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Will the New Disney Creators Lab Influence the Influencers’ Credibility?

In the days before digital technology and the myriad of social media outlets, one of marketers’ most effective pathways to brand recognition and acceptance was through word-of-mouth advertising. Seeking recommendations from family, friends and trusted spokespersons has always been at the top of the list when it comes to influencing a purchasing decision. Consumers are looking for assurance that a purchase will be a good and rewarding experience and consistently turn to those individual influencers for a “seal of approval.” A study by Defy Media found that 60 percent of millennials are likely to make a purchase based on favorite social media platforms like YouTube.

Influencer marketing has become a proven and economical method to connect a brand to target markets. “According to a case study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions and TapInfluence, influencer content generates return on investment (ROI) that is 11 times greater than traditional digital campaigns.” With 88 percent of consumers trusting online peer reviews over traditional advertising, influencer marketing is a necessary and important channel for businesses seeking to connect with targeted consumers. The influencer market value in 2021 is projected to top $13.8 billion, a rise from $6.5 billion in the past three years.

The popularity of social media platforms is encouraging everyday people to produce creative videos and online performances, reinvigorating the art of endorsement marketing. Studies indicate that consumers are more likely to trust an influencer who endorses a product they use and like themselves, particularly when the product message fits the influencer’s public persona.

The Walt Disney Company is turning to these influencers to teach, hone and enhance communication skills when it comes to promoting the company on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. The new program, known as Disney Creators Lab, will take influencers through eight online courses with lessons on how to promote Disney content on social media more effectively. The course will be held weekly for three months and will include topics like branding, merchandising, creativity and monetization.

The Disney Creators Lab is being run by the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division, which selected the first 20 “emerging” social influencers – also enthusiastic advocates of the entertainment company – to participate in the new program. Disney is not paying the creators to participate in the program, but it’s possible that the courses teach the Disney fans how to make money from their online activities. Chosen creators who complete the course will receive a free trip to Walt Disney World in January 2021. “There are millions of content creators who share their diverse perspectives and authentic stories on social media, but need opportunities to grow,” says the Disney announcement. “Twenty emerging creators from diverse backgrounds with truly unique content (mix of age, race, gender identity and creative disciplines) were selected to join the program. Selection was based on creative content and growth potential.”

Creator programs are relatively new to the influencer marketing game. Instagram hosted its first “creator week” this year to teach up and coming influencers and content creators about subjects like audience growth, media training and merchandising. With influencer marketing becoming a more important component in most brands’ budgets, the sector’s credibility is challenged, particularly when specific brand “training” is provided by the advertiser. Credibility, authenticity, and transparency are the major factors determining the continued viability of influencers’ future impact on consumers. Social media influencers can earn major income for promoting products, but can the consumer rely on an influencer to honestly disclose a financial, preferred relationship and supporting “Creative” programs with a brand?

The Disney Creators Lab, and other programs sponsored by advertisers, could be seen as tampering with the independence of major social media influencers and erode consumer confidence in the real motivations of influencers and brand endorsements. While Disney claims they are not paying participants in the new program, it is clear that a value is attached to the opportunity. The question is, will the newly trained influencers disclose the value of the Disney relationship and the experience to consumers?