PR Failure #12: The Cautionary Tale of Influencer Marketing

Aaron Blank / December 4, 2018

 

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Another Month, Another Blunder.
As we’re gearing up to say goodbye to 2018, now is a perfect time to reflect on things that worked and maybe some things that didn’t as we all set goals for the new year. Remember, failure is a part of life — and the true disservice lies in the failure to learn from your mistakes.
Here’s last month’s PR failure in case you want to learn from another mistake.
One of the biggest trends we’re witnessing in the marketing and communications industry, especially this year, is influencer marketing.
However exciting, new and lucrative this trend may be, there still needs to be a thoughtful strategy put into place before jumping into investing in an “influencer.” It’s real money and real influence on the table that can leave a lasting impact on your brand, product, service and overall PR reputation.
In this failure we examine what can happen when influencers fall through and what to watch out for when taking the dive into influencer marketing.
The Story
At the end of October, the PR firm hired by Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, filed a lawsuit against actor Luka Sabbat for failing to fulfill the terms of his social media influencer contract. Influencers are people with a strong online following who can use their reach to promote products, services or brands to their audiences in exchange for payment, gifts or perks. Sabbat has 1.5 million followers on Instagram and was hired by Snapchat’s PR firm to feature the Spectacles 2, Snap’s second generation of camera glasses. He was expected to feature the product with a post to his Instagram feed, along with three Instagram Stories, including links for people to purchase the glasses.
And Snapchat was willing to pay a good chunk of change. The contract deal was worth more than $60,000 with $45,000 of that contract paid upfront to Sabbat. But the lawsuit claims that Sabbat did not meet the contractual obligations — he posted one feed post and two stories with only one including a link to make the purchase.
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Additionally, Sabbat did not send the content to get pre-approved or share analytics of the posts with the PR agency for Snap. Sabbat, “admitted his default” in not living up to the contract terms but is refusing to return what he was paid.
Woah! This is more than just a headache for the PR team—the effects of the outcome of this case could have an impact across the board for both influencers and the brands they team up with in the future.
So, what can we take away from all this?
Lessons Learned
1. Treat your influencers like brand partners rather than a transaction
We know influencer marketing has seen a dramatic spike in recent years and it’s a trend that will continue to rise through 2020, according to Mediakix. The company estimates advertisers will spend more than $1.6 billion on Instagram alone. As alluring as it is to start spending precious dollars on an influencer, the Snapchat case shows how slippery of a slope it can be to trust someone who thinks they are “influencers” with your message. Sure, contracts help define the legalities, but the whole reason why influencer marketing can be such a powerful tool is the authenticity of the story you’re trying to tell. As Jeff Barrett, from Inc. states, “If you’re going to engage influencers, you want their audience. But that audience has to feel like they are getting the same kind of content they expect. You wouldn’t want to turn on Comedy Central and see C-SPAN. The same rule applies to digital influencers.”
The more you approach an influencer with a partnership proposition instead of just sign and release, the more genuine their take on featuring your brand will be. Snapchat was unable to pre-approve the content Sabatt was producing — a big hint into how deep this relationship truly was (we’re going to guess it barely scratched the surface).
2. Stay transparent and authentic to your brand
In addition to holding your influencers accountable to contract agreements, it’s also just as important to ensure that you work with those who are committed to transparency and honesty in their marketing. Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, issued a call to action earlier this year urging companies to not work with influencers who try and cheat the system — like buying followers. And as platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are cracking down on #FakeNews and fraudulent content, it’s important to know exactly who you’re working with and if they’re following the rules and policies set forth. Not doing so can have serious ramifications — as costs for influencers increases and the market is perpetually inundated with content that your brand must compete with.
Which brings us to our final lesson…
3. Choose your influencers carefully — and vet the content or vision before posting
The payoff for utilizing influencer marketing successfully can be huge for your brand and really take you to the next level with your audience. It’s also a great opportunity to engage in a new and fun way. However, as the lawsuit between Snapchat’s PR firm and influencer, Luka Sabbat shows, it truly must start with a strong foundation. Aligning your brand with your influencer’s content should be a collaborative effort. Once you’re able to agree on a vision, distributing the content should look natural and easy. And this isn’t a time to get lazy, either. Take actress Shay Mitchell’s lambasted sponsored post for skincare company, Bioré, earlier this fall . The Snapchat video shows Mitchell using the cleansing water product to remove her eye makeup without touching her eye, showing the makeup is still intact (what?). Mitchell has been a company ambassador for two years already, but it’s a wonder how she was able to get Bioré to agree with her posting that disingenuous video.
Tread Carefully
Influencer marketing doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon, but it will be interesting to see how brands adapt to the rapid changes in the trend. Be smart about who you choose to represent your brand and ensure that a strong partnership is at the core of the relationship. It could save your company thousands of dollars and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your audience is being influenced in a true and genuine way.
And if nothing else, make sure that if your influencer program is paying someone to post content for you, that they are transparent about it. The Federal Trade Commission now requires influencers and brands to clearly disclose the relationship in every tweet, post, video, article, etc. they share. Read their press release for future context here .
Until next month – Happy Holidays!
Aaron Blank
President & CEO, The Fearey Group
For more information about The Fearey Group, check us out online at www.feareygroup.com.
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Aaron Blank

CEO, Owner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day!