Avoiding Influencer Marketing Controversy in a Heated Social and Political Environment

Opinion: Here are some general tips to navigating the tricky waters of influencer marketing during divisive times

Influencers who publicly voice their opinions elsewhere could potentially be followed and noted by your customer base courtneyk/iStock
Headshot of Justin Kline

At this point, we’re all very much aware of the fact that influencer marketing is a great tool to increase web traffic, spike sales and boost social engagement.

Unlike ads, influencers are genuine, engaging and, most important, real and relatable people, but these “pros” can quickly become “cons” in the sense that unlike ads, brands have less control over the content featured on the influencer’s platform.

People have opinions and, in today’s heated social and political climate, more and more individuals are vocalizing their thoughts on issues that are important to them. Influencers are no different. If one of your influencers shares a post supporting a controversial news item, how do you handle the immediate and generally harsh backlash that ensues?

In many situations, influencer and brand views either align or are fairly similar, so political or social posts from the influencer may not impact the brand. In other cases, however, brands may work with an influencer who reveals their opposing views after a campaign has been activated, leading followers to potentially associate the brand’s values with the influencer’s views.

When dealing with influencers who have conflicting views, brands need to be careful in their approach. Extreme reactions like what happened with the Kat von D brand—where claims state that an influencer was rejected due to her political beliefs—can create negative backlash.

Here are some general tips to navigating the tricky waters of influencer marketing during divisive times.

Know your brand and your influencers

Before moving forward with any influencer program, remember that these influencers will be an extension of your brand and its values, and they will ultimately help you reach certain goals.

It’s important to understand what those goals are, including what image you’d like to uphold, before selecting the appropriate influencer partners.

This is extremely important in today’s heated political and social climate, as one wrong step by an influencer or brand and your image, partnership and follower support could be destroyed, as we’ve seen with Kendall Jenner and Pepsi following their controversial ad.

Every brand has its own unique personality and values. To avoid issues before they happen, make sure you’re careful about your choice in influencers, and if you prefer to stay on the safe side, only look to work with those who share similar values or remain neutral on issues in their content streams.

More important, know your audience

Going beyond your brand’s views and ideals, it’s important to consider your audience’s views, whether the influencer you’re working with is a strong advocate for sensitive issues and whether or not this advocacy will upset your target audience.

Your brand should never alienate your customers, which is easier said than done in some cases.

Certain brands may naturally lean to one side or the other in the social and political space. In some of these instances, depending on your views and position in the market, working with a more outspoken influencer may not harm your brand.

However, if you have loyal customers on both ends of the spectrum, staying neutral on issues can help ensure that both sides of the customer base do not feel insulted or isolated.

Also remember that while an influencer may not always use their social media platform to voice their views, influencers who publicly voice their opinions elsewhere could potentially be followed and noted by your customer base, which could have an impact on the brand. It’s crucial for brands to understand who they are looking to speak to through these influencers and determine whether or not it’s best to remain neutral.

Plan ahead to prevent or proactively react

With most influencers, it will be pretty clear where they stand, but for those who leave you a bit concerned or unsure whether or not they’ll be outspoken about sensitive topics, there are preventative steps you can take.

By including a stipulation in your contract, you and your influencer are able to pre-determine what is appropriate during the campaign. This could be as simple as the influencer agreeing not to post anything of a political nature for a certain number of weeks or for a certain number of posts after the sponsored post to avoid backlash.

If an influencer’s values are too extreme for comfort and there is significant worry that their views could harm your brand, walking away from or dissolving the partnership is completely OK, as it allows both your brand and the influencer to comfortably carry on with your separate views.

In the event that you haven’t taken precautions and an influencer does end up saying or posting something that experiences extreme backlash, be transparent with your customers so that they understand that the influencer’s opinion is not in line with your brand’s beliefs.

Today’s social and political climate is tough, but influencer marketing and creating successful partnerships doesn’t have to be. As long as your brand stays in touch with its values and understands when it is appropriate to speak out or remain neutral, brands can continue to make all their customers feel included.

Justin Kline is chief operating officer of influencer marketing technology partner Markerly.

Justin Kline is co-founder of Markerly.