Influencer marketing remains on the rise, poised to reach $10 billion this year. According to the 2020 Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report, large companies have nearly doubled the number of creators they activate per campaign in the past two years.
Why the continued rise? Because it works.
But as influencer marketing grows, so do the errors and snags that accompany it, which means that vetting of influencers, particularly influencer social media, is increasingly important to marketing directors and brands across all industries.
On the one hand, mis-tweets happen, and show we’re human. In a recent Hollywood Reporter article, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shows how celebrity social media has gotten further complicated since the emergence of the novel coronavirus. Whether it’s Evangeline Lilly’s defiant Instagram post about the virus being a political ploy or Justin Timberlake’s post about social distancing in a beautiful snowscape, social media blunders by influencers can get the best of them and the companies they promote.
Again, it happens. It’s awkward. Some people get angry. If a statement isn’t particularly egregious, your company can make a statement, correct the flub, and move forward, none the worse for wear.
On the other hand, when mis-tweets aren’t recognized and remedied quickly, the consequences can be disastrous. Whether there’s an existing pattern of tweets that eventually leads to a viral one costing millions in ad revenue, or just one or two from years past surface when a celebrity wins a big award or gets named to a big job – maybe yours – when the tweets or records are particularly bad, it’s game over.
It's a perfect storm. When you combine the spread and accessibility of data and evolving standards of right and wrong with the number of tweets created every hour on celebrity social media, the chances of an inflammatory tweet or statement are high. And if that happens, you can be caught playing defense, scrambling for a solution with no idea how to respond to the resulting public outrage.
How do you get ahead of the almost inevitable fallout?
What types of influencer content do I need to find?
When it comes to identifying social media content, companies that work with influencers have a nearly insurmountable task. In addition to needing to sift through potentially thousands of posts, you’ll need to make sure each post fulfills a number of criteria:
- Core Subject Matter: Do the voice of the brand and the voice of the influencer align?
- Competitors: Has the influencer you’re looking to work with recently promoted a competitor?
- Combative, Harassing, or Threatening Behavior: Does the influencer treat others respectfully on social media or is there combative, harassing, threatening, or other potentially discriminatory behavior?
- Historical Social Issues: Does the influencer’s stance on prominent social issues (gender equality, racism, and similar issues) align with yours? If not, do you have a way to work across differences effectively as a brand?
- Emerging Social Issues: COVID-19 has created additional changes to the dynamics of social media. How does the influencer communicate and operate when it comes to public health protocol and other challenging issues?
Most importantly: how are you planning to reliably find these things with the limited time you have?
How much toxicity exists in influencer social media?
Not only is the range for potential error enormous; so is the frequency.
According to our research, as many as 1 in 5 influencers who partner with key brands have at least one indicator of intolerance or bigotry in their social media presence. (This figure didn’t include other kinds of objectionable criteria: sexual content, threatening statements, or any other off-brand content). We needn’t look far beyond prominent examples in entertainment or sports to see how any of these can sink careers and enterprises.
The fact is, conflict sells on social media platforms, and there is conflict aplenty. But a thorough screening of social media, done manually, can take six hours or more per person (often more for high-profile individuals). Do you have the time—or is a mistake something you can afford?
How can I prevent influencer social media scandals?
We’ve learned through conversations with leading brands and PR firms that for most companies who work with influencers, there’s no clear playbook for neutralizing the mayhem caused by celebrity social media and no template on how to handle furor-inducing incidents in advance.
At least, not yet.
Until now, we’ve seen brands try everything from morality clauses to hiring private investigators with military backgrounds and cyber-intelligence tools to get ahead of the social media epidemic that is roiling in the creative and entertainment industries.
All those things are helpful. A morality clause is a great insurance policy in case things don’t work out, but it won’t solve the problem. A private investigator can read for nuance, but is often prohibitively expensive. And while PI’s can dig up many data points you can miss, they’re also bound to miss a needle in the haystack when it comes to something as soft and formless – yet potentially crushing – as user-generated social media.
Launching a production or marketing campaign without incident is hard, but it isn’t impossible.
That’s where AI comes in.
The Role of AI in Reputation and Risk Management
According to crisis management experts, brands have just 15 minutes to respond to reputation crises with a communications strategy, and what happens in the first 48 hours usually determines whether a crisis becomes manageable or spreads like wildfire.
How can you respond that quickly when you don’t even know what you’re up against?
AI won’t solve every reputation-based problem that a brand runs into. An integrated strategy still requires old-school communications and crisis management techniques, something AI isn’t capable of handling.
But you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Solutions for discovery do exist, and they can help you make sense of the information that’s out there, connecting the dots for you rather than saddling you with finding them on your own.
Based on our conversations with leading entertainment partners, here are some of the things that brands need to do:
- Identify solutions for training, coaching, and reputation monitoring
- Develop a crisis management playbook to remedy existing or future brand damage
- Work with counsel to develop legal protections in case of fallout
- Discover and mitigate issues facing an individual or your company upfront and fast
That’s why we encourage brands who are working with influencers, particularly those in high places or aiming to reach them, to reach out to trusted screening providers.
As it turns out, managing the influencer social media epidemic is a lot like managing a public health crisis. AI will never solve the whole thing by itself. But, like masks that prevent the spread of a deadly virus or contact tracing protocols that help get things under control, AI screening tools are like immune cells for a digital world that’s just one tweet away from going viral. And in the present toxic social media epidemic, they’re your first line of defense.