Regulations needed to make social-media influencers be clear about #ads

Times, technology and media are changing. For the first time since the advent of the internet, brands' ad spending on digital media is expected to overtake traditional media in 2019, writes Joyce Fegan

Regulations needed to make social-media influencers be clear about #ads

Times, technology and media are changing. For the first time since the advent of the internet, brands' ad spending on digital media is expected to overtake traditional media in 2019, writes Joyce Fegan

While social media has now become a lucrative workspace for many who call themselves "influencers", it is now so mainstream that it is a sphere closely monitored by both advertising standards, consumer protection and even food safety authorities.

Just 10 days ago the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) released record-breaking figures for the number of complaints it received in relation to social media and influencers who are paid to promote products in that space.

In 2018, it received 107 complaints in relation to bloggers, a year-on-year increase since 2016.

Furthermore, a spokeswoman for the ASAI said that in 2017, "digital media gave rise to the largest block of complaints, with 777 complaints registered." This is compared with 2010, where digital media represented 22% of all complaints, compared to 43% in 2017.

While the ASAI can investigate complaints and has upheld ones made against Irish social influencers, such as Rosie Connolly, it can only offer guidance notes, as opposed to penalties for bloggers and brands that breach its operating code. It is a self-regulating body for the advertising industry and its "penalty" for breaching code is to "name and shame" the brand or publisher, as well as forcing the withdrawal of an ad that may have cost significant money to produce.

However, in the UK, things have become more legally sticky for influencers as of last month. The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it had secured formal commitments from 16 celebrities, including Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding, to change the way they label social media posts.

The announcement came after their State watchdog clamped down on the practice of influencers being paid for endorsing products without disclosing they were being rewarded by a company.

In Ireland the equivalent organisation is the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The Irish Examiner asked the CCPC if it would follow a similar path to that of its sister watchdog in the UK.

"If a consumer feels they have been misled by a blog or social media post, to the extent that it was a major factor in their decision to buy something, they should contact our helpline on 01 402 5555 or 1890 432 432.

Should we find evidence of widespread practices which breach consumer protection laws, then we may take appropriate measures up to, and including, enforcement action," a spokesman for the CCPC said.

Asked whether there would be investigations, similar to the CMA's carried out here, the spokesman said the CCPC could not comment on the likelihood of it happening, however, he did state that issues relating to social media and consumer protection are also addressed at European level.

CEO of the ASAI Orla Twomey was also asked by the Irish Examiner if her organisation might work with the CCPC to crackdown on non-disclosure of paid-for content online. Ms Twomey did not rule out such a collaboration.

"The CCPC is a very important stakeholder for the ASAI. We would often have meetings with Comreg (Commission for Communications Regulation) and HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) and we have issued a joint press release with the FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland).

"There is always space to collaborate and we are always open to working collaboratively with other stakeholders," Ms Twomey said.

Overall, the CEO of the watchdog said that there is a high compliance rate with their advertising standard code, and previous social media related complaints came about as a result of technological innovation.

The advertising industry innovates. It would be the same if you went back 50 years, it (social media influencers) is an evolution in marketing communications," stated Ms Twomey.

Complaints about bloggers were mainly as a result of bloggers not knowing "what they didn't know," she explained. When complaints came in a few years ago, the ASAI, instead of upholding them, updated its code to extend its remit to social media influencers, and then later issued a guidance note.

"There is very good compliance with brands and social influencers now. Brands set out to be careful. It is much more discussed what the expectations between brands and bloggers are. This is an important sea change," Ms Twomey said.

The areas that social media influencers tend to have the largest following are in food and fitness and therefore, there is a role for the Department of Health (DoH) and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

The DoH was asked by the Irish Examiner about nutritional claims being made by social media influencers online, and the regulation of such information. A spokeswoman for the Department said that the Minister for Health has asked the Health and Social Care Professionals Council (CORU) for a risk assessment of various health professionals who are currently unregulated, but who are seeking regulation, including nutritionists.

CORU told the Irish Examiner that its role is to "protect the public by promoting high standards of professional conduct, education, training and competence through the statutory registration of health and social care professionals." It is currently progressing with the regulation of 17 professions, a spokeswoman said.

