About astroturfing, ethics and values.

Merry (belated) Christmas and a Happy New Year!

In the 23rd December post by Wendy, she highlighted the practice of Astroturfing (in the article, she mentions ‘Astrosurfing,’ but what she means is ‘Astroturfing’) and alleged that it is what Gushcloud forces its influencers do.

Gushcloud does not force or make its influencers ‘Astroturf’ or mask ads.

In the previous post, we refuted the allegation that we force our influencers to mask ads or astroturf. We give content guidelines from the client as well as allow the influencers to do perform their own disclosures when they feel necessary.

Some people have politely requested that we share our thoughts on disclosure practices and ethics in influencer marketing, so here goes…

Why is this important?

  1. Gushcloud and other agencies obtain sponsorships and paid advertorial campaigns for their influencers and bloggers (Gushcloud calls them collective as “Influencers”).
  1. Sponsorships usually involve a brand or an advertiser providing products, services or experiences to influencers in exchange for promotion on the influencers’ social media channels.
  1. Paid advertorials (or sponsored postings/content as they are sometimes known) promote a brand/product or an advertiser’s messages via postings on Blogs, YouTube and social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Facebook.
  1. Audiences read what is shared by the influencers they follow as part of their daily reading and viewing habits.

Why do we need to consider the ethics?

As the recent Mothership article has pointed out: while it is not unlawful, it isn’t entirely ethical either when consumers may be misled that a paid advertorial or sponsored post is an independent opinion of the influencer. Even with disclosures and paid jobs, most Gushcloud Influencers try to only take advertorial campaigns that fit with their own personalities and lifestyles and have actually rejected several paid advertorials previously when they did not feel for the brand or its products.

Gushcloud recognises that the influencer and blogger marketing industry may be in this patch marked ‘GREY AREA –LACK OF REGULATION AHEAD’ And given the recent ‘hype’ about the business that we do, we believe that all agencies can work together to self-regulate.

Greyareaahead

Let’s talk about the different methods that Gushcloud and other agencies can educate their influencers to use should they choose to disclose that a post relates to a sponsorship or is paid:

Method 1:

Stating the words ‘Advertorial’ or ‘Sponsored post/content’ on their posting with those exact words or using an obvious abbreviation of the word.

While simple, this is not the only method which influencers can use to let their audiences understand that a post is paid.

Example 1:  Influencer uses an abbreviation of ‘Sponsored Post’ = -sp

Kay Kay IG Posting Example

Example 2 –  Influencer uses an abbreviation of ‘Advertisement’ = <ADV>MaePosting1

Abbreviations are common in micro-blogging and short-form messaging/broadcasting platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Others use hashtags like #sponsored , #sponsoredpost or #advertorial.

Method 2:

Thanking the sponsor in the post or clearly saying that they were given the item by the brand.

Example 1: Asyiha does the “XYZ sent me ABC, Thank you XYZ!”

asyihaposting

Example 2: A simple thank you to the brand is good enough in this context when the influencer’s followers understand that the influencer is typically given sponsored products for sampling and review.

roseanne

 Example 3: Brand provides items to influencer for fan give away. Over the past couple of years, brand/product giveaways and branded contest posts are fairly clear to fans and audiences as brand sponsored. example

Method 3:

Stating on their profile or in the post that the influencer is a brand’s ambassador or that the influencer is working with the brand in a professional or semi-professional capacity.

Recently, social media brand ambassadorship and endorsements has become more commonplace with influencer becoming celebrities of sort evidenced by crowds turning up to see them in public.

Example 1: Tricia was a ‘Cinderella Blogger Mentor’ for 3 months.

tricia

Example 2: Eunice’s blog proudly shares that she is a Sunsilk Ambassador.

euniceposting

Given the various options of disclosures available to influencers, what more can Gushcloud do?

We need to spend more time and effort educating the influencers that we work with. This includes both exclusively signed influencers as well as the wider network of freelancers.

  1. All talent/influencer/blogger management agencies have the responsibility to educate their talents on proper online behaviour and how to handle paid campaigns of our influencers and bloggers.
  1. In the example cited by Wendy about our influencer Yilin, Yilin was not at fault in the post that she created on behalf of Wendy’s fake company SGprivate trainers. The issue was raised as the post appeared to be misleading because it appeared that the influencer found out about the ‘company’ entirely on her own via another influencer’s blog.

post1

Yilin was not at fault as she was new to influencer marketing.

  1. My team and I should have educated her on the different disclosure options available to her as an influencer undertaking a paid campaign.
  1. Because we provide some level of editorial oversight on behalf of the client, we should have told her that her post may have sounded a little misleading.

An apology to Yilin!

For the failure to sufficiently educate her and for letting her to go through the unfortunate experience of being cyberbullied and attacked by an online lynch mob on her social media accounts, I’d like to apologise on behalf of my team to Yilin and promise her and the influencers that we work with that we will do better by them. *** Sorry Yilin! ***

With every crisis, there’s an opportunity to learn and improve.

Moving forward:

  1. We will educate and share with influencers different disclosure practices in the industry as part of the process of joining Gushcloud.
  1. We will increase the size of our influencer talent management team and be more professional to be able to support our influencers development as well as careers.
  1. We will beef up our current practices by having an official guideline which includes these disclosure options and other best practices for creating meaningful content and share this with both our clients and influencers.

Personal note:

Besides ethics, what about moral values, character and all that other stuff? Does it matter?

Of course it matters! Though my team and I may have differing views on the way we define moral values, we all agree that it is important for our influencers to have the positive values and strong character.

It is important because if influencers promote a kind of lifestyle, it comes with it both the good and bad. Audiences are watching and learning. And by audiences I mean even kids as young as 10 or 12 years old. An entire generation of Singaporeans and people around the region are growing up with influencers being some of their role models.

That’s weighs heavy on me. Because it means we have a responsibility to be careful of what who we groom our influencers to be and what stories they are sharing with an impressionable audience. There are people who say that the recent leaked WhatsApp group chat shows that influencers can be ‘bitchy‘ and ‘catty‘ when they are going through tough times. And it is a breach of trust that the private group message was shared with the public.  However, I’m of the opinion that I’d rather people with influence do that in private amongst their own circle than to be consistently bitchy in public on their social media channels. My ultimate preference? That people do not talk bad about others at all. But we are all too human. Venting and sharing frustrations are very human responses to attacks and tough times.

On a positive note, I’m glad that they generally exercise measure, control and self-awareness of their words and actions on social media.

Are our influencers perfect? No. Are we perfect as an agency? No.

My team and I have the uphill battle ahead us to make sure we contribute to make a better industry and also a better online society.

We will and we must do better.

With influence comes great responsibility.

With greater influence, comes greater responsibility.

Warm Regards,

Vincent Ha

CEO & Co-Founder of Gushcloud

With influencer, comes great responsibility

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