LONDON, United Kingdom — This month industry regulator WellSpoken and wellness marketing agency the Health Bloggers Community joined forces to launch an online influencer register combating misinformation in the wellness industry.
For an introductory annual fee of £75, wellness bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTube vloggers can apply to join the Register of Health and Wellness Influencers (ROHWI), the first and only independent register of its kind worldwide — created to radically alter the unregulated landscape in wellness.
Co-Founder Sarah Greenidge of WellSpoken hopes the register will ensure that credibility and a high standard of practice are upheld by both influencers and brands looking to partner with them, in order to protect public interest. And Pete Wells of ukactive and an ROHWI council member believes the register is the first step in creating a tailored framework for health and wellness influencers to work towards.
Critics, however, aren’t as convinced — with some arguing that the register is a form of censorship, silencing the voice of qualified and credible experts in the field of health and fitness.
Here we examine the ramifications for those who have built their wellness business on social media and the brands relying on their unprecedented influence for success.
A WILD WEST?
There are three key problems corrupting the influencer wellness community, says Greenidge.
“Poor quality information, irresponsible communications and inappropriate affiliations are unfortunately commonplace, and we are looking to change the way health and wellness influencers interact with the public and consumers,” she tells Welltodo.
The register will categorise influencers into two distinct pools: registered professionals, deemed as “those who are registered to a skill-based professional body and have an official registration number”, and content creators, “who may or may not have standard qualifications in their field but are not linked to a professional body”.
Consumers and content creators alike have been pushing for improved regulation of an industry that has exploded in recent years from an ancillary marketing tactic into a predicted $5-10 billion dollar industry.
And despite its meteoric growth, recent data suggests consumer trust in online wellness advice is plummeting. Figures from media agency UM, reported in The Drum, found only 8% of information shared on social media is true, dropping to just 4% when it comes to influencers. In addition, 47% of global consumers say they are influenced by opinions online, falling from 54% in 2017. A change it seems is long overdue.
“The current lack of industry-specific legislation has meant that consumers and other stakeholders have been active players in holding influencers accountable,” adds Greenidge, citing a recent University of Glasgow study that found just one out of nine leading UK bloggers making weight management claims provide accurate and trustworthy information.
So how will the register hold influencers to account? “At this phase, it isn’t the intention to proactively enact punitive measures as this doesn’t build an organic culture of cooperation and compliance,” says Greenidge.
Instead, the register’s role is to uphold an information standard to ensure the opinion of information is “substantiated, within the remit of the provider, balanced in tone and flags areas of uncertainty – in order for the reader to assess whether the information is relevant or justifiable in their perspective”.
A FORCE FOR GOOD
But Yolanda Copes-Stepney, director of Speak&Do, a media agency that manages influencers, believes the UK influencer network isn’t in urgent need of an overhaul and wouldn’t be pushing her clients to become registered until its impact becomes more clear.
“I’m in favour of anything that makes the industry safer but the influencer world isn’t a wild west,” says Copes-Stepney. “It doesn’t need to be restricted as long as influencers are transparent about their skill set and qualifications and are just showing a part of their lives.”
Rather than requiring limitation, she believes the influencer network in the UK already self-polices itself. “In the UK the influencer network is very supportive. Everybody knows each other and holds each other to account.”
She believes the rise of influencer marketing has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the wellness industry, taking the power away from advertisers, newspaper and magazine editors who used to control what consumers were exposed to.
However, she acknowledges a generational divide has led to scepticism and mistrust. “The older generation can be really sceptical of the word ‘influencer’”, says Copes-Stepney.
“Some don’t get it when they are not the target market or demographic. I personally applaud the Millennials and Generation Z on social media who are promoting people to embrace their body image, eat well and stay active.”
Since its launch, the register has had a mixed reception from the influencer community, with most welcoming better standards but some objecting to anything that could disrupt the profitable status quo of their business.
“Wellness influencer marketing is a profitable area and what we are pushing for disrupts the status quo for brands and influencers alike,” says Fab Giovanetti, founder of the Health Bloggers Community and co-founder of the register. “It means a greater requirement of due diligence from brands to ensure that the influencers they work with meet all of our criteria.
“For influencers who have been a Jack-of-all-trades, talking about everything from food to fitness to mental health with no or limited qualifications, that will need to come to an end, which will affect endorsements they can credibly take up,” she adds.
Ultimately Giovanetti hopes influencer marketing platforms and agencies will recognise the register as an official qualification, an award to spotlight the knowledge and training the influencer went through.
“I’m hoping for a better and more professional standard of relationship building between brands and influencers that can be carried across whichever platform they choose to use to work together,” she says.
“I firmly believe, with this, the popularity era of influencer marketing is coming to an end, with credibility and trustworthiness taking its place at the forefront of online information.”