Up until now, brands haven’t really taken too much notice of the inconvenient truth about bought followers falsely inflating the relevance of influencers. Buying followers is the thorn in the side of the social media industry – it’s genuinely fraudulent behaviour and Keith Weed, Chief Marketing & Communication Officer for Unilever has had enough.

As of today, he has vowed that Unilever won’t work with influencers who buy followers, has promised that its own brand accounts will not buy followers and will prioritize partners who are completely transparent.

Unilever beauty brands are REN, Kate Somerville, Dove, Hourglass, Dermalogica, Living Proof, Impulse, Lynx, Badedas and many, many more before we even begin on their food brands.

Over the years, I and others have challenged many brands for their work with influencers who clearly and obviously bought their followers, particularly on Instagram, and we are met with a wall of silence. Oh, what does it matter is a common PR come-back, as is well, we can’t prove it. The last time I challenged it with a very well-known brand and a very well known ‘influencer’ I was told I was getting into libellous territory and to cease the conversation. That was a lunch that ended fast and has never been repeated (and never will).

The issue that’s partially caused this is brands demanding that influencers have a certain number of followers before they’ll work with them. They’re also determined to use influencers as a sales force and with selling comes pressure – you can see how and why buying followers happens. Brands put pressure on PRs, affiliates and social media agencies to get results and in turn that pressure gets passed on. It’s just not a simple thing and leading from the very top is the best thing that Unilever could possibly do. Because Unilever is such a huge corporation, L’Oreal, Lauder, Coty – everyone really – will have to sit up and take note. And very good luck to them – buying followers and inflating figures is so common that its virtually unmanageable.

This is a truly important announcement from Unilever – someone has realised just how messed up social media has got and said no, actually no, this is just not okay any more. Let’s watch this space and let’s see the realisation amongst influencers and all the agencies that collude with it that defrauding brands has consequences.

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