THE LINE BETWEEN PRIVACY AND TRANSPARENCY
The reality is that we are all – influencers, creators and audiences alike – learning how to navigate the world of social media. Much like any other industry in its early stages, mistakes will be made. Consider the first years of any other media sector and there are some outstandingly bad examples of campaigns not hitting the mark or in some cases causing unintentional offence (if you’ve watched early seasons of Mad Men, you’ll get where we’re going).
The conversation surrounding influencer transparency and their privacy is a difficult one with the industry still struggling to find the line between being authentic but still protecting oneself from the pressures and criticism that come with having a large online profile. Yes, regulatory bodies have made a firm attempt to ‘manage’ influencer marketing but the reality is there is a way to go. As it stands in the UK, what little regulation there is, hasn’t been formalised or officially made law; it’s instead a guideline.
Over the last ten years, the online world has blossomed and an industry has fully opened up, filled with possibilities What was once an intimate pocket of the internet has grown in to a rapidly expanding industry. Those who were vlogging beauty tutorials from their bedrooms are now more likely to be found navigating themselves through parenting, renovating or more general trials of adulthood. Furthermore, whereas there were 1,700 ‘professional’ influencers, we now have over 200,000 people claiming some degree of taxable revenue to the HMRC.
The acceptance of ‘content creator’ as a career has meant that many influencers who started out anonymous, sharing their blogs under a pseudonym and OOTD photos with their heads artfully cropped away, are now unafraid and unashamed about sharing both their faces and their real names online. This move away from anonymity has turned the industry tide in the the opposite direction, with many issues now arising surrounding the privacy of those who choose to live their lives online. Most influencers will say that they feel part of their popularity is because of their lifestyle, and the personalities they bring to the content. Recently, daily vloggers the Saccone-Joly family shared a video explaining the issues that they are having surrounding the security of their children as a result of sharing minor details online, and being candid on camera.
It seems like a simple equation; go about your daily lives and talk to the internet about it. Become popular, gain a following, and then earn money for doing what you’d do anyway. The relatability of influencers is why they’re unique and sharing ‘real life’ can help reinforce this. You don’t often see traditional celebrities discussing the stresses of work or how they like to clean their house, although we recognise the line between a ‘celebrity’ and an ‘influencer’ is becoming blurred thanks to the surge of reality television. The fact that an audience can relate their own lives to that of an influencer is the main reason paid influencer content is so successful – the trust that anything an influencer promotes is also a part of that lifestyle, is there. However in our view, badly positioned campaigns (which can be the fault of both the brands themselves and the influencers deciding to take the work) have damaged the trust, causing an understandable push back from audiences.
But then, what is the best approach to balancing the need to be relatable and authentic with the need for online security? In our opinion it’s a 50/50 problem and feedback both ways is very valuable. Influencers need to accept that given some poor examples in the industry, questions will be raised. We feel influencers are often too quick to be offended; it needs to be remembered that the general public (who aren’t advertising experts) will have questions about how the world of social media and influencers works. However we also feel audiences are very quick to judge those who don’t necessarily deserves to be – we shouldn’t paint all influencers with the same brush, the majority of people have the best of intentions.
POSITIVES TO INCREASED TRANSPARENCY AND AUTHENTICITY:
The closer the bond between an influencer and their following, the better the relationship. This often also correlates with the level of intimacy being shared in the online space. It means that followers are more likely to act on an influencers recommendations, engage with paid content and support any other career progressions that they choose to take.
Builds Closer Communities
Sharing day-to-day life and life events with an audience allows them to get to know the influencer on a personal level. This closeness and authenticity often makes influencers feel more ‘real’ than traditional celebrities, therefore making them much easier to relate to. The community created by influencers often gives back too, with audiences glad to share recommendations and advice whenever an influencer asks.
Illicit Stronger Engagement
Like it or loathe it, stronger engagement results in greater commercial opportunities and is the backbone to any influencer’s success. The better a person relates to an influencer and the closer they feel to them, the more they will appreciate the content that the influencer is producing. Audiences engage much more with content that they can relate to their own lives and that feels more intimate.
However, there are also consequences to having a more open life online. For example, the pressures of online life and the need to constantly be producing content and engaging with your audience can often become too much for people. There is also the risk with putting information about yourself online that it can be used in harmful ways. Although we don’t see this often, it is not uncommon for influencers to receive messages from trolls relating to aspects of their personal life that they would not have wanted releasing online.
INFLUENCERS: HOW TO MANAGE WHAT YOU SHARE ONLINE
We spoke to influencers about how they cope with the pressures of online life and what their best advice is when it comes to creating a healthy balance of authenticity whilst still maintaining an element of privacy.
1. Consistency Is Key
Your following will only expect you to be as open as they are used to. Once you have shared a certain amount it is difficult to regress. For example, if you have shared a lot of information about a particular relationship, an audience will expect to be kept in the loop when it comes to that relationship.
2. Produce Content That You’re Comfortable With
The content you produce massively affects what an audience will expect from you. Social media exists for the curious to thrive; if you put your friends/child/partner online understand that your audience may want to know more than what you tell them. What you project to your following is up for debate by them, and you essentially reap what you sew.
Similarly if you choose to share only a proportion of a situation online, understand you will be judged on that very information. Don’t be angry that your audience doesn’t understand something, when you haven’t explained it. However, producing purely informational content rather than less edited content such as daily vlogs gives less of an insight into your life and therefore reduces the personal relationship between an influencer and their audience.
3. You Do You
It’s totally up to you how much you choose to share online, whether it’s a highly curated selection of content or an absolutely honest reputation of your life. At the end of the day, it’s you that pushes share on each post so if you don’t feel comfortable with the world seeing it, you don’t have to share it.
AUDIENCES: HOW TO HANDLE INFLUENCER CONTENT
Firstly; understand that you are not owed anything from an influencer. Much like any other media publication, content is shared and created as they wish to. Secondly; remember these people are humans. They have feelings and emotions just like anyone else and publicly citing negative your opinion on them (be that on their pages, or a forum) is unkind, unfair and uncalled for.
If you do take issue with content an influencer is producing, we feel constructive criticism should be well received – and often is! As we have said, this industry is as new for the influencer as it is for you. Therefore, sending a polite note to detail how the content made you feel and how you think it could have been better positioned is, in our minds, a good move.
If you do have a genuine concern for somebody’s wellbeing or safety, of course as a responsible citizen you should take action. However, perhaps consult with a friend and ask if they agree with your perception – as (as happened with the Saccone Joly’s) calling out the emergency services can be a waste of crucial public resources.
As with any new and developing industry, mistakes are made and there is not yet a system in place to deal with these. 2019 has seen significant ‘tidying up’ of influencer marketing with new ASA guidelines requiring a need for increased transparency in terms of how influencers make money. However, as previously mentioned there are still some gaping holes and absolutely no formal advice surrounding privacy for influencers or the families they involve in their content. Inevitably as the industry stabilises and finds its rhythm, legislation will be introduced to protect the private lives of those online.
For now though, we must rely on the moral perspectives of both creators and followers. Audiences must be considerate to influencers and the people included in their content and vice versa – say it with us now, all you need is love (or maybe, likes)!