Influencer marketing is an amazing channel but not without its challenges to brands. With increased divisiveness around the world and especially on social media, those challenges have gotten larger and quite frankly scary. This post discusses strategies my clients and I use to navigate our influencer partnership while maintaining brand integrity and reducing the risks of community backlash.
Brands partner with influencers because of their powerful engagement with their followers. This engagement also breeds a level of authority and trust for the influencer. We look for influencers who are passionate about their space and have positioned themselves as experts in their niche. But what happens when it is revealed that your brand partner is also passionate about a topic that is not in line with your mission? This is where things can get messy.
At a time where the country appears to be in a 50/50 passionate split on current controversial topics, it is easy for a brand to get stuck in the middle. I work with the health and wellness space where this split seems to be even more dramatic. For example, one of my clients was in a position where a top-performing influencer has been speaking against an initiative that the brand is passionately for. However, as we have witnessed with other brands, if the brand revokes the partnership (as is within the brand’s rights), the influencer may call out the brand and organize a boycott. In addition to the boycott, many followers have been known to leave nasty comments on the brand’s page. However, if the brand remains quiet to avoid confrontation, the brand could lose their core base and feel they are compromising their integrity.
How To Avoid The Struggle As A Brand
The key tactic to make sure you don’t need to implement these strategies is to do your research! Look at past posts. Not just the past week but months back. Here are things I look for:
How they interact with other brands. Do they make a practice of speaking poorly of other brands? If yes, that is a red flag you should not look away from.
Research how they use controversial topics. It is a strategy for some influencers to use controversial topics for increased engagement and followers. Look for topics that do not seem congruent with your brand’s messaging.
Build a relationship. I work with both micro and macro-influencers. Due to working with thousands of influencers, I may not be able to have a conversation with each one. However, if it is a larger partnership, I make sure I jump on a call or even better a Zoom. Build a relationship to open the doors for future communication.
Have a contract. If you are building a long-term partnership, I recommend a contract that includes a Morality Clause as well as the ability to terminate the relationship without repercussions.
How To Avoid The Struggle As An Influencer
As an influencer, be aware that brands are being more cautious of who they partner with. I am not recommending you be inauthentic. I am simply stating that before posting on a controversial topic, you should consider the brand perspective and determine if it is worth the risk. Sometimes it absolutely will be because you feel you can make an impact on a topic you are passionate about. Other times, you may determine the topic is not part of your long-term mission and values.
When It Goes South
Despite the best research, there are times when an influencer posts something against your values that you simply can’t ignore. In this case, you have a couple of options.
Cancel The Partnership – This is my least favorite option because there are quite a few repercussions. In addition, I am not a fan of “cancel culture.” And lastly, I have seen brands lose customers as a result of an abrupt cancellation where the influencer gets upset or feels persecuted for his/her beliefs.
If you decide to cancel the partnership, typically it evens out. You tend to get more customers who support you and have similar values in response to the negative attention. However, most brands don’t want bad press despite the saying “no such thing as bad press.”
Look The Other Way – Depending on how often the influencer posts on this topic or how offensive it was to your brand mission, you may want to simply not address the issue. Many times, the influencer takes the post down due to seeing a risk of losing their followers and partnerships. Or it could be a one-time incident.
Communicate – If the influencer is a top-performer and has a long-term partnership with you, I recommend having the conversation from the brand perspective. Keep it professional and NOT about the topic. Instead, explain the potential risks to the brand to see if there is a compromise that is beneficial for both parties.
As an influencer and affiliate marketing manager, I truly value all my partnerships and contacts. To be clear, it is okay if their views are different from mine. However, as an agency, it is my job to protect my clients’ brands. And while the past two years have presented more challenges than I would like, I still believe in the power of this channel.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you navigate these waters.