Regulating social media influencers

November 11, 2018

The use of social media influencers for marketing campaigns is now a common practice in Oman by small and large businesses alike, and it is now more necessary than ever for the activities of these social media influencers to have some guidelines.

Social media influencers operate in a variety of industries, from fashion and cooking to technology and health. Many of these social media influencers run their accounts for profit, offer advertisement packages to businesses, and charge money for public appearances.

The activities of these social media influencers require some regulations due to the commercial nature of these activities and the damage that they can cause to members of the public as a result of false or misleading advertising.

Some social media influencers broadcast a significant part of their daily lives on Snapchat and Instagram to a degree that makes it difficult for their followers to determine if the content they are watching is a genuine update from the influencer or a paid advert by a business attempting to market its products to the followers of this influencer.

For example, social media influencers who specialise in fashion and make-up might share on a regular basis the beauty products that they genuinely use, and it is easy for them to promote a product they have never used when a company pays them to do so. Similarly, social media influencers who post about eating out might be paid by a restaurant to eat there, and then post that the food is ‘delicious’ even when they have not actually had a single proper meal at that restaurant besides this paid visit.

It is easy to dismiss the significant consequences of misleading paid content on social media on the basis that we as users should know that the majority of the content on these accounts is sponsored and nothing that these influencers say is their real opinion. But, we should not assume that all Internet users are aware of this, especially when many children, who might not be in a position to make a proper judgement, follow these social media influencers and idolise them.

Furthermore, the damage that might be caused by misleading advertisements by social media influencers can be extremely serious or life-threatening. For example, a social media influencer might be paid by a weight loss drug business to promote certain pills or syrups that are supposed to reduce weight, when these products have not been authorised by the government locally and might have disastrous side-effects.

Many countries around the world are taking note of the risks associated with social media marketing and taking measures to protect members of the public from potentially misleading content published by social media influencers. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission, the body responsible for consumer protection, has Endorsement Guides that apply to social media influencers and require them to clearly disclose to their followers if a post is somehow connected to a sponsor.

Some social media platforms, such as Instagram, now have built-in mechanisms to help social media influencers disclose that a post is sponsored by labelling it clearly as ‘Paid Partnership’.

Social media influencers can provide their followers with interesting content and can help in making them aware of new products and services that are available in the country. However, the authorities must take measures to ensure that these influencers do not mislead members of the public and that they are held accountable for the information they publish about the products they promote.