Our project aims to explore how and why businesses and social media personalities are using social media (namely, Instagram) as the primary means to promote their products and brands. We also aim to provide an understanding of how the landscape of marketing is changing in order to adapt to the popularity of social media.
We seek to investigate this story by looking at three angles:
- The marketing/advertising perspective
- How big Brisbane businesses are using their Instagram accounts to promote their products/brand.
- The ways in which they tap into the popular platform and sponsor popular Instagram personalities.
- Why they deem Instagram as a valuable tool for advertising.
- How they manage their product reviews so consumers are not being misled.
- How the marketing landscape is changing to adapt to social media.
- The ‘Instagram personality’ perspective
- How popular Instagram users are being sponsored by businesses (i.e. being sent free products and/or being paid to feature a product) in order to promote brands.
- Why they believe this is beneficial for them and for promoting their own brand.
- Why they think it’s right to not be transparent regarding the partnership and to inconspicuously advertise to their followers.
- The consumer perspective
- Are Instagram users/consumers aware of the business partnerships taking place or does the advertising appear ‘natural’. And if so, does this embedded advertising make it more effective.
- What ethical questions does this raise regarding legitimate advertising.
- How many Instagram users are aware of the advertising and within that, why do they care/why don’t they care.
Why this story?
Due to the popularity and constantly changing nature of social media (and in turn the marketing landscape), we believe it’s important to unpack how businesses use Instagram to adapt to consumers’ increasing online activity and importantly, how this effects social media users/consumers. We aim to explore the benefits and drawbacks that using Instagram to advertise has for businesses, as well as for the Instagram personalities who commonly align with these businesses for their own monetary gain.
What we have found
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) have released new rules around disclosure and online product reviews.
The ACCC states “Businesses and review platforms need to manage online reviews to prevent consumers from being mislead”. This puts the onus on the businesses engaging in the product placements. The ACCC defines review platforms as “sites which specialize in presenting product reviews about a range of businesses”. Instagram is an online photo-sharing and video-sharing social networking service, not a specialized product review platform. It is therefore not their responsibility to monitor these product reviews.
The ACCC states “Incentives should only be offered in exchange for reviews of your business if “the incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews”. Several Instagrammers have started crediting some of their posts as advertorials (Appendix 1 & 2). Ministry Of Talent, a creative talent management agency released a Rate Card (Appendix 3) for their clients with Sydney Fashion Blogger charging $850 per Instagram post (Appendix 4), although she does not disclose that these posts are paid.
To obtain a a solid foundation of our topic and a greater understanding of social media marketing, we conducted academic article- and internet-based research in which we found information revealing various aspects of advertising, consumerism and product and brand promotion through the use of social media platforms (Appendix 7).
Through this research we have conceded that the emergence and popularity of social media has made for a significant shift in the media industry to the way in which marketing and advertising companies promote their brands. Our findings demonstrate that the traditional methods of communication between a business and a consumer is not as effective in the digital age. Consumers have turned to social media as being a trustworthy source to acquire information on particular products/brands/services they are interested in.
Social media plays a significant role in promotion by creating a place that companies can interact with their customers and, by doing so, gain feedback on their products and promotion. By utilising social media platforms (such as Instagram and Facebook), customers can engage with the business on a 24/7 basis. This makes it easier for businesses to spin their advertisement in new and innovative ways that they know will appeal to their selected audience. As such, marketing managers now have access to a whole new promotional outlet that allows them to advertise their brands to consumers in a manner that disguises the corporate-sponsored side.
A brief interview with Instagram personality Renee Somerfield (Appendix 5) gave insight into how she turned her Instagram account into a business and whether she thinks it’s fair for her followers to consume these advertised products when they are unaware of the sponsorship.
What we plan to do
Qualitative research methods —
1. An interview with social media expert Nic Carah will provide an insight into the increasing power and popularity of social media, and why businesses and Instagram personalities are capitalising on this.
2. Further interviews with 2 more popular Instagrammers (one who does disclose whether they are paid/sponsored for the product placement and one who does not) will provide a broader understanding of how Instagram personalities use social media as a business.
4. Interviews with Instagram users who follow these Instagram personalities will determine whether they are aware of the business partnership and open ethical questions regarding covert advertising.
5. An interview with Nancy Hartley, the executive creative director of leading advertising agency Clemenger BBDO, will provide an insight into how advertising and the marketing landscape has changed and adapted to utilise social media.
Instagram screen shots will give examples of covert and transparent business partnerships by popular Instagram personalities (Appendices 1, 2 & 4).
Academic research articles (Appendix 7) will provide further understanding of advertising and marketing, and the influences that social media has on the field, particularly in relation to promoting consumer products.
Quantitative research methods —
Instagram statistics will provide a profile of the three Instagram personalities investigated. The analysis includes:
- Likes per sponsored Instagram post vs. likes per non-sponsored Instagram post
- Number of followers of popular Instagrammers
Ella Ferguson of blog They All Hate Us disclosing that her post is an advertorial for Misha Collection
Tully Smyth, former Big Brother contestant, disclosing that her post is an advertorial for Babe Scrub
Creative Talent Management agency, Ministry Of Talent Rate Card for Instagram posts
Sydney Fashion Blogger posting in Misha Collection, however not disclosing that this is a paid post.
Renee Somerfield Interview
Q. When did you realise that you could turn your social media into a business?
A. I started to notice at about 80,000 followers when brands started to contact me and show a little bit more interest.
Q. Do you think you could make a living purely from sponsored social media posts?
A. I do. I think a lot of people can earn money off social media posts. I mean, I think it’s the new way of marketing, and I think people are paying big Instagrammers or big Facebookers instead of PR companies.
