Influencer Marketing: 3 Ways to Avoid a Mishap

Published on January 5, 2021

Tying brands to ambassadors who come with their own lives and opinions in influencer marketing campaigns can sometimes be a risky game. If an influencer gets into hot water, all aspects of their image, including brand partnerships, can come under scrutiny as well. We’ve all heard of worst-case scenarios past instances of prejudice or illegal activities have come to light, causing brands to drop big-name ambassadors.

Of course, risk of scandal can still come to brands who work with lower-profile influencers. However, what’s more common is finding out too late in the game that an influencer isn’t the right fit for your brand based on their lifestyle and interests. In 2018, Volvo received criticism over a series of sponsored posts from influencer Chriselle Lim. Followers felt that the posts didn’t fit in with Lim’s typical fashion and beauty-focused style and that her polished, higher-end personal brand was at odds with Volvo’s desired image of accessible, family-friendly vehicles.

While these scenarios don’t have major newsmaking implications, they can be enough to turn customers off if they feel they can’t relate to the influencer or the promotional content is inauthentic. The good news is that you can lower your risk by doing careful research into both the influencer’s lifestyle and image and how these factors align with your brand and target audience’s interests. If it doesn’t seem like a fit, don’t pursue the partnership. This can be the easiest way to avoid influencer marketing mishaps down the road.

Frequent and thorough vetting

The easiest way to avoid a misstep or even a crisis is to align yourself with appropriate influencers from the start. Look into previous posts, overall behavior and tactics for engaging with followers. This will help you identify the proper partners and, more importantly, weed out any who might not be a fit or who could be viewed as controversial. Look out for the obvious red flags — history of illegal activity, insensitive or prejudiced remarks and socially irresponsible behaviors. At the first sign of any of these, you should walk away or not pursue the partnership.

Moving beyond the obvious, think about the customer segments you hope to reach with this influencer. What is their relationship with these groups? Ideally, you want them to have already built a positive, productive connection with these audiences. If they aren’t keyed in to the culture within these spaces, there’s a greater chance a seemingly innocuous post could be perceived as out of touch, isolating those groups and making it harder for your messaging to break through.

Perform a risk assessment

Once you’ve identified influencers whose background and posting style are a fit for your campaign, take a look at the risks associated with the partnership. Bringing in a third-party individual with their own opinions and life outside your campaigns always carries some degree of risk since their actions – good and bad – can be tied to your brand. In general, the more high-profile the talent you choose to work with, the riskier the partnership is. Celebrities and influencers with massive followings are constantly subject to public scrutiny. Even the smallest misstep or perceived insensitivity can become the subject of broader public discourse. It’s easy for your brand to get caught up in the groundswell when this happens and you might find yourself with no choice but to drop the influencer and distance your brand from their actions.

On the other hand, smaller influencers with more niche followings can be less-risky partners. Their actions typically aren’t being dissected by national media. These influencers aren’t impervious to scandal and you should still keep your guard up when vetting their activity outside your campaigns, but the stakes are lower. What’s more, micro influencers typically receive more favorable engagement rates than high-profile names as they’re more keyed in with their niche followers.

It’s also important to take an honest look at whether the partnership makes sense. Would the influencer reasonably use your products? Lack of authenticity might negatively impact engagement across your influencer marketing campaign so you’ll want to decide if it’s worth the risk. If your brand prides itself on being real and accessible to all, think twice before engaging with high-profile influencers who could be met with skepticism from everyday followers.

Keep the lines of communication open

Another way to avoid a misstep is to make sure your influencers are familiar with and active in the audiences you want to reach. Look to work with those that have commonalities with your core customer base — they’ll think like your target audience and provide a useful perspective. Influencers who are members of the community you’re looking to break into can help you with messaging and campaign development.

Let your influencers preview your strategy and provide feedback. If they tell you a particular message is off-base or could be perceived negatively, take them seriously. If they are off-put by something, there’s a good chance their peers will feel similarly. Take the time to bring the influencer’s perspective into the equation early and often for much-needed reality checks. Followers will be quick to point out posts that seem inauthentic or don’t incorporate the influencer’s real voice, causing your campaign to fall flat or, at worst, painting your brand in a negative light.

Working with any influencer is an investment and all partnerships should be carefully planned and researched. It’s not enough to watch for signs of controversy, brands must assess the influencer’s connection to core audiences and products to identify any disconnect that could be off-putting to customers. Most importantly, collaboration and communication is crucial to any influencer marketing campaign. Look to your influencers to provide honest feedback on strategies to ensure they won’t isolate customers or be misconstrued. By following a few simple steps early in the partnership, you can position your brand to avoid missteps and scandals.

Justin Kline is a contributor to Grit Daily and co-founder of Markerly, an influencer marketing technology partner and platform working with some of the largest consumer brands in the world.

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