Brands, Influencers, & Responsibility


Macro, micro, nano…no one has missed that influencer marketing is now a thing. (If you have, let’s chat.) It’s here to stay. And with it, the pressure to continually push boundaries, to go where no influencer has gone before. To get the perfect gram.

(Don’t know what we mean by macro, micro and nano influencers? Read our explanation.)

There’s no question that influencer marketing should be a cornerstone of your brand marketing strategy. Recently, however, new words are being associated with influencers…destructive, careless. Now, along with the rise of influencer marketing, has come the rise of influencer shaming.


What does this mean for brands?

What responsibility do influencers have when creating content? And what responsibility do brands have in partnering with influencers?

Fyre festival, anyone?

Or, how about environmental responsibility? The trend of social media shaming bad behavior has recently spotlighted influencers engaging in activities that destroy fragile ecosystems with careless abandon and a smile. These are the same public lands and places that aforementioned influencers claim to love in their captions. You can read more about this and the Instagram account Public Lands Hate You in this Guardian article.

Destroying fields of poppies, walking on delicate rock arches, lighting forbidden campfires…all of these activities were done with the sole purpose of creating the perfect image that can be used to increase an influencer’s engagement. The more likes, the higher rate they can charge, the more brand partnerships. In a nutshell.

But really, what’s the harm if a couple individuals post something that’s not socially responsible? Spikes in visits to restaurants or scenic overlooks. Tulip growers losing thousands of Euros. The end of an era with the loss of the floating flower markets in Amsterdam. Influencers are called such for a reason. They influence.

Back to the main question — what does this mean for brands?

You should want to be a socially responsible brand just because it’s the “right” thing to do. But we’re all marketers here. We can’t ignore that, at the core of our job, we, ourselves, have a responsibility to keep in mind the best interests for those we work with. (This evokes a longer discussion of who, as marketers, we involve ourselves with). And we’re marketing at a time when doing the right thing spurs a divided audience base while creating a segment that is crazy loyal to your brand. Gone are the days where companies can walk the middle line and please everybody. Audiences and followers are looking for brands they can relate to, brands who believe the same values, who take a stand.

If that’s not enough to convince you, there’s the fact that brands are not immune to public shaming which social media has made more prevalent, and certainly more destructive to a company’s bottom line. Apologies, especially public ones, are never fun to make.

I doubt that YouTube as a company has an official stance on poppy destruction. But due to a bit of careless posting that was done purely for the sake of engagement, they are held up as an example.

You also may not care one way or the other about the poppy fields (although you should). But only pick the fights that matter to you. For all the rest, a bit of forethought and preparation can avoid some PR nightmares and the hassle of breaking up with an influencer who you’ve spent considerable resources finding, vetting, and onboarding. Bonus – you can have a hand in making sure your company’s actions are not inadvertently harmful.

What steps can you take to ensure that the partnerships you establish with influencers and other content creators are thoughtful while still being effective marketing endeavors?


Determine your brand guidelines

Know first what you’re willing to engage in and how you want your brand to be represented on social media. Figure out your do-not-cross line and the stands you want to take. Go over these guidelines with your influencers and perhaps go so far as to put them in the contract.


Do your due diligence

Don’t take what the influencer says on their rate card or during a brief phone call as fact. Take a look at what they’re posting (go way back in the archive, too). See how people engage with them, the comments they post, the overall feel of the account. Make a note of which images might not meet your brand guidelines and have a conversation about them with the influencer.


Do a value check

Ask a potential partner questions to make sure they are aligned with the brand’s core values. We’re not talking politics, religion, or any of the other tricky stuff. Specifically. But you wouldn’t want to partner with someone who shows great disdain for millennials if that’s the target market you’re trying to reach (for example).


Research branded posts

Chances are high that you’re not the only company an influencer works with. You may not want to completely avoid partners who are collaborating with competitors, but you do want to avoid influencers who post sponsored content too often. Or those who are partnering with other brands that are in direct opposition to your brand’s core values. (Competitor ads can help reinforce your brand’s credibility by establishing the content creator as knowledge in the space. 


Play devil’s advocate

Spend a small bit of time critically looking at the content that you and your partners generate to examine how it might be construed in a negative light.


Consider whitelisting

A whitelist can either be created by hand or compiled by an algorithm and serves to identify those influencers that are considered “safe” for the brand. They dive deep to find any aspect of an influencer that might be deemed risky or controversial. Whitelists also help create partnerships that are highly effective and targeted to a brand’s goal audience.

Add to and develop this list as you build out your influencer partnerships to create a process that works for your brand.

We should note that we’re aware there is always going to be that person who will troll your brand online. We here to help you mitigate the instances.