Q. How do you maintain your own brand, whilst promoting others?
A. I maintain my own brand by always being selective with who I choose to work with, and just making sure that they coincide with what I believe in.
Q. What skills do you think are needed to manage yourself as a business, and do you think you need tertiary education to learn these?
A. I think you just have to have confidence, I think you’ve got to have initiative and I mean, I didn’t go my full highschool term and I didn’t study anything, and I have run my own business pretty much for the last 5 years.
Q. Do you think it’s fair for your followers to consume these advertised products when they are unaware of the sponsorship.
A. I choose to work with brands that I actually do believe it, and I only choose to post products that I actually like. I would never post anything that I don’t believe in, or that I don’t like, or I wouldn’t want my followers to go out and buy or purchase.
A summary of background research on social media and advertising
- ‘Integrated marketing communications’ is the guide organisations follow to communicate with their target markets
- Attempts to control the various elements of the promotional mix (i.e. advertising, personal selling, sales promotion and direct marketing) produce a unified customer focused message
- The tools and strategies for communicating with customers have changed significantly with the emergence of social media
- This form of media describes a variety of new sources of online information that are created, initiated, circulated and used by consumers intent on educating each other about products and brands
- Many marketing managers lack a full appreciation for social media’s role in the company’s promotional efforts
- The first role of promotional social media: companies use social media to talk to their customers
- The second role: customers can communicate with each other on their satisfaction or lack thereof for a particular product or brand
- In traditional communications the elements of promotional mix is by the organisation in collaboration with paid agents. The flow of information is generally confined to face-to-face and word-of-mouth among individual consumers, which has minimal impact on the dynamics of the market place due to its limited dissemination
- In the era of social media, marketing managers control over the content, timing and frequency of information is being severely eroded
- Various social media platforms (many of which are completely independent of the producing/sponsoring organisation) magnify consumers ability to communicate with one another
- This has bestowed consumers with power they have not previously experienced in the marketplace and marketing managers should recognise the impact of the social media space
- The internet has become a mass media vehicle for consumer-sponsored communications: consumers are turning away from the traditional sources of advertising (radio, television, magazines and newspapers) and are demanding more control over their media consumption; consumers are turning more to various types of social media to conduct their info searches and make purchasing decisions; social media is perceived by consumers as a more trustworthy source of information compared to corporate-sponsored communications
- Managers must learn to talk with their customers as opposed to talking at them
- Must provide networking platforms
- Use blogs and other social media
- They should use both traditional and internet based promotional tools to engage the customers – people are more likely to communicate through social media and word of mouth when they are engaged with the product, service or idea
- Provide information – consumers will more likely talk about companies and products when they feel they know a lot about them
- Need to be outrageous and also provide exclusivity
- Products and services should be designed with talking points in mind to stimulate word of mouth and social media based conversations
- Support causes that are important to consumers
- By including social media in the promotion mix, these new communication formats are given a home in standard marketing management practices and theories
- This home for social media provides managers with a better understanding of social media and a framework for incorporating it into their advertising strategies
Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix (W. Glynn Mangold, David J. Faulds) Business Horizons 2009, 52, 357-365
- The issue of Facebook advertising and marketing began making news in late 2012
- The definition of advertising and marketing communications clearly and without ambiguity applies to any material or activities that is within the control of an advertiser and that draws the attention of the public in a manner to promote or oppose a product/service/organisations
- Social media gives businesses a direct way to interact with existing and potential customers and promote their products and services
- Businesses using social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have a responsibility to ensure content on their pages is accurate
- Marketers must ensure they do not make any false or misleading claims as part of their marketing and promotional activities. The same laws that apply to any other marketing or sales channel apply to social media as well
- The company can be held responsible for posts or public comments made by others on their social media pages which are false of likely to mislead consumers
- Managing marketers should not make statements on social media that they wouldn’t make in any other type of advertising
- Businesses should keep in mind that social media operates 24/7 and as such should monitor social media pages depending on the size of the company and how many followers they have
- (p2) Social media is global and allows users to stay connected with people geographically separated
- (p2) this global connectivity extends to positive and negative messages relating to products and services
- (p2) since a persons opinion is in digital format it is less likely to be misunderstood or diluted over time
- (p13) today, 80% of all companies use social media tools to recruit
- (ix) companies properly engaging digitally with their customers and clients have already seen the power and the payoff
- (x) companies are adjusting their marketing budget to include digital and social media to a significant extent
Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business (By Erik Qualman) 2013, Published by John Wiley and Sons, INC
- The way consumers digest information has drastically changed
- Traditionally, ads were primarily used on tv or radio or magazines and targeted to a broad range of different consumers in an attempt to raise brand awareness
- These methods are no longer viable with the expanding digital world
- Consumers today are more tech-savvy and more in control or what advertisements or info they consume daily
- With social media, customers have the ability to interact with businesses in a way that was previously not possible and give opinions and responses to brands and marketing techniques
- Web connected consumers are more aware they can decide whether or not they will view ads in many media forms
- Younger consumers who have been brought up in the digital age do not necessarily consider advertisement to be mandatory to their media experiences making it more
- Advertising in the digital age uses range of social media platforms to get the advertisers message across
- Multiple channels need to be used simultaneously to get as much viewership as possible
- Broadcasting an advertisement on television that is also integrated with social media and other channels can increase the likelihood or interest and response to the advertisement
- Combining messages across multiple platforms to gain interest in products is becoming more common
- Advertisers need to learn how to use consumers interest and response to their advantage
- Engaging consumers with products and brands in a new and innovative way to catch the attention of customers and keep them focused
- Customers who are able to interact with brands spend more time focused on the advertisement as opposed to the traditional methods where they can abandon advertisement at the touch of a button