Working With Influencers in a Polarized World
By now, everyone knows the value of influencer marketing — consumers respond well to “real people” working as influencers because they tend to be more genuine and relatable. If customers see a little bit of themselves in an influencer, they are likely to engage with that individual on social media and trust the products and services they promote.
However, influencers often come with opinions on topics beyond just the items in their sponsored posts. We are seeing this in today’s highly polarizing social environment: Individuals from all industries and walks of life are becoming activists, and social media gives them a platform to address the issues that are important to them, often to large audiences.
Most of the time, an outspoken influencer does not have any impact on the brand he or she works with. If the influencer has values similar to the brand, taking a stand for or against a particular issue will likely not cause any friction. However, lately we have seen some extreme examples, both where influencers make controversial statements and where influencers and brands display conflicting opinions, and the resulting actions have the potential to alienate customers and damage the reputation of the brand.
Brands that find themselves in this situation need to be careful with how they handle backlash when an influencer posts something controversial. In today’s environment, a brand must have a keen understanding of three things: its own goals, its audience and how to appropriately respond to possible backlash.
- First and foremost, a brand should always aim to work with influencers who fit with the culture and values of the brand. This shouldn’t be a difficult task considering how many influencers are out there these days. When exploring potential partnerships, brands need to look not just at the audiences an influencer resonates with, but also at any personal values and opinions that the influencer shares with their following. In general, it is always smart to air on the side of caution — influencers who are less outspoken or have more neutral views will always be safer.
- Similarly, for many brands, the views of the audience go hand-in-hand with the brand’s views. Customers are drawn to products and companies that share their values and will respond well to influencers who do the same. Some brands may be associated with the characteristics of a social or political movement and others may truly be neutral. In either case, a brand should never alienate its customers by engaging an outspoken influencer with opposing beliefs.
- Finally, in cases where a brand feels an influencer is likely to speak out on a sensitive issue, taking preventative steps is key. A stipulation can be added to an influencer’s contract, laying out what type of content, both sponsored and personal, is appropriate during a campaign. In the most extreme scenarios, if there is reason to be concerned about an influencer’s beliefs or actions damaging the brand’s image, dissolving the partnership may be the best course of action. If this happens, it is important to be honest and transparent with customers, reiterate the brand’s values and explain that you do not condone controversial actions taken by the influencer.
No matter where a brand fits into the social and political spectrum, there are many considerations for working with influencers to ensure that customers remain loyal and feel comfortable with the messages you spread.