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Influencer Marketing And #Sponsored Content: What Marketers Need To Know

Disclosing when social media posts are sponsored is a must. But that doesn't have to hurt a brand's influencer marketing efforts.

Approximately 70 percent of agency and brand marketers in the U.S. have planned influencer marketing budget increases for 2018, according to new research cited by eMarketer — and this shift is set to take place across verticals, as brands of all stripes seek to engage “ad-averse” Millennial and Gen-Z audiences in a way that feels native to distinct social media platforms.

Leading the charge in the spending shift is Instagram, which over 91 percent of marketers surveyed cited as most important to their influencer strategy, according to eMarketer’s report.

As Leah Lesko, digital engagement manager at Made in Nature, put it, especially “with the introduction of Instagram Stories and features like shoppable Instagram ads, that platform is going to be really strong for influencer marketing [in 2018].”

But while the world of paid sponsorships was the “wild west” in the early days of Instagram — meaning that users frequently couldn’t tell if a product placement was sponsored or organic — today, disclosure is a must. Here’s how brands must negotiate #sponsored content in the world of influencer marketing.

Ad Transparency

“Disclosure is a must. That’s it, period, end of story. The FTC mandates this as a legal requirement,” said David “Rev” Ciancio, director for Partner Marketing at Yext (full disclosure: Yext owns GeoMarketing. More details on that relationship here). “That should be enough for influencers working with brands to see this as compulsory.”

And for those who worry that an upfront, explicit disclosure that an image is an ad will take away the “native” aspect of partnering with an influencer on a particular platform?

“For the influencers who have the concern that this may affect their relationship with their tribe, then maybe they shouldn’t be doing a sponsorship,” Ciancio continued. “That being said, if the product or service they are promoting is in line with the reason they have followers, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

In other words, if an influencer is hawking a product that it doesn’t seem like they would use, that’s disingenuous. But when there appears to be a natural link between a brand and an influencer/their following, disclosure is actually a positive thing; it feels transparent and honest — both big priorities for the Millennial and Gen-Z set when it comes to advertising in general. That’s good for both the influencer and the brand.

Still concerned that having an influencer tag their post with #ad or #sponsored is going to negatively affect ROI? Seek out influencers who have already used or posted about your brand without a sponsorship.

For example, a ski resort might want to seek out a skier or snowboarder who has visited the mountain of their own accord — and a boutique might benefit from working with a micro-influencer who has already worn similar looks to the labels it sells. This way, the content has been there the whole time — and it’s certainly not a “dupe” for the brand and the influencer to work together on future content or projects.

In the end, for both influencers and the brands they work with, transparency wins the day. And what’s more, as Ciancio put it, “I think most people realize that influencers have rent to pay as well.”

Read more about influencer marketing: Geo 101: Influencer Marketing in 2018