Opinion: influencers

Collaboration – October 25, 2016


Why did it take so long to establish rules governing the commercial practices of influencers on social networks here in Canada? Maybe because we didn’t quite understand the nature of the relationship they had with their followers?

Before continuing I just want to establish the type of influencer I am talking about in this post: not journalists or experts and researchers without monetary aims, but rather the self-appointed “experts”, and any other person on the web that has a ” following ”

Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) is aiming to better regulate the activities of people who “use social networks to promote business and products in exchange for any form of compensation”. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission ruled on this in 2009.

Have we failed to be vigilant about influencers here in Canada all this time because we believe that they are “authentic” and are “sharing their passion” with the simple aim of pleasing their fans, with little or no commercial interests?

You can easily call into question the notion of authenticity when it comes to the influencers on the web. Rather, it is a generally accepted misconception that is worth examining more closely.

Influencers, a definition

Someone who has become an Influencer is in fact, a kind of entrepreneur. This is someone who cultivates their core readers/viewers by providing a service. Either to be interesting, funny, informative, educational or authoritative. In return, most, if not all influencers aim to be paid to have captured your attention. Either they monetize on social platforms or on the website which they operate from, or by entering into contracts with companies that are “on the same wavelength.”

It starts with a kind of Micro Entrepreneurship (think of AdSense with YouTube). And for the smart/hard working/lucky on top of this gets added contracts, ‘product placement’ or ‘native advertising’, made in collaboration with companies generating influence marketing.

$ocial Media

People who feel betrayed by product placement should take a step back and consider. Why was social media developed in the first place? And why do we now have free access to all these sophisticated communication tools? Indeed, we tend to forget, but all of it has been put in place in order to establish our consumer profiles and get us to buy something in the end. These beautiful playgrounds are all quite sloped towards monetization. Social media is primarily a commercial environment. When you are a follower, you are inseparably a consumer also.

More authentic?

So then why are influencers necessarily seen as more “authentic”, more “real” than a company, for example?

To start, they present themselves as individuals. By reading their blogs or watching their videos, we imagine a one on one relationship. But also because they use their personality and human experience as a canvas. However, what they present as an “experience” is almost always a combination of “true”, romanticized and downright staged. Up to you to decide if the relationship is “genuine” or based in consumerism. Perhaps it’s both? Can it be?

Canadian Advertising Standards

Do influencers have a duty to be authentic? In fact, everyone has a duty to be honest. This is what ACS aims to impose. But don’t be fooled. When dealing with a YouTuber, you’re primarily dealing with a spokesman for his/her own online/staged business to satisfy the consumer/fan.  The real person, even if they seem convincing, is somewhere in the background.

It therefore is a given that all such work should have been subject to regulation the moment the monetization button appeared on YouTube.

It’s called consumer protection.

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