The idea of unintended consequences is not a new one. The first use of the term is said to date back to 1691, when philosopher and physician John Locke discussed the unintended consequences of interest rate regulation in a letter to MP Sir John Somers. And in the 20th century, sociologist Robert Merton popularised the concept as ‘unanticipated consequences’ – actions that have both intended and unintended reactions.
The crucial difference between then and now is pace – how quickly intended and unintended consequences affect us. Back then, the unintended consequences arrived later and could be managed in human time. Today they arrive all too quickly, accelerated by technology in machine time.
When it comes to technology and innovation, consumers have expectations of a fast, frictionless experience – a need for speed. And as marketers, it’s our role to satisfy the needs of our hyper-connected consumers – it’s marketing in its simplest form.
Influencer marketing is less than a decade old. We’ve seen it grow from a nascent, test-and-learn approach to an established way of creating authentic relationships.
There are many brilliant creators producing and sharing amazing, engaging content. But what we’ve also witnessed is the unintended consequences; as the number of creator partnerships skyrocketed, the legitimacy of the model spiralled downwards.
It’s this pace of change that means we are in a different place from that which any of us intended, and these unintended consequences need addressing. That’s why Unilever has committed to increase visibility and transparency within influencer marketing, to serve our consumers and society in a more responsible way.
The good news is, we’re already seeing progress. Twitter’s commitment to purge the platform led to tens of millions of fake followers being removed; and Facebook and Instagram stepped up their commitments and investment in technology to identify fraudulent accounts.
However, while there has been a clear effort to make progress, there is still more to be done. YouTube is similarly battling with inflated view counts, with companies openly selling their services for people to buy views, likes and engagement.
It’s only by working collectively with partners, platforms and brands that we can eradicate this behaviour and rebuild trust in the entire system.
If people are spending up to nine hours a day being misled and influenced by fake followers, fake news and fraudulent behaviour, then we all have a responsibility to act for change before nine hours turns into 24, likes turn into hate and reality turns virtual.