The use of social media is fairly new in the digital marketing world, even more so is working with social media personalities to advertise. Now, it’s not completely new, with our favorite celebrities having endorsed brands like Kelloggs or Calvin Klein for decades now. Today, even that guy who got famous making funny videos on Instagram is posting sponsored content. And even that girl who got popular for posting videos doing her makeup. According to Forbes, over 86% of marketers used influencer marketing this past year. So, it’s safe to say social media has opened the doors of fame and sponsorships for just about anybody.
With high engagement rates and easy marketing, it’s smart to use influencers when promoting your brand. A survey by Civic Science showed that consumers were nearly twice as likely to purchase a product based on an influencer’s recommendation instead of a celebrity’s. Why? Smaller influencers reach a niche audience and appear more trustworthy and like a friend. They seemingly offer a more reliable opinion on a brand. By relating to the average person, social media influencers draw in consumers in a way celebrities and advertisements can’t.
Consumers are the heart of a company’s success. While companies can make countless deals with influencers, if their audience is unhappy with them, they’ll never listen to brand deals. Social media advertising relies on its audience, so a positive relationship between an influencer and their followers is vital. As brand ethics have become more important in recent years—especially to younger audiences who frequent social media the most—it’s vital to be critical of the partnerships being made.
Last year, YouTuber Gabbie Hanna received huge backlash after advertising supposedly expensive makeup brushes for free, all her followers needed to do was pay shipping. After they received Dollar Store-level brushes, Hanna told them they needed to “manage their expectations.” Her reasoning was that they only paid for shipping, which was only a few dollars, so they shouldn’t expect much. Though, she told them they were buying luxury brushes, which set the expectation for luxury results. Not only did she deceived her audience, she spoke down to them for criticizing her. This example exhibits just how easily the trust between influencer and audience can be broken.
Audiences want an influencer who can acknowledge their mistakes and apologize like a true friend. By blaming others and refusing to take responsibility, influencers hurt the relationship they have with their audience. Had Hanna recognized that she made a poor brand deal and did her best to apologize to her followers, things may have been different. However, maybe they would’ve accepted an apology and respected her honesty. By fighting with and blocking followers who criticized her, Hanna only makes matters worse. Very few of her followers will likely trust her future product deals, making her a poor partner to work with.
Finding the right influencers to partner with is a task in it of itself. Even after building professional relationships, who’s to say they won’t do something unethical? This only hurts the public’s perspective of them and lowers their engagement. Will people view a company working alongside a “problematic” influencer negatively as a result?
In 2017, influencer Shannade Clermont (@clermonttwins) stole the credit card information of a man who died after hiring her for her prostitution services. After spending $200,000 of his money, she was caught and sentenced to one year in prison in 2019. Still, her shared Instagram with her twin still have brands such as Fashion Nova working with them. Still, how does it make a brand look working with a girl who stole from a dead man—and her twin who insists her sister should be free?
Similarly, when YouTuber Logan Paul filmed a dead body for his channel, he caused fans and brands to run from him. Few companies want to be associated with such poor choices for the fear of damaging their name. Based on my survey of digital marketers, they agree that working with influencers with poor reputations harms your brand.
An influencer’s reliability matters to both brands and to their audiences. Influencers selling products such as skinny teas or waist trainers is commonly frowned upon. Both encourage unhealthy body standards and convinces audiences—particularly the ones who don’t know better—to buy nonsense. Advertising these products tells audiences that the person cares less about what they’re selling and more about the money they’re making. Being another brand they advertise makes audiences wonder if your brand is just as exploitative as any of those teas or waist trainer. Working with careless influencers can potentially harm your reputation.
While some think any publicity is good publicity, where is the line drawn? Partnering with controversial influencers is a gamble for your brand’s reputation because it suggests that you support their actions. Poor ethics from either end the the influencer or the brand raises questions from their audiences and lead to drawbacks for both parties. In such a cutthroat market, being critical of the partnerships your brand makes is the bearer to success.