With the new AANA guidelines launching last week, some commentators have questioned if this will decrease the impact of influencer programs. Sharyn Smith, CEO of Social Soup, analyses what is really going on.
Put simply, a key question for the industry is: are followers less engaged with content if it is disclosed that influencers are working with a brand or receiving product? At Social Soup, we strive to continually understand this dynamic market and have conducted the first Australia-based comprehensive research study into the use of disclosure hashtags and their impact on content engagement.
The most commonly used hashtags by influencers when working with brands are the following, along with their current usage levels.
#ad – 3,359,310
#sponsored – 595,182
#ambassador – 490,231
#spon – 100,321
For this research, we chose to analyse #sponsored and #ambassador as these were recognised as the clearest hashtags used by influencers when working with a brand. We didn’t use #ad in the analysis as this covered a wide variety of posts from brands, influencers and random content not associated with advertising. We also believed #spon in its shortened form may not be sufficient disclosure.
Using the #sponsored and #ambassador hashtags, we analysed engagement rates of content posted by influencers with a filter on Australian content. Engagement gives the best indication of how content is performing as it takes into account the total number of comments or likes a post receives, and divides that by the total followers. We also know engagement rates are correlated to the number of followers an influencer has, and for this research we looked at the engagement impact by different levels of followers.
Using our proprietary social analysis tools, we selected a random sample of 3,855 Instagrammers across all ranges of followers using either of these hashtags analysing close to half a million posts. We recorded their engagement rates across likes and comments on posts containing sponsored hashtags and then analysed their average engagement rate across a sample of their posts which did not use these hashtags to have a comparison base. Through this robust methodology, we analysed 29,198 posts with the #sponsored or #ambassador hashtags, and 450,660 of their posts which did not include either of these hashtags. We were then able to look for any significant differences in engagement across a directly matched sample.
The results we found showed no significant difference in total engagement rate across posts using the brand associated hashtags compared to organic content, across all levels of followers. The overall results showed a small drop in engagement of 0.27% across posts with sponsored hashtags, but this was not a significant difference. At the super micro influencer level (under 1,000 followers) we saw a positive uplift in engagement rates for content posted with a sponsored hashtag. We believe this is mostly related to increased effort for content that may have been provided or incentivised. Overall, followers are still engaging with content that has been labelled as sponsored or which has been disclosed as working with the brand as an ambassador.
Analysis of engagement rates using comments alone saw a slight positive uplift in engagement across all levels of following (except 20,000-100,000 which showed a minimal 0.03% dip). This means that sponsored content is driving slightly more action to comment. This is likely related to some additional questions and comments about the products featured.
From this research, we can infer that:
- Influencers who are clearly disclosing their brand relationships are managing their precious social followings well with the level of brand content and the quality of this content, to maintain engagement.
- Influencers are smart – they have worked hard to build a following and work hard to manage it and maintain engagement levels.
- On the whole, they are not interested in taking work or products from brands they don’t believe their followers will engage with.
- On the other side of the Instagram app, their followers are savvy too and they like to see quality content created including brands.
We weren’t able to look at the impact of influencers who are not disclosing sponsored content but it is only a matter of time before their savvy followers catch on to unbranded sponsored content, and unfollow.
This research isn’t about whether we should have guidelines, however, historical analysis does show that for those already following disclosure policies, the impact of content hasn’t been affected. The AANA guidelines should be embraced by the industry: it will only make it stronger and lead to a more impactful channel. Influencer Marketing is set to continue with significant growth this year and this is a sign of a maturing industry.
Sharyn Smith is CEO of Social Soup the leading Influencer Marketing Platform across Australia and NZ. Sharyn is passionate about helping leading brands succeed in a consumer-led marketing environment by connecting them to Social Soup’s 170,000-strong community of influential consumers. Social Soup believe creating meaningful partnerships between influencers and brands produces the most impactful positive influence. Sharyn has also led the charge for measurement in Influencer Marketing and recently partnered with Quantium to provide the most advanced measurement system. Sharyn has produced award winning campaigns for brands such as PayPal, Coca-Cola, Unilever, CUB, Dyson, Woolworths, Nestle, L’Oréal and P&G. Sharyn is an experienced lecturer, public speaker and authority on Influence, Social Media, Word of Mouth and Advocacy. Her company Social Soup is a BRW Fast Starter and winner of the Telstra Business Awards People’s Choice.