Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

In my previous article, I talked about social media influencers, sponsored content and corporate greed. I am now following up with a few thoughts surrounding the disclosure of sponsored content in advertising. Disclosure is one of the cornerstones of advertising, but what should be an established common practice becomes murky when you look into social media advertising.

Can we trust that brands and influencers are being truthful and transparent to their consumers?

Let’s set the scene:

Suppose you are browsing the internet and stumble upon a video of one of the YouTubers you follow. They are talking about this great new laptop they just bought and how good it is. You watch the video and continue with your browsing after it ends.

At some point, you find yourself needing a new laptop. You have been brand-loyal so far, but you’re open to trying new things. So, you take to the internet and begin an arduous search to find the laptop that best suits your needs. While you’re at it, you might even click on that video you saw again.

A drawing of a girl holding a laptop with a sad face coming out of a speech bubble.

The Death of the Laptop

Marketing techniques have morphed and adapted to the different types of media we consume. Product placement has grown in television and film, and endorsed sponsorships are becoming a common feature of the social media landscape. We are bombarded by so many products and presented with so much choice it is overwhelming. However, it has had a different effect: seeing so many products shown in our day-to-day media has made us relatively blind to them.


Making the right choice

Going back to the laptop dilemma. You may have become aware, thanks to conveniently placed products, of certain recurring brands within your favourite shows. By this point, you have also read enough reviews and watched so many YouTube videos from a wide range of audiences that you may as well call yourself an expert on the subject.

But you’re starting to form an idea of what you want, and that is a good thing. You are drawn towards the more familiar advertised brands, but you also remember that stellar review of this particular laptop by that one YouTuber. They seemed pleased with their experience, and you have watched them long enough to feel like you have a connection with them.

Would that review affect your purchase decision? Most probably. After all, it comes from someone you trust.

A drawing of a girl reading online, and becoming frustrated.

Everyone online has an opinion. But who can you trust?

A Question of Transparency

Now, that video you watched? It turns out the influencer failed to disclose the endorsement for that particular product. As good as the laptop may actually be, you probably wish you knew that before taking the opinion at face value. What once felt like an informed decision, now doesn’t sit so well.

Have you been misled? According to the FTC, you were. Whilst product placement in film and television does not necessarily have to be disclosed, sponsored and endorsed content should.

Consumers should be able to make an informed decision about any subject. Knowing of any relationship between company and endorser forms part of this decision-making process. This is especially important in this day and age, where a key part of consumer behaviour is to heavily research an item before committing to any form of purchase. And even more so if you think about the countless of people that take time to review products online without prompting or payment from companies.

So, here is an interesting question: In this case, were you mislead by the brand itself, or by the influencer?


Recognition, Reputation and Prestige

Public opinion of a brand can be just as important as brand recognition. Striving for transparency and ethical behaviours is useless if there is a lack of good practice between all parties involved. If brands are delegating their social media efforts, they should ensure that the rules are being followed and accept the responsibility of any malpractice on account of influencers.

Disclosure is important because it feeds into the trust the consumers have in a particular brand, which in turn feeds into its public reputation. Quoting C.E.O of Andy Sernovitz in his presentation titled “Social media disclosure and ethics for big brands”:

“Trust is what makes social media, and word of mouth different than any other kind of marketing {…} We depend on the trust of our fans and our friends and our followers to relay our messages for us. Which means if we break the trust or we don’t earn the trust, there is no way to be successful in a business that depends on other people sharing our messages for us.”

Or: When customers trust a company, they are much more likely to share anything in relation to them in a positive manner. Trust leads to successful Word of Mouth Marketing, which is one of the most effective and successful forms of marketing.

So, can we Trust?

To trust, or not to trust. That is the age-old question, and it does not only apply to the subject of disclosure. We could try and justify our position by using the phrase “innocent until proven otherwise”, but the opposite is also true.

Social Media Influencers are still a relatively new concept, and just like laptops, they come in many shapes and forms. In this age of information, we can only take advantage of what is at our fingertips and use the internet and social media to our own advantage.

After all, it is all good and well to trust, but any situation in life, online or offline, should be approached with a pinch of salt and a healthy element of questioning.

Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

KOL Guide: How to choose a right social media platform?