The FSAI was also contacted about social media influencers making claims online. A spokesman said that the authority does ask the public "to keep an eye out" and make complaints to them as there are strict food laws in operation in Ireland.

Just last week the FSAI recalled a well-known detox tea often promoted online. Miss Fit Skinny Tea and Miss Fit Slimming Coffee 14 Day Fat Burning Instant Coffee were two of four products that were recalled from the market by the FSAI for mislabelling.

The FSAI said that the products were "being recalled due to incorrect, misleading and ambiguous labelling. Amongst the labelling breaches are health claims which are not authorised and are therefore misleading to the consumer."

The ASAI has previously investigated this product for its advertising communications, one of which involved a social media influencer, however the ASAI did not uphold this particular complaint.

All in all, the ASAI is satisfied that its current code is wide enough to help regulate the world of social media influencers from an advertising standards point of view, with no obvious loopholes currently apparent.

When posting paid-for content there are some basic principles, as outlined in an ASAI guidance note, that influencers must understand. An advertising communication occurs when there is both compensation and control in play. Compensation can be payment in the form of a free product or service, cash, or some kind of reciprocal arrangement. Control means there is an obligation on the influencer to create content with direction from a brand owner.

In terms of identifying posts so that the consumer knows clearly that they are ads, the ASAI states that the following hashtags are acceptable: #ad; #sp; #spon#; #workwith; #paidpartnership and #brandambassador.

With 2019 set to be the first year in history that brands spend more money on digital media than on traditional media, such as newspapers, TV and radio, influencers are poised to gain even more influence with consumers, with social media advertising already accounting for $1 of every $4 spent on digital advertising in America alone.

Top Irish influencers

1. Conor McGregor

The professional mixed martial artist has a combined following of just over 46m. This is across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. McGregor has 30.2m followers on the photo-sharing platform Instagram and 7.9m on Facebook, which owns both companies. He also has 7.5m Twitter followers. On YouTube he has two separate channels, one in his name with 78,000 subscribers and one called The Mac Life, which has 617,000 subscribers.

The 30-year-old Dubliner uses all of his platforms to promote his fights and products he endorses or brands he has partnered with. He also regularly uses the online spaces to promote his own products and services such as his whiskey brand and a new suit-clothing range that he has recently launched.

Separate to his own business interests, brands he has aligned with include Reebok and Beats by Dre headphones. A recent post on Instagram of the former plumber wearing the headphones is clearly marked as a 'paid partnership' with the brand.

2. Cian Twomey

Cork's Cian Twomey has risen to large fame on social media, amassing more than 6m followers online for his humourous sketches and parodies of both famous people and of his girlfriend Emily. On Instagram he has 934,000 followers and on Facebook he has 5.5m. He also has a following of 121,000 people on Twitter and his YouTube channel has 394,000 subscribers.

Unlike other social influencers, he does not promote products online and instead uses his platforms to showcase his comedic skills.

His online profile has gained popularity in recent years, since starting out in 2011 posting videos, and today he regularly speaks frankly about mental health. He posts question and answer series to his various platforms discussing anxiety and social anxiety and self care tools that have helped him. Cian has also experienced the abuse that is so common online and he speaks about the effects of social media on his mental health as well.

3. Vogue Williams

Vogue rose to fame on Fade Street and then became a popular model during the boom, however, she went on to carve a career for herself as a social media influencer, regularly posting paid-for shots to her Instagram for brands that she has teamed up with.

In total, she has more than half a million followers on social media, with the most on Instagram, with 552,000 followers on that platform. On Twitter she has almost 90,000 followers and her Facebook page has 23,000 fans.

The influencer is very clear when it comes to the promotion of products or services on her platforms. As opposed to burying a hashtag with the word "ad" or "sponsored" among dozens of other hashtags, her promotional posts will have one or two hashtags, one of which will simply state "ad." Various food, fitness, fashion and beauty brands will work with the influencer in order to engage with her audience.

4. Rob Lipsett

Rob Lipsett was a contestant on ITV2's Love Island reality show in 2017, since then his popularity and influence has soared. He has more than 1m followers online across his various platforms where he talks mostly about fitness. On Instagram he has 495,000 followers, on Facebook he has 30,000 and on Twitter he had 35,000. On his YouTube channel he has 419,000 subscribers.

