​Are the Wild West days of influencer collaboration over?

The latest AANA rulings have opened up fresh debate as to how to engage in authentic influencer collaboration


Keeping it #authentic

For brands like Tourism Australia, where transparency and authenticity lie at the heart of all social interactions, the new rules only reflect already ingrained good social practices.

“The added scrutiny being applied to social media advertising can only be a good thing,” Tourism Australia’s CMO, Lisa Ronson, says. “The more transparent companies are about their relationship with influencers, the better.”

Tourism Australia doesn’t actually pay social media influencers but does operate an international media hosting program that brings bloggers, instagrammers and other social media influencers to Australia. “We usually cover travel and ground costs, but they are not paid, nor do we exert any control on what content they might produce,” Ronson says.

From left: Tourism Australia CMO, Lisa Ronson, Luke Mangan, Chris Hemsworth, Curtis Stone and Tourism Australia MD, John O'Sullivan
From left: Tourism Australia CMO, Lisa Ronson, Luke Mangan, Chris Hemsworth, Curtis Stone and Tourism Australia MD, John O'Sullivan

One example was working with its global tourism ambassador, celebrity Chris Hemsworth, plus state and territory tourism colleagues and industry to arrange an itinerary for him and wife, Elsa Pataky.

“We were upfront that we wanted him and Elsa to share their experiences on social,” she says. “But what they chose to post and what photos they chose to let us use was entirely up to them.”

While brands like Tourism Australia cannot control what social influencers, journalists and celebrities post and are never guaranteed great content or a great story, it doesn’t worry Ronson, as she knows the brand is true and authentic.

“I’m happy with this approach for the simple reason that I have utter confidence in our brand,” she says. “We see this every day in the 3500 or so amazing photos and videos our fans and followers share with us through social. Australia doesn’t need editing. Our content works so well because it is unfiltered and authentic.”

In the long run, experts agreed the changes won’t mean social communities will be deterred from brands openly collaborating with influencers. Instead, consumers will be more trusting of authenticity and transparency.

Head of social at online marketing agency, Web Profits, Katherine Chalhoub put the onus on brands to refine their content and advertising strategies, to ensure they develop content that effectively markets their products or messages in a way that appears native to the platform.

“This will no doubt ensure the authenticity of followers who naturally engage with ads and content, as well as allowing brands to maintain a community that will likely convert and advocate for their products or services,” she says. “And I think users will appreciate the transparency. It will bring about greater awareness of influencers who regularly align their name with multiple brands, and bring into question the authenticity of influencer content, especially the kind that overtly markets products.”

Align and affiliate

Ikon Communications’ head of content, Maria Casas, suggests brands who want to maintain a good influencer relationship continue to align and affiliate wisely.

“If the output is content that provides value, rings true and is relevant to an already engaged audience, both the brand and the influencer will most likely see it is well received by their audience,” she says.

When choosing an influencer to work with on a campaign, brands should look beyond the number of likes or followers, Adelaide Social Manager’s founder, Kimberley Reddy, says.

“And at the end of the day, great content is great content. So long as influencers continue to deliver advertised or branded content in the same voice and tone their followers loved when they first began following the influencer, I can’t see these changes having too much of a negative impact,” she says.

Wright also stresses that if brands are correctly selecting already brand-aligned influencers and are allowing them to speak openly about their brand, they won’t be hugely affected by the new changes.

“Influencers and brands need to stay true to their own brand architecture regardless of gifting or payments,” she says. “If they deviate from this, it is going to be far more detrimental to them both in the long run.”

From an influencer perspective, the key thing is to work with brands they already love or aspire towards so that they maintain their consistency and don't come across as a sell out to their audience.

“If a brand is taking full control of messaging, the influencer needs to ensure that this is still aligned to how they would normally speak to their audience,” Wright says. “Influencers may not have all been to journalism school or have done marketing degrees, but they need to be ethical in how they approach their audiences, they need to treat them with respect and be open and honest if a brand has helped influence an opinion they are communicating.”

Landes notes smart influencers who have maintained an engaged audience over a period of time are already acutely aware of what their audience will and won’t accept from them, and understand the authenticity their audiences have come to expect from them. “For those influencers who have something specific to say, who speak from a position of authority or are well regarded in their specific area of influence, very little will change.”


Jill Wright has over 45,000 followers on her Instragram page, @iamjillwright
Jill Wright has over 45,000 followers on her Instragram page, @iamjillwright


Managing the rogue influencer

But not all influencers will be willing and able to comply, and brands need to prepare in advance to avoid landing in hot water with rogue influencers, Muenster warns.

“It’s important to note the influencer’s behaviour isn’t governed by the new rules, it’s the brands that are ultimately responsible,” Muenster says. “This might have a chilling effect, as brands push for more disclosure from the influencers, and you’ll have certain influencers that will say no, my community will not like that.

“It’s up to the ACCC to bring proceedings against a brand where they see a series of social posts where disclosure requirements haven’t been met and are deemed misleading to consumers.”

That is where an influencer can be brought into the problem. And the rogue problem can be compounded when the brand says they told the influencer to tag appropriately - and they didn’t. Muenster advises brands to adopt best practice and ensure if they do engage with influencers from a brand point of view, there is a contractual mechanism to control whether they go rogue.

“We know incidents rogue influencers have happened, it’s much harder to bring them into line if you don’t have a contract that forces them to comply with simple disclosure agreements like placing #ad on posts,” Muenster adds. “So strong influencer engagement relation contracts are crucial, or use a platform which has the conditions embedded within their terms of contracting – so you can actually damage control a situation that is going a bit haywire.”

Next up: Tips on how to effectively collaborate with influencers

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