SINGAPORE (Mar 22): The global influencer industry is one that is poised to reach US$10 billion in size by 2022, according to the Influencer Marketing Report from Business Insider Intelligence.

Google searches for the term “influencer marketing” increased 325%, from 6,460 searches a month in 2016 to 21,000 searches a month in 2017. Last year, companies spent US$8 billion on sponsored posts on social media.

But beyond the beautified selfie, this is an industry that has disrupted traditional marketing and could level the playing field for the “small guys”. It has the power to help small businesses as well as entrepreneurs make a living no matter what their challenges are — many rags-to-riches stories such have emerged from influencer marketing.

Despite its potential and high worth, it is a very informal, unregulated industry that lacks transparency.

The fragmented and unregulated influencer space also means data is scant on how many companies use influencer marketing, or how much influencers can earn.

Indeed, what is truly needed is much more transparency and regulation, say industry insiders.

While the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) in 2016 ruled that bloggers and influencers must declare any gift, income or sponsorship worth more than $100, tax regulation alone does not help avoid transgressions.

Nor do they diminish the risks of companies and influencers being exploited by each other.

Nonetheless, the marketing potential of influencers — even those with a relatively modest following — cannot be ignored.

This week, we delve into the troubling truths behind the glamourous world of social media influencers: Bad contracts, broken promises, and a lack of regulation, all of which taint an otherwise highly-profitable and beneficial new way of marketing.

Read the full story online at ‘Buying influence’ or in our print edition, Issue 874, which is available at newsstands today. Click here to subscribe