Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

[Editor's note: the following is a guest post.]

Most Influencer marketing campaigns don’t work for a very simple reason. It’s not because they are bad or the idea of influencer marketing is faulty one, it’s because the “influencers” are fake. And that reason could land unaware brands into direct financial liability under new FTC guidelines.

In a recent update to its Endorsement Guidelines, the FTC dropped a few bombshells that should have spammy influencer marketers, and the brands caught up with them very nervous. Two key takeaways were that:
  1. Inauthentic endorsements are clearly deceptive, and 
  2. The brand is liable for enforcement actions for a campaign done on its behalf, even if they weren’t complicit in the deceit. Those points were reiterated throughout the document, and made very unambiguous in examples such as this one:
"If 'likes' are from non-existent people or people who have no experience using the product or service, they are clearly deceptive, and both the purchaser and the seller of the fake 'likes' could face enforcement action."

So if you’re a brand marketer doing influencer or advocate word of mouth initiatives, the big questions are why are they fake, and how can you tell. If you’re renting access to a third party's own large opt-in base of "influencers," you’ve almost certainly got a big problem. It's a huge systemic issue, and running a company in the influencer marketing space myself, it's something I’m extremely passionate about.

Renting out a large pool of "influencers" on a campaign basis has, in every instance I’ve ever found, resulted in the exact same results:

Spammy canned tweets or posts from profiles that don’t look like real people. They are profiles that seem to exist to just tweet out dozens of sponsored tweets a day, about absolutely anything that gets them an entry to win a gift card, and any reaction they get is from other sweepstakes hunters. Check it yourself by searching Twitter for the #Sponsored (or #ad or of a particular campaign), or click here
and click on the first 5 profiles.

It’s painfully obvious, now that you know where to look.

Related: Marketing Companion podcast episode on influencer marketing [Click to listen]

So why will you see so many great brands involved with those #sponsored or #ad hashtags? The reality is that leading brands are being tasked to unlock the huge, proven potential of "influencer marketing," but they really don’t know what they’re getting from their vendors in the tactical execution. They’re being led astray by shady practitioners who are hiding what’s really behind the curtain.

As a brand marketer, beyond wasting your budget and harming your brand, the threat of FTC enforcement, even if your brand isn’t complicit gives good reason to check your own backyard carefully. Checking your campaign manually by looking into the people involved is very simple, additionally, we’ve also built a free grader tool on Crowdly that will generate a detailed report to help understand where you stand.

As with everything, don’t lose sight of common sense among the blur of numbers and jargon. Word-of-mouth, Influencer Marketing, advocates, whatever you want to call it, is undeniably powerful. The opinions of people you trust help shape your decisions every day, from hotels and restaurants, to kids schools to movies, music, and clothes. In your life, it’s real people, saying things they really mean, usually to people they really know.

You can judge authenticity at a common sense level, and so can your customers, and the FTC has very clearly made it your responsibility to make sure your initiatives pass that common sense test.

Start there.

Dan Sullivan
Founder and CEO, Crowdly

Image credit: Ethan Edwards (Flickr)