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The pitfalls of influencer PR

Influencer PR is big business! Seemingly ordinary people with hefty follower counts can often become as influential as major celebrities. Many influencers charge upwards of hundreds, even thousands of pounds, for a single post on their feed.

The benefits for the business? Direct exposure to thousands of potential customers and solid stats such as impressions, likes and comments to show for their investment. However, for all the benefits of influencer marketing there are just as many (if not, more) pitfalls that many brands and influencers have fallen foul of. Here are just a few.

Copy and paste captions

There have been more than a few occasions where an influencer has mistakenly copied and pasted an email from the brand or their PR agency with instructions of what to put in the caption of their sponsored post, without actually removing the greeting or the message around the intended caption. Scott Disick’s caption for his post for Bootea is arguably the most well-known, however Naomi Campbell and Little Mix have also made the same blunder. Embarrassing for both the business and the influencer!

Lack of foresight and preparation

In some cases, influencer PR has been a major success. So much so, that the brand the influencers have been promoting crumbles under the pressure and the campaign ends in disaster. One example is the infamous Fyre Festival. We won’t tell the calamitous story again, we’ve already done that, and it isn’t the only example.

Successful influencer PR coupled with a lack of foresight and preparation led to American influencer, Caroline Calloway, being hailed as a scammer. Known for her long, diary entry style Instagram captions, Caroline decided to host a series of creativity workshops for her followers including a meet and greet, a personal letter, a flower crown, a care package and advice from Caroline herself. The cost? $165 per person.

In the end, Caroline cancelled most of the workshops and refunded her fans. Many of the promises either didn’t materialise or were of a much lower standard than was expected. The bottom line is Caroline was way out of her depth and the fall out of the creativity workshops that never were has permanently tarnished her reputation.

Poor brand representation

Often the content influencers create to promote a brand doesn’t match up to the brand’s image. For example, Instagram star Scarlett London received enormous backlash and even death threats after a tweet mocking a sponsored post that she had created for Listerine went viral. The post was of Scarlett sitting with a hot drink on a pristine bed next to a tall stack of pancakes (that were actually tortilla wraps) with a bottle of Listerine placed perfectly on the bedside table in the background. The photograph fit flawlessly into Scarlett’s picture-perfect feed, but sadly it wasn’t a perfect match for the brand’s image.

Failing to disclose when posts have been paid for

Countless influencers and celebrities have been penalised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and rightly so, for failing to disclose sponsored posts. Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson and Love Island’s Olivia Buckland are just two celebrities that have been investigated by the ASA for dishonest practice. And there really is no excuse, as the ASA have released a guide for influencers which includes all they need to know about what the ASA considers to be an ad and how to disclose them properly.

Responsibility also lies with the brand to a certain extent. Diageo, the producer of Ciroc, a premium vodka brand, has come under fire by the ASA on numerous occasions. Many of the influencers they work with, and the brand’s own marketing partner, Sean “Diddy” Combs, have published posts promoting the brand without providing clear disclosure.

While influencers are often creating and publishing the content, brands must also ensure the influencers they are choosing to work with disclose their posts correctly as failure to do so could hurt their brand in the long run.

Mismatch between the brand and the influencer

Choosing relevant influencers is key to a successful campaign but brands sometimes miss the mark. Volvo took their eye off the ball back in 2015 when they partnered with Chriselle Lim, a beauty, fashion and lifestyle blogger. Chriselle’s audience follow her for her fashion and beauty content, so the backlash that ensued from her partnership with Volvo was unsurprising. Chriselle had rarely, if ever, posted about or shown an interest in cars before the partnership was announced. Doubt was cast over the authenticity of the ad and whether Volvo had done enough research before choosing to partner with her.

Often brands are tempted to choose influencers based on the size of their following. While followers are a factor, the influencer’s niche and the content their audience are most interested in and engaged with should be considered above anything else.

Simple mistakes can cause big embarrassment

Influencer marketing comes with a lot of risks; one of them being that the content the influencer produces can be signed off by the brand ahead of publication but the responsibility for publishing the ad lies with the influencer. As you can imagine, this has led to more than a few simple, yet embarrassing, mistakes.

During her time as brand ambassador for Huawei, Gal Gadot posted a tweet promoting her Huawei smartphone. Unfortunately for her, the tweet had been published via Twitter for iPhone, and this was clearly displayed underneath the tweet for her millions of followers to see. Unsurprisingly the tweet went viral and Gal had to delete it and publish it again, along with a statement explaining that the tweet had been published by a member of her publicity team using their personal iPhone.

Gal isn’t the only one to get caught by this trap. LG sent out a tweet making fun of Apple at the height of the “Bendgate” drama, when customers alleged that their iPhones were bending when being stored and carried in their pockets. However, LG scored a monumental own goal and Apple had the last laugh as the cheeky tweet was sent from an iPhone.

Unethical and, in some cases, illegal practice

Brand partnerships and sponsored posts, in rare cases, take precedent over ethics, authenticity and even the law. A sponsored post by reality TV star Jemma Lucy for Skinny Caffe, a weight-loss brand, was banned by the ASA as they “concluded that the ad encouraged an unsafe practice and was irresponsible”. While the post didn’t refer to her pregnancy and there was nothing to indicate that Jemma had been using Skinny Caffe while pregnant, the post was published after her pregnancy had been made public.

Over in the US, Kim Kardashian and Canadian pharmaceutical company Duchesnay Inc landed in hot water with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after she promoted the prescription morning sickness drug Diclegis. Kim gushed about the benefits of the drug to her millions of followers but failed to disclose its possible side effects.

Floyd Merriweather Jr. and DJ Khaled also felt the effects of the law when they were fined hefty sums by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for illegally promoting cryptocurrency.

Breaking the law is bad enough, but unethical ads can lead to mistrust in the influencer, the brand and potentially influencer PR and sponsored posts in general.

Followers do not equate to customers

It’s easy for brands to assume that working with influencers with huge followings will guarantee them sales, but this is simply not the case. Ariana Renee, an Instagram influencer, announced to her two million followers that she was launching a fashion business. To start with, she only needed to sell 36 t-shirts from the initial range for the line to be continued. Easy, right? Sadly for Ariana, it wasn’t. She failed to sell the 36 t-shirts and the business flopped. A perfect example of followers not equating to customers.

Controversy and scandal

Unfortunately, when influencers make poor decisions and become embroiled in controversy and scandal, brands that work with them, or have done in the past, can be dragged into the crisis. It’s important for brands to have a clear strategy in place to manage any potential controversies with the influencers they have partnered with before they occur. Moving forward with a considered plan rather than firefighting a crisis puts brands in a much stronger position to deal with any potential fallout from an influencer’s misjudgement.

Felix Kjellberg, otherwise known as PewDiePie, is known for being one of the biggest YouTube stars in the world but he is also known for being controversial. PewDiePie took a major step too far when he published videos featuring anti-Semitic clips and Nazi-related images. PewDiePie apologised, but the damage had been done. Disney cut ties with him and YouTube, the platform where PieDiePie built his enormous following, cancelled his YouTube Red series and removed him from Google Preferred, their program that links brands that want to advertise with high-quality creators.

Despite the disasters we’ve mentioned, influencer PR can be successful when done well. Learn from the mistakes other brands have made over the years to ensure that your influencer PR campaign is watertight and effective. If you’re curious about influencer PR and think it could benefit your business than get in touch. To find out more about the digital communication services we provide, click here.