Have you got it right when it comes to ethical influencer relations?

How do you approach bloggers, vloggers and other influencers online? Are they complying with regulations? And more importantly, is your relationship with these influencers ethical while adhering to the CIPR’s Code of Conduct?

By Deb Sharratt and Anne-Marie Lacey,

The term ‘influencer’ is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and the field of influencer relations is certainly a hot topic in the media. It’s being debated not only in trade publications but on a national scale too; the ASA has announced a review into how paid-for influencer and native advertising is signposted online, saying that misleading posts damage consumer trust in advertising and that filters back to the brands participating in this bad practice too.

So much so, there’s certainly a lot of talk about this idea of influencers, but do we really understand what we actually mean by this phrase, and the arena in which many PR practitioners are finding themselves?

It’s place in the PESO model:

As professional communicators, it’s widely accepted that best practice when it comes to campaign planning is to use the PESO model, starting with our owned channels and using paid, earned and shared media to help amplify our messages, increase reach and encourage engagement.  But when we talk about this idea of influencers, where does it all fit in?

Some people think of influencers as what might be described as the old-school opinion leader; you secure a piece in a national newspaper for a spokesperson for one of the brands you represent to talk about a topic of relevance to that sector. Alternatively, a third-party with considerable clout may mention your brand as a point of authority in a wider piece about a specific industry issue.  This endorsement is clearly earned – no cash, goods or other deals of a monetary value were exchanged hands.

But, if talking about bloggers and vloggers in terms of influence, often the story can be quite different. Of course, some bloggers will write about things that have been brought to their attention, and they may share the content we as professional communicators have created. That very much sits within the earned element of the PESO model – no cash or product in exchange for coverage. Simple.

However, there are a growing number bloggers, vloggers and social media stars who request payment for their work in helping a brand or organisation reach their audience with its key messages. An audience that has taken these people time and effort to create, and one they want to maintain with loyal followers, over which they certainly have a considerable degree of influence. This is not earned but paid media, and as such, any work in this area should be disclosed following the regulations and rules set down by ASA and the CAP Code.

What can we do to get it right?

Influencer relations is a minefield.  As a relatively new and emerging discipline, there are very few bloggers, PR, marketers and SEOs who fully understand the rules for ethical influencer relations when working with bloggers, vloggers and the likes.

These influencers receive numerous pitches on a regular basis offering payment for non-disclosed posts and paid follow links in a bid to boost what appears to be a brand’s organic SEO, but this clearly flouts the ASA regulations, the CAP Code, Google’s Regulations and if you’re a CIPR Member, our Code of Conduct too.

There are plenty of bloggers who are willing to accept these deals, not because they want to but because it is all that is on offer, and many don’t fully understand the often-conflicting guidelines.  Plus, if accepting these offers is the only way for influencers to generate income, then more-often-than-not, they will be accepted; after all a simple insertion of a paid follow link, which takes a matter of moments to do, can easily earn an influencer as much as a day’s work for many others.

This isn’t about vilifying bloggers at all. We have both judged PRide Awards where we have seen great influencer relations campaigns that are strategic, researched, planned, well executed and evaluated; but on a regular basis in our day-jobs, we also see PR pitches that are not.  Rather, we firmly believe it is our job as professional communicators to ensure that it is our responsibility to get it right when we are engaging with bloggers and vloggers as part of an influencer relations programme. That’s following the ASA guidelines, the CAP Code, the regulations of individual platforms and of course the CIPR’s Code of Conduct too, to ensure that we’re best-serving the brands we represent and their reputations we work so hard to protect.

An ethical approach:

If we really want the PR and influencer relationship to be valued by the brands we represent and the audiences we serve, as professional communicators, we need to be pushing for ethical best practice from within the PR profession at all times. It’s not good enough to bend the rules as far as we can in the hope that no one will check a follow link or the fact than an affiliate scheme doesn’t get a mention at the top of piece. It’s about doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

We all want our audiences to trust our clients and organisations. We have their reputation at the heart of everything we do. And this has to reach out into the blogging world.

We should be setting the tone for the PR/influencer relationship by insisting that regulations are followed while clearly detailing these expectations in contracts with influencers in order to protect the brands we represent.

There’s no doubt engaging with bloggers strategically can be great in helping to achieve your objectives; use their expertise and tap into their audiences but also ensure you are not asking them to engage in unethical activity. Ultimately, the responsibility and potential repercussions lies with us all.

Deb Sharratt and Anne-Marie Lacey are both PR & Marketing professionals, academic tutors and current Vice Chair & Chair of CIPR North East respectively, who work with influencers on a daily basis.

Deb also has her own family lifestyle, food and travel blog – My Boys Club. Anne-Marie is the current winner of the CIPR’s Outstanding Young Communicator Excellence Award, and is Managing Director of an award-winning PR and communications agency, Filament PR.

Follow them at @debsharratt @myboysclub and @AM_LaceyPR @Filament_PR.

Photo by Dũng Trần Việt on Unsplash

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