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How to Mitigate Brand Safety Risk and Contract Influencers with Confidence

May 17, 2024
By Liz Hawks

“Texas AG sues Instagram influencer for giving ‘bad health advice’”

“Unpacking the child abuse case against YouTube influencer”

“Influencer axed by [sponsor] for violent comments about children”

“Racist Tweets resurface after TikTok influencer’s wedding”

Ripped from the headlines, these are just a few real-world examples of the inherent risk that comes with putting your brand in the hands of human beings to promote it. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are years old and are unforgiveable but weren’t surfaced before the contract was executed. Sometimes headlines like these scare marketers from working with influencers altogether. But in 2024, turning away from influencers isn’t the answer. It’s where your audience is looking for inspiration and information. They are simply too powerful a channel and promotion partner. Rather, brands need to develop plans to help them continue to confidently contract the right influencers and mitigate risk.

In 2024, brand safety influencer vetting must evolve to additional layers. Brands need to ask themselves:

  • Are you comfortable working with an influencer who has posted about global or domestic political issues? Or about their personal religious beliefs?
  • What if they have posted favorably (or unfavorably) about Trump? About Biden? Kennedy (RFK Jr.)? Or other politicians and/or their platforms? How will your audience view those posts?
  • Does an influencer’s personal stance on vaccines or other health issues give you (or your audience) pause?
  • If an influencer lives in a state where marijuana is legal, and has posted about personal use, do you consider them brand safe?

World issues, political campaigns and government policies are permeating discussions among influencers and creators who have platforms and audiences looking to them for their authentic opinions on current affairs. The pendulum of audience expectation can swing with followers sometimes looking to influencers to use their clout to voice support for or against an issue, and at other times wanting influencers to “stay in their lane” and keep their social content focused on their niche or vertical, not interjecting a personal point of view about world matters.

Regardless, brand safety vetting has only expanded as sponsors scrutinize just how neutral they want to keep their partnerships, and wrestle with identifying exactly where their thresholds lie. Influencer selection and activation without rigorous brand safety vetting in these expanded territories can lead to a reputation problem for a brand if a sponsored influencer’s personal leanings incite the brand’s base or acquisition target.

This begs three key questions of marketers looking to engage influencers:

  1. How can our brand build appropriate and bespoke evolved safety vetting guidelines to ensure reputation protection while continuing to meet audience expectations, and without censoring the authentic voice of the creator?
  2. How do our publicly stated values align with how the safety guidelines are written?
  3. How can we mitigate risk after beginning a partnership with an influencer who may use his/her/their platform to share personal opinions that inadvertently reflect negatively on us as the brand sponsor?   

Data plays a, if not the, critical role. At FleishmanHillard, we review an influencer’s historical content to understand how it does, or doesn’t, align with a brand’s safety standards. We also use audience data to ensure alignment in areas like politics, social issues or policy leanings and make certain the brand’s customers or social followers and the influencer’s followers are in sync. Data science can’t eliminate the need for human analysis for context and tone. And tools alone can’t judge whether an influencer’s personal leanings jibe with a brand’s values. But as with most things influencer related, this equation blends art and science.

And remember safety vetting isn’t just for influencer discovery. It’s important to work to mitigate risks to ensure a continuity of brand safety pre-, during- and post- partnership. At FleishmanHillard, we work with clients to build custom playbooks for how to handle various levels of potential influencer-created issues from breaching a contract to breaking a law.

Risk doesn’t stop at the conclusion of a campaign. After a contract term is complete and the influencer is no longer in a live partnership with the brand, there may still be an association between influencer and brand in the mind of the audience. If the influencer creates an issue at this stage, the brand has little control. But consumers may start a conversation about the affiliation between the two parties, or even reach out to customer service to complain about the brand having worked with an influencer.

Influencers are human beings who sometimes make mistakes or have previously demonstrated unsavory behavior. Today’s hyper-polarized world presents additional inherent risk. But influencer marketing is also business critical. Brands who are not prepared with proactive and reactive plans for mitigating inherent risk are leaving themselves exposed to become the next “ripped from the headlines” mention.