No one is perfect. But whether you are a celebrity, politician, YouTube star, or looking to pay the aforementioned influencers to represent your brand, there are some definite moral and ethical lines that can be drawn. The strategy of using a celebrity’s mass influence to boost brand engagement is not new. Well-loved athletes, musicians, TV stars, and personalities of all types have been the face of everything from beef jerky to toilet paper. But utilizing the power of influencer and celebrity endorsements does not come without risks.
Recent instances of scandal and misconduct allegations are a reminder for us all – but especially brands and social media marketers – that when working with celebrities, the internet never forgets. Social media influencers can help to increase engagement, brand recognition, and marketing ROI, if you mitigate your risks properly. Your influencer marketing strategy must take into account how easily and quickly the public opinion of an influencer can change. Your strategy should also include a plan for managing your influencer marketing after celebrity scandal sets it off course (though, we hope you’ll never have to use it!).
The Rise of Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing – the strategy of focusing on specific individuals who have an engaged follower base – is a popular, fast-growing strategy. Celebrity endorsements are an effective way for smaller brands to collaborate with and successfully engage social media influencers of all levels.
Influencers have become celebrities in their own right, and sometimes even have more sway over consumers than traditional celebrities. According to the New York Times, influencers are thought of by their followers as trusted friends. Therefore, when they sing your brand’s praises, potential customers/clients quickly slide down your sales funnel because trust is already established. Their endorsement harnesses the power of their relationship with their specific and niche audience. It also feels more genuine to the audience than an ad (although any posts by influencers for brands must still be marked as an advertisement), which is important because after all, social media marketing isn’t about you, it’s about the consumer. However, utilizing influencer marketing can put you at risk for being guilty by association when a scandal erupts.
The Fall of Well-Loved Celebrities
Influencer marketing may be relatively new, but celebrity ambassadors and their scandals or acts of misconduct are not. Almost every day, new allegations surface against high-profile individuals, from elected officials to Today Show hosts, and from beloved actors and producers to young YouTube stars. Unless you live under a rock, you’re probably familiar with some of these implosions, which started with ‘the watershed Weinstein moment’. With these allegations, the reputations of famous faces are understandably tarnished. But the brands and companies they associate with can be dragged through the mud, too.
While marketing influencer scandals are slightly different, the rules of reputation still apply, no matter the platform. YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, lost the support of Disney company Maker Studios this year after gaining attention for several anti-Semitic and Nazi-related ‘jokes’. Online celebrity Jake Paul also had a fall out with Disney due to regularly trashing his LA neighborhood, inviting young fans to party with him, and filming it for social media posts. And in the most recent example, Jake Paul’s brother, Logan Paul – who is an influencer and YouTube star, too – is dealing with negative backlash for posting a careless video of a suicide victim.
Being guilty by association with a social influencer can obviously hurt a brand, but the risks can go both ways. If a star or celebrity is not part of the creative process of a campaign, and chooses to represent a brand simply for money, regardless of the message, they might experience controversy in the likes of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad. Influencers can also get into trouble when a brand doesn’t hold up their end of a widely public promise, like the Fyre festival disaster.
Including Values in Influencer Marketing Strategy
Enlisting the endorsement of an influencer – celebrity or social media – means welcoming your brand to the criticism of their public persona. Scrutinization can come in many forms: thousands of negative comments on a press article, bad reviews on Yelp, attempted hacks on your website, negative hashtags created by angry online communities, and of course on every one of your social media profiles. And in the case of negative attention, the best defense is a good offense.
Before **It Hits the Fans
Step 1: Before you have to deal with an influencer tarnishing your brand’s reputation, you can take action to avoid getting into the sticky situation in the first place. Influencer marketing strategies have a natural focus on relevance, reach, and engagement levels, but should also include preliminary research to ensure the influencer and the brand are aligned on values.The alignment of values is more important to your marketing influencer strategy than how many followers the influencer has. Look beyond the numbers to see if they fit the reputation you would like to maintain for your company. And just as importantly, would your brand naturally make sense in their life? (For example: Kim Kardashian representing toilet paper vs. popular outdoor adventurers representing North Face coats.)
Influencer Marketing After Celebrity Scandal
Even if you preemptively vet your influencers and align your values, there’s still little you can do to predict a celebrity falling out of public favor (hello, current headlines). This is exactly why it’s critical to have a plan in place for if/when things go wrong.
After **It Hits the Fans
Step 2: Crisis communication tactics can help to control the effects of a marketing influencer scandal. The real-time speed of social media may spread bad PR like wildfire, but it also gives brands the opportunity to combat it just as quickly. Immediately acknowledging the situation and posting a brief ‘holding statement’ allows you to prepare well-thought-out reactions later. Examples of holding statements include, “We are doing everything we can to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again,” or “Our company prides ourselves on family values and we do not support the actions of ___.”
Step 3: After acknowledging the issue, you should be prepared to apologize, accept responsibility for your association with the influencer, and actively monitor and respond to feedback (but don’t argue!). Even if you’ve come to the conclusion that the values of your influencer do not align with yours, remember that your audience will seek examples of your values in your communication.
Step 4: Put out a professional statement that severs your relationship with the influencer and reasserts the importance of your brand values. But keep it human! Both your brand’s audience and the influencer’s audience can see the transparency in your actions and understand why you are taking the steps you are. Disney reacted to influencer-turned-actor Jake Paul’s uncouth behavior by stating: “We’ve mutually agreed that Jake Paul will leave his role on the Disney Channel series “Bizaardvark.” On behalf of the production company, the cast and crew, we thank Jake for his good work on the TV series for the past 18 months and extend our best wishes to him.”
Influencer marketing does come with the risk of associating your brand with scandal and misconduct, and you can’t ignore the potential to wreak havoc on your strategy and PR. None of us have a glass ball to tell the future, however, all brands should prepare a plan for reaction. At the very least, a worst-case-scenario marketing influencer scandal can give your brand an opportunity to call out exactly what your brand does value.