Having spokespeople and reaching out to influencers to promote your product/services is an essential part of PR and Marketing.
If you can get just one influencer to say that they use your product on social media, you’re tapping into their pool of followers (which are sometimes in the millions) to widen your own reach and generate awareness and hopefully sales.
But if the celebrity is being paid to do so, is it right? What if they don’t use your products or services at all?
In the UK and US, celebrities are legally required to highlight whether money has been exchanged in return for their branded posts. This can be achieved using hashtags like #spon, #sp, #ad, etc.
Although recently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US, have decided that just displaying hashtags within a paid for post isn’t enough, as they’re not commonly understood, and are preparing to crack down on sponsored social media posts. You can read more here.
Does the use of these hashtags make sponsored content any different to traditional advertising? Do people fully understand what these mean?
I took to my own social media to find out and received the following comments:
“It is no different to promoting it via any other medium” – Ben Taylor
“It’s not right for them, in my own personal view, to be advertising anything they wouldn’t use. It shows greed and power hungriness. They shouldn’t strike up deals based on the wrong reason as it’s lying really” – Adrian Neal
While PR practitioners said:
“I think as long as the spokesperson truly believes in the product then yes. It’s when celebs flog endless products that don’t work, that’s when the lines get blurred. Especially around false advertising.” – Charlotte Hagel
“As a social media exec I rely on influencers to co-promote my clients’ products on their platforms. It’s down to the social media execs to pick a relevant influencer though.” – Megan Topham
“Now that they are required to state if it has been sponsored/paid for I think it’s a lot more transparent. It’s not something that suits every company, but for some it’s a great way to share their product and it’s more ethical now.” – Arianne Williams
And PR influencers said:
“It’s a fact of life, disclosure critical.” – Stephen Waddington
“Disclosure critical so people are aware there’s a financial relationship in play.” – Sarah Hall
The general consensus seems to be that sponsored posts like the one above are an accepted part of social media, but if influencers don’t actually use or believe in the product it could be seen as a form of deception. Also, it needs to be explicit that there is a financial incentive in place for the influencer to promote transparency.
Personally, I feel much the same. If a celebrity or influencer doesn’t believe in the product they are promoting then it needs to be clear that the post is paid for. Even though the US are reviewing their policies, something more solid needs to be put in place globally to make sure that it is explicit that the influencer has a vested financial interest.
In the world of PR, where influencer relations play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining a reputable brand, being perceived as deceitful is the last thing you want.
Take for instance the case of Naomi Campbell:
If a celebrity is being told word for word what to say – is this lying to the public?
Although a big brand like Adidas can probably afford to take this hit to their reputation, it can be much different for smaller or newer companies where their reputation isn’t as wide reaching or longstanding.
While influencer relations still falls under the remit of PR, it is essential to maintain transparency and ensure that no laws are being broken.
That being said, here are my suggestions for tackling sponsored posts:
- Decide if a sponsored influencer post is right for you – do you need to pay someone? Or is there already an influencer who would be happy to promote your products because they already use them?
- Choose a relevant influencer who actually uses your products – if you do choose to go down the route of paying someone to promote your product, make sure it is someone believable who actually uses your products. That way the public know that they are not being deceived.
- Abide by the letter of the law – Even though some countries, like Australia, don’t require you to highlight that an influencer’s post is sponsored at all, it is good practice to displays hashtags like #sp, #spon and #ad at the beginning of the post.
Sponsored endorsements on social media aren’t going anywhere any time soon and no doubt they will continue to fill our news feeds for the foreseeable future.
What do you think? Are using hashtags enough? Are sponsored posts ethical?