A friend of mine once said to me, “Everybody wants to sell out, they just don’t want anybody to know they’re doing it.”
It’s a philosophy that resonates in plenty of places, and if you’ve been paying attention to the ABC’s Media Watch program lately you might be inclined to agree.
Issues of journalistic integrity have been raised time and time again in segments calling out journalists and media personalities for failing to disclose paid or sponsored posts that have been shared across their social media platforms.
For eons celebrity endorsements have been a commonplace element of the traditional marketing mix – and for good reason. Often there’s a clear affinity between a brand’s consumers and their ambassadors.
We’ve become accustomed to watching a super suave George Clooney inflame our desire for pods of Nespresso, for example, and many of us are loathe to imagine what Advanced Hair Studio would be like without the glowing endorsement of national treasure, Shane Warne.
But the ubiquitous nature of social media has brought about a recognisable change in the way products are bought and sold. Avenues for exposure have increased exponentially, and a “celebrity” on the Internet can now be anyone with a multitude of followers, not just famous movie stars or international spin bowling sensations.
Take a look at this research, which has found the enlistment of mid-level influencers (people with around 2,500 – 25,000 unique monthly visitors to their blog or social media pages) drives 16 times more engagement for brands than some paid media.
Those are the kinds of numbers that make marketers sit up and pay attention and, with the deluge of products slipping into our social feeds, it seems like everybody has jumped on board at once.
Oliver Roup, Founder & CEO at VigLink, has coined this shift the “Democratisation of Commerce” – a movement that’s driven by what he refers to as the “Influencer Illuminati”.
“Illuminati” is the perfect word for capturing the essence of these changes. It manages to evoke the sway these social media influencers have over their followers, whilst also alluding to the surreptitious and arguably unprincipled way they go about their business of spruiking products online.
The journalists and TV hosts called out by Media Watch should simply know better – with codes of conduct surrounding disclosure and journalistic integrity instilled in them throughout their careers. It seems unfair to levy the same expectations at a YouTube star, or an Instagrammer with no professional insight. Or does it?
The underlying principle of journalistic integrity is that journalism is a profession the public rely on for accurate, unbiased information but, according to this Roy Morgan research, Australians now consider journalists and TV reporters to be some of the least trustworthy professions around.
It seems favour has shifted to the realm of influencers who, according to Twitter at least, are perceived as considerably more reliable. A whopping 49% of Twitter users regularly rely on recommendations from influencers, second only to direct recommendations from their friends (56%).
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By its very nature, social media is interpersonal, which may explain some of the reluctance to disclose paid or sponsored endorsements. Jezebel writer, Kara Brown says apps like Instagram allow users (particularly celebrity users) to build a semblance of authenticity.
Social media platforms provide a window into the day-to-day lives of people we would otherwise not have access to, however too much corporate infiltration can undermine the carefully cultivated bond they have with their followers.
Treading the line between driving revenue, maintaining authenticity, and upholding trust among followers can be tricky, but I’m of the opinion that no matter who the information is coming from, it’s important that the public can differentiate between a genuine recommendation and a paid or sponsored endorsement.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.