The Credibility and Authenticity of Influencer Marketing

Written By Lauren Seden

In 2018 the Australian federal government banned the use of influencers in federal government campaigns following a review of the Department of Health’s funding of social media influencers. The review found that over $600,000 of taxpayers’ dollars had been spent on its #GirlsMakeYourMove social media campaign, which was developed to “address the lower level of physical activity and barriers faced by young Australian women”.Part of the social media budget included paying numerous Instagram influencers such as Stevie Alger, Jess Hopson and Lily May Mac to promote the campaign on their social media accounts.

The department faced public scrutiny over its choice of influencers for the campaign with their actual level of “influence” called into question. Some of the influencers paid to take part had also previously promoted alcohol and controversial dieting products , a clear contradiction of the healthy living message that the campaign is trying to convey. Others had even engaged in controversial conduct in the past with one influencer forced to apologise for racist content

In response to the backlash Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt  stated “there would need to be a demonstrated benefit and demonstrated suitability of any individual going forward, for this to recommence. This would need to include a thorough assessment and vetting process linked to improving the health of Australians”. Hunt’s response highlights the fact that not enough thought was put into the selection of influencers for the campaign, ultimately resulting in its failure which occurs when brands are seduced by follower numbers alone and fail to choose an influencer with real connection to the campaign’s image and message.

As a result, leaders in influencer marketing are calling for brands and government departments to research thoroughly and take greater care when selecting influencers for campaigns. Natasha Cormier , founder of influencer company Gravitas, said the campaign’s failure is due to a common flaw in influencer selection stating that “one of the key things that is missing from some of the discover methods out in the market is that they are selecting the influencers and not checking through their content”.

When choosing influencers for campaigns influencer marketing experts highlight two critical selection criteria: credibility and authenticity.

Credibility

Many of the influencers selected for the campaign weren’t credible in that they had promoted alcohol and dieting products in the past and were primarily associated with beauty and fashion rather than fitness and health.

Dr Thomas Lee  from the University of Wollongong, advises that it’s beneficial to the campaign if the influencers have qualifications that align with the content they post and the message that the campaign is trying to convey and that “this comes down to not only professional qualifications, but also the

Dr Lee  explains that “people want to follow someone who is relatable to them, but who also has something to add in terms of credibility – for example a guy who works a 9-to-5 office job but still manages to go to the gym and stick to their nutrition” and that influencers with credibility are respected as “they provide relevance and you’re able to internalise their values”.

Authenticity

One of the main reasons why the campaign resulted in public outcry was due to the notion that many of the influencers selected to represent an inclusive consumer message didn’t appear relatable or authentic. With the primary audience of the campaign being ‘everyday women’, the inclusion of flat tummy tea promoters with polished and photoshopped posts in the campaign only highlights the department’s poor strategies of influencer selection.

When it comes to establishing authenticity a question that Simone Bevam , Head of Marketing of Magnum & Co, advises brands to ask themselves includes “does this individual truly have a narrative that resonates with the core theme of this campaign?”. Bevam,  also advises thorough research into the influencer’s background and past through a media audit which’ll bring attention to any controversial activity that they’ve been part of.

Successful Influencer Marketing

The idea of using ‘everyday women’ as influencers in a government campaign is reinforced through the success of the Victorian Government’s #ThisGirlCan campaign . The campaign was powerful in its use of emotional storytelling through the selection of credible and authentic women undertaking their everyday exercise routine.

Another example of a brand that successfully uses ‘everyday women’ in their campaigns includes the makeup brand Glossier. Emily Weiss , the founder of Glossier’, says that Glossier places value on the idea of “every single woman being an influencer”. Weiss elaborates on this by explaining that extravagant amounts of money don’t need to be spent on campaigns and that “in the wider world of marketing, an influencer might be a Kardashian who charges thousands of dollars to broadcast a product to her milli

The government ban is a prime example of the need to have further regulation in the evolving influencer industry and the importance of comprehensive knowledge of the people you’re collaborating with. Government departments and brands need to remember that follower numbers alone don’t guarantee a campaign’s success as it’s important that brands choose influencers that reflect their values and who are aligned with the campaign’s message.

However, a complete ban on all influencer marketing isn’t necessary as the power that influencers have when it comes to connecting and engaging with consumers has monumental potential for government campaigns. It’s instead important that departments research thoroughly and spend their money wisely on influencers that can convey the message effectively. This means not picking the first popular influencer that you find but taking the time to search for influencers with real authenticity and credibility.

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