Comment: The triumph of transparency

It's important for influencers to reveal sponsored posts

Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting.
Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting.

Last month, I attended iftar with my PR colleagues and peers and as often happens these days, our conversation turned to the subject of influencers. It’s a trend that crosses the disciplines of PR, marketing and social media and one that continues to incite debate and divide opinion. How do we measure influence? What is it worth? How much does it cost?

I work with luxury hospitality brands keen to partner with influencers and spend significant time researching the right match in depth, but with each influencer, the terms of partnership are different. There’s no standard methodology and therefore, no clear way to manage expectations. Transparency is critical in all aspects of communications and yet, in the world of influencer marketing, it seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Why do some influencers acknowledge partnerships and paid posts, and others fail to distinguish between those that are organic and of their own opinion, and those that are paid? If an influencer is invited to review a hotel or restaurant, should they acknowledge that they are there as a guest, or are they entitled to share their experience as if they were a ‘normal’ customer? Is this their choice, or their host or client’s preference? Which is the right approach?

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As a former journalist and editor, a firm believer in the value of publishing with integrity, I’m one-sided on this. In a magazine, there is editorial content and advertising content. The first is based on the research and opinion of the editor and written for their readers; the second is drafted and submitted by a third-party client keen to reach the magazine’s audience. Or, if you prefer, the former is free and the latter is paid for.

Of course, I’m aware of publishing’s increasing commercialism — and in a competitive market, accept this as inevitable — but still, even if a magazine supports a paying client with editorial, I’m confident that in the majority of professional publications, the balance remains.

When it comes to this region’s influencers active on popular social media channels, there is hardly ever a distinction between editorial and advertising.  This is becoming a major issue for the influencers themselves, the clients they are working with, and the consumers that follow them.

I’m a big fan of Instagram and merrily follow a host of travel, fitness and wellness names that many in the hospitality industry will be aware of. However, more than once have I witnessed similar posts from this niche group of influencers, all coincidentally staying at the same hotel.  I find it mildly entertaining when this occurs and think that not only does blame sit on both sides of the partnership, both parties also suffer.

My faith in the opinions of many of these influencers has completely dissipated, rendering them influence-less, and my respect for the hotel brand has also diminished, as how can they be so seemingly oblivious to what seems to me so obviously counter-intuitive?

After lamenting the challenge over kibbeh and ouzi, my colleagues and I were in general agreement that it was high-time that transparency triumphed over the influencer.

The very next day, as if by magic, a solution appeared. On June 14, Instagram launched its “Paid Partnership with” tag on organic posts and stories to help content creators more clearly communicate to their followers when they are working in partnership with a business.

This has benefits for both sides: the influencer is transparent, thereby maintaining authenticity and, hopefully, their influence, while the business is also perceived as open and honest regarding the fans it chooses to work with. Both have access to the insights to see the shared reach and engagement metrics — another critical component of ensuring an influencer marketing strategy has the desired impact.

Official policy and enforcement is yet to come but in the meantime, as one of the industries that has so much to gain from influencer marketing — when done properly — let’s embrace this as a best practice and set the standard for our brands and our partners alike. What a relief it would be to catch up with my PR peers and celebrate the transparency of our trade, rather than having a moan and a gossip? Oh, who am I kidding? Where’s the fun in that?!

About the Author: Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Email: louise@in2consulting.com

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