Idea in Brief

The Problem

Influencer marketing is a global force with huge potential for both positive and negative social impact. Influencers, brands, and social media companies that mislead the public could ruin an industry reliant on credibility.

The Cause

The industry is built on precarity, with little professional cohesion and inconsistent consequences for unfair play.

The Solution

Marketers must build teams of trustworthy professionals. They must commission work that prioritizes quality and integrity over virality. And the industry as a whole should develop trade organizations and unions to protect influencers, marketers, and the public.

Over the past 20 years the social media influencer industry has grown from nothing into a pervasive global force that has completely rearranged the way information and culture are conceived, produced, marketed, and shared. Commercial sectors such as fashion, beauty, and travel led the way, but nonprofits, government services, and political campaigns are increasingly joining in, hoping to harness the seemingly more authentic medium of influencer marketing.

A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review.