Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Have content creators taken the reins from journalists?

By Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO, TAKUMI

Influencer marketing is an industry estimated to be worth $15 billion by 2022, almost double its value in 2019 ($8 billion). As the industry continues to grow and diversify, its wider social responsibility increases.

Gone are the days when influencers were seen purely as a vehicle for product placement – consumers are now turning to content creators for advice and information. Marketers are increasingly becoming aware of this trend too and are engaging with influencers across a wider range of campaign objectives.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that celebrities and politicians with large social media followings were the key distributors of information relating to coronavirus.

Prominent public figures and influencers were responsible for 69% of total social media engagement with pandemic information despite only accounting for 20% of related content – demonstrating the impactful role of social media on public opinion.

Increase in consumer trust

Consumers’ growing trust in influencers as credible media outlets is transforming their role as creative communicators. Recent research from TAKUMI found a quarter of all consumers across the UK, US and Germany are more likely to source news updates and opinions from influencers than journalists and established news outlets.

This rises to more than a third of 16-44-year olds. Savvy journalists such as CNN’s Max Foster and BBC World Service’s Sophia Smith Galer have already got their piece of the pie, engaging people from over the world with captivating and informative TikTok content since the beginning of lockdown earlier this year.

This increase in trust has not gone unnoticed by organisations looking to connect with consumers. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched its own influencer marketing campaign at the height of the pandemic, in a bid to resonate with the public and spread accurate hygiene messaging.

Historically, consumer trust in content creators and influencer marketing has been hard to win and easy to lose, so it’s promising to see this shift in sentiment for what has been a serious sticking point for the industry.

Tackling the spread of misinformation

Influencers and brands are not actively trying to contend with news outlets, but they are progressively competing for the top spot when it comes to creating content that grabs consumer attention. While consumer trust in influencers is increasing, marketers remain wary of the potential risks involved with using them as an educational communications tool.

Content creators have a duty of care to their audiences, especially those who rely on social media for their news consumption and don’t engage with media in the ‘traditional’ sense – whether that be reading a newspaper, listening to the radio or watching free-to-air television.

However, despite growing media concern around the role of social media channels in spreading misinformation, the majority of influencers don’t appear too concerned. In the UK, US and Germany, 30%, 54% and 35% of influencers respectively believe tackling the spread of misinformation is one of the least important issues that needs to be tackled in the industry.

That said, certain influencers are making a conscious effort to ensure their content doesn’t fall victim to the spread of misinformation. But, as a relatively new issue facing industry, content creators often find it difficult to know where to begin.

Presenter and influencer Luke Franks echoes this sentiment, stating: “I think there needs to be more education on how to check facts before weighing in on a topic.”

Legislators also have a level of responsibility when it comes to the spread of misinformation, and the ASA has taken great strides in recent years to ensure regulation of the industry. Nevertheless, 71% of marketers still believe legislators have a bigger part to play in tackling misleading information.

This signals an awareness of a collective responsibility by all involved in the creation and regulation of influencer content. This will only help to continue building consumer trust and improve content value.

What does this mean for the future?

The widespread indifference among influencers towards eradicating misinformation across social media appears out of sync with the rest of the industry. If consumer trust is to continue to increase as the sector matures, influencers must take responsibility with support from marketers, trade bodies and third-party agencies.

As far as journalists are concerned: if you can’t beat them, join them. As content creators continue to evolve their remit and assume the role of credible media outlets, journalists risk not reaching an increasingly engaged and opinionated audience who don’t rely on traditional media for their news updates.