Unilever has revealed it will not work with influencers who buy followers, in an effort to push for greater transparency in the influencer marketing space to combat fraud in the digital ecosystem and create better experiences for consumers.
Besides having transparency from influencers, Unilever also said that its brands will "never buy followers", and that it will also prioritise partners that increase transparency and help eradicate bad practices throughout the whole ecosystem.
The company described the scale and scope of influencer marketing to hold "increasing importance" in the marketing mix, as influencers have deep and direct connections with consumers. Even so, the industry needs to put in place "all possible controls" to avoid bad practices such as fake followers, bots, fraud or any dishonest business models that will "erode trust" in the ecosystem, the press statement read.
"Marketers currently have limited visibility to accurately measure influencer programming and track authentic engagement. As the influencer marketing space grows, we are looking to work with social platforms for increased visibility and transparency," Unilever added.
Unilever's CMO Keith Weed said one of the ways it wants to rebuild trust back into the digital ecosystems and wider society is to increase integrity and transparency in the influencer space. This can be done through responsible content, platforms and infrastructure, and "urgent action" needs to be taken to rebuild trust before it is gone, he said.
“The key to improving the situation is three-fold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact," Weed added.
Marketing has reached out to Unilever for additional comments.
The announcement comes as Unilever takes steps to audit its advertising spend. In February, the company said it saved approximately US$700 million from production costs in 2017 by producing fewer ads and relegating more work in-house, and allocated about US$300 million of that to media and in-store marketing.
During an investors call last year, Unilever's CFO Graeme Pitkethly said the company is spending more competitively than it was the year before because zero-based budgeting (ZBB) allows it to put more of its investment back and cut waste out. He added that less money is being spent creating advertising, and more dollars are being spent showing advertising in a more effective way to consumers. ZBB has also allowed Unilever to reduce its media spend by 12% in Southeast Asia.
Unilever is not the only one to have raised concerns about influencers buying fake followers.
Last year closer to home, Singaporean influencer Wendy Cheng (Xiaxue) uploaded a video on her YouTube channel which examines the statistics found on social media analytics site Social Blade. This led her to speculating which influencers were buying followers on Instagram to bolster their numbers. In a statement to Marketing, Cheng described this to be "a huge problem" for marketers who decide to hire or sponsor largely based on popularity, which is defined by the amount of followers.
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