Influencer marketing is a popular technique to build buzz and credibility around a brand. It’s evolved from celebrity endorsements, where a well-known public figure associates themselves with a product and draws their fans in. Influencers are Social Media’s version of the celebrity, drawing in fans and followers who enjoy their posts and see them as someone to look up to.
Using an influencer to promote your socially responsible business can be difficult. Finding the right one, making sure they stay on-topic and keeping momentum going are problems every marketer has to deal with. Yet the consequences of an influencer going off-piste and behaving in a way at odds with your ethics can be far greater than other brands might experience.
Three places to focus
Finding an influencer involves the same planning, contracting and monitoring as any other form of advertising. What I’ve discovered through my conversations with marketers is there are three specific areas where you need to put additional focus more during your due diligence.
It’s easy to find influencers who claim they are socially responsible, harder to prove they are. One marketer pulled a campaign before launch after they discovered their “low carbon lifestyle” influencer had shared video of their latest high-performance car. Another dropped someone after finding their “sponsorship deals” were fake, a tactic would-be influencers are increasingly using to boost their perceived value.
2. Advocacy vs activism
Finding the right balance between advocacy and activism is a challenge you may struggle with. On the one hand, driving social change requires strong advocates willing to be vocal and stand up for what they believe in. On the other, using an activist influencer can leave you exposed if they’re arrested or prosecuted for illegal acts. You may have to defend a decision to use them with media that’s less interested in your ethical beliefs and more in the alleged crime your spokesperson has committed.
Incoming engagement matters to any campaign, but for a socially responsible business it can be particularly challenging. Hot topics, such as veganism and plastics, can draw unwanted and offensive attention. Fake news, misinformation and politics can quickly overrun a key marketing communication. Brands have found their positive stories overrun by virtue signalling and negativity.
Avoiding this is nigh on impossible. What matters is how the influencer responds and conducts themselves. Trolling nay-sayers, engaging in online arguments and being unduly hostile could affect your brand through association. Outside of their timeline, engaging in trolling or spamming other people may also be behaviours you want to shy away from.
Due diligence matters
Before you commit to an influencer it is vital you carry out thorough due diligence. Reading their media kit (assuming they have one) and relying on their stats isn’t enough. You need to do your own research.
Go back through their past posts and comments, not just on the social networks you want to use either. If there are posts which make you uncomfortable, challenge why they were posted. Sometimes it’s just youthful exuberance or inexperience; sometimes it exposes a deeper problem. It isn’t enough to delete them – there are plenty of archives where they’re likely to still be found.
Research their engagement. Hard stats don’t always tell the full picture. One influencer I reviewed had high numbers of “likes” on their posts, which seemed to come from the same small group of people. They also “liked” a lot of posts from the same group, suggesting they were boosting each other.
Finally, be aware of the tricks of the trade. Unethical influencers will buy followers to increase their audience. Others will run fake campaigns, behaving as if they’re sponsored by brands. Plagiarised and automated content can also give the impressing someone is more active and influential than they truly are.
It’s your brand. Protect it.
Influencers can be a powerful way of building buzz around your brand. There are risks associated with using them, and for a socially responsible business the stakes can be higher if you choose the wrong spokesperson. Do your due diligence as you would any other, but place extra emphasis on their authenticity, how they advocate and the way they engage.