“It’s Health and Safety gone mad”
You have most likely heard this, or even have said yourself at some point. Health and Safety laws nowadays encapsulate a broad and complex range of guidelines and laws that affect all industries. But they began on a small scale amid the Industrial Revolution and were first introduced in 1833, initially to help prevent injury and the overworking of children in factories; something I’m sure we can all agree was a necessary change to make. But whilst workers welcomed these new changes and soon pushed for greater legislation, the new rules and regulations were met with intense opposition from employers who suddenly had a lot more to consider for the welfare of their staff.
Since that date, Health & Safety has evolved and developed alongside many industries to become a complex set of guidelines and laws that protect workers. There is a strong correlation between this development and a continual decline in the amount of injuries and deaths sustained in the workplace. The regulations are ever changing in reaction to new data; a major change in 2015 saw new project management procedures for construction come into place, following an increase in construction worker deaths for the first time in many years. New practices ensured that the injury and death rate continued on a downward trend once more.
Of course in practice, the influencer industry couldn’t be more different from those factories of 1833, or the construction sites of today. But in theory there are important parallels here to draw upon.
The industrial revolution was explosive; new industry, new inventions, new ways of working. For many years all of this went unregulated, to the detriment of many. Likewise, influencer marketing has been the modern explosive industry of our time. Instagram, the most popular influencer platform, has existed for less than nine years. In that time has evolved from a humble photographic feed for friends and family, to a commercial giant from which hundreds of thousands of users and brands are benefiting financially.
When an industry explodes, it begins with little or no regulation; afterall it is brand new. But a lack of regulation leads to malpractice and this in turn leads to the requirement for rules. Poor practices within the influencer industry have been a strong talking point within the community for a number of years. The increasing use of robots to gain disingenuous followings was a significant factor in the infamous 2017 Instagram algorithm changes.
But change does not always come easy and regulations can be a difficult pill to swallow for many influencers. Some may be pioneers dating back to pre-instagram and social media fame, who are used to complete and utter freedom in how they operate. Naturally, the sudden requirement to alter one’s behaviour can feel oppressive, confusing and ultimately frustrating. It is almost paradoxical to bring formalities to a world that is built on, and successful, because it is such a personable and informal account of experiences and products. The growing requirement to disclose brand relationships within an ever tighter set of criteria can certainly make an influencer feel as though they no longer have the creative freedom to share content in their own voice.
We are going to explore the latest set of guidelines, as published on Gov.uk on 23rd January 2019. We’ll look at examples of different ways to disclose partnerships in the form of product promotion on Instagram stories. For this exercise, we’ll be promoting a lovely green memo.
The first emboldened headline of the new guidelines states: ‘Say when you’ve been paid, given or loaned things.’ Prior to the new guidelines, it was the accepted standard that #Ad, #Spon or #Collab could be inserted somewhere into a post for it to be compliant with advertising regulations. The new guidelines still accept this as an acceptable method of disclosure, but go on to enforce that it must be absolutely clear. The following examples of our green memo promotion explain why:
In both images it is stated that the content is an Ad, however one is significantly easier to distinguish than the other. It must now be crystal clear to an influencer’s audience whether content is paid or gifted; disclosures cannot be camouflaged or hard to find.
Quite simply, any ambiguity is no longer accepted.
Being transparent should not mean losing your style; quite the contrary. No audience wishes to have terms reeled off to them like at the end of a radio advert, and the continued success of influencer marketing relies on audiences wanting to listen in. With these new guidelines comes a new art to master in clear disclosure, whilst maintaining organic speech.
Let’s take another look at our memo, in this example it has been gifted to us:
In both examples the audience has been clearly told that the product has been gifted by the brand. However in the second example, the disclosure has been incorporated into the personal message and delivered in the voice of the influencer. Example 1 delivers disclosure of gifting separate to the influencer’s main message and is written in a very formal manner, not befitting the influencer’s style of speech. Furthermore, it is not necessary to disclose what hasn’t taken place (which can sound defensive), only what has. This will create a more positive reading experience for the audience.
Remember those factory owners who opposed the new changes for their employee’s benefit? It is important to appreciate that these changes to how brand partnerships are disclosed are not for the benefit of the influencer, but for the benefit of the audience.
Naturally new changes within the industry spark up conversation and debate, and having built up an online network of fellow influencers it can be easy to forget that others outside of that circle are listening in. Followers who are not owners of blogs but audiences from other walks of life are unlikely to find any interest in protest over the minutiae of new industry regulations. Consider these two approaches to discussing the new guidelines on your social media:
In the first example, the post has been used as a sounding board to express frustrations at the new guidelines. Venting publically can be a tempting and personally satisfying action, but consider how this benefits your audience. A communication such as the first example could be received negatively by those for whom the guidelines have been designed to help.
In the second example, a clear and friendly message has been published addressing the new guidelines and how they will affect the consumer’s experience of content. A communication like this is inoffensive, honest and could be added as a reference (such as an Instagram highlight, pinned tweet, blog page or video description box) as an easy way for audiences to understand how you disclose partnerships to them.
Ultimately, you are the master of your own content and how you wish to convey messages to your audience. But do consider how inspiring, interesting or relevant your messages may be to those who follow you.
From an influencer’s perspective, the new guidelines mean more consideration and more scrutiny. Publicly declaring any element of your financial dealings would feel unnatural to the most open of individuals and this is a likely cause of so much aversion to more changes on what must be declared. Nonetheless, the influencer industry is a modern method of advertising products and experiences, and by that nature is required to adhere to consumer protection.
Guidelines will not go away; the influencer industry is too large and too powerful now for it to go unregulated. New rules can be difficult to adjust to, particularly if they are deemed imperfect. But with debate, trial and error they will evolve and become more refined. Change is the only constant.
Try turning these influencer scenarios into captions, written in your own style which comply with the new regulations. Remember to include clear disclosure of payment, gifting and recent or current brand relationships. Consider whether every scenario requires disclosure.