Influencer marketing is a hot trend, but it comes with large risks.
Popular YouTube star Logan Paul recently made waves after uploading a video that showed the body of a man who had committed suicide. Paul filmed the video inside Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, known as the “Suicide Forest” for the high number that occur within it.
Media reports say the video was viewed some 6 million times before being removed from Paul’s YouTube channel, a verified account with more than 15 million subscribers. Segments of the video were still appearing online Wednesday.
A storm of criticism followed, with commenters saying Paul seemed joking and disrespectful in the video and that his initial apology was inadequate.
On Tuesday, Paul issued an apology on YouTube, which he also tweeted:
So sorry. pic.twitter.com/JkYXzYsrLX
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) January 2, 2018
On Wednesday, Paul said he was taking a break from vlogging to “reflect.” The crisis shows how quickly a misstep can damage an influencer’s reputation.
Paul’s credibility has nose-dived and more talk is not the recommended route for damage control, says branding expert Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, who advises celebrities, executives and media.
… “From a branding perspective, he is going to pay a big price,” he said.
As more and more brand managers partner with online influencers to boost engagement and their brands’ messages, the risk extends to organizations.
Amelia Neate, senior manager of Influencer Champions, says that 70 percent of consumers under the age of 25 are more influenced by YouTube creators than they are celebrities.
“Sadly, a damaged reputation takes time to rebuild, and even cutting ties with an influencer who makes a mistake won’t immediately restore public opinion,” Neate says.
“Choosing a social media influencer can be a risky decision,” says Chenoa Parr, director of Integral PR, “but the rewards can be enormous for brand exposure.”
[FREE GUIDE: 3 helpful tips for your crisis comms prep]
Reducing influencer marketing risk
“Doing careful research into any influencers to partner with is vital,” says Neate. “Looking for [an] influencer who is socially responsible as well as successful will help reduce the reputational risks. Using an influencer marketing agency will also ensure brands are matched with the right influence for their campaign and their brand image.”
“Choose the right influencer with the right traits,” says Cynthia Tabe, owner of ModeMaison PR . “Also ensure the influencer understands, is committed to the objective of the partnership, and is truly interested in the brand and its key values.”
Finding an influencer with the “right traits” comes down to doing your research.
Look into their online history carefully to ensure that previous content isn’t offensive, or anything they have said in the past isn’t going to come up in the future. This may take time, but it’s worth investing time into making sure you are working with the right people.
Michelle Garrett, owner of Garrett Public Relations, recommends studying influencers’ videos and posts, noting “consistency in the overall tone” with a goal of finding a content creator with “a tried and true background.”
For example, if you see that an influencer uses inappropriate language, that may not be a fit for your brand. Watch out for things that might alienate your audience.
Who has the influencer worked with? What were the results of their work? How long did they work with that brand and or company? Was there any negative press, scandal, etc.? Are all key questions to ask when vetting an influencer.
Smith also recommends looking at metrics:
Always look for engagement rates, and ask for Google analytics for their blog and social media platform. If an influencer has several thousand followers but little engagement, it isn’t going to be very beneficial to your brand. Also, look at previous content that they have produced, and the quality of it.
However, analytics will only show you one element of a social media creator.
Social metrics and reach do not tell the entire story. To find out if someone is a good match, watch and take notes on the kind of culture that the influencer is building for their community and do not ignore the things that your brand is not comfortable with. If your notes say that maybe you can get the influencer to be different, then you are realistically looking at someone you should not be working with. The last thing any creator wants to hear for a brand deal is that they need to change in order to align with the product.
“A big mistake brands tend to make is assuming because an influencer has millions of followers, they will be a great fit for the brand,” Browne says. “A large [number] of followers does not equate to the quality of them, nor how engagement will be driven from those followers.”
Even after you’ve identified influential social media users you want to partner with, map out a crisis plan and always be prepared for an online firestorm.
If something goes wrong, how will you respond to [minimize] any damage to your brand? Make sure you have a [communications] plan in your back pocket to help navigate through any potential crisis.
Smith says a signed agreement can protect your brand’s reputation:
Have a contract in place. This should state timings of post, numbers of post, agreed fee, and any terms or conditions. For example, if there is an incident like Logan Paul, or even with Zoella’s tweets last year, then you should have something in place that detaches your brand from the influencer, including the removal of your content.
Social media consultant Corrie Jones agrees, and says:
Also make sure that all of your contracts between brand and influencer are looked over by a lawyer, and set out terms for what would happen if either party had a brand controversy.
Influencer traits to look for
Though each influencer is different—as are each organization’s campaign messages—there are several characteristics PR and marketing pros should seek.
… Look for someone who is honest, authentic, creative, innovative, connects with people easily, likeable, inquisitive/curious, committed, knowledgeable, passionate and confident.
“I always look for authenticity, accountability, commitment and creativity,” says Browne.
Landino advises brand managers to look for online content creators that have successfully built their own brands which could align with yours. She says:
The traits of an effective influencer are in someone who shows up for their audience consistently, not just with an editorial calendar but with the promise of their own personal brand always shining through in the content. From there you need to identify the characteristics of someone who would be a good fit for how they handle themselves —whether a sponsor is involved or not— and what they’ve promised their community.
Smith says that partnering with influencers that specialize in your industry or niche can more effectively boost engagement and better target your audience.
Jones recommends asking yourself if a specific influencer is a “natural fit” for your brand:
Look for traits the influencer shows in their work that match your brand’s mission statement.
… If you’re forcing the relationship, and just working with an influencer to gain access to their large audience, the content won’t be as authentic and you’ll have a lower return on investment.
“When you have a good fit, the brand feature will be a perfect complement to a valuable online presence people love to follow,” Landino says.
Just remember to prepare for the worst-case scenario—no matter how much research you’ve done or how great the relationship is.
“While it’s is important to properly vet influencers, keep in mind that anyone can say anything at any time,” Garrett says.
What would you add to this list of precautionary measures, PR Daily readers?