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Why the influencer industry needs to come together and create a code of conduct

Why the influencer industry needs to come together and create a code of conduct

Mark Wright is CRO of Influencer.

After battling through the masses on my journey into the office this morning, my blurry eyes were drawn to an article I noticed in The Drum. In it, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed was calling for ‘urgent action’ to tackle influencer fraud.

Back in January I was talking about this market and that I had a few concerns to say the least. The year or so before that, I discussed the impact brands were having on content.

Born from comments made by Mr Weed’s adversary over at multi-national consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble's, Marc Pritchard, concerning fraudulent activity he had uncovered. I then asked how Pritchard would feel about the influencer market given what he had said about the display sector.

Hey big spender

I think Weed probably speaks for P&G and pretty much all other big online spenders. They are terrified. As I said in my last post, titled ‘The Influencer Mess’, “what governance or code of conduct allows peace of mind?” and “I truly hope, if only for the sake of Mr Pritchard’s nerves, a universal, scalable, secure and successful way of trading for this undoubtedly interesting and, potentially lucrative market, is found.”

It now turns out I wasn’t the only one worried about the state of this relatively new media channel.

In this latest article, Keith Weed discusses the need for “more transparency and regulation before trust in the space is lost forever”. He wants to “clean up the ecosystem by removing misleading engagement”.

He goes on to mention that Unilever wants to spearhead efforts to get rid of dishonest business practises. Who can blame him? As I mentioned in my last article, the majority of ‘platforms’ out there are no such thing.

To me, a long-time servant of the ad tech space, a platform should offer all of these things as standard.
In the display world, a platform is a full end-to-end solution providing clients with every capability they need from start to finish.

Loaded campaigns

You load your campaigns, you pick and choose what media and data sets you want, you can add viewability and a whole host of other security measures. You manage your payments, analytics and reporting from a one stop shop in the cloud.

This is what advertisers and their agencies are used to. How many platforms out there can truly attest to this in the influence market?

At this point I have to come clean. I now have an ulterior motive in writing this response. You may have noticed by my LinkedIn profile update, I have recently started a new position at Influencer as their new CRO.

Now whilst you cynics out there will be shouting ‘biased’ at the top of your voices, I did look long and hard into staying in this market.

Entrepreneurs everywhere are busy relieving investors of their hard-earned cash and trying to set up ‘the next big thing'.

I needed to be assured by the company I would join that they were at least some way to replicating the DSP model in the influence space. I have to admit Influencer have done that in spades and I am delighted with what I have seen so far.

What I have noticed in this market, and as mentioned in my last piece, we are seeing new ‘influencer platforms’ open every week. Like the ad network space before it, entrepreneurs everywhere are busy relieving investors of their hard-earned cash and trying to set up ‘the next big thing’.

Now, this is all well and good and, like any successful business, we welcome the competition. To us it just highlights how interesting and potentially lucrative this market has and will become. 

But, like the display network space before it, there are lots of smoke and mirrors out there to navigate one’s budgets around. I have no reason to change my belief from my last post that most of the ‘competition’ are nothing more than pretty spreadsheets, workflow tools.

Companies essentially offering an agency approach to the influencer market without actually building a platform at all. This is where Weed is right to be concerned. What are all of these new ‘platforms’ actually offering? Let’s break it down.

Most have lots and lots of influencers as standard (sometimes this is embellished), mainly ‘micro’ due to their fantastic engagement rates. All of them have pretty pictures on Instagram and sometimes Facebook. Some have PR departments whilst others have retained the services of an agent.

There is lots of noise as a result. There are some basic platforms out there, which are great at keeping tabs on the influencers that have signed up to their ‘platform’ and help account managers to choose the right influencer for the right advertiser. Some of these tools send out briefs to the influencer and can make sure the influencer is paid.

Most will tell you they have a secure vetting process of influencers but until an industry standard is developed, how can we tell? The better ones out there do capture some data, but most only capture it from the influencer’s page, therefore ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ are as clever as it gets.

In a world where agencies and their clients have been used to seeing the full marketing cycle played out before their very eyes, whilst being securely vetted, what we have currently in the influencer space is simply not good enough.

Fighting fraud 

Our CMO and co-founder Caspar Lee, says: “As the influencer market matures, it’s vital that brands are protected against certain creators using fake followers to boost fees. We need to be agile and responsible for building systems to combat this fraudulent act in our industry.”

As the influencer market matures, it’s vital that brands are protected against certain creators using fake followers to boost fees.
Caspar Lee

As I have mentioned before, in previous posts, we are in familiar territory. Those of us of a certain age remember all too well the pitfalls of the ad network space.

How did we combat it then? Well before all of the automated systems like IAS were introduced we created IASH. A governing body that was developed by all of the networks and using ABCe to audit independently. It wasn’t perfect, but it certainly helped ease most concerns.

Some sort of code of conduct needs to be developed in conjunction with an independent auditor for this space to move forward. Something that will ease the concerns of marketing executives and agencies alike and that the platforms all agree too.

Influencer today throws down the gauntlet to the rest of the industry. Let’s all get around a table and create this as soon as possible. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this market has the potential to be incredibly lucrative if we get our houses in order with enough money to go around.

We are game and will lead the charge if need be, but others must follow suit. We look forward to hearing from you all.

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