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The Influencer Zone: Navigating Sponsored Posts on Social Media

Inbound Marketing


There you are, scrolling on Instagram, occasionally throwing out a like or two (and feeling oh-so-generous for doing so). As you make your way through the feed, you admire witty captions, laugh at posts of dogs looking nothing less than adorable and generally begin to unwind as you catch up on what’s happened in the world the last ten minutes. But wait, you’ve been scrolling for a while now; shouldn’t you be caught up? The answer is no. You’ve been bombarded with sponsored posts from actors and actresses, athletes and wannabe models. What’s happening?

You’ve just crossed over into… The Influencer Zone.

Examples of Sponsored Posts

The Influencer Zone is full of sponsored posts. If you’ve come across any of the following posts or ones similar to them, you can almost guarantee they were sponsored:

  • Influencers wearing workout clothes with their makeup and hair perfectly done while holding tea that they swear helps you lose weight. (No they’re not perfectly toned because they work out twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It’s the tea, they swear!)
  • Influencers casually sipping on a soda or eating their “favorite” snack. (One actress that comes to mind coincidentally has the most liked Instagram account to date.)
  • Influencers who display a teeth-whitening kit while flashing their pearly white smile that most likely didn’t come from a box.

Why Does It Matter?

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? Everyone knows those posts are fake anyway. It doesn’t matter.” Wrong. It does matter. Think about it like this: you’re choosing somewhere to eat on a Friday night. A fancy steakhouse downtown, let’s call it “Le Filet”, has great reviews on Yelp, a site you feel you can trust. Customers swear it’s the best steak you’ll ever have. So you head down to Le Filet only to realize that it’s a grimy restaurant with serious health code violations. Later you come to find out that the restaurant had paid these customers to give them excellent reviews. Feeling a bit manipulated, huh?

It’s the same situation on Instragam and other social media sites. Why? You trust these influencers. Perhaps it’s their lavish lifestyle or powerful personas, but we want to believe that whatever they’re using, we can use too and maybe, just maybe, it’ll get us one step closer to achieving their seemingly perfect life. Unfortunately, we’re investing our money into products that really don’t work and that’s just not okay. You don’t want to be stuck in The Influencer Zone, do you?

Is Anyone Doing Anything About This?

Fortunately, there’s hope. According to Bloomberg, the FTC is getting stricter on influencer posts that were paid for by brands.

“We’ve been interested in deceptive endorsements for decades and this is a new way in which they are appearing,” said Michael Ostheimer, a deputy in the FTC’s Ad Practices Division. “We believe consumers put stock in endorsements and we want to make sure they are not being deceived.”

Some influencers are trying to follow the rules, though, such as posting with #ad at the bottom. Or they’ll post with #sp or #spon — but these hashtags aren’t necessarily widely understood. Then there’s the other issue that as other social media platforms, such as Snapchat, are being used to sponsor brands, how do influencers communicate to their audience that they were paid for the post?

While influencers need to do their best in communicating honesty, the FTC also must clearly communicate what is expected of the influencers. For the time being, influencers can follow general FTC Guidelines on the topic: “If a consumer knew an endorser was compensated in any way, would that alter the view of the endorsement?”

How Do I Escape The Influencer Zone?

For now, my suggestion to you is that when an influencer’s platform displays a product in a manner that appears promotional in any way, you should think twice about purchasing it. It may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

(Also, never go to a restaurant named “Le Filet.”)

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