BBC Panorama needed to happen; the long-term viability of influencers is at stake

When Panorama, on the use of influencers, aired last week, my LinkedIn feed was on fire with comments from various influencer agents and agencies, complaining about the confusion between 'influencer', 'content creator' and 'celebrity'.

If the influencer-brand relationship is made murky, the industry suffers, argues Dan Neale
If the influencer-brand relationship is made murky, the industry suffers, argues Dan Neale

More surprisingly, they felt the rules for each of these groups should be different.

In my view, there is too much focus on defining what an influencer is, rather than looking at the power they have and the responsibility that then goes with such power (or influence).

After all, it’s clear that, as an industry, we can’t even articulate this ourselves.

It doesn’t matter whether an influencer accrued their audience through being on a third-rate reality TV show, by being a Hollywood star, a musician, or creating content that has engaged people socially and resulted in fame.

The way in which they have amassed influence is irrelevant – the fact is, they have it.

Regardless of how you gained a following, by having such influence you are able to have an impact on the decisions of thousands, millions or even billions of people.

With that needs to come accountability and responsibility.

I don't believe paying an influencer to work with a brand is wrong. What is wrong is the lack of transparency about the influencer-brand relationship, meaning the audience doesn’t understand the context in which the content has been created.

With a clear disclaimer, audiences can take a view on the validity of the statements and recommendations made in the content.

This is the topic we should be highlighting and debating so we set a fair industry standard – not the distraction of 'what constitutes an influencer'.

We've seen it time and again: examples of brands, agencies, influencers and agents skirting the rules to have a bigger short-term impact, to shout success and smashing of KPIs.

However, this lack of transparency compromises the long-term performance (and viability) of influencer marketing.

Audiences won't trust the content they see and, as such, influencer marketing will become ineffective.

A traditional media outlet would face accusations of corruption if they took cash from a brand to market a product and not disclose such relationship.

Dan Neale, managing director of Alfred

Putting aside the clear ethical issues of non-disclosure, surely the commercial viability of this channel, which will suffer a slow and painful death if things don't change, should be a wake-up call for the whole industry.

Not forgetting that, if the influencer and brand are a perfect match, this transparency should have minimal impact on the performance of the content.

What Panorama and Fyre have once again showed us is that if relationships are not disclosed and audiences are not aware of the true nature of a partnership, this powerful marketing channel could become a victim of its own success.

A traditional media outlet would face accusations of corruption if it took cash from a brand to market a product and not disclose such relationship.

This isn't any different.

Bringing this to the forefront of industry conversation is imperative for the long-term viability of this channel.

This is why BBC Panorama needed to happen.

It's our responsibility to be guardians of influencer marketing, to ensure we keep consumers on-side and to protect this invaluable channel from becoming ineffective.

We don't want it to end up like those banner ads we no longer click on. That would be a shame.

Dan Neale is managing director of Alfred

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