When Social Media Influencers Do Damage

There is much debate as to the merits of using social media influencers to give your brand a leg up on the competition, with strong arguments both for and against. Whether you’ve worked with such a person or are thinking about doing so—or, perhaps you’re vehemently opposed to the idea—it’s interesting to weigh the pros and cons of such a relationship.

Most influencer content works out relatively well, I’d say, at least from an Instagram user’s point of view (mine). There are a number of ways it can go: X brand sends Influencer A a free product hoping they’ll like it and, in turn, post it to their social media feeds (typically Instagram, but not necessarily that platform solely), or even just be spotted wearing or using the product in a public venue. Easy enough, doesn’t cost more than the price of the product in question, and may or may not work.

Another common approach is for X brand to strike up a deal with Influencer A: In exchange for payment (monetary or otherwise), the influencer must create and promote content about a product or service, as would be stipulated in a formal agreement. The important thing we as an audience want to see is transparency, meaning that the influencer must denote that this was a sponsored ad in some way (and this is where the merits of using influencers becomes a hot topic—because it’s not always done correctly).

Okay, so you knew most of that background information. Which brings me to my question: What happens when your influencer of choice tanks your brand?

The power of celebrity can go two ways. They can influence someone to be for or against a brand, either maliciously or inadvertently. I was reminded of that yesterday when I read this article via Bloomberg. The story: Influencer (celebrity or, er, public figure? I don’t even know) Kylie Jenner sends out this tweet:

Kylie Jenner Snapchat tweet
Kylie Jenner’s tweet about Snapchat

Whether the member of the Kardashian family was simply lamenting the lost days of Snapchat’s popularity or was looking to do some damage, who knows? But as a result, shares of Snapchat’s parent company sank 6.1 percent the following day, resulting in a $1.3 billion market-value loss. All from a single tweet (Jenner does have 24.5 million Twitter followers).

This is an extreme example, featuring arguably one of the biggest celebrities (models? TV personalities? I still don’t know) in the world. But on a smaller scale, does anyone ever think about the possibility of something like this happening?

Back to Brand X and Influencer A: Brand X sends Influencer A some sort of product—shoes, let’s say. Influencer posts an Instagram Story (because they’re obviously not using Snapchat anymore), featuring the shoes, and says something like, “These are sort of weird-looking, no?” Or perhaps they’re just really mean and say, “Anyone else think these shoes are ugly AF?” Millions of their followers agree, and that brand’s shoes are toast. It could happen.

In another example, say a popular (yet polarizing) social media star reps a brand—let’s say, a jeweler, in this case—loud and proud on Instagram. They follow all the rules, noting that these posts are indeed an advertisement, as we’d hope they would.

Do you think people that are the opposite of fans of this person will think differently about the brand paying them as their representative? You bet they will. The result may not quite be as catastrophic to the brand as the Kylie Jenner situation, but still, it could have an effect.

Just some food for thought, as unlikely as most of these situations may be. In the end, we have to remember that the people operating behind these big social media accounts are only human, with actual thoughts, opinions, wants, and needs. And like any human, those things can change unpredictably—as can their opinion about you as a brand.

I am by no means against the use of influencers—as a matter of fact, I think it’s a pretty good deal for both parties involved, when all is said and done, so long as it’s done properly and transparently. But Jenner’s tweet serves to remind us that as humans, we are free to think (and share) our own thoughts and opinions at any given time, and often do.

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