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To influence or not to influence?

5 min read

Social media influencers have been rising in power and quantity over the past decades as platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have become an integrated part of our daily lives. But, with the Influencer Marketing industry set to grow to approximately $16.4 Billion in 2022 is it time to step back and ask ourselves is this power doing more harm than good?

The Impact on mental health and body image

The now-classic quote ‘don’t compare your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel’ has become important advice for two generations of social media users. These generations are seeing unattainable lifestyles, “beauty” and fashion on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. With the near-constant reminder of our own perceived flaws, it is hard for this not to impact mental health and body image. Childcare professionals have reported seeing children as young as 6 struggle with anxiety around their own body image.

The impact of digital distortion is real. International marketing agency Ogilvy are doing incredible things to combat the impact of digital comparison for children and young people. In their latest move on the 7th April they have announced they will no longer be working with influencers who edit their bodies or face for ads. A movement they hope will help the Digital Altered Body Image Bill to pass through parliament which has been struggling to make it through the proposal process.

Limitation of laws that protect users on social media

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have introduced a limited number of policies that aim to protect consumers and make influencer more transparent about the marketing activity they do for brands. These include laws such as being transparent when working with a rand by clearly using #Ad after the brand name and making it known when products featured have been gifted.

However, enforcing these laws is proving a challenge. In 2021 an influencer monitoring report by the ASA found that influencers were only correctly disclosing ads on Instagram 35% of the time. To try and combat this sanctions for those who repeatedly break the rules have been escalated as of January 2022. New laws are being brought in, but with social media having been a part of our daily lives for over a decade, it’s somewhat disappointing that it has taken this long for the law to catch up. On the 5th April CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) announced new rules for gambling ads in order to protect young people and vulnerable audiences, but, this guidance doesn’t come into effect until October 1st.

Dangerous promotion of bad or misleading products by influencers

Problems around the dangerous promotion of products by influencers were never more clear than back in 2019 when the BBC secretly filmed three British influencers who agreed to promote a non-existent weight-loss drink that contained the fatal chemical hydrogen cyanide. Another investigation by the BBC found that all influencers asked would promote a product without trying it or checking the ingredients first.

The brighter side of influencers

It’d be unfair to write the blanket rule that all influencers are bad and we should cancel them all. In fact, lots of influencers make a positive difference to their audience whether it’s sharing body-positive messages or educational content. From alexlight_ldn who shares female body positivity to allontheboard who shares heartwarming messages, there is an array of great influencers who aim to fill your feed with positivity.

Influencer marketing also has many positive effects when both brand and influencer have aligned values and target audiences. Marketers can expect broadened reach, increased trust from users and unique content from their chosen influencers. For many brands, influencers make up a key part of their strategy and by working together they are able to grow their brand whilst working with respectable partners.

Zeals Opinions

‘I think the current raft of influencers portray a completely unrealistic and unattainable standard that can be damaging for so many young, easily-influenced people. That said, I absolutely think there is still a place for influencer activity, I just really want to see a shift in the type of influencers brands work with. I think in the main, the current raft of influencers portrays a completely unrealistic and unattainable standard that can be damaging for so so many young, easily-influenced people. That said, I absolutely think there is still a place for influencer activity, and the growing number of body-positive, mental-health-positive and wellbeing-focused influencers suggest that there is a shift happening in what people are responding well to. I really want to see a shift in the type of influencers brands work with to be more inclusive, and that does already seem to be happening.’ – Jen, Strategic Marketing Director

‘I personally only feel negativity towards influencers that promote a typically unhealthy idea of life/body imagery. I feel like as a generation, we now suffer from some of the highest anxiety/depression and certain influencers can exacerbate these feelings, especially with young women.’ – Will, Account Manager

‘I think the authenticity of influencers has come into question a lot over the last few months. It seems as though influencers are less selective about the brands they work with which not only damages their own reputation but also negatively impacts their audience. This is particularly true for influencers whose main target audience is young people. However, there are so many influencers who share positive content that can make users feel happier. By seeking out these accounts and filling our feed with their content we can change the negative echo chamber that is easily built on social media.’ – Charlotte, Social Media Executive

‘I think many influencers on social media have a negative effect on people – specifically younger people – which has a knock-on impact on their mental and general health – and which stems from the unrealistic standards and lifestyles they showcase – and the perceptions they tend to portray.

With that said I do think there are positive elements and many good influencers and micro-influencers / brand ambassadors – who are carefully selected by brands – and have a shared interest/passion that aligns with said brand. When done correctly this can help strengthen their appeal to the target audience(s).

I also agree that many modern influencers are quick to promote anything and everything without consideration and people are beginning to understand this more, which damages not only the reputation of ‘the influencer’ but also the power/influence they ultimately have for the brands they promote and the respective target audiences.’ – Jack, Senior Account Manager

In conclusion, influencers can have both positive and negative impacts on marketers and society. Our advice if you are a marketer is to ensure the influencers you are working with are authentic and keep to the advertising guidelines. It’s important an influencer’s values align with your brand in order to build trust with your target audience. If you are a social media user we encourage you to follow positive social media accounts and unfollow any that make you unhappy. You can even implement limits on yourself for the amount of time you use social media if that is something that would benefit you.