Despite the fact that the term ‘influencer’ was only officially added to the English dictionary in 2019, the concept of an individual influencing an audience has in fact been around, in some form or another, for many hundreds of years.
Some argue that this can be traced back to Ancient Rome when revered gladiators endorsed items. But arguably, one of the first influencers in its modern form was Coco Chanel, who was highly influential in the fashion world.
The emergence of social media as a marketing tool has opened up a world of opportunity for those looking to become influencers. Just a few short years ago, we may have scoffed at the idea that you could monetise an individual’s social profile but now this has become a highly lucrative career for many. But one that is not without controversy.
When we say influencer, we aren’t just talking about those promoting beauty or fashion brands; influencer marketing has been a tactic utilised by countless brands for a variety of products, from meal recipe kits to dog food, cars and even television shows.
However, many have questioned the transparency of influencers; can their word be trusted if the they have been paid by a brand to promote an item? Are they misleading their followers in doing so?
As a result of this, it is now a requirement in a number of countries to ‘mark’ a post from an individual, if that individual is discussing a product in a post for which they have been paid. In the UK, this falls under the Consumer Protection Law, which states: ‘People need to know if influencers have been paid, incentivised, or in any way rewarded, to endorse or review something in their posts. It’s important that they make this clear to their followers. This includes when a product or service has been given to them for free’. More guidance on this can be found here.
COVID-19 influencer controversy
One of the most recent controversies for influencers has emerged in recent weeks, with a significant number of ‘influencers’ posting of their travels to locations such as Dubai, with the excuse that they are travelling for work.
This has angered many, not only that they are travelling in the midst of a pandemic and flouting lockdown restrictions, but also that they are suggesting that their exotic holiday is a ‘business trip’.
At the time of writing, this is still a hot topic, and therefore the impact on how this will change (or not, as the case may be) the way in which influencers post or are viewed by their audiences, is still up for debate. It does, however, highlight the fact that influencers must not only be more transparent, but more considerate of their content output and general public feelings at that time.