How Brands Can Mitigate Influencer Marketing Risks

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Opinion: No channel—no matter how promising—is completely brand safe

that “YouTube delivered a higher return on investment than TV in nearly 80 percent of cases,” investing marketing dollars in YouTube seemed like a no-brainer.

YouTube advertising exodus of 2017. As I’m sure you’ve read by now, some of the world’s biggest brands pulled their YouTube ads because they were being seen alongside extremist content.

Watching this situation unfold has reminded marketers that no channel—no matter how promising—is completely brand safe.

As marketers evaluate how they can most effectively mitigate risks associated with promotional initiatives, a good place to start is influencer marketing.

Much like online video advertising, influencer marketing has also over the past decade, with marketers hoping to drive

But while influencer marketing campaigns have many benefits in terms of increasing brand awareness and driving conversions, they can also go awry if an influencer falls out of favor with his or her audience or unexpectedly turns on a brand. Then, of course, there are the people who try to game influencer marketing budgets by creating fake social media accounts, paying for thousands of followers and selling their “influence.”

The first step in mitigating influencer marketing risks is determining the type of influencers the brand is engaging with. While reach and engagement rates can be indicators of influence, the factors that define each influencer persona are rooted in that influencer’s motivations and behaviors. The three main categories are:

  • Actors, artists, athletes and social media stars who leverage influencer marketing as a secondary source of income to monetize their celebrity.
  • Executives, bloggers, thought leaders and other professionals who earn their living as influencers and generally demonstrate expertise in a specific industry, such as business, lifestyle or fashion.
  • Everyday customers or employees who have relevant influence and may not know it or aspire to become a macro-influencer. Their influence is driven by the strength of relationship within their networks.

The potential liabilities that companies face are largely dependent on whether their influencer strategy is focused on engaging mega-, macro- or micro-influencers. Here are some of the most critical considerations for each category:

Mega-influencers: protecting your brand against rogue celebrities

Paying celebrities to share branded content on social media is one of the most widely-known forms of influencer marketing. We regularly see examples of professional athletes and movie stars posting on social media about a brand with an #ad disclosure, indicating that they’ve been compensated in some way for the post.

Using celebrities can be great for brand visibility, but mega-influencer campaigns also come with significant risks. No matter how effective the celebrity vetting process is, there’s always a chance that a celebrity who you’re paying to promote your brand finds themselves involved in a scandal and becomes a brand liability.

While there’s little that you can do to predict a celebrity falling out of public favor, it’s critical for you to have a crisis communications plan ready in the event that an unfortunate situation arises.

Scandals aside, keep an eye on how your mega-influencers are interacting with competitive products. For instance, if you’re paying a celebrity to post about headphones, but he or she is frequently photographed using a competitor’s headphones, there’s a good chance that the influencer campaign won’t be productive for your company.

Macro-influencers: fake account detection and sentiment analysis

When working with influencer marketing technology companies to buy hundreds if not thousands of influencers through their platforms, most of the influencers that they’re selling fall into the macro-influencer category of 10,000 to 1 million followers.

Before paying for macro-influencers to promote your brand on social media, take the time to scan for fake accounts. You don’t want to end up paying for “influencers” who have used services to boost their follower counts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Equally important is putting in place a system to do a sentiment analysis of what these influencers are posting about your brand. In addition to weeding out macro-influencers who are not staying on message, sentiment analysis will help you identify fake accounts. If you see a user with 20,000 followers posting nonsensical posts that mention your brand or reposting the same brand content multiple times in a very short period, there’s a good chance that the account is automated.

Micro-influencers: mitigating negative feedback from your fans

Micro-influencer campaigns involve fewer risks than mega- or macro-influencer campaigns, as micro-influencers are your existing customers, employees or fans. Scanning for fake accounts and putting in place basic sentiment analysis is still important, but you likely won’t have as many issues as you might when working in the other two influencer categories.

Still, while micro-influencers have smaller follower counts, they also have the most engaged followers relative to mega- or macro-influencers. Since micro-influencers drive at least 25 percent engagement per post, it’s critical to have a plan in place for addressing any concerns or complaints about your products that might arise. As long as this group knows that they have direct access to your brand should an issue arise, you’ll greatly minimize the chance of them writing negative posts.

is co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm

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