Influencer marketing: Putting ethics before clicks

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

© Ross Helen / Getty Images
© Ross Helen / Getty Images

Related tags Social media influencers

The "next big thing" in social media marketing will be campaigns which build consumer trust by moving from the digital world to IRL (in real life) events, according to influencer marketing strategist Frida Waywell.

“A lot of health brands thriving today are thriving because of their marketing budgets, not necessarily because of the ingredients in their products or the scientific backing behind them—that’s a big issue," she told NutraIngredients.

“At the same time, there’s no denying influencer marketing is the best way to market online right now, especially for those in the health and nutrition space. Everybody is on social media, from the Boomers through to Gen Z. It’s where younger audiences go to socialize, to be inspired and to educate themselves. At the end of the day, you’ve got to meet the customer where they’re at.”

The social media advertising market has seen an impressive 4.53% annual growth rate and is expected to reach $247.30 billion by 2027 (Statista). And with 50% of Millennials placing their faith in social media influencers’ product recommendations (Morning Consult), this is a clear route to customers' hearts.

But Instagram marketing comes with a bad rep so Waywell understands the resistance of some to jump on this opportunity.

“I understand why people see it as unethical because there are a lot of people out there promoting quick fixes, but there are much better ways to do it,” she said.

In an effort to support brands who want a more ‘ethical’ route to success, Waywell’s health- and nutrition-focused influencer marketing agency Locus only works with companies that are science backed and looking to educate the consumer rather than simply sell quick fixes and make fast returns.

She noted one challenge for supplement brands marketing online is that they have to allows sufficient time for the influencer to take the product and feel the benefit.

“If you want them to talk about the benefits they’ve noticed, the brand will need to be patient and give them a few months to continuously take that product.”

Short-form videos—typically less than a minute in length—capture the attention of 66% of consumers. These bite-sized, and highly shareable, videos are 2.5 times more engaging than longer videos.

What's more, 84% of people said they visited a website after watching a video ad about the brand’s products or services.

(Sprout Social)

Another challenge for health brands, is breaking down the science behind the products. As such, Waywell's team works closely with U.S.-based strategic partner in science communication Scicomwiz to help clients explain their product benefits in a social media friendly manner.

"We will provide influencers with a brochure of information outlining the ingredients in each product and what can and cannot be said about each," Waywell explained. "Many influencers do take their role seriously and do want to make the extra effort to read-up and ensure they are well informed."

According to social media management platform Sprout Social, today’s brands are held to a higher standard than friends, family and even politicians, with 81% of individuals believing social media has raised the bar for business accountability.

"Consumers are savvy now and they will call out someone if they are clearly promoting a product they know nothing about,” Waywell added.

The next big thing 

Waywell also noted that with so many health and nutrition brands appearing on this platform, brands need to do more  to stand out from the crowd.

"To create momentum around your brand you don’t need to launch a new product, you can simply create an aspirational campaign with a hero product," she said.

"You need to carefully select the right influencers for the mission, and you need to maintain that relationship with the influencer to ensure you remain front of mind and that they continue to share your message even after the initial deliverables have been delivered—this is all time consuming and where an agency can support.

To then build momentum around the campaign IRL, she noted strategies including organizing events, workshops, exercise classes or establishing partnerships with local businesses or special events like a marathon. She highlighted that brands MyProtein, MyShark, InnerMost and Pureness are doing this particularly well.

“These brands are great at bringing communities together online and in person," she said. "And once people have attended these events it makes them loyal to the brand—they’ll think ‘I know the brand, I know the people behind it, I trust them, why would I go anywhere else’."

Regulation tightening 

Member states across Europe are cracking down on unethical and illegal online marketing practices.

The UK Government will soon introduce the hotly anticipated Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill​, created to see stricter enforcement of consumer protection laws related to online marketing of products.

The Bill will give the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), rather than the courts, the power to determine directly whether consumer laws have been breached and impose penalties of up to 10% of a company's global turnover.

Mark Tallon, chief executive officer at Legal Products Group Ltd, told NutraIngredients earlier this year that this will have a significant impact for the functional food and supplements industry, especially with regards to misleading green claims​, fake reviews, subscription services and influencer promotions.

And Italy recently introduced new advertising guidelines​ for social media influencers, which will see the most influential online celebrities regulated by the same authority as mass media outlets.

AGCOM (the Italian Authority for Communication Guarantees), which has traditionally regulated the mass communications and multimedia services, announced the new "Guidelines on Influencers" at the start of 2024, aimed at guaranteeing compliance by influencers with the provisions of the consolidated law on audiovisual media services.

The guidelines concern commercial communications, the protection of fundamental human rights, safety of minors and the values of sport, providing a mechanism for the authority to give warnings, orders to remove or adapt content and issue hefty fines.


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