On 13 July 2021, the Committee held its first meeting to explore the UK's influencer market, featuring insights from academics, content creators and industry figures, including Sarah Brin of British games developer Media Molecule.
Ukie describes how Dr Francesca Sobande, lecturer at the School of Journalism, laid out the current definitions of "influencer". As part of this, she highlighted that follower or subscriber count is no longer as important as positive engagement. For instance, "hyperlocal" influencers could have substantial influence despite a relatively low follower count.
Ukie's submission explained that games companies broadly prefer to build partnerships with influencers who demonstrate a genuine passion in their game or brand. Members have said that in terms of audiences, "quality" is much more valuable than "quantity". Ms Brin provided specific insight into Media Molecule's relationship with games-focused influencers, explaining that influencers who can communicate authentically and use Media Molecule's tools well is key.
Ukie says that a clear theme of the meeting was the potential that influencers have to drive innovation if treated as a resource for investment and support rather than a problem to be solved. Ukie explains that Em Sheldon, content creator and influencer, pointed out the lack of influencer-specific governing bodies or clear scaffolding for valuing an influencer's work, and Ms Brin recommended regulation to ensure influencers are paid quickly and fairly. Such regulation should also embrace the ability of influencer culture to democratise careers in the technology and creative industries, such as the games sector, she said.
Ukie reports that the meeting also touched on the issue of advertising standards. Ukie's submission noted that the market is already regulated in the UK and across many other English-speaking countries, to make audiences aware of the specific relationship between a brand and an influencer. Games-focused influencers are required to clarify if they have received something of value, such as cash or a gift, and whether the brand is in some way controlling their messaging, for example by restricting the kind of content they post. Many games companies such as Sony PlayStation not only remind creators of these rules but also make them public.
However, Ukie reports, Ms Sheldon suggested that existing regulation is already tighter than, for example, celebrities with brand deals: influencers feel that they are over-disclosing, harming their authentic relationship with their audience. Ukie's submission stated that UK companies who want to partner with international influencers will find it difficult if UK influencer regulation is tightened. The short turnarounds in influencer-brand partnerships, which are needed to preserve confidentiality around unreleased game titles, will only make things more difficult. Harsher regulation of influencer platforms may not be a solution to existing problems and could stifle the potential of influencer culture to benefit UK businesses.
Instead, Ukie and Ms Brin both recommended increasing awareness of existing regulations amongst influencers and audiences alike. Media literacy will be a key area to focus on if UK markets want to tap into the innovative resource that influencers represent. Ukie says it is already working to improve media literacy amongst young people as part of its Digital Schoolhouse programme, providing resources, lesson plans, workshops and home-schooling activities to promote positive behaviours online. To read Ukie's report in full, click here.
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