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Understanding Electronic Word of Mouth Part 3- Questions of Authenticity; Can We Trust #Sponsored Content?

This is part 3 of my Understanding Electronic Word of Mouth blog series. This series is about understanding how audiences respond to Electronic Word of Mouth content within Instagram and TikTok skincare communities, and how these responses differ. Through these blog posts I aim to explore some of the key finding and topics of interest I have encountered.

In this blog post I explain some of the key ideas and issues surrounding sponsored EWoM content and how disclosures affect audience reactions…

Influencer concept illustration concept Free Vector
(Image credit: Freepik, 2020).
Followers concept illustration Free Vector
(Image credit: Stories, 2020)

Generally, Electronic Word of Mouth content can be categorised as either, “sponsored brand mentioning (a.k.a., paid media) and the non-sponsored brand mentioning (a.k.a., earned media)” (Yang et al. 2019).

The Legalities of EWoM:

The legalities of online sponsorship disclosures can be complex and vary per country. In their recent guideline update, The American Federal Trade Commission emphasises that:

“Influencers have to disclose any time they are endorsing a product because of a paid partnership or personal affiliation with the brand. That includes family relationships and free products, as well as paid sponsorships.”

Anna Gotter, 2020

This article provides a great explanation of cosmetic regulations in Australia.

Electronic Word of Mouth and Disclosure Issues:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-44.png
(Image credit: The Creative Exchange, 2020)

Sponsorship disclosures are difficult to regulate as there are many different guidelines about how to disclosure paid promotions. Oftentimes it is the content creator who decides how much and what to disclose to their audience. For some the #ad hashtag is enough, for others it is not.

Siobhan Hegarty reveals that, “Beauty bloggers aren’t bound by the legalities of evidence-based medicine…They often can say things that are not necessarily accurate because they don’t have the medical knowledge to know what they’re saying is wrong” (Hegarty, 2020).

Soontae An, Hannah Kang and Sra Koo’s persuasion knowledge model, facilitates identification of the method, timing, and reasons underlying persuasive attempts by individuals” (An et al. 2018, p.999). Through their report they explain that critical evaluation often leads to audiences having a less favourable response to the content and can reduce the credibility of the message (An et al. 2018). However, persuasion knowledge helps consumers cope with persuasion, by letting them draw conclusions about the content creator’s motivations and goals. The persuasion knowledge model has three main components, proximity and placement, prominence and clarity of meaning (An et al. 2018).

To ensure transparency and provide audiences with persuasion knowledge, content creators should, ensure they place disclosures in plain sight where consumers can easily notice. This article provides detailed information on how to effectively disclosure sponsored content.

“Sponsorship disclosure results in the inference of a greater calculative motive and enhanced advertising recognition, followed by a negative impact on product attitude.”

Kim and Kim, 2020, p.10

In a study by Wen-Chin Tsao and Tz-Chi Mau, they found that when the sponsorship, “involves money, influence in the online community does not have any positive effects.” (Tsao and Tz-Chi, 2019 p.209). They also found that recommendations made by reviewers that had experienced using the product; regardless of whether the product was gifted to them, were better received by audiences then paid sponsorship content (Tsao and Tz-Chi, 2019).

A 2020 research report revealed that if consumers feel that a product endorsement inappropriate, they deem an advertising message is manipulative, which leads to reactance (Weismueller et al. 2020). Similar to my own experience, it was also found that only including ‘#ad’ doesn’t provide enough information about the nature of the sponsorship and was likely to affect consumer attitudes negatively (Weismueller et al. 2020). Weismueller et al. (2020) propose the Source Credibility Model to understand the perceived credibility of influencers. The Source Credibility Model suggests that the perceived level of an endorser’s attractiveness, trustworthiness and expertise all impact on the effectiveness of an endorsement.

Using the Source Credibility Model on my Field Site:

By using the Source Credibility Model I believe I was able to better understand my response to the various skinfluencers/ skinthusiast I analysed in my field site. The following images (Figure 1-6.) illustrate my perceptions about their attractiveness, trustworthiness and expertise.

Figure. 1 @Jadewadey180

Figure 1. depicts my perceptions about @jadeywadey180’s credibility. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Jade’s content not very persuasive, this seems to be due to the fact I didn’t find her to be very trustworthy. Which I think was due to the fact that there was a lack of information about the nature of her sponsorships as well as a lack of personality and relatability within the captions.

Figure. 2 @Sortofobsessed

Figure 2. depicts my perceptions about @Sortofobessed’s credibility. Attractiveness didn’t come into play as Adri’s content consisted of only images of the product/s. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Adri’s to be very persuasive, this seems to be due to the fact I perceived her to be trustworthy and knowledgeable. I think this was because she provided such long and detailed reviews, including criticism of the product/s.

Figure. 3 @Gothamista

Figure 3. depicts my perceptions about @Gothamista’s credibility. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Gothamista to be Adri’s to be very somewhat persuasive, this seems to be due to the fact I perceived her attractiveness and trustworthiness to be not particularly high. I think this was mostly because of the lack of information about the nature of her sponsorships.

Figure 4. @Skicarebyhyram

Figure 4. depicts my perceptions about @Skincarebyhyram’s credibility. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Hyram to be really authentic, this seems to be due to the fact I perceived his attractiveness, trustworthiness and expertise to be high. I think the main things that shaped my perception of Hyram was the consistency of his friendly and informative persona.

Figure 5. @Dermdoctor

Figure 5. depicts my perceptions about @Dermdoctor’s credibility. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Dr. Shah to be mostly authentic, this seems to be due to the fact I perceived his expertise to be very high, due to his qualifications.

@Figure 6. @Yayayayoung

Figure 6. depicts my perceptions about @Yayayoung’s credibility. As discussed in my fieldnotes, I found Young to be really authentic, this seems to be due to the fact I perceived his trustworthiness to be very high; which I think comes from the fact he uses humour and is clear about sponsorships.


An, S, Kang, H, Koo, S, 2018 ‘Sponsorship Disclosures of Native Advertising: Clarity and Prominence’, The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp. 998-1024

Freepik, 2020, ‘Influencer concept illustration concept Free Vector’, image, Freepik, viewed 12 November 2020, <;

Gotter, A, 2020, ‘Influencer Marketing in 2020: 5 Guidelines for Maximizing the Results of Working With Influencers’, AdEspresso, weblog post, 06
February 2020, viewed 12 November, <;

Hegarty, S, 2019, ‘Beauty bloggers and influencers make skincare information accessible, but when should you trust them?’, ABC Life, weblog post, 22 November 2019, viewed 12 November 2020, <;

Kim, D,Y, Kim, H,-Y, 2020, ‘Influencer advertising on social media: The multiple inference model on influencer-product congruence and sponsorship disclosure’, Journal of Business Research, pp.1-11

The Creative Exchange, 2019, ‘Woman in Bed Posing With Skincare Products’, image, Unsplash, viewed 12 November 2020, <;

Tsao, W-C, Mau, T-C, 2019, ‘Ethics in Social Media Marketing’, Aslib Journal of Information Management, Vol. 71, No. 2, pp. 195-216.

Weismueller, J, Harrigan, P, Wang, S and Soutar, G, N, 2020, ‘Influencer endorsements: How advertising disclosure and source credibility affect consumer purchase intention on social media’, Australasian Marketing Journal, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp. 190-170.

Yang, X, Kim, S, Sun, Y, 2019, ‘How Do Influencers Mention Brands in Social Media? Sponsorship Prediction of Instagram Posts’, IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining, pp.101-104.


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