Guidelines for the Influencer
Recently, the Department of Consumer Affairs issued a statement that the government will soon publish guidelines for social media influencers making it mandatory for them to disclose certain information. These ‘soon to be released’ guidelines are to ensure that social media influencers are held responsible / liable for their acts of endorsing products or services.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a voluntary self-regulatory council was established in 1985 as a ‘not for profit company’. It’s main objective – regulate all advertising activity in India to ensure it is honest, legal and socially responsible. Marketing / advertising activities – both online and offline do not mislead the public.
The ASCI released a basic draft of the guidelines for digital media and the social influencer in 2021. The influencer guidelines are being upgraded and made tighter.
Who are Social Media Influencers?
The ASCI defines an influencer as ‘someone who has access to an audience and the power to influence / affect their audience purchasing decisions or opinions about a product, service, brand or experience because of the influencer’s authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience’. It was further stated that this would include virtual influencers as well.
In general, influencers are people who have knowledge and expertise on a specific topic and build such reputation amidst their audience.
Social media influencers are those who use social media platforms – Facebook, twitter, Instagram etc to discuss about a product or service, share their knowledge and expertise and give their opinion on the same. Their audience / ‘followers’ are likely to be influenced by their view and opinions and accordingly decide on whether to purchase a product or service. There are influencers ranging from fashion & lifestyle, food, clothing, e-commerce, education, gaming to banking and investment services.
Influencer – The Numbers
Influencers may be categorized differently. The primary categorization is based on the number of followers /audience.
Number of Followers
More than 10 lakhs
Typically, celebrities – actors, sportspersons, musicians, reality televisions star etc fall under this category. Major brands seek their association in endorsing their brands due to large audience engagement. They charge hefty fee.
Between 5 lakhs – 10 lakhs
They are lesser-known celebrities than mega influencers including those who build their reputation online. They are less expensive that mega influencers.
Between 50,000 – 5 lakhs
They are not celebrities. They build their brand and reputation on social media platforms. They are more connected to their audience / followers.
Between 1,000 – 50,000
They are ordinary people / content creators and not celebrities. Their content is more relatable to the ordinary audience.
Less than 1,000
They have the least number of followers. Their content is very relatable to their audience and hence their audience engagement is the maximum.
Influencers are also categorized by their content – those putting posts in social media platforms, bloggers, vloggers, podcasts etc. There is increasing trend of brands / corporates paying social media influencers to promote / endorse their products. While this may prove advantageous to the corporates / brands, the end consumer may not always benefit due to vested interest of the influencer in endorsing / promoting a product / service.
Guidelines for Influencers – proposal
To make social media influencers more accountable and responsible, the central government has proposed the draft guidelines. While the first draft is to be published soon, the following are the key highlights:
- If a social media influencer is paid money or any commercial consideration to endorse a brand, then he/she must declare their association with such brand.
- Disclaimers will have to be included in endorsements made by influencers.
- Any reviews made with respect to products / services on e-commerce websites will also be strictly viewed. Any fake reviews or reviews made after taking money will invite penal action. It is proposed to bring such activities as misleading advertisements under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
- Heavy penalties are proposed to be put in place – ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs (first time offence) up to Rs. 50 lakhs (recurring offences). Further they could be prohibited from endorsing products / services for a period of 3 years.
India has always been a competitive market with multiple brands vying for consumer attention. The growth of the social media platforms in the last decade is undeniable. There is a tectonic shift from physical retail shopping to online shopping. The influence of the influencer on the average consumer is undeniable. The latest proposal to put in place guidelines to govern influencer behaviour is to ensure that the influencer influences his audience / followers in a truthful and ethical way and not mislead them. The communication has to be transparent and responsible in a way that the end user takes an informed decision.