Caution: Influencer Marketing Crisis Ahead – A Guide on How to Manage

CRISIS. It’s any marketer’s greatest fear. 

Unfortunately, the potential for an influencer marketing crisis comes with the territory of partnering with influencers. While influencer marketing has many benefits, brands risk an influencer marketing crisis if an influencer falls out of favor with their audience. When an audience unexpectedly turns on your brand, things can start going south quickly.

But that’s no reason to keep influencer marketing out of your strategy. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the five types of influencer marketing crisis and lay out the steps brands need to take to overcome an influencer catastrophe.

What is an influencer marketing crisis?

When the actions of an influencer put your brand’s reputation at risk, you’ve got an influencer marketing crisis.

Working with influencers carries an inherent risk because influencers are just people — they can behave unpredictably or change their opinions and attitudes without warning. While authenticity is a main benefit of influencer marketing, it’s a double-edged sword. Working with authentic influencers means working with real people, and that means you’ll never have full control of an influencer’s actions.

To counteract this loss of control, it helps to be aware of the types of potential influencer marketing crises and what