The digital creator and influencer ecosystem on Instagram is all set to change soon. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently confirmed that they are working on guidelines that will bring more transparency and help protect consumer interests. This would mean a similar set of regulations, if not the same, will be in place to put sponsored influencer and digital creator posts on Instagram on the same peg as regular advertising on digital platforms. The posts that we often see on our timeline on the Facebook-owned Instagram will soon have the same rules guiding them, as would similar content across social media platforms and digital platforms.
But will this change the nature of these business-driven posts on Instagram and will content on sponsored posts undergo a change? “We believe it's very important for creators for businesses for brands to follow all the policy regulations. What we've done is tried to put in place to make sure people can comply with their local, local ordinances,” says Vishal Shah, VP of Product, Instagram, while speaking with News18. He points to the branded content tools which allow digital creators and influencers on Instagram to clearly disclose if a post they have published is because of commercial terms that they may have agreed with a brand, for instance. However, it must be noted that sometimes, digital creators and influencers don’t always mark their posts as partnerships or sponsored, which can always leave a doubt.
Then there is this whole debate about reach, authentic or otherwise, and whether brands are getting the full bang for the buck that they are spending with these influencers and digital creators. “We've given advertisers more tools to understand if they were to put a piece of branded content on Instagram, what does the reach that they actually see and what is the delivery they actually see,” says Shah.
Instagram also wants digital creators and influencers to create the sort of content that got them the audience in the first place. “We think it's important that people understand why they're seeing a piece of content, and the advice we give to creators, is that they need to balance their own kind of short term long term monetization right,” says Shah, before adding, “if a creator is let's say in the fashion space and talks about fashion and they now have branded content around fashion, that's a very consistent thing with people who have chosen to follow them. But if you have a someone who suddenly starts posting about shoe polish, for instance, that’s not what we want” to suggest the right balance will help the authenticity and image on the platform.
Since these social media influencer posts also involve financial transactions, those disclosure regulations need to be in place as well.
The need for regulations stems from the fact that while social media networks such as Instagram provide the tools for influencers and digital creators to disclose partnerships and business posts, that often doesn’t happen. Well, you can only take the horse to the watering hole but can’t actually make it drink. At the same time, social media platforms have often deployed the wink and allow policy when it came to brands and individuals colluding on social media to hawk their products intertwined with rather cool posts, glorious text often written and shared by the brand themselves and lots of hashtags. Users didn’t, for a while know what is true and what is not true. The onus shouldn’t be on the Instagram users to decipher the meaning and motive behind posts.
In December last year, online shopping network Dealspotr's Millennial Fashion Shopping Study suggested that 52% of millennials who surf the social media networks regularly say they trust these influencers lesser than ever before. At the same time, a research by IPSOS India suggests that s many as 94 per cent of Instagram’s user base actively searched for more information after seeing a product or a service on Instagram.
But the questions about authenticity and legitimacy remain an issue. In June this year, a combined research by Swedish e-commerce start-up A Good Company and data analytics firm HypeAuditor revealed that among all the so-called influencer accounts in India, they have a combined total of as many as 16 million fake followers. Influencers in India seem to have as many fake smiles as fake followers. Only influencers in the US (49 million) and Brazil (27 million) spend more on buying fake followers, likes and engagement. “Companies are pouring money into influencer marketing, thinking that they are connecting with real people and not Russian bots. In reality, they are pouring money down the drain and giving away free products to someone who acquired a mass-following overnight,” said Anders Ankarlid, CEO and co-founder, A Good Company.
It is expected that the ASCI will have a set of guidelines in place before the end of the year, for Instagram digital creators and influencers to follow.