something in the influencer's personal lives trigger issues, or if they say the wrong things about the client," said Behrmann on a panel (see below photo) at today's CampaignComms conference.
Moreover, microfluencers are more prone to "do nasty stuff", said Kevin Shui, general manager at
Travelzoo, vis-a-vis top-tier influencers who "behave more professionally".
However, panellists pointed out that the blame should be shouldered equally by the agencies and brands who deploy influencers.
There are no shortcuts in developing a good influencer campaign, from writing the brief to co-creating with them, said Edelman's Behrmann. "If you use aggregators that are based only on data like follower count, you don't know who you are working with and whether they are appropriate. The criteria we use are resonance, relevance, risk and reach."
The industry was challenged to look beyond the size of the influencer's fanbase but the quality of the engagement.
Have at least one phone call or one face to face meeting with the chosen ones, advised Travelzoo's Shui. "Regarding the authenticity of travel influencers, we see them writing about, say, Denmark on Monday and another country on Tuesday," he said. "This is embarrassing for the tourism boards who hire them, so remember to tell the influencers that longevity drives trust." In addition, having a contract in place where the influencer does not talk about a client's competition for a certain period of time is useful, Shui suggested.
Because the process of measuring the efficacy of any influencer is a bit opaque, Shui put another idea to start a Glassdoor-like platform for influencers that brand managers can review and upvote.
Nowadays, nearly 80% of all the influencers in Asia are microinfluencers, according to Socialbakers' 'Must Know Influencer Marketing Trends Report for 2019, partly because the growth of Instagram accounts are so visibly high, said Behrmann.
It is relatively cost-effective to recruit microinfluencers and thus easier for a small brand to get into the advertisng space, added Toby Doman, APAC communications director at Dow Jones. Another reason why a lot of brands want to work with influencers is that they get 80% better quality leads than traditional advertising, and there is tangible sales data to prove that, Behrmann shared.
With power comes great responsibility, but with volume comes great stress, so getting on the front foot in the management of influencers is key.
The definition of an influencer was another issue debated. Instead of the dictionary's "a person or thing that influences another", Richard Bagnall, chairman of global communications effectiveness trade association AMEC, said a more precise defintion is "a person who has influenced another if the other person does something he/she wouldn't otherwise have thought of or done."