Do you base all of your purchasing decisions on filtered Instagram posts with paragraphs and paragraphs of hashtags that are blurred out in a haze of consumerism? Are you suspicious of any product or service that doesn’t appear on social media, for fear that it’s “only for old people”?
As a result, do you find yourself refusing to buy anything that can’t be purchased on a smartphone? Have you been drinking a lot of diet tea and wearing a lot of weirdly specific sock brands lately?
If this sounds uncomfortably familiar, you or someone you love may have fallen prey to the increasingly unavoidable population of influencers. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s a word for people who spend a lot of time getting paid to do things that other people do for free, like wearing socks and using Instagram filters. Considering the growing popularity of the term, and the occupation, the wordsmith in me feels the need to develop a term for influencers in aggregate.
A pride of lions, a murder of crows . . . a hashtag of influencers?
Influencers are usually paid per post or per campaign by the various brands they endorse, and they’re making more moolah than seems decent. The Kim Kardashians of the internet make upwards of $500,000 for each endorsed campaign, and users with three million plus followers can expect a tidy $75,000 or more per sponsored post. I would wear a lot of sock for that kind of money.
Influencer marketing is all about establishing credibility and trying to get social media users to forget they’re being marketed to.
But it’s definitely still marketing, and shocking as it may seem, there are rules for that.
Cracking down gently
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that they’d sent out 90 gentle reminder letters to rogue hashtaggers who are “forgetting” to disclose paid posts, or who are burying “#ad” in an unreadable puddle of hashtag vomit which, even if their followers are super interested in the influencers #hashtags, might not even show up, since there are usually only three lines shown per post on the mobile app before you have to click that annoying “more” button, which, #aintnobodygottimeforthat #notanad #ijustlikeoutdatedreferences #amidoingthishashtagthingright?
That was so annoying to type, and I hope nobody read it because it’s dumb.
So in their letters, the FTC recommends (like the way a law recommends that you follow it) placing the disclosure above the “more” button, and ensuring that the disclosure truly is “clear” and “conspicuous,” as per the law.
These letters are the FTC’s half-hearted response to a petition filed by a group of consumer advocates that was filed last year.
The petition cited shady ads by Insta-influencers, and Public Citizen, one of the groups spearheading the petition, seems to be happy with the letter thing.
“We live in an era where celebrities and average citizens are sharing every detail of their lives on social media, from what they ate for breakfast to selfies featuring their ‘favorite’ products. It is often unclear whether an Instagram user is paid to post a product endorsement or if they genuinely use it,” said campaign coordinator Kristen Strader. “That’s exactly why brands are using influencer marketing as a primary way to reach young consumers.”
But she went on to emphasize the importance of, you know, actually doing something about it.
“Until the FTC takes enforcement actions against repeat offenders, the culture around influencer marketing will not change and consumers will continue to be misled.”
Same old, same old
As far as I can tell, there’s no reason this little letter will change anything. If they’ve gotten away with it up until now, why should they change their stealthy hashtagging ways?
Does that even make sense? That’s not the point. You know the point. A snail mail hand slap isn’t going to change the status quo. Let’s see the FTC actually tackle regulating social media marketing, instead of #pretend-caring.