Pradeep Menon
Guest Article

Influencing is no longer easy

The government has released regulations for social media influencers. What does it mean for the influencer world?

It was heyday for anyone, from celebrities to overnight viral content creators, on social media to make fast money through advertising products/services. Brands and companies were wooing the so-called influencers and running around from one to another, expecting to reach their huge number of followers.

Digital and influencer marketing companies, and social media managers popped up everywhere, doing the job of canvassing the advertisers and acting as custodians of the influencers. Now, the government has brought in regulations for social media influencers, which basically bring them into the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act. 

More responsibility for influencers gives more rights to consumers

The regulations makes it clear that from now on, the influencers will have the responsibility on the claims made by them on behalf of the company/brand/product/service. This is a huge move to bring more transparency into social media advertising where, at present, anyone can promote any product through their social media handles. And, the consumers haves no place to complain about the quality of the product or service they buy, believing the influencers they follow.

The regulations also state that the influencers should clearly use, in speech and writing, the words ‘advertisement’, ‘collaboration’, ‘partnership’, ‘paid promotion’ or ‘ad’ or ‘sponsored’ in the images or videos promoting any product/service. This brings in more clarity for the consumers. At present, most endorsements done by influencers, are disguised as genuine and the viewers have no clue that it's an ad.

The most important regulation is that the influencers who promotes a product/service, will be held responsible for the quality of the promise mentioned in their endorsements. It's also suggested that before promoting a product or service, the influencers must have used it and considerably convinced about the promise offered through the endorsement.

At present, in many endorsements by the influencers, the viewer who's their ardent fan or follower, is duped into believing that the product or service mentioned in the video, is genuinely used by the celebrities or influencers. With the regulations, a consumer who believed in the influencer's endorsement and isn't satisfied with its outcome, can sue the company promoting the brand. Also, the influencer can be included as a party responsible for the endorsement.

In short, from now on, anyone who promotes a product/service through their social media handles, will have to take the responsibility when the consumers believes their rights have been breached and take the route of complaining through the Consumer Protection Act provisions.

Good news

There are many pros of this regulation. At present, there are many misrepresentations going on through social media, where the consumers believe in the influencers they follow. Most endorsements are disguised and planted as normal talk of the influencers, where the followers believe them to be true.

For example, a cosmetic endorsed by an influencer as part of his/her daily body care routine, is not even once used by the influencer. The followers, when they buy the product, become consumers, but they have no outlet to complain about the product or complain against the endorser of the product, in this case the influencer.

Recently, the same regulation was brought into TV advertising. An actor who endorses through TV ad, will be held responsible for the promise. So, this is good for the consumers, as this regulation gives more importance for their basic right to knowledge, where they get the right info before making a purchase.

Another good takeaway is that these regulations will bring back the importance of creative content in social media ads. Rather than just putting words in an influencer’s mouth to promote a brand, the brands will have to go back to creating creative content to attract the viewer. As the influencers have to show, in writing and speech, that what they're doing is a paid promotion, the viewers can’t be duped into buying a product or service.

Another important takeaway is that the brand owners can save a lot of money that otherwise is spent blindly on social media influencers, thinking they can influence their followers all the time. The effectiveness of the social media influencer, really depends upon the age-old advertising rules, like reaching the right target audience through the right communication message. At present, there is a huge amount of money being pumped into marketing through social media influencers. 

Will this work?

We have no dearth of regulations in India, but how many of them work, is a quintessential question applicable here too. To implement these regulations with content overflowing in all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the regulators will face a huge challenge, unless high-end technology is used to go through such mountains of content - all through the Internet.

Another key impact will be the fact that while there's no easy source to check the quality of a product or a service, how can a person who just endorses a product, make sure that the promise made in his or her endorsements are true or not. An endorser being held responsible for the quality of the promise in the ad, seems to be almost next to impossible in the present circumstances. 

Another problem will be the right platform to complain for the consumer. Already in today’s world, an average customer finds it difficult to find the platform to lodge their grievances. It is a fact that most complaints are attended by even the big brands only when we splash it publicly through a platform like Twitter, rather than their published phone numbers or email IDs found on their websites or packages.

Last but not the least, all these regulations affect only the small players, as the big ones have the capability to adapt to the cost increase for creating creative content and also roping in celebrities as influencers. The celebrities who're the biggest gainers in this social media influence marketing business, will continue to get more out of this. The smaller brands that were earlier looking for cheaper non-celebrity influencers, will now think twice before spending huge sums to promote their brands, keeping all these regulations incorporated in their product ads.

The non-celebrity viral video content makers who were making a lot of money through their channels, will now be left in the lurch, as the brand owners may not be that inclined to promote through them anymore, with these regulations. Also, non-celebrity viral content creators aren't well equipped to take up the responsibility of their endorsements. So, they may have to find other sources to make money from their content now.

Transparency and responsibility is good, even in advertising

Transparency is the keyword in advertising. Basically, advertising is done to give maximum information on a product or service to the consumer. How it's done, is the creative part in advertising. Responsibility is also an important part in advertising a product. A promise is made to the consumer by a brand, and when responsibility is there on every stakeholder who gives that promise, the consumer becomes more attached to the product.

There's a misconception in the minds of advertisers regarding these basic tenets of marketing communication, as the social media influencer marketing strategies were thought to be the biggest way to reach the customer that, in fact, is not proved by studies as cost effective or result-oriented. So, these regulations are good. 

The author, Pradeep Menon, is co-founder, head - branding & strategy at Black Swan (India) Ideations

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