What to do when influencers go rogue

By Julia Ruane,

Yet another social media influencer hit the headlines recently as it quickly became clear that their personal views clashed very badly with the values of the brands they worked with.

In this case it was a popular make-up artist who had links with a number of major international beauty brands. Following her controversial comments (on a non-beauty related issue), the brands in question received a growing backlash on social media, with users calling for a boycott of the brands’ products. The result is that many immediately severed their ties with this influencer and are now in full-on ‘damage control’ mode.

When we see this sort of event break online it seems a good time to remind ourselves of the risks of working with social media influencers and how best to prepare ourselves for when things go wrong.

There’s no doubt that influencer marketing is growing in popularity as a great way to get your message out to an engaged audience. Latest stats show that influencer marketing can generate up to 11x the ROI of traditional advertising. On Twitter, the social platform claimed that 40% of users had bought a product directly after seeing an influencer’s tweet.

It doesn’t seem to matter too much whether your brand favours the reach of a celebrity influencer or the engaged community that a micro-influencer brings. The authenticity of these third-party recommendations generates better brand awareness and direct sales meaning that, finally, PR can put an actual ROI to a WOM campaign.

As we see time and time again though, before ploughing all your time and budget into an influencer strategy you need to remember that not everything will be plain sailing.

You might suddenly find that your – carefully chosen – influencer’s views no longer align with your brand’s values as closely as you hoped, as we note above. Or maybe they never did and those tweets from 10 years ago can surface like skeletons in the proverbial closet.  Or you can be hit by a wider trend that impacts on how your influencer is viewed, which in turn reflects badly on your brand’s image.

If you think this won’t happen to you then just google ‘bad examples of influencer marketing’ and you’ll get plenty of material to make you shake in your boots.

In other words, all the good stuff that comes with influencers – reach, engagement, authority – can also come back to bite you if you are not careful.

So what should you do? The answer is (as always!) to be prepared. As with any crisis plan you need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. This applies just as much to brands working with hundreds, or even thousands, of influencers as those who work with just a few. You will never fully know where an issue will arise, but you can make sure that you are the first to be in the know so that you can react fast.

So, here are our top tips for protecting your brand when using influencers online: 

Before the campaign

  • Audit their social media channels – Check their personal social history for any issues in the past or key topics they are associated with that do not align with your brand’s values.
  • Develop good working relationships with your legal team – For a strong and effective contract to be drawn up, you might need to help the legal team to understand the nature of social media and get them to help you open your mind to where things could go wrong (such as defamation, or negative product reviews). It’s also a great way to strengthen those relationships, which will only increase the standing of PR within the organisation.
  • Prepare a crisis plan – Prepare for the worst and hope for the best by setting out a clear plan of action for if your influencer campaign starts to attract offensive or toxic comments. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have the contact details of the right person in the legal team.

During the campaign

  • Monitor wider social channels – It’s important to monitor for comments, gossip, and news about your influencer while they are officially associated with your brand, as well as what they’re saying themselves. You need to know quickly if people are attacking your influencer for their association with your brand and if any of the issues you discussed with your legal team are taking place.
  • Look at sentiment around an issue – If any risks do arise, look at how audiences are responding to what’s happened. Is it a game-changer or just a bump in the road?When interpreting sentiment it’s far better to use human analysis of the feedback than to rely on tech tools alone. You can also look at Facebook reactions on posts about the issue as these can be more telling than the comment itself, and look at the reactions to the comments – which ones are getting more traction than others?

After the campaign

  • Continue to monitor for issues – Unfortunately issues can arise long after you have worked with an influencer. That could be due to the issue continuing to bubble away, or new elements coming to light, or even just a news article which talks about where things have gone wrong before! If any of these happen, you need to be in the know as early as possible so you have time to react.

Influencer marketing has all the hallmarks of being the holy grail of marketing and PR in terms of engagement and reach. Just remember not to rush in. Take time to prepare and don’t take your eye off the ball. As with all good relationships, it takes effort. But the payoff if you do is worth it!

Julia Ruane is Head of PR at Crisp Thinking, the risk experts who work 24/7 to help brands avoid a PR crisis online.

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Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash

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