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Trust in the age of influencers

The need to professionalise influencer marketing isn't just an option, but the key to building and maintaining consumer trust, and a sustainable future, Manisha Kapoor, secretary general & CEO, ASCI, writes

Published: Nov 6, 2023 03:01:19 PM IST
Updated: Nov 6, 2023 03:15:07 PM IST

In today’s digital age, trust is a currency that holds immense value, and influencers are the custodians of this trust.
Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh SurpurIn today’s digital age, trust is a currency that holds immense value, and influencers are the custodians of this trust. Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur

The rise of influencers can be likened to a digital revolution. Social media platforms have given birth to a new breed of celebrities, untethered from traditional stardom. They have organically cultivated massive followings by sharing their lives, insights, and opinions. Over time, they have transformed into influential figures with the power to impact consumer decisions.

In today’s digital age, trust is a currency that holds immense value, and influencers are the custodians of this trust.
Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh SurpurIn today’s digital age, trust is a currency that holds immense value, and influencers are the custodians of this trust. However, the world of influencers is far from impervious to the cracks that can shatter trust. To understand this, we must first dissect the anatomy of trust and its components:

1. Authenticity:
Influencers resonate with their followers because they appear authentic, sharing personal stories, experiences, and opinions. Their audience believes in the genuineness of their content.

2. Credibility:
Many influencers become experts or authorities in their respective niches, bolstering their credibility. Consumers trust their recommendations because they see influencers as knowledgeable sources of information.

Consistency in content and messaging is paramount. Followers rely on influencers to deliver content aligned with their interests and values. Any deviation can lead to doubts and, ultimately, a loss of trust.

4. Transparency:
The openness of influencers about paid partnerships and sponsorships is crucial. This ensures followers are not deceived, maintaining trust in the influencer’s recommendations.

The Fragility Of Trust

However, trust is a delicate asset, easily damaged and challenging to repair. Influencers often discover this when controversies arise. Mishandling a brand collaboration, failing to disclose a paid partnership, or engaging in questionable behaviour can lead to a swift loss of trust among followers.

Walking the trust tightrope is a skill that influencers need to learn well. The best influencers curate their content meticulously. Before convincing people to invest their life savings in the latest cryptocurrency, do your homework. Before asking them to use a skin care product because it is effective on acne, ask some questions. Ask for proof, learn how to read lab reports, or use the services of a domain expert. Remember you have a liability which is separate from the brand liability. Interprete the brand for your audiences, do not merely be a brand-puppet.

Also read: 'Influencers need to become professional, organised and know the law': ASCI CEO

The Dynamics Of Trust

The dynamics of trust in the influencer-consumer relationship are continually evolving. Transparency regulations, audience savviness, mainstream use of influencer marketing and technology to keep track of violations all contribute to this evolution.

Like any other profession coming of age, there is a need to train and professionalise this diverse force. With both the ASCI self-regulatory framework and the government laws on influencers and due diligence, it is now time for influencers to be professionally trained in their responsibility. Ignorance of laws and regulations is no excuse, and the risk to an influencer’s personal brand as well as the brands they endorse has never been higher.

Path To Professionalism

1. Standardisation and certification:

Just as professionals in various fields undergo training, influencers should have access to educational programmes. These courses can cover content creation, ethics, and marketing strategies. Certification programmes for influencers could ensure a basic level of competence and adherence to industry standards.

The ASCI Academy is all set to launch a certification course called ‘The Responsible Influencing Playbook’ which is expected to be the minimum requirement that any brand who works with an influencer must seek. Such certifications also signal to brands that the influencer is serious about their responsibilities and can be a trusted partner.

2. Adherence to guidelines:

Influencers must be transparent about paid promotions and sponsored content. Clear labelling of such posts is essential to maintain trust with their audience. Honesty in product reviews and recommendations should be non-negotiable.

3. Quality control:

Influencers should maintain high content standards and prioritise quality over quantity. High-quality content resonates better with audiences and advertisers alike. 

4. Fair compensation:

Establishing industry-wide pricing standards can prevent influencers from being underpaid or exploited by brands. Training influencers in negotiation skills can empower them to secure fair compensation.

5. Legal protections:

Clear and comprehensive contracts between influencers and brands can protect both parties’ interests. Influencers should also be educated about their intellectual property rights, preventing unauthorised use of their content.

6. Diversity and inclusion:

Encouraging diversity in influencer marketing ensures a broader range of voices and perspectives. Brands should provide equal opportunities to influencers of all backgrounds.

7. Regulatory oversight:

Accountability can establish and enforce industry standards. Agencies, brands, and influencers should be held accountable for ethical and legal violations.

8. Mental health support:

Influencers often face intense scrutiny and pressure. Access to mental health resources can help them cope with them.

Professionalising influencers will not be a walk in the park. Challenges include resistance to regulation, the rapid pace of technological change, and the need for industry-wide consensus. However, the benefits of a professionalised influencer marketing landscape are undeniable.

Professionalising influencers isn’t just about setting standards; it’s about creating an ecosystem where influencers, brands, and audiences all benefit. Audiences get authentic, quality content. Brands collaborate with knowledgeable and ethical partners.

Also read: The great Indian influencer burnout

Future Of Influence

Imagine an influencer who undergoes formal training in content creation, ethics, and marketing. They create high-quality content, consistently engage their audience, and are transparent about their brand partnerships. They negotiate fair compensation and understand their legal rights. This influencer represents the future of the industry.

With standardised training, ethical guidelines, and industry oversight, influencers can become trusted partners for brands and reliable sources of information for audiences. In this evolving landscape, professionalism isn’t just an option; it’s the key to a sustainable future for influencer marketing.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of The Advertising Standards Council of India

(This story appears in the 03 November, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)