Sunny, gorgeous weather and blue skies, it is an ordinary Friday morning. I was walking into the office with my coffee just as per usual. I sat down in front of my desk, logged in all of the working accounts, and felt fully prepared for everything. TGIF!


A few minutes before the 9 office hour, my colleague Nicole walked into the office as hurriedly as the wind, she put her handbag on the desk and spoke to me excitedly,

“Look! My new lipstick, Tomford 07 Paradiso.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, how did you get it?” I asked her curiously.

Suddenly, she was surrounded by other colleagues, “It’s so beautiful, where did you get it?” they asked, “I was told that it was totally out of stock in all shoppes here.”

At this point, Nicole took out her smartphone gracefully and showed us a social App where she found out the hot lipstick. It is an App for exclusively sharing beauty, skincare, make-up experiences and tips among girls.

According to her, the reason why she got to know this App is that one of the beauty bloggers that she is following on Instagram recommended it on her post. So, she was interested in this App, downloaded it and got the way to buy this lipstick when she was browsing make-up sharing contents on it.


Everything seems so perfect and effortless. As beauty fanatic as us, we decided to follow the beauty blogger she mentioned and install the App for future purchasing.

At the same time, in order to help us get more ideas on how to do nice make-up, we shared our favourite bloggers and beauty posts with each other.

What a wonderful morning coffee time, what a brilliant girls’ beauty discussion.

Do you want to know the name of the beauty blogger that we mentioned and even furthermore, get the awesome App that we talked about all the time to start your new beauty journey?

Keep calm, my dear readers, we are not here to talk about make-up, we are here to learn to become a KOL on social media. So, whenever we are attracted by other KOLs, we should learn from them and become hunters ourselves to target our own audiences. So, please focus on our ultimate goal, and allow me to reveal you the professional side of this scene.


In the case above, there is a keyword that we should notice first — Instagram. Because social media platform is a place for people to discover and link with the right person, needless to say, every single social media platform is preferred to be designed for their own target users. In the case of running a KOL business, it’s difficult and unnecessary to cover all of them, all you need to do is to find out the overlap possibility between you and the specific platform.

As long as you can figure it out, it will allow you to focus your precious time and creativity to get the best rate of return in the future.

So, why it is Instagram in our case? Why it’s not Facebook, Tweet, or Linkedin, etc. Before answer this question, let’s move on to see the differences between some of the mainstream social media platforms.


  1. Facebook

It is a powerful macro platform with over 1.3 billion users around the world. And the reason why individuals create a Facebook account is to maintain relationships with their own social circle. Due to this principle, it makes Facebook a platform where people keep in touch with their old friends and where the company interact with their loyal customers. So obviously, the drawback of Facebook is that it will be hard for individuals to reach new friends and for the company to target new audiences;

  1. Twitter

It is an excellent platform to explore the strange world, you can follow, retweet, comment on anyone without obtaining a friend request confirmation. Twitter also uses #hashtag to launch and organize a public topic for all users in real time, so it can be perfectly used in live events with good online and offline engagement.

  1. Instagram

Instagram is one of the favourite platforms among young audiences. It highly relies on image contents, which perfectly meets the photo-taking and sharing enthusiasm for young people. At the same time, as a growing platform, there’s less noise than big social media platforms like Facebook and Tweet, it is more real and useful for targeting wider and younger audiences. And one thing worth mentioning here, due to its visual-based contents, businesses like art, beauty, fashion, cuisine, etc. works really well on this platform.

  1. YouTube

As a video social platform, YouTube allows you to view contents without creating an account. In the meantime, it is an ideal place for explaining or displaying something which texts and images can never do. So, unsurprisingly, there are tons of tutorials video contents here, it provides a

tridimensional impression for audiences, and helps them to know us more quickly.

  1. Pinterest

It is used as a pin to mark images online. Like Instagram, Pinterest is also a visual-based platform, so it requires a strong graphic skill as Instagram does, but indifferently, its audiences are not as young as Instagram’s, meanwhile, it is more female dominate, because the most popular pins are usually recipes, style ideas, DIY crafts, etc. more housebound.

  1. Linkedin

LinkedIn is an excellent place to target professional B2B audiences. It is a social platform for a niche market. People usually use Linkedin for job searching and career networking. And the more important, people are often more careful when posting contents on Linkedin, so, they will more rational and calm when using this platform.


