How Brands Should Think About Influencers After Ye’s Spiral

Managing brand reputation begins before you sign a partnership agreement.  Influencer collaboration  may seem more art than a science, but there’s always deeper and broader research involved. Evidence of reach, engagement and audience demographics and psychographics are critical in the decision-making process, but digging into an influencer’s past posts and comments is essential.

In the case of Ye, whose antisemitism caused a public outcry, brand partners have issued a steady flow of announcements discontinuing their marketing ties. Companies don’t want to be caught flat-footed if something goes wrong. As a result, picking the right partner and having an exit plan are key parts of influencer strategy.

Don’t Let Fame Blind You

Vet a potential social influencer's posts. Include disappearing stories on social media. Search for quotes in authoritative news outlets. With recording artists, review lyrics and related videos for warning signs.

Tap an expert who can use appropriate technology should your company lack it. While it may be tempting to skip this step, it can mean the difference between a successful relationship and setting up your company for a PR crisis.

In addition, once you've signed an influencer, continue reputation monitoring and sentiment analysis. This provides visibility into public conversations about the influencer and your company. Data can signal a potential issue before an embarrassing hashtag starts to trend.

A Value Compass

Map out standards before approaching influencers. Sign only those who align with the brand. Everything should support the organization’s mission and values and accurately represent it.

Most companies and organizations publish their values on public-facing websites and use all the right hashtags to express institutional support of causes they celebrate. Many invest in developing ESG impact reports and evolving procedures to bolster diversity and equity throughout their operations.

Some have zero-tolerance policies for terminating staff or board members for misconduct. An influencer partnership should be no different.

Social Washing

Act in line with stated values and avoid getting called out for social washing, the social justice equivalent of greenwashing.  Be clear and consistent about expectations.

When engaging an influencer known around the world, or a micro-influencer with a niche audience, your contract should include clear language delineating actions inappropriate for an ambassador. The contract should provide you with an exit.

When Things Go Wrong, Take a Stance

Not only do most consumers demand transparency, they also will tell you and everyone in their social media reach what they think. As such,  it’s vital that brands communicate quickly and authentically following a controversy.

Issuing an official statement articulating a clear point of view and action is one step toward owning the moment. Similarly, in the 24/7 news cycle a vacuum of silence poses an even greater potential for brand damage.

If your crisis-management plan lacks a response strategy for addressing head-on a negative situation with an influencer, revisit it now

Stakeholders–customers, partners, employees and investors, many of whom have megaphones–are listening. Leverage a thoughtful, integrated paid, earned, shared and owned media communication plan. Think email and social media channels, press releases and news hubs on your website; involve empathetic leadership and put a human face on your position.

Sinead Norenius-Raniere is VP, product and influencer marketing strategy, Cision