Over the past few years, data privacy has gone from being a niche concern to something that people actively think of in the course of their digital lives. An entire industry sprung up to capitalize on users’ distrust of online services. There’s an abundance of password managers, VPNs and specialized tools that check if your data has been compromised. Multiple laws, regulating the handling of users’ data, have been passed. But how did we get here? And what does this mean for influencer marketers?
Let me hold this for you: losing data and losing trust
There’s no smoke without fire - or, as is the case here, multiple fires. This decade was riddled with huge data breaches, privacy scandals and news of unethical data collection practices. In 2016, it came to light that the struggling internet giant Yahoo! had suffered the largest recorded data breach in history.
An estimated 3bn accounts were compromised; their owners’ names, phone numbers, security questions and password hashes were leaked onto the dark web. An internal investigation proved that the higher-ups were well aware of the intrusions, but didn’t do anything to safeguard their users’ data.
Facebook followed in Yahoo’s footsteps, with multiple breaches coming to light in recent years. First there was the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, an instance of illegal data harvesting perpetuated by the British political consulting firm with Facebook’s implicit approval. The company accessed data that it shouldn’t have been able to — and used it to influence the 2016 US presidential elections, as well as the Brexit vote in Britain.
This was only the beginning — a number of subsequent cases to do with negligent handling of user data took place since then. In 2018 the data of 50 million users was exposed thanks to an access token exploit. The year 2019 brought a number of scandals of its own: in spring, it was revealed that Facebook employees had access to hundreds of millions of user passwords, stored unencrypted on corporate servers. In December, their own employees’ payroll data was stolen.
Even ‘old school’ companies like Equifax aren’t any more cautious when handling their users’ data. It ignored security researchers’ warnings, which resulted in a massive leak of personal information pertaining to 145 million customers. It is apparent, now more than ever, that any personal data stored online is inherently at risk. And legislating for cybersecurity is next to impossible — there are always exploits waiting around the corner. So a bunch of laws were enacted to give users control over their data.
The most important of these laws is European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The directive, enacted in May 2018, defined the rules for the collection of European users’ private data, and users’ rights in regards to their data. Companies can now only collect personal data with users’ explicit, informed consent, and have to provide a way for users to delete this data at will. An important clause in GDPR also cements Europeans’ ‘right to be forgotten’ — the right to delete publicly published personal information, in order to protect one’s privacy.
Despite being a European law, it affected companies worldwide. GDPR protects European residents’ rights, so every reasonably large business with a European market presence has to comply — or leave. Other countries are also pursuing law-making efforts in the area. A similar law has already been passed in China, and the landmark California Consumer Privacy Act will be enforced starting in January 2020.
Building trust with influencer marketing
The data privacy panic might seem irrelevant to the job of influencer marketers, but it’s not. In fact, the very rise of influencer marketing owes itself to the public’s increased awareness of how businesses treat their data. People have come to realise that they are the real product for sale on social media. Everything else is just a way to lure them into the advertisers’ nets. Of course, they take offense to this kind of subjugation.
Some users are no longer happy to just give their data away, so they take advantage of GDPR and similar laws in order to share as little as possible. This means that there’s less data for advertisers to harvest. People have also become disillusioned with targeted advertisements as a whole. They consider banner ads to be creepy and intrusive, especially when the ads seem to ‘know’ something they didn’t explicitly disclose.
As a result, a third of all internet users are now blocking online ads, and the shady practices associated with the medium have led some lawmakers to try and ban targeted ads altogether. All in all, traditional digital advertising is suffering from a lack of trust. Social media platforms have already been making effort to fix the issue on their end. They have become more transparent with regards to user data, and started developing data control tools for their users. Now is the time for the advertisers to do the same - become more transparent.
Native advertising provides a way to create campaigns that are both effective and non-intrusive. Influencer marketing in particular is built on trust from the ground-up. Unlike banner ads that target individual users, influencer messages target entire audiences. The user makes a choice to follow someone, and, subsequently, exposes themselves to the ad campaigns that person participates in. If the ads aren’t up to their tastes — they can simply unfollow the person in question.
What’s more, influencer ads are always collaborative. The power influencers wield over their content is not to be understated. They tend to only plug the products they believe in, because advertising something bad will endanger the trust they fought so hard to establish. As a result, influencer advertisements feel much more genuine. The people viewing them know that they were consciously chosen by someone they trust, which is not the case with banner ads.
Influencer data: trends and outlook
The influencer marketing industry is changing — people no longer want to go for just the biggest names in the business. Low-reach, high-engagement Micro- and nano-influencers are enjoying the spotlight. So, tools are being built to automate the process of creating bigger campaigns by involving a higher number of smaller influencers. Which means that the influencer marketing, too, was impacted by GDPR and other laws like it.
But the fundamental principles still hold true — even with less data and less freedom to process it. You simply have to pick a person who enjoys a lot of online trust, and capitalise on it. Authenticity matters more than being precise. In light of this, we at MNFST approach influencer campaign automation a little differently. We have built an app that lets micro- and nano- influencers look for brands to plug, and not the other way around. This way, you can get a high number of high-engagement influencers without having to handle user data. All the work gets done on the other end: the people who truly believe in your product will be the ones to make the first move.
Misha Sokolov is the co-founder of MNFST