Above all, I believe that you’ve already known the reason why Nicole followed a beauty blogger on Instagram. Because as a fashion young office lady as Nicole, there is a large possibility for her to have an Instagram account, and as a natural consequence, she will pay attention to make-up, beauty, fashion contents etc. Expectedly, she will be attracted by an excellent content creator at one point or another.


Now, would you be the next one who can select the right social media platform to attract your own audiences? We’ll see…


Good luck!

Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

Social Media Magic: Faster way to be a Key Opinion Leader

Do you want to bottle fame, brew glory, and even realize financial freedom via Social Media? Become a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) in your favoured industry, be admired by millions of followers, your single word is worth a thousand pieces of gold.

That’s not a daydream. Instead, it is the real case that is happening every minute and every second. It has been proved that social media which can perfectly serve you as a tool to expand your social networks, provide you with a stage to show your talents, link you with audiences all over the world, and help you to build your influence more efficiently.

Is it sounds cool, working on something that you used to browse to have fun, or to chat with your families and friends, etc. to make you successful?

If your answer is a positive ‘Yes!’, let’s move on.


First of all, defining a KOL.

The definition of a KOL is an individual who is respected for the knowledge of a specific area, whose opinions are trusted and valued in a specific industry and is followed by an adequate quantity of audiences.

So, now, please ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know a specific area or industry? To what extent?
  • Do I have creative, interesting, valuable… opinions about this area? Is it popular or unique?
  • Do I have leadership in that industry, how many followers I got in my social networks, who they are?

After asking yourself all of those, you may notice the critical points, the 3 key elements of a KOL: knowledge, opinion, and leadership.

Based on these 3 elements, you can measure your distance away from a qualified KOL and create a strategy to optimize each of them. So,


Secondly, targeting your KOL potential.

If we consider KOL as a kind of profession, which can be categorized from entry-level to master-level, we will find that it is the same as any other general positions in the world. As an entry-level, you may just a freshman in the workplace, who is still struggling with what you have learned from school and what you are encountered in your real working environment. Certainly, under such a situation, your professional opinions may only listen by your close friends or families when they are looking for help from professionals for convenience.

Vice versa, if you are someone who has been working in an industry for years, who have obtained some important achievements in the career, and now is enjoying a high reputation and followers are queuing up to meet. Undoubtedly, you are a successful KOL.

Whereas, we won’t talk about that how can a freshman become a master in his/her career path, today, we are going to talk about how social media works in this accelerative process. Social media are tools that allow you to create, share or exchange information within and without communities and networks. Statistically, the average daily time that people spent on social media worldwide has been increased from 90 minutes to 135 minutes for the past 6 years. To a certain degree, social media can increase the efficiency to get your feedback from a wider scale which crosses culture, geo-boundary, ideology, etc.


Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide from 2012 to 2017 (in minutes)


As long as you can locate yourself on your way to be a KOL, and realize the meaning of using social media as a tool for help, then you can take your next step:


Thirdly, creating your KOL strategy with social media.

To create an excellent strategy, there are some useful steps and methods should be noticed:

  1. Audience insights: targeting the audience, describing their profiles as detailed as possible.
  2. Networks Determination: determining which networks to use based on your audiences’ characteristics.
  3. Content planning: selecting suitable content forms to show your knowledge and opinions and trying to engage audiences as best as you can.
  4. Data analysis: defining and understanding the value of ‘vanity’ metrics and ‘sanity’ metrics; tracking important metric to its source.
  5. Goals management: creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals, continually evaluating and adapting your goals.
  6. Time management: using useful time management tools, to monitor progress and make sure everything is on time.
  7. Collaboration and exchange: harnessing the power of other KOLs, followers, or your social networks, etc.

There is an example worth mentioning here, the fashion blogger career path of Chiara Ferragni, who now is a fashion businesswoman and was ranked first in the Forbes list of the most powerful fashion influencers in 2017.

In her case, she didn’t choose to follow a traditional way, neither did she work as a fashion editor for influential fashion magazines (even it is known to all that the power of the words of fashion is heavily lies in mainstream fashion magazines, such as Vogue, Elle, and Bazaar.) nor she worked for any other specific luxury or fashion brands.

On the contrary, Chiara Ferragni launched her fashion blog The Blonde Salad in October 2009, which allows her to show her talents on fashion looks, clothing, accessories, shoes, etc. via nice pictures and copywriting.



