If there’s one word – well, it’s not even a word, is it? – that makes me boak these days, it’s “Spon”. Or rather, #SPON, because you have to include the hashtag. For anyone who doesn’t know, #SPON is social media’s self-anointed label denoting sponsored posts, aka posts which have been paid for by a brand, for which the poster is being financially remunerated. If you are Kylie Jenner, you’ll be remunerated to the tune of $1 million per post. If you’re Pretty Size 6 Blonde Girl With 100K Followers, it will be less. How much less? Don’t ask me. Do I look like a Pretty Size 6 Blonde Girl?
Most digital marketers claim they adhere to the 1% follower rule, aka if you have 10k followers, you can charge $100 per post (or $1000 per post if you have 100k followers). But marketers also take into account other nebulous factors such as engagement rate, client budget and campaign length, meaning that the actual, genuine, honest rate an influencer charges per sponsored post is cloaked in a degree of mystery that makes the current Brexit negotiations seem transparent by comparison.
Whatever these influencers are banking per sponsored post, swelling numbers of non-#spon Instagram users seem to be in agreement that the very idea of their feeds being “tainted” by commercial content is a negative thing. The backlash gained momentum this summer, when a Unilever executive told the prestigious Cannes Lions festival that the company will not work with influencers who buy followers, saying he wanted to see “greater transparency” in the influencer marketing industry, fearing that consumers no longer trust influencers or the brands that work with them. In September, a particularly egregious example of exactly why people may have stopped trusting influencers appeared courtesy of @scarlettlondon, who posted a photo (since deleted) of herself on a bed festooned with a duvet (printed with another photo of herself, as you do), surrounded by heart-shaped foil balloons and a strategically placed bottle of Listerine Whitening Mouthwash. The backlash to this uber-staged scene was swift and violent, with Scarlett even receiving death threats.
Every product will be recommended not by handsomely remunerated influencers but by individuals in your network whose only incentive for posting is their genuine love of the product
All of which makes the launch of Masse seem not merely timely, but overdue. Developed by two US-based friends, Elizabeth Shaffer and Lizzy Brockhoff, Masse is an app that harnesses the value of word of mouth – as opposed to the dubious “value” of sponsored content – in a digital, shoppable platform. Every product will be recommended not by handsomely remunerated influencers but by individuals in your network whose only incentive for posting is their genuine love of the product. That thing where you start discussing the best root concealer after a bottle of wine with your best friends? Masse wants to be the digital version of that.
At the time of writing, Masse isn’t available to download in the UK, so I can’t share what it’s like to use. But it’s an interesting idea. It claims sponsored posts will be verboten due to a constant monitoring process, used in tangent with a team of community moderators who will weed out and ban fake reviews and paid-for content. As with Pinterest or Instagram, users will be able to purchase recommended products through the app. Significantly, one of its investors is Natalie “Midas Touch” Massenet, the founder of Net-a-Porter whose venture capital fund, Imaginary Ventures, has also invested in mega success stories like Farfetch, Glossier and Everlane. Of course, it can’t have hindered Masse’s cause that co-founder Elizabeth Shaffer is married to Charlie, son of Anna Wintour. In the fashion world, influence is inescapable.
I’m not blanket-ban opposed to the idea of influencers making money from sponsored posts: when it’s done intelligently, by means of engaging content, I’m pragmatic. Coming from a newspaper background where multi-millionaire proprietors coined it in from advertisers, I support the idea of “the little people” being able to make their own buck out of the same principle. Most influencers are not Kylie Jenner: they’re just trying to earn a living like you and me, and I abhor the bullying tactics that some have faced in the wake of the current backlash. If an influencer is flogging #SPON content and getting on your nerves, there’s a far simpler course of action than spewing bilious comments on their feed. Just unfollow them. The choice is yours. That Masse offers us all yet more choice in how we consume social media can only be a good thing.