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Marketing’s Next Best Thing: Influencer Marketing Part 2

Part one of our influencer series talked about the high-level buzz around influencer marketing. In part two we will explore more intricate details of the industry, more specifically the pitfalls of brand-influencer partnerships and how to avoid them. With brands either yearning for the attention of established influencers or already working with them, it’s important to delve into the potential dangers of influencer marketing. While Influencer Marketing strategies can bolster results and have their perks, bringing influencers into your marketing strategies doesn’t always pan out as planned, and our goal is to prepare you for both the rewards and risks. We will identify the possible exposure to your brand while exploring the best precautions to avoid these issues.   Inauthenticity The reason influencer marketing works is because of the trust followers have in people they follow. Influencers have built audiences around niche specialties where they are seen and trusted as experts. For instance, a fitness brand should partner with an influencer who has a large audience that looks to them for fitness advice, right? Seems straightforward, but often because of the surplus of influencers, noise in the market, and brands’ desires to have endorsements from someone popular on social media, many brands stop caring about an endorsement coming from a place of true authenticity. That is where the trouble starts. Knowing that 47% of customers are fatigued by content that appears inauthentic from influencers, an inauthentic partnership could result in not only discrediting the influencer but your brand, as well. Take this example below. The first mistake with this post is obvious, TV Person Scott Disick simply copied and pasted the directions from marketers for the caption, which shows complete carelessness for this brand. We however also notice the lack of correlation between this brand and what Scott Disick stands for as a person in the public eye. He is known for many things– luxury goods, real estate, and even fashion, but certainly not fitness or health. Had he been posting a brand that sells watches that compare to high-end luxury versions for affordable prices, that would show an authentic relationship between him as the influencer and the brand, and it would relate much more to what people follow him for. For your brand to gain credibility from an influencer’s post, they must not only post content that they believe in, but that relates to their niche market and audience. To avoid inauthenticity, partner with an influencer who has used or liked your product or service in the past. Do your research. Is this influencer known for fitness and wellness tips and do they partner with other brands in the health and wellness world? If the answer is no, they’re not the right person for your brand. It lacks authenticity which then creates a lack of trust, and in the end, leaves you with no return on your influencer efforts and less brand trust from possible new customers.   Ethical Conflicts Consider this scenario, you partner with an influencer and said social media influencer is known for being rambunctious and somewhat disruptive, but hey they have lots of followers and an enticing fanbase. They begin to represent your brand which associates you with what they do and put out on their channels. Often as marketers, that’s what we want, to get eyes on our brand. However, what happens if this said influencer creates controversy that in turn ties in with you supporting their behavior? Olivia Jade is a great example of this. She was part of the scandal that accused her parents and 37 others of paying bribes for students to be accepted to prestigious higher education institutions. The digital world was in uproar. As you can imagine, this caused her a lot of backlash, loss of sponsors, loss of followers, and paid partnerships. Brands were scrambling to get out of endorsement deals with her, and while influencers are human and make mistakes, certain influencers can be dangerous investments. As a representative of your brand, an influencer needs to be vetted, but the question is, “how do you avoid these mishaps and if you’re already involved in it how do you manage PR efforts around these incidents?” The first step is to ensure you’re able to freely cut ties with a problematic influencer. Always, and we mean always, have a morality clause in any contract with an influencer that states that you can cut ties easily if they do something that does not align with your brand values. Next is the trickier piece, and it should always start with open communication. You’ve cut ties with the influencer, and it’s time to publicly state that. It’s important to put out a statement that you do not support that influencer’s actions, and ensure people know that your relationship with that influencer no longer exists. Take these powerhouses in the beauty industry, Sephora and TRESemmé. When the Olivia Jade scandal over the 2019 college schemes broke, companies were quick to distance themselves. Both Sephora and TRESemmé put out statements cutting ties with her. Sephora’s read, “After careful review of recent developments, we have made the decision to end the Sephora Collection partnership with Olivia Jade, effective immediately” However, we asked ourselves, “Is the statement enough to avoid long-term damage to the brand?” The answer to that is, “yes,” if the risk is well managed, then lasting harm can be avoided. By putting out a clear statement and pulling Jade’s product line, the most affected by the scandal wasn’t the brand but the influencer. Boycotts and social media backlash are unavoidable for brands involved with influencer scandals, but the direct communication and quick reaction as a brand is what can save you from long-term damage to the reputation of your brand.   Advertising Restrictions Another piece to be cognizant of are rules and regulations when it comes to having an influencer represent your brand. As influencer marketing takes off, it has not only caught the attention of consumers and marketers but now the Federal Trade Commission. In 2019, they released a new set of guidelines for online influencers because of the increased involvement of brands in this space. The biggest concern on the FTC’s side wasn’t that influencers were earning money on the side for posting their interest. It was that brands could be disguising advertising by paying someone for a review, that wasn’t identified as an ad. Due to these new rules, we often see posts with #paid or #ad at the end to show followers that influencers are being paid to post that content. The goal for the FTC is to hold businesses accountable and to stop brands from hiding the fact that this endorsement is paid for. Of course, it looks better when an influencer’s endorsement comes from an organic-feel post, but it is seen as misleading to the commission and therefore can be a big liability to you as a brand. Lord & Taylor suffered from this type of violation when they paid 50 social media influencers to post about a dress on Instagram but did not require them to include that the post was sponsored. While they didn’t experience a monetary fine with this consent order, they were prohibited from “misrepresenting that paid ads are from an independent source”, and they were ordered to make all advertising plans with reasonable notice available to the FTC for inspection and copying for 5 years. This means every piece of advertising they planned to launch for the next 5 years, had to be run by the FTC due to their lack of advertising disclosures. This lack of clarity with consumers ensuring they knew they were looking at paid advertising is what you want to avoid for your brand. The key to ensuring your brand is adhering to all the rules, is to familiarize yourself with FTC guidelines. A best practice is to instruct influencers to disclose your partnership by including hashtags such as #sponsored, #paid, or #ad. This also includes any video content they make. They should call out that the video is sponsored by “BRANDX”. Ensure they are clear and concise in how they state they are working with you to avoid trouble with the FTC. Remember, this may seem like it could hurt your goal of having an influencer speak about your brand, but in a world that is so saturated with misrepresentation, doing this will emphasize your credibility while avoiding legal risks. Influencer marketing can be a double-edged sword. If you’re partnering with the right people for your brand, have clear strategies, are compliant and transparent with your needs as far as content goes, and have an exit strategy for when values no longer align, then this type of marketing will drive the brand recognition and engagement you’re looking for. Keep in mind, at the root of the success behind this type of marketing strategy is true partnership, authenticity, and integrity. But be aware there are areas that can go awry. Make it your mission to always safeguard your brand.  
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