Due to its success, this blog has been taken as a case study at Harvard Business School in January 2015, and its content also allows it to attract followers from other popular social media, such as Instagram, YouTube, Flipboard, Facebook, Tweet, etc. continually.



Besides, Chiara Ferragni, as the most prominent name behind the blog, became the top KOL in the fashion industry as a natural consequence.



Today, she started her own fashion collection business and opened a flagship store in Milan, it is like a dream comes true, she is successful, isn’t she? We cannot make sure that to what percentage that the blog or the social media have contributed to her success, but we can make sure that it must be a large percentage. Without social media, we may get a magazine or a book or something else called the Blonde Salad, but how far it can go and how successful it can be, I would question that in such a digital era.

Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

The monetization of WhatsApp

Did you know that WhatsApp, first worldwide instant messaging service, with 1,5 billion of active monthly users, was ad-free? Well, this will not be true anymore in a few months. In 2019, 5 years after its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp will start incorporating ads on its service.

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is a mobile application, founded by Jan Koum and Brian Acton in 2009, allowing people to communicate freely as long as they have an internet connection. It is the first instant messaging service today in terms of users.

Like other social media platforms, users can text messages, send voice messages, group chat, have voice and video calls, share photos videos and documents. WhatsApp ensure its users an end-to-end encryption solution to secure their messages and calls, plus a synchronization option on web and Desktop allowing to have chats via computers.

In 2014, WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for $22 billion according Forbes’ report, and was supposed to remain free from monetization pressure for five years, accordingly to the wish of the two co-founders. Both have now left WhatsApp due to misalignment with the monetization strategy developed on the platform through advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal’s report. A position in contradiction with Facebook policy and other products of the group such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

Some key figures to understand the monetization potential of WhatsApp:

With 1,5 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp is the first worldwide instant messaging service according to Statista, beating Messenger and WeChat.

Launched in February 2017, WhatsApp Status counts 450 million daily active users worldwide, according to Business Insider. WhatsApp Status are similar to stories on Instagram and Facebook. WhatsApp is thus the first social media regarding stories daily users.

The way to monetization:

Since the departure of the two co-founders, WhatsApp keeps moving forward towards an increased monetization of its platform.

The first sign of this trend was the launch of WhatsApp Business in January 2018. This free application allows owners of small businesses to interact easily with their customers thanks to various features. Users can create a business profile containing helpful information for customers (description, location, opening hours). The application offers users the opportunity to set-up quick replies and to re-use them. It also gives the opportunity to respond instantly with automated message (away messages for example). Businesses can also get analytical insights.

WhatsApp then launched its Business API (application programming interface) in August 2018. This API is dedicated to medium and large businesses with two main features. The first one allows companies to send messages to their customers with practical information (related to a purchase such as shipping for instance). Companies are charged for sending notifications and it must remain non-promotional.  On the other hand, the goal is to enhance customer services with the option for businesses to answer customer’s messages for free during 24 hours. After that, they have to pay to answer. Based on these features, Facebook advertisers will be able to add a CTA (call-to-action) to WhatsApp on their Facebook ads, it will automatically open a WhatsApp conversation between the customer and the company. WhatsApp Business API is in a beta version and is still being tested with companies.

Last but not least, in August 2018, it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that WhatsApp had plans to start selling advertising in 2019 within its Status feature, between user stories.

With these various initiatives, Facebook target $10 billion revenues within five years of monetization, according to Forbes’ report.

What’s next?

WhatsApp number of users prove a strong potential Audience and help to better understand Facebook advertising strategy on this platform. As of today, the only ad inventory mentioned by Facebook for 2019 is the Status but we will very likely see the emergence of other formats.

I do anticipate that WhatsApp advertising will soon encounter some limits. Contrary to Instagram or Facebook, WhatsApp is mainly used for personal communication, and users might get upset with the addition of ads. WhatsApp won’t offer to the brands the opportunity to build a strong image as Instagram. I think the future of WhatsApp for Business will be focus around customer service and conversational marketing. Brands will have to adapt their communication to the way people communicate on WhatsApp and Facebook will need to be really cautious not to copy its other products business models.

WhatsApp website
eMarketer report: Messaging Apps and Marketing 2018