Instagram influencers: how can brands build loyalty in an age of suspicion?

Instagram influencer, Tiffany Mitchell, posted photographs of herself lying by the side of the road, stating they had been taken following a motorbike accident. In one of the photos, a bottle of celebrity-favourite, SmartWater, was featured.

Is this a case of a brand deal gone too far or are we, the consumers, so tired of brand deals, we see them when they’re not there?



Looking at influencer marketing, even just five years ago, it is drastically different from today. Influencer marketing is nothing new. Back in 1984, Michael Jordan signed a $2.5m deal with Nike which included custom-designed Air Jordans, not so different from Love Island star, Molly-Mae’s recent clothing deal with fast-fashion giant, Pretty Little Thing. In 2004, blogging platforms began cropping up and from there, social media influencers were born.



Tiffany’s low-lit photographs post-crash were at first met with sympathy and condolences. This swiftly transformed into disbelief, followed by hatred. She endured a shameful few days on Buzzfeed’s header, as she was repeatedly lambasted for posting what was, according to followers, a money-grabbing and attention-seeking photoshoot for the drink’s manufacturer.

Regardless of the truth, negative stories like Mitchell’s are leading many to question the longevity of influencers, both in terms of young people opting to pursue it as a career as well as in marketing terms; with brands growing increasingly nervous about associating their brand with risky influencers.

The Drum claims only 4% trust what influencers say online. Consumer perceptions of elusive brand deals and the lack of transparency from influencers has triggered a wave of national suspicion thanks to continued ambiguity between genuine recommendations versus paid-for-advertisements.



Advertising has become simplified to the point of stagnation. A randomly placed water bottle by the side of Mitchell’s head was enough for many, it seems, to assume that she wouldn’t include the product without capitalizing from its exposure.

Drinks giant, Oasis seemed ahead of the game years ago with their campaign which was labelled an ‘anti-advertisement’ with a cheeky, self-aware slogan: ‘you’re thirsty, we’ve got sales targets’.

Honesty has somehow become as refreshing as a cold blackcurrant juice within the advertising world, and the consumer is beginning to respond.

Part of this consumer dissatisfaction comes from the ethos behind Instagram’s early beginnings. Influencer culture was born from users being able to interact with celebrities via social channels like Twitter, but they were left dissatisfied. From there, social users began following ‘regular’ people who become elevated into ‘influencers’. Mini-celebrities, these people were followed for their sense of humour, their style, their ethics and more. Social users found common ground with other like-minded people online and grew communities.

Now though, it appears audiences are beginning to feel manipulated, as the site is undergoing its own ‘fake news’ wave of influence. Some account holders are even pretending to post sponsored content for the attractive appearance of being monopolised, as authenticity becomes increasingly difficult to measure.



It is easy to get lost in the millions of users who make up Instagram’s consumer profile, however, remember what platform your marketing material is being published on. One of the strongest elements of Instagram has always been the intimacy experienced from personal insights into an influencer’s livelihoods. This is where businesses can appear false; by overlooking the human side of their campaign.

It is therefore a mistake for marketers to maintain too much control over their collaborator. When dealing with devoted fans, this approach loses its authenticity in the face of those who know who they’re interacting with better than analytics or targets ever can. Inviting influencers to work alongside your brand and produce their own take on the intended message enables an autonomy that will no doubt serve to produce more relaxed and unaffected endorsements.

influencer trust

Tailor the product to the person by doing some background research on your chosen collaborator. Gaining an authentic response of enthusiasm from influencers is a far more achievable goal if your brand fits snugly into their well-established profile. You might also consider story-telling as a way to more naturally integrate your product within the Influencer’s daily posting activity.

Micro-influencers are an effective way to ensure your product will be directed towards a niche audience who will be receptive to the subject. Read more on micro-influencers and why they’re valuable here.



Tiffany Mitchell still adamantly denies posting her photo series for anything other than informative purposes. It remains unclear whether the shoot was staged, and crucially, impossible to determine.

Influencing has become a phenomenon that relies upon a purchaser’s subconscious but nonetheless, consumers are waking up.

While we may still face problems like fake followers, fraudulent posts from influencers trying to pass off taco shells as pancakes and failures like multi-million pound Fyre Festival, it’s not going anywhere. Hubspot claims authenticity and story-telling is the key to success. And they’re right. Influencer marketing is reported to be worth $10b by 2020 and if done right, can be a lucrative strategy for any business.

Companies need to avoid becoming comfortable with a style of advertising that has become lazy and over familiar, as in an age of misinformation and clickbait journalism, it is only natural that audiences are now assuming falsehood over truth.

Nonetheless, recurrent issues surrounding transparency signal a major change within the industry, and one which businesses will need to be wary of. Instagram is notable as a more personal method of marketing, and its audience demands a more personable style of persuasion. Stripping back the typical hardline approach of data and engagement analysis and searching instead for the smaller target will most likely reap the biggest rewards.

Want to get started with your own influencer marketing campaign? We’re on hand to help through every step, from sourcing the right influencers for your brand to implementation and reporting. Download our free guide to running an influencer campaign here.

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