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08/09/2012 by

Is Instagram Influencer Marketing Misleading?

Since Facebook acquired Instagram, marketers are increasingly using high profile Instagrammers for their influencer marketing. At the same time, discussions arise among hardcore Instagrammers on how to deal with this type of advertising.

Is Instagram Influencer Marketing Misleading?

Let’s take a closer look at how influencers deal with these situations.

In exchange for money, trips, or other goodies, Instagrammers are flown in to capture a brand’s products or events on their smartphones.

Consequently, these photos are uploaded on the brand’s and/or Instagrammer’s profile, to create as much awareness for the brand as possible.

Now the question rises among hardcore Instagrammers: to which extent must an Instagrammer indicate that he or she was commissioned by a brand to take these photos, as to prevent the possibility of misleading the audience?

Until now, most brands have paid Instagrammers in kind. Puma, for example, sent 10 influential Instagram and Tumblr users to Abu Dhabi to capture Puma’s sailing team in action during the Volvo Ocean Race.

Their photos were posted on their own and Puma’s profile pages, and hash tagged with the words #Puma and #MarMostro (the name of Puma’s sailboat).

In exchange, the influencers received a free flight to and stay in Abu Dhabi. Each user posted multiple photos over the course of one week.

In Influential Instagrammer Anthony Danielle’s (@takinyerphoto, 200,462 followers) case, only one of these postings explicitly mentioned flying to Abu Dhabi on behalf of Puma, a posting that could easily be missed by followers who do not check Instagram daily.

Even though these influencers were not paid in the traditional sense of the word, should they explicitly mention in every posting that they were asked by a brand to take photos?

No, says Instagrammer Brian DiFeo (@bridif, 138,406 followers):

“I’m just sharing my experiences with my audience. Sometimes it’s personal and sometimes it’s professional.”

As one of Instagram’s widely used influencers, DiFeo has plenty of experience in this area. Being an influential Instagrammer, he has worked with paying brands such as Samsung and Nike.

To raise awareness for Samsung’s new Galaxy Note smartphone, DiFeo, along with fellow NYC influencers @takinyerphoto, and Liz Eswein (@newyorkcity, 414,194 followers), created a campaign surrounding the hashtag #benoteworthy.

The regulations of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an independent agency of the US government aimed at consumer protection, made Samsung’s influencers decide to explicitly inform followers of the fact that the photo was sponsored by Samsung, in every posting they made.

However, for other paid commissions done by the threesome (such as a photo shoot for MyNicolita Swimwear) there were no explicit mentions of the photos being sponsored and paid for, and consequently followers were not clearly informed of the commercial nature of these postings.

It can be said that adding the brand name as a hash tag is enough to let followers know that an influencer is working for a brand.

But, brand related hash tags can be added to photos by every Instagram user without being sponsored by the brand, a feature that is increasingly used for crowd-sourcing branded images (by Starbucks, for example).

Therefore the lack of a sponsored hash tag can certainly lead to the misleading of a consumer, because the influencer’s follower does not immediately know if the photo was posted because the Instagrammer wanted to share his or her personal experiences with followers or because of professional and commercial reasons, to advertise and raise awareness for a brand.

What About You?
Do you think Instagrammers should explicitly notify their followers when they are working for and being paid (in kind) by a brand, to prevent the possibility of misleading them?

Consequently, should the Instagram team work with organizations like the FTC to set up guidelines for brands when it comes to using Instagrammers as influencers? Or should organizations like WOMMA take the lead?

About the author
Marion aan ‘t Goor is a recently graduated marketer and is a Junior Consultant at ICON&Co. You can connect with Marion via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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Comments (9)

  • Laurens Bianchi 08/09/2012, 19:07

    I think I would refrase the question: should brands, instead of Instagrammers, take the responsibilty instructing these influencers that the content the make on behalf of them should be mentioned a sponsored or not?

    I strongly believe in WOMMA core values for brands: Trust, Integrity, Respect, Honesty, Responsibility and Privacy

    Therefore I would always recommend my clients always mention that this kind of content is sponsored.

  • Igor Beuker 09/09/2012, 04:30

    The industry rules of engagement are very clear that promoted or sponsored messages should be revealed as such.

    Promoted or brand endorsed Tweets should have ST in it: Sponored Tweet.

    Same for advertorials or sponsored stories on blogs and all other possible social and interest channels.

    There are to many cases of backlash and bommerang effect when brands aksed celebrities to endorse their products.

    A celeb or VIP should be instructed to tell it’s a promoted Tweet or other social message.

    Think Womma is clear about this?! And here is when social agencies should step in with their advice and cases.



  • Richard Gray 11/09/2012, 17:13

    You raise an important issue for Instagram. They recently took small steps to avoid creating more super users. But the ones that already exist (mainly due to Instagram’s suggested user list) will continue to be able to market (often naively) their influence to brands. Most of them do not explicitly state that they are advertising. An agency (Instagrid) recently offered to broker deals with super users and explicitly offered to help them conceal it if they were distributing sponsored pictures.

    In a worrying development, an Israeli tourist agency recently invited various super users to take photos in Israel, representing a political manipulation of Instagram’s platform and users.

  • Brian DiFeo 11/09/2012, 17:34

    Hello, Can you please provide a source for the alleged communication between the US FTC and Samsung? I helped create that campaign and worked on it, and this is the first I ever heard that the FTC contacted Samsung about our campaign. Thanks and I look forward to your response!

    • I was not implying there was any communication between the FTC and Samsung, I phrased that sentence the wrong way and I apologize for the confusion. I was however told about you having to add a sponsored hashtag to every post made in this campaign, because the FTC requires it. This is what I’m referring to.

      • Brian DiFeo 11/09/2012, 20:47

        That’s ok, I just wanted clarification. No one “told us” to add the tag, we decided to do it after researching what the US FTC guidelines are. Also, it is important to distinguish these are “guidelines,” not laws. The US goverment recommends bloggers disclose this stuff, but no one has to. It is an ethical, not legal, matter.



  • rickmarteen 14/09/2012, 12:03

    The promise of influencer marketing that engaging with those who have “influence” in social media can help to more effectively sell more products or quickly gain significantly more brand awareness is the holy grail that any business would want to chase. As more users join and spend more time on the various social media websites, and as more companies ramp up their social media marketing budgets, we can only assume that social media influencer outreach campaigns will increase. That’s why whenever the most famous of the platforms measuring social media influence, Klout, announce any changes to their scoring algorithm, it is big news to both companies as well as power social media users. This post, however, is not about looking at Klout from a consumer perspective but from a corporate perspective.