Influencer marketing in 2021: the rise of transparency and social responsibility 

Posted on 01/04/2021 by Team Hallam

Partnering with influencers isn’t a new strategy, and it’s no secret that over the past couple of years the popularity of influencer marketing has skyrocketed. 

In fact, a recent report from Insider Intelligence on the state of influencer marketing during COVID-19 found that the industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, up from as much as $8 billion in 2019.

Despite worries that marketing would suffer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve actually seen the opposite – a huge shift to a ‘digital first’ strategy. With most of us spending more time than ever online, it’s no surprise that influencer marketing is showing no signs of slowing down. But, if there’s one thing the events of the last year have taught us, it’s that nothing is constant. And, as the industry matures, so do the regulations and expectations. Therefore, brands need to keep up.

During a year filled with so many uncertainties, a push for transparency, integrity, authenticity, and a deeper connection is now expected, with influencerintellingence finding that 90% of marketers say that proving authenticity is critical to the future of influencer marketing. With that in mind, we explain the state of the industry at the moment and share our top tips on how businesses can keep up. 

So, what’s changed?

If we rewind just a few short years, the world we lived in was a very different place. From COVID-19 to the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s no doubt that 2020 had a huge impact on the way we view the world, along with the issues we care about.  Coupled with the fact that there is so much more openness and transparency now around the effects of social media on mental health, it’s not surprising that the influencer marketing landscape, too, has shifted. 

Where, before, our social feeds were filled with reality stars selling teeth whitening products and detox tea, now, influencer marketing is more about reflecting social issues and creating genuine and meaningful connections with customers.

The result? A greater sense of social responsibility – from brands straight through to influencers and consumers themselves. 

How can businesses keep up?

With regards to social responsibility, new guidelines by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) state that there are three main areas brands need to focus on when it comes to creating socially responsible content. These are:

  • Body image
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Male beauty standards

This is important as the industry is acknowledging, for the first time, the responsibility that advertisers have in avoiding harming consumers and wider audiences. 

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint

“A creator’s ability to stay connected and bring value to their audience is going to be a key social media trend in 2021. People are tired of consistent giveaways and ‘ads’. They want real life, real people and real advice and suggestions”

–  Aundrea Rosenbaum, Influencer & Public Relations, Dell Via Influencer’s Unsocial Media 2021 Report


It’s no longer enough to talk the talk and to simply be aware of the issues. Instead, brands and businesses must now prove that they’re actually taking action. But, it’s important to understand that this ‘movement’ isn’t going anywhere – rather than viewing diversity and inclusion as being ‘progressive’, it’s important that we shift the narrative so that this eventually becomes the norm in the industry. 

It’s all about the long game. Perceptions can’t change overnight, and so in order to succeed when it comes to influencer marketing, it’s all about partnering with the right influencers on ongoing long-term projects, which will help to cement trust in your brand. 

After all, it takes a little bit of time to make a sale, and an ongoing relationship can help to improve authenticity while also providing you with more exposure. Just make sure that those influencers you are partnering with align with your company’s values, code of ethics, and CSR plan.

Align your partnerships with your ethical values

As the industry strives towards diversity and inclusion, brands will be impacted by the type of influencers they choose to partner with. Not only are we likely to see brands partnering with those from a much wider range of backgrounds, but now, it’s all about working with creators who share the same values and ethics as your brand. 

If we consider that a lot of influencer activity is geared towards a younger audience, it’s clear why this shift is needed. For example, as a target audience, Gen Z – those born after 1995 – place value on causes they believe in and, with their digital-savviness, are more likely to make informed decisions about brands and businesses they buy from. 

In fact, research from Facebook found that 68% of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society while 61% of them say they’d pay more for a product or service if it was ethical and sustainable. 

Being inclusive is no longer a choice

The relationships between social media and mental health cannot be ignored, and 2020’s increase in social activism spotlighted a lack of diversity within the influencer marketing landscape. This has forced many brands and businesses to address topics and issues they may have previously strayed away from – social activism is no longer a choice, but is now expected by most consumers. 

While this will take time to implement across the whole influencer landscape, and there are still many brands and creators using questionable tactics, what we’re finally seeing is businesses partnering with a much more diverse selection of influencers, especially when it comes to body image and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A brand that truly encompasses this idea of inclusion and diversity is sustainable fitness and loungewear brand TALA.  The perfect example of a brand taking steps in the right direction, they constantly share content about body positivity and use a range of ‘models’ and influencers from different backgrounds and ethnicities to showcase exactly how their products look on ‘normal people’. This is really important in normalising every type of body, instead of just assuming what their core customers look like. 


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A post shared by TALA® (@wearetala)

Another great example is Rhianna’s Fenty Beauty line. Praised for its message of diversity and inclusion, the brand recognises that not every skin colour has the same undertone or pigmentation, and so set out to create an inclusive range that reaches the widest possible audience. After all, the beauty industry has been criticised for years for brands’ limited colour ranges and exclusion of people of colour. 

Similarly, Fenty Beauty is also making a positive impact on the social media landscape, by working towards changing perceptions on gender stereotypes and male beauty standards, and regularly partner with a diverse range of ambassadors including queer and non-binary individuals such as creator Jazzelle Zanaughtti, and rapper Lil Nas X.


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A post shared by FENTY SKIN (@fentyskin)

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Influencer marketing in 2021: the rise of transparency and social responsibility 

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