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Unilever Presses Digital Influencers to Drop Bots, Fake Followers

Unilever wants social-media influencers to give themselves an authenticity check.

The big-spending advertiser behind such well-pitched products as Dove, Lipton’s tea and Hellman’s mayonnaise intends to announce Monday that it will no longer work with influencers who buy followers – the coin of the realm in social media.

“At Unilever, we believe influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships,” said Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, in a statement (above, pictured). “We need to take urgent action to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

The consumer-products company, which also makes and markets everything from Axe grooming products to Klondike and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream treats to Q-tips, is expected to announce the new policy Monday at the Cannes Lions advertising festival.

Several big advertisers have begun to use influencers more often. Procter & Gamble, the U.S., consumer products giant that competes directly with Unilever, has started to work with more of them. “We are getting others to speak on our behalf,” P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard told Variety in May. “You can work with influencers and then influencers can speak on our behalf and drive their own social media audiences to be able to draw people in.”

Bloggers, vloggers, and tweeters have reason to increase their followings. The more people they reach, the more marketers might pay them.  Unilever cited data collected by Captiv8, a company that connects influencers to brands, showing an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000. A January investigation by The New York Times examined one company, Devumi, that sold and resold a vein of 3.5 million automated accounts to various customers who wanted to gain more followers on Twitter.

The directive marks the company’s latest effort to push back against what advertising executives say is a constant threat in the field of online advertising, which continues to grow in popularity as more consumers embrace social media, streaming video and mobile devices. Advertisers worry about disparities in measurement of online audiences and verification that ads seen by digital users make the impression their publishers say they do. They have also grown concerned about the content sent to consumers – whether it’s real and whether it sparks political and cultural division and rancor.

In February, Unilever’s Weed cast aspersion on social-media outlets, noting that they are filled with messages of hate and division, and often allow inappropriate content and fraudulent news items to exist alongside better content. Weed said the company won’t invest in “ad platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society” and will “only partner with organisations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.”

 

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