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When it comes to influencer relationships, it’s complicated


Authored by Keith Weed

Unilever’s Keith Weed calls time on fake followers and bots

influencer recording on a camera

About the author

Keith Weed

Keith Weed

As Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith is a member of the Unilever
Executive and responsible for Marketing, Communications and Sustainable
Business. He has held this role since 2010.

In just a few short years, influencer marketing has grown from a nascent, test-and-learn approach to an established way for marketers to create authentic relationships with consumers. As with any new channel, while we’ve been busy unlocking the opportunities and the benefits of a broader digital ecosystem, bad habits have sprung up and it’s all become a little complicated. It’s this state of flux where an eruption of poor practices such as fake followers, bots, fraud or dishonest business models have developed; practices which are eroding trust in the whole system.

For brands and companies across the world, the idea of endorsement isn’t new. Building a network of advocates for our brands who enrich them with ideas, content and buzz is still part of how we create better experiences for consumers. However, now, with the rise of creators on social media, we’ve placed that endorsement in the context of online platforms.

At Unilever, we believe working with creators is an important way to generate engaging content to reach and build trust with our audiences, and so we strive to establish mutually beneficial partnerships. In this sense, influencer marketing is so much more than just paying people or groups to post content with #ad or #spon. Fundamentally, it’s always been about building and nurturing authentic and credible relationships with people who understand and are close to the brand.

It’s this authenticity and credibility that is under threat from bad practices. That’s why, at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity last month, I announced three commitments to increase visibility and transparency within influencer marketing:

  • Transparency from Influencers: We will not work with influencers who buy followers.
  • Transparency from Brands: Our brands will never buy followers.
  • Transparency from Platforms: We will prioritise partners who increase transparency and help eradicate bad practices throughout the whole ecosystem.

Fake followers and bots have been a silent issue on the minds of many in the industry – the elephant in the room. Having an artificially-inflated follower count made up of bots and redundant accounts is at best deceiving and at worst, fraud. It serves no one and undermines trust in the entire system.

We now have an opportunity to reset. And the good news is, I’m already seeing progress. Just this week, Twitter committed to cleaning up the digital space by removing fake and redundant accounts from its platform globally. This is a big step for the industry and shows the market is moving in the right direction.

Greater transparency leads to greater authenticity, which in turn builds trust. Only through working collectively to push for greater transparency and collaboration across the digital supply chain will we deliver better results for brands – and ultimately better serve the needs of our consumers.

So, we’re not breaking up with influencer marketing, and we don’t intend to. Instead, we are looking forward to continuing to work with our partners over the coming months to ensure that collectively we rebuild trust before it’s lost forever.

This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn 17/07/2018

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