Various brands collaborate with the influencer to connect with his audience. He regularly posts images to his Instagram wearing different clothes brands, and marking them as paid partnerships. He has also worked with Primark as well as a mobile phone company. The fitness and fashion influencer also promotes international brands, as opposed to just Irish ones. Other paid promotions include ones with food brands.

5. Pippa O'Connor

Much like Vogue Williams, Pippa O'Connor has transitioned from the Irish modelling scene of the boom to being a social media influencer and entrepreneur, with her own clothing and make-up range.

Across all of her social media platforms she has a following of approximately 670,000 people. On Instagram she has 338,000 followers, on Facebook her page has 250,00 fans and on Twitter she has 80,000 followers. She also has 7,500 subscribers to her YouTube channel.

Aside from her own denim brand, she regularly teams up with beauty brands online, for products such as hair tools and skincare products, and posts images to her social media. The influencer is very transparent about what is and isn't a paid-for post, with promotional posts marked with 'paid partnership' at the start of the marketing communication. She also works similarly to Vogue Williams in that posts that are ads generally have only one or two hashtags that are denoted as "sponsored" or as an "ad", as opposed to burying the ad hashtag in a sea of others.

6. Roz Purcell

Roz Purcell is another model from the Celtic Tiger that has become a commercially successful influencer, mainly working in the food and fitness sphere. In total she has more than 400,000 followers on social media. Her main influence is on Instagram, where she has 252,000 followers. On Twitter she has 72,000 followers and on Facebook she has 14,000. She also has a YouTube channel which has 15,000 subscribers. Her other food brand, Natural Born Feeder has its own Instagram page with nearly 100,00 followers.

She does many paid-for collaborations with food brands such as Innocent and Strong Roots, as well as health supplements. The influencers, while posting non-paid content around food and fitness for her followers, also does collaborations with fitness clothing brands. Roz has also done promotional and informational content relating the environment and recycling.

7. Suzanne Jackson

Blogger turned business woman, Suzanne Jackson was one of Ireland's earliest social media influencers, leveraging the following she had gained online into earning a living offline. She started out blogging about beauty, fashion and lifestyle and then launched her own make-up range on the back of her large following.

She now has a following of nearly 1m fans online, across all of her platforms. On Instagram her personal page has 252,000 followers and her make-up brand, SoSu, has 215,000 followers. Suzanne's YouTube channel has 48,000 subscribers and her Facebook page has 316,000 fans. On Twitter she also has another 49,400 followers.

While the influencer mainly posts about her own make-up products she also does paid partnerships with brands such as Primark, as well as being a Victoria's Secret ambassador. In other ads for smaller more bespoke brands such as jewellery or beauty products, she follows the protocol of demarcating the post as an "ad" either using that hashtag or "sp", meaning sponsored, while not inundating the post with dozens of other hashtags.

8. Chloe Boucher

Two years ago this twenty-something beauty blogger won a major award in London, when she was awarded the coveted title of Best Beauty Influencer by Cosmopolitan magazine. She was presented the award at a ceremony in the Kensington Palace Orangery. By 2016, she was already doing extremely well online, but this recognition won her further acclaim.

Now she has almost one million followers across all of her social media platforms. On Instagram she has 234,000 followers, on Facebook she has 56,000 fans and on Twitter she has 4,600. On YouTube, where she posts her popular make-up tutorials, she has earned herself 527,000 subscribers.

She has said she receives many products for review but she opts to only review the ones she genuinely uses or likes. When it comes to paid-for posts she clearly marks these collaborations as either "ads" or "paid partnerships." She works with beauty and fashion brands.

9. Rosie Connolly

Like Suzanne Jackson, Rosie Connolly is another Irish influencer who was an early entrepreneurial adopter to the monetisation of the online world. Rosie has more than a quarter of a million followers online between her various platforms. She is a popular account to follow on Instagram, with 232,000 followers on the photo-sharing site. On Facebook she has 74,500 fans and on Twitter she has 14,000 followers. Rosie also has 14,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.

She did regular collaborations with brands, posting "ad" or "sponsored" images of her wearing certain fashion or jewellery lines or using a beauty product. Rosie also acts as a brand ambassador and post images accordingly. As is now standard in the online world, the paid-for posts are clearly marked as such so that her audience knows what is and is not an ad.

