I recently read an article titled, "Can influencers and authenticity ever be compatible?” The article stated, “Influencers say their sponsored posts are authentic because they genuinely like and use the products they promote. But those posts are also intentionally meant to blend in with their organic content. For consumers, this can raise questions. When am I being advertised to? Is this ad copy, or someone’s real opinion?"
The truth is, influencer content is all of the above and more: It is an ad, of sorts, and it is a real person’s opinion. But the best influencer content is a story that inspires, connects and engages the audience in a genuine way.
Authenticity is key to influencer content. It is built off of being honest and personable, as well as understanding your audience and what engages them. In my opinion, influencer marketing only works when there is authenticity. And authenticity starts with full disclosure.
Authenticity requires transparency.
Sponsored content needs to be clearly disclosed at the top or beginning of a post. This is where authenticity begins: fully disclosing that the influencer was compensated in some form, whether monetarily or through the gift of a product. Studies have shown that influencers rely on the companies that hire them to direct them on proper disclosure. But at this point, influencers shouldn't rely only on what a brand tells them to do. Influencer marketing has been around for a few years now, and we all know the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules.
Disclosures let readers know a post is sponsored. Without a clear disclosure, the reader has every right to question the authenticity of the content. And by clear, I mean stating #ad or #sponsored. All too often, I see influencers using hashtags that either don't disclose a relationship or that are buried in the middle of a post.
While disclosures are necessary, it's also important to have a balance between sponsored and non-sponsored content. I recently scrolled through the account of an influencer I met back in 2009, and seemingly every post consisted of sponsored content from a different brand! To me, this is a sign that an influencer has lost their authenticity and become little more than a corporate shill.
Authenticity means giving the product or service context.
Influencer marketing is supposed to be about strong storytelling and giving a product or service context in the influencer’s life. As the audience, we relate to the content because it establishes empathy or some kind of synergy with our lives; it makes us laugh, educates us or provides value. Audiences don’t relate to content that is pure shilling for the product or company. Authenticity comes from being genuine.
Being genuine means the influencer should only choose assignments that are true to the personal brand they are creating. For instance, I once saw a travel influencer do a sponsored post for baby food, which is far from being genuine, considering that influencer doesn't have any children. The audience will question content that is not consistent with what the influencer typically writes or posts about and will definitely call into question the influencer’s authenticity.
Authenticity comes from how an influencer addresses their audience.
The best content comes from being real and is written as if the writer is speaking to you directly. Influencer content isn’t supposed to be editorial or product copy. It’s meant to be a story that is real, personable and inspiring. How an influencer writes is just as important as what the influencer writes about.
Will a lack of authenticity kill influencer marketing? Potentially. But I doubt it. Word-of-mouth marketing has been around forever. But authenticity is the first thing marketers should look at when choosing which influencers they want to work with.