Influencer marketing: An undeniable opportunity for science education

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

© RossHelen / Getty Images
© RossHelen / Getty Images

Related tags influencer marketing Social media Regulation

Influencer marketing continues to grow, with collaboration and authentic communication key to brand survival, according to experts presenting at the recent Vitafoods event in Geneva.

The profession is going to keep gaining momentum, Ben Jeffries, co-founder of the influencer partnership company told the audience at the Future of Nutrition Summit, the pre-Vitafoods symposium.

"It started 10 years ago as a PR afterthought," he said. "If there was any budget leftover, then it would go to influencers and content creators, but brands have now seen the value in working with creators on social media to cater specifically to the size and style of their audiences."

According to Jeffries, the most successful creators are the most relatable, which indicates why brands should be taking a step away from celebrity brand endorsement.

"People often saw celebrities as very inspirational, whereas they see creators as aspirational and feel that much closer human connection," he said. 

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"What has typically happened in the past is that when you want to find something out, you Google it, but we now see that a lot of Gen Z in particular will go to TikTok and search, for example, ‘biohacking technique’,” he explained. 

"Because of this shift, brands need to make sure they're part of it, utilizing platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and even Snapchat after its significant comeback, so they don’t get left behind."

Snapchat, which was once pigeonholed as a domain for younger users, has had a resurgence in popularity since introducing new features, enhancing the user experience and added advertising opportunities. 

But TikTok remains number one, Jeffries added, noting that it is crucial for brands to use, thanks to its algorithm's ability to promote products effectively. 

“Businesses need to adopt a TikTok-first approach and leverage creators to establish their brand's voice on the platform,” he advised. 

Part of the benefit is that consumers can see how a product works, making it much more accessible. "By leveraging social channels, companies can effectively communicate product benefits and engage with audiences through storytelling and sharing user experiences,” Jeffries said.

Learning to adapt

The industry will need to learn to adapt as consumers increasingly turn to TikTok for health and nutrition information, Elizabeth Thundow, VP of management consulting at global market research and advisory firm Kline & Company said during a panel discussion on consumer education in the influencer economy at Vitafoods.

While she considered that its growth could indicate a failure of the wellness industry to effectively engage with the public in science-based conversations, sheexplained the challenge remains for the industry to learn how to convey complex health messages in short video formats without blaming social media for its popularity. 

"Both Generation Alpha—those born between 2010 and 2025—and Millennials are very concerned about their health and the world around them," she noted. "They frequently go online, particularly to look at product reviews before making purchases, which feeds into why we see such growing popularity in influencer marketing."

According to Thundow, around 32% of influencer content relates to food, nutrition and diet, and as population access to social media grows, she expects this will only increase. 

"We can anticipate a significant evolution in social media over the next two decades, which only makes the importance of maintaining control and responsibility even higher,” she said.

Thundow also highlighted the need for industry to communicate its message effectively to consumers, suggesting that while regulation plays its part, it is crucial for companies to protect their own category by ensuring consistent and accurate messaging.

"We need to protect the whole category because one brand can be as strict as you like, but if someone else in your category isn’t, then that brings down the whole category's reputation," she concluded. 

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Regulation has struggled to keep up with the nutrition industry’s evolution away from pharmacy to e-commerce, said panelist Simon Pettman, executive director of the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA). 

"With the rise of e-commerce and paid influencers, managing and regulating this landscape has become more complex, and we need coordinated efforts to address these challenges,” he noted.

Yet government and regulation bodies are struggling to communicate their messages, he explained, adding that this is affecting how brands and content creators can be held accountable when they break or bend the rules.

"You see some good examples in countries like Turkey where they place quite significant fines on people who have transgressed, but it's going to take a lot more bravery from many government to move forward," he said, calling for improved alignment and further development of a code of good practice for influencers. 

“We need more education for everyone involved in the influencer process on how to adhere to regulations and prevent government backlash, and this should be a top priority,” he said. 

With better guidance, brands, regulation bodies and influencers should be able to work together, which is particularly important as the profession of influencer marketing grows, Pettman explained. 

"We've got many smaller influencers out there, and we've just got to work to try and bring them into the fold," he noted. "We should be encouraging credibility, and guiding influencers in a positive direction to maximize impact—it will be the influencers who follow sound principles that will remain relevant in 10 to 20 years.”

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