With the recent backlash against a major beauty influencer’s controversial posts about the Capitol riots, businesses are once again being reminded that influencer marketing is risky business. Scandals are part and parcel of collaborating with an influencer—you need only Google the term ‘influencer scandal’ to find a whole slew of major, headline-grabbing controversies.
It is not surprising that this worry is at the top of marketers’ minds. Influencer Marketing Hub reports that, in 2020, 49% of businesses believed brand safety could occasionally be a concern, while 34% believed that brand safety would always be a concern.
Still, this should not deter any business from using influencer marketing. According to MediaKix, 80% of marketers affirmed that it is highly effective, and 89% said that the ROI generated by influencer marketing is as good as or better than other channels. To avoid influencer marketing would be to miss out on a truly powerful marketing tool for your brand.
So, what can businesses do to prepare for potential scandals and how should they react when the worst happens?
Be Selective, Seek Relevance
Have a crystal-clear understanding of your brand’s image and values, as well as what type of influencer would best complement them. Rather than trying to secure a high-profile influencer with an impressive follower count, it is crucial that businesses prioritise relevance. This means first doing your homework on potential collaborators and ensuring that their content angle, personality and values align with your brand.
This is trickier than it seems. There are millions of social media personalities ranging from micro to macro-influencers and it can be difficult to find the perfect fit. An influencer marketing specialist can help you to significantly narrow down your choices by mapping your campaign objectives to data gathered from influencers’ social media content and audience demographics. They might also be able to identify if the influencer has fake followers.
If not, though, be prepared to do thorough and in-depth research on prospective influencers.
Simply choosing relevant influencers that are aligned with your brand can drastically reduce the chances of potential controversies or scandals. For instance, if your selected influencer has no passion for your industry, brand or product, it tends to show (the Microsoft and Oprah debacle immediately comes to mind).
Remember to check if your influencer has been embroiled in past scandals, feuds, or has links to other controversial creators. Note: just because an influencer has been linked to a scandal does not instantly mean that businesses should not work with them—it really depends on the nature of the controversy and your own brand image (in some cases, controversy can even make for great marketing).
However, for some businesses, prudence might be the best strategy. This is something that businesses will have to personally evaluate and assess.
Expect and Prepare for Scandals
Having said that, authenticity is precisely what makes social media marketing work, and authenticity is by nature a two-edged sword. You cannot control what your collaborators say or do outside of your campaigns. The honesty and lack of censorship is what appeals to social media followers, after all. Granted, this does sometimes lead to tricky situations.
Prepare for the worst and have a crisis-management plan. If you have already identified potential areas of controversy with your influencers, it can never hurt to have a crisis communications strategy ready, even if the scandal never ends up taking off in the media.
Always stay up to date on your collaborators’ activities; check in regularly to see how their social media channels are doing. Not only can this help you to identify brewing scandals and quickly deal with them, but you might also be able to identify new areas for collaboration just by keeping up with their posts.
However, it must be acknowledged that keeping track of your influencers is a demanding task, especially if you work with a large business that collaborates with hundreds of personalities. If your job scope is not restricted solely to social media, it might be better to have an expert who can do the heavy lifting for you.
Always Stay Balanced and Neutral
At the end of the day, do remember that there are always two sides to a coin.
When scandals happen, your first instinct might be to disassociate yourself and run in the opposite direction. However, influencers are only human, and oftentimes their mistakes are not made with ill-intent. In the influencer marketing industry, it is especially important to cultivate strong, positive relationships as opposed purely transactional ones.
Carefully evaluate the situation before cutting ties with an influencer. In some cases, staying by them through a scandal might even earn you more respect and social currency, both with the influencers involved and their followers. On the flipside, businesses that have mistreated (or even fired) influencers over trivial issues have sometimes found themselves on the receiving end of controversy as well.
In cases where the issues involved do not constitute a clash with your brand’s values and mission, businesses should stay neutral and not take sides in the conflict.
If you do decide that an influencer’s actions have been too harmful and negative to continue associating with them, be clear and transparent to the public about why you are no longer working with an influencer. By being truthful and sincere, your consumers are likely to understand why you had to take the actions you did.
Finally – Rest Easy
If you have made the effort to search for the most relevant influencers, identified potential issues and prepared for worst-case scenarios, you have done everything that can be done.
Set aside any remaining fears about controversies taking place. They are unproductive and might deter you from exploring potentially lucrative collaborations in the future. Chances are that the issues you have identified will never make it onto headlines. Plus, on the off-chance that they do, you should already be well-equipped to handle them.