How to Build a Brand-Safe Influencer Marketing Strategy
The genuine connection that creators have with their followers is what gives them the power to convert their fans into fans of a brand. But with that freedom also comes the risk that the creator could post hateful, polarizing, or simply off-brand content. The challenge for marketers is to harness the creativity of influencers without exposing themselves to content that undermines their brand.
Sometimes influencers have a long history of the kind of remarks a brand wouldn’t want to be associated with. For example, influencer Andrew Tate was banned from Facebook, Instagram and TikTok this summer for misogynistic comments. But 2022 wasn’t the first time Tate had made such comments; his public history of misogyny dates back to at least 2017.
Other times, it’s much harder to vet influencers for brand-damaging content. The creator may not have a long track record, their problematic messages may be hidden, or they may not be controversial but just don’t fit the brand. By conducting an influencer audit, developing a chart of expected behaviors, and educating the creator on brand values, brands can capitalize on creator influence while minimizing risk.
Do your research before hiring an influencer
Most brands identify influencers in two ways. The fastest way is like window shopping – picking influencers that are trending or otherwise popular. The right way is to do a thorough analysis to understand why the influencer is popular, if their audience aligns with the brand’s audience, what they tend to post about, and if those topics fit the brand.
If the creator commands influence because they are a celebrity (often sports or entertainment), they are likely to be suitable for high-end campaigns that aim to increase awareness by associating the brand with the figure. Additionally, if an influencer has been in the public eye, the risk is generally lower, as problematic behaviors are likely common knowledge.
Brands that want to use influencers to go deeper down the funnel — to show off the specific strengths of their products, for example — will want to partner with content creators who are not only relevant to their brand, but deeply immersed in their products or industry. But these influencers require further scrutiny, as the brand doesn’t know in advance what they’ve been posting before gathering an audience.
For any creator, but especially those who have made a name for themselves by creating content, brands should deploy tools that allow them to conduct brand safety audits. Create lists of influencers and search their histories for keywords to see if they’ve engaged in problematic conversations. The audit does not only apply to controversial statements; it can also help brands find out if the influencer has ever worked with a competitor or mentioned the brand in an unflattering light.
Finally, the degree of association between a brand and an influencer affects the level of control brands should apply to the partnership. There’s a difference between asking an influencer to act as a brand ambassador, paying someone to create content, and sending out a free product for public review. A deeper association requires closer scrutiny.
Develop a simple table of expected behaviors
Brands cannot control a creator’s past; even the creators they vet and choose to hire may not, on paper, be flawless brand ambassadors. But they can shape the future. A crucial step is to create a simple table of expected behaviors to hold the influencer accountable for possible brand-threatening activities and guide them to the steps that will foster a successful partnership.
For example, brands may wish to ban certain types of political commentary or define what they consider to be hateful content. A brand that considers itself particularly healthy or family-friendly may wish to discourage sexually suggestive content. But each brand must set its own standards. For example, while many brands may discourage strong political positions on controversial issues, vocal political brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia would likely take a different approach.
Brands should include these guidelines in a contract. Guidelines should be understandable and accessible. Burying them in article forty-seven or complex jargon will not lay the groundwork for success.
Brands need to think about influencers and creators as well as publishers. They cannot control all influencer-produced content or influencer behavior outside of their partnership. But they can assess the creator’s overall presence to determine if they want to be associated with it.
Immerse the influencer in the brand
Once a brand has vetted an influencer and set guidelines, they need to immerse the influencer in their culture and product. To do this, brands often hold workshops with influencers, have them spend time in brand offices or factories, and allow them to experience the product with VIP access levels. The influencer represents the company, so he must feel part of it.
Even the smallest influencers have to go through onboarding systems where they sit down with the customer, ask questions, and learn about the brand. Marketers should always meet with the influencers they intend to partner with to get a sense of who they are as a person and gauge their professionalism. A face-to-face meeting eliminates many of the blind spots associated with scrolling through a creator’s social feeds.
Immersing an influencer in the brand is not just a question of social values or controversial remarks. For example, Microsoft hired Oprah Winfrey in 2012 to promote its Apple iPad competitor, the MS Surface. Oprah has promoted the Surface extensively – including in a tweet that read “via Twitter for iPad”. By hiring a celebrity who was not immersed in its products and who may not have been particularly tech-savvy, Microsoft exposed itself to an embarrassing public moment.
Most influencer controversies are avoidable if brands spend time choosing designers and celebrities who genuinely love their products and have stories that suggest their values and interests align with the companies. By going beyond window shopping, marketers can capitalize on a creator’s influence while avoiding an adverse scenario, whether it’s the more infamous Andrew Tate or the nearly Oprah-Microsoft variety. comical.