Social media ‘influencers’ on platforms like YouTube and Pinterest rarely alert their viewers about receiving payments for featuring products on their online pages or channels, a study has found.
Researchers from Princeton University in the US focused on affiliate marketing, in which companies pay a commission to social media figures for driving sales.
Content creators who produce videos, photos and commentary are rewarded when their followers purchase products after clicking on affiliate marketing links included in their social media posts.
Researchers extracted affiliate marketing links from randomly drawn samples of about 500,000 YouTube videos and 2.1 million Pinterest pins.
They found 3,472 YouTube videos and 18,237 Pinterest pins with affiliate links from 33 marketing companies — the first publicly available list of this size.
The researchers found the links by identifying characteristic patterns in the URLs that marketers use to track readers’ clicks.
The researchers then used natural language processing techniques to search for disclosures of affiliate marketing relationships within the videos’ and pins’ descriptions.
Disclosures were present in around 10 percent and seven per cent of affiliate marketing content on YouTube and Pinterest, respectively.
‘Affiliate link’ disclosures, — which use wording such as ‘Disclosure: These are affiliate links’ — were the most common.
“These are exactly the kinds of disclosures the US Federal Trade Commission says people should not be using because their meaning is not always clear to users,” said Arunesh Mathur, graduate student at Princeton University.