Influencer marketing has skyrocketed in the last 10 years. With the ability to engage followers both online and offline, social media influencers have driven purchasing decisions and industry trends more powerfully than ever thought before. These days, influencers aren’t just athletes, actors, or industry executives—they are gamers, kids, dogs and even computer-generated characters.
This trend has grown tremendously in the last few years, rising even faster than digital ads and projected to grow even more in the next five years. Influencers are highly sought after for the amount of attention they can drive to a brand. Rather than send a traditional ad into the news feed, brands can have influencers share a post of themselves using or endorsing the company’s product. For companies looking to maximize revenue, this strategy is often far more effective than traditional paid media.
However, that doesn't mean it's safe to dive right in. In their search for individuals who can attract thousands of views, many brands have foregone due diligence, spending big dollars while hurting their brands in the process. Why does this happen? In part, it’s because only 29% of influencers are asked about their audience demographics. But to more fully understand how influencers can hurt your brand, we need to understand why influencers can create so much damage through their social media.
The rise of influencer marketing, as measured by Google Trends
Why Brands Are Screening Influencer Social Media
1. Not every influencer is invested in your brand
In August 2015, Adidas signed James Harden of the Houston Rockets away from Nike in a 13-year deal worth $200 million. So when Harden was found wearing Nikes in mid-September, the internet went wild about the perceived betrayal. While it turns out Harden was reportedly just fulfilling contractual obligations, the controversy still reflects the transactional nature of many paid partnerships between brands and influencers. Even when influencers are committed to their contracts, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re invested in your brand.
2. Choosing the wrong influencer can hurt your brand
When Pepsi launched its global diversity campaign with Kendall Jenner, they did not realize what a firestorm their ad would create. Borrowing images from Black Lives Matter, the company released a video in which Jenner ditches her photoshoot, approaches a line of police officers, and offers one of them a Pepsi. People saw right through the ad, infuriated that Pepsi would use someone like Jenner in #BlackLivesMatter to sell soda. Influencers can have good intentions but if they’re not really aligned with your values, they can generate a backlash that’s hard to withstand.
3. Influencers may have brand-damaging online content
A few hours after the New York Times hired tech writer Quinn Norton, tweets surfaced showing that Norton had once retweeted a racial slur, used language considered derogatory in the queer community, and signaled friendship with a known neo-Nazi. Even as journalists argued that Norton had suffered “context collapse,” the Times chose to part ways with Norton. The Quinn Norton case shows that it’s critical to screen influencers for potential red flags, and that even when tweets are put in proper context, the public’s response can sink your partnership.
So what does that mean when it comes to screening social media for influencers or other highly visible figures? We find that the best results come from having shared principles. Besides screening for brand-damaging behaviors, make sure the individual understands your company's values, and is committed to the objective and terms of your partnership. Making the effort to choose the right individual with right traits will ultimately not only set you apart, but also keep you safe from a potential PR disaster.