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Is the influencer marketing industry experiencing puberty?

Dr.sc.comm. Olga Kazaka
A.W.Olsen & Partners partner, LU docent

The processes that take place in the influencer marketing industry are reminiscent of the difficult transition period when a teenager who is cherished and pampered turns into an adult who takes responsibility and treats like-minded people in contact with older people.

Decide for yourself. How to call this industry – influencers, bloggers, content creators, opinion leaders, digital content authors? There are more options and discussions now than ever before; this shows the search for self-identification that characterizes every serious industry.

The second feature is about financial relationships. The tax reform has eliminated or disadvantaged the common forms of tax payment chosen by influencers in Latvia: patent fees, royalty agreements, micro-enterprises. This shows that influencers also need to show maturity and create financially active companies.

We also see that the criteria for selecting influencers for cooperation are expanding. Of course, standard insights such as the number of followers have not disappeared (and this is no longer a goal, as cooperation with nano and micro-influencers has become a stable trend), the portrait of followers (where they come from, what gender and age dominate), signs of fraud and the level of involvement (by the way, imitation of involvement is currently the most common form of fraud among Latvian influencers), whether the advertiser has a suitable influencer image and communication style, as well as the way he usually represents brands. However, against this background, additional criteria, such as the coherence of the blogger’s and brand’s values, as well as the influencer professionalism to both partners and readers, are becoming increasingly important. Mainly it is also a matter of fact how carefully influencers check the information they publish. Increasingly, serious brands are refusing to cooperate with influencers with questionable reputations.

Another sign of the industry’s growth is the development of transparency, norms, and professional standards. One-third of brand representatives ask influencers not to mention that the publication is an advertisement. Even those who do not make such radical requests try to present the paid relationship more softly. For a while, the hashtag #collaboration was like an illusion of honesty, but it soon became clear that this was not the right way to go. Research has shown that more than half of Internet users do not even realize that this hashtag marks an ad.

Now, the conditions of the Consumer Protection Center are specific: paid publications must be marked with the #advertisement, and the publication must indicate the advertiser. In addition, it seems that the requirements will become more stringent.

We see that in Norway, influencers already have to point out even that the photos have been retouched. In France, child bloggers are legally protected from exploitation by parents. Moreover, social networks themselves are introducing new requirements, especially for children’s content. That also is part of the normal process of creating every serious industry.

However, there is still a big problem, how do control organizations differentiate between genuine, non-commercial influencer recommendations and paid publications? It seems that this problem cannot be solved again without a mature, ethical and responsible attitude from both influencers and advertisers.

Nevertheless, there is another hook: the sphere of influence cannot be proud of cohesion. Not only public attacks on each other but also buying of fake followers and interactions on competitors’ profiles to tarnish their reputation. Is it not time Latvian influencers to grow up to reasonable cooperation, which will allow them to solve problems in the field productively? The answer is quite clear.

What will the industry look like once it overcomes the confusing age of transition? I see that the keywords here are authenticity, transparency, responsibility, and creativity. Advertisers need to stop advertising through influencer profiles just as they do on television. That is another channel with different rules based on integrating the product into the blogger’s daily life. This is another channel with different rules based on integrating the product into the blogger’s daily life. And I’m sure we’re getting closer to results-oriented marketing, where campaigns aren’t judged by the number of publications or audiences they reach, but, for example, by the number of orders for the advertised product. Moreover, it is time to learn how to attract loyal employees and customers in the role of influencers, expanding the usual boundaries and forms of communication.

The age of transition is associated with numerous difficulties, but it is necessary to overcome them to become a full-fledged personality. It is the process features that I am currently aware of in influencer marketing. I hope that very soon we will be able to say that it has transformed into a developed industry with clear rules, valid standards, and responsible players.