Last June the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) upheld a complaint about the social media influencer for misleading advertising. The ASAI said it received a complaint that influencer's face had been filtered and photoshopped while advertising a Rimmel make-up product. The complainant argued that people who purchase the same Rimmel foundation, might think they could achieve the same results as shown in the photo.

The influencer responded and said that Rimmel had approved the images she had forwarded to them, and therefore the complaint should be addressed to them. Rimmel said the post was not intended to be misleading and said they had removed it because it did not represent their values as a brand. The ASAI upheld the complaint.

10. Maeve Madden

Maeve Madden, is a former Riverdance star, and today, she’s a fitness model with almost 200,000 followers on social media where she regularly posts about her irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acne, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

She has the most influence on Instagram, with 156,000 followers and her Facebook account has 11,700 fans. She also has a Twitter following of almost 4,000 followers.

Her social media career took off after she started posting fitness videos in around 2015, as opposed to just sharing fashion-related images. However, it was not until a radically honest post in 2016, detailing her very bloated abdomen, that things really took off for Maeve. Now the blogger is known for her candid posts within the fitness world.

Ads that she posts to her social media are marked with the relevant hashtag, as is now becoming standard both in Ireland and in the UK, where she is based. Maeve indicates that she is a brand ambassador when posting paid-for content or else uses the hashtag "ad." She has worked with airlines and food brands, as well as health products such as Sudocrem.

11. Just Jordan

Lisa Jordan, the Cork-based social media influencer, goes by the moniker Just Jordan online. She has gained a following in the areas of beauty, fashion and motherhood. In total she has more than 300,000 followers across her various platforms. On Instagram Lisa's personal page has 156,000 followers and the beauty and haircare brand she has developed, Luna by Lisa, has another 40,000 followers. On Facebook she has 89,000 fans, her YouTube channel has more than 7,000 subscribers and her Twitter page has almost 10,00 followers.

Lisa's paid-for posts online are usually collaborations with fashion brands, such as clothing and handbags. However, she also posts marketing images of household products and acts as a brand ambassador also, where she indicates those collaborations as such.

A complaint was made about some of her online sharing in 2017, to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI), because she did not identify every single concurrent "snap" on Snapchat as an "ad". Snapchat, which is less popular now, is a social media platform where images and videos exist for short periods of time and then disappear. Lisa met with the ASAI to gain clarity on the issue and to receive guidelines. The complaint was not upheld, instead guidelines for brands and bloggers were issued.

“We (bloggers) didn’t know the rules because they didn’t know them themselves,” she said. “When we started out it was very unclear what was what," she said in an interview with the Echo at the time.

12. Rosanna Davison

Since being crowned Miss World in 2003, Rosanna Davison has been working with big brands both online and offline. However, after the monetisation of social media, Rosanna like many other models of the Celtic Tiger era, capitalised on her following and began posting regularly online, where she gained a large fanbase.

Rosanna posts regularly about food, fitness, fashion and beauty. She has almost 300,000 followers online, with 153,000 on Instagram and 70,000 on Twitter.

While using her platforms to promote her own fitness and nutrition books and regularly posting free content in relation to recipes she also posts paid-for images, which are clearly indicated as such. Rosanna, who is also studying for a master's in science, acts as an ambassador for several brands and uses the hashtag "brand ambassador" when posting content in relation to those companies.

13. Joanne Larby

Joanne Larby, also known as the Make-Up Fairy on social media, has a gained a large following on social media as a make-up artist. However, now she is known for more than her make-up tutorials and posts regularly about fashion and lifestyle in the influencer sphere.

She has almost 300,000 followers across her various social media platforms. On Instagram, where she has the largest following, she has a fanbase of 142,000 people. On Facebook, her page has 113,000 fans and on Twitter she has almost 16,000 followers. Her YouTube channel, which is a popular choice of platform for make-up artists, has 16,000 subscribers.

On her Instagram she regularly posts images that are connected to collaborations with brands and these posts are marked "paid partnerships."

In 2018, the former Montessori teacher took a break from her online work, after she was one of the targets of an anonymous Instagram account, which aimed to unveil influencers who used filters in their images or photoshopped them.

"During this time I’ve had the chance to reflect on the whole scenario and I’ve asked myself what I did to deserve what happened. In terms of the hate campaign that ensued the answer is nothing, purely because receiving messages from strangers telling me they hope I kill myself or end up on the dole and involving my family is not acceptable. However, did I deserve to be called out on certain things? 100%," she wrote on Instagram last April.

14. Erika Fox

Erika Fox, known as Retro Flame online, has developed a large following online for showcasing her life in New York. The Kerry native is based in Manhattan, where she regularly posts fashion and lifestyle images from.

In total, she has more than 200,000 followers online, with Instagram providing her with a large audience of 139,000 people and YouTube giving her an additional 66,000 people, in the form of subscribers to her channel, where she vlogs about life in the States, such as the perennial challenge of finding accommodation in New York city.

With an international and Irish audience, her paid-for posts see her working with River Island and Rimmel, where she marks them out as marketing communication using hashtags such as "sponsored" or "ad".

15. James Kavanagh

James Kavanagh has a loyal online following due to his comic take on life. All in all, he has a fanbase of just over 200,000 followers. On Instagram, James has 124,000 followers and on Facebook he has 43,000 fans. He also has 4,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 33,000 followers on Twitter.

Brands regularly collaborate with James to gain access to his audience and he has worked with food brands as well as fashion ones and he has also collaborated with bookstores.

He started off working in youth marketing agency Thinkhouse in 2010, and his paid-for posts online follow the accepted industry standard, using "ad" in his captions.

He is the younger brother of Conor McGregor's coach, John Kavanagh.

16. Ciara O'Doherty

Ciara O'Doherty is a fashion and beauty influencer with a large Instagram following, where she posts images of her outfits to. Across all of her platforms Ciara has a total of almost 200,000 followers. On Facebook she has 13,000 fans and her YouTube channel has 33,000 subscribers. on Twitter she has 9,000 followers and on Instagram she has 123,000.

She does paid partnerships on her Instagram, and indicates those posts as such. She also uses the hashtag "sp" to indicate "sponsored" posts. She works with both fashion and beauty brands and when not posting paid-for content she gives her followers styling tips and tutorials.

17. Aoibhin Garrihy

Actress and teacher Aoibhín Garrihy's star ascended even further when she took part in Dancing with the Stars in 2017, and since then she has been a go-to influencer for fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands looking to connect with a target audience online.

Aoibhín has a combined following of almost 130,000 online, with 107,000 followers on Instagram, 13,000 on Twitter and 11,000 fans on Facebook.

She works with clothing and food brands as well as health and lifestyle ones, where she promotes paid-for content using hashtags such as "sp" for sponsored and "ad."

18. James Patrice

James Patrice has shot to fame online and offline in recent times for his comic talent. So far he has a following of around 130,000 online, with Instagram providing him with an audience of 102,000 and Twitter with one of 16,000. James's Facebook account also has 28,000 fans.

The TV presenter is one of the many influencers signed up with Andrea Roche's agency and he regularly posts paid-for content collaborating with such brands as Boots, Siúcra and Benefit make-up.

19. Eimear Varian Barry

Cork woman Eimear Varian Barry has an online following of about 90,000 people, whom she talks to about fashion and motherhood. On Instagram she has 86,000 followers, on Twitter she has an audience of about 2,000 and she also has 1,000 Facebook fans.

Based in the UK, the model collaborates with large food brands including Lidl and Green and Blacks as well as Debenhams. Her paid-for posts are clearly marked as ads using the "ad" hashtag or else indicating that the post is a paid-for partnership at the top of the image.

20. Louise O'Reilly

Model Louise O'Reilly has a loyal online following with nearly 100,000 social media fans. On Instagram she has 88,000 followers and on Facebook she has 18,000 fans. Going by the moniker Style Me Curvy, Louise describes herself as a body image activist, and has carved out a strong following for offering style advice and suggestions for a diversity of body types.

Promoting body acceptance and fashion-for-all, Louise has worked with Primark and Littlewoods as well as Dorothy Perkins where she clearly indicates that these collaborative posts are marketing communications, using "ad" and "sp" hashtags.

More in this section

ieParenting Logo
Writers ieParenting

Our team of experts are on hand to offer advice and answer your questions here

Your digital cookbook

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.247 s