Most consumers unaware that paid influencer posts are #ads

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A new influencer marketing study from Open Influence shows that celebrities on social media are effective in getting consumers to buy things. However, most consumers also don’t fully understand when they’re seeing sponsored content.

The survey polled 514 US adults who follow influencers/celebrities on social media. The chart below shows that Facebook-owned platforms dominate, followed by YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat.

Just over 39 percent of survey respondents said they did not pay attention “to the brands and products that celebrities/influencers post about online.” However, the remaining majority said either they did (17 percent) or sometimes did (44 percent). Furthermore, half the audience said they had discovered a brand or product because of a third party post on social media.

Apparel, food and beverage, entertainment, beauty, tech and fitness were the top purchase categories, in order, following exposure to a brand or product on social media. Apparel was by far the leading category, however. Influencer posts were cited as a contributing factor in social media-motivated buying by 38 percent, with the great majority of purchases, at least according to recall, driven by Facebook.

This is where the survey gets interesting. Roughly half of the respondents didn’t know any of the hashtags commonly used by influencers to indicate sponsored content were denoting advertising.

Presented with #ad, #paid, #spon, #collab and #partner and asked to identify which of them indicated a post was sponsored, 46 percent said “none of them.” The hashtag #ad was most widely recognized (33 percent), followed by #paid (20 percent) and #spon (19.6 percent).

Thus a majority of consumers appear to be unaware they’re exposed to advertising in these posts. But when asked hypothetically, does knowledge that a post is sponsored “change your sentiment about that influencer/celebrity?,” 71 percent said “no.”

The hypothetical focused on opinions about the influencer. The question apparently not asked was, “How would knowledge that an influencer product post was an ad impact perceptions of the product or inclination to buy?” So we don’t know whether more clear and prominent disclosures would diminish influencer-driven product sales.

The main takeaways here are that:

  • influencer marketing on social media sells products.
  • most consumers are unaware many of these product recommendations are ads (disclosures are insufficient).
  • but large numbers of consumers might not care if the disclosures were more prominent.

The FTC recently shifted gears from a historical focus on deceptive influencer marketing practices by brands and retailers and started going after individual influencers for failing to properly disclose paid commercial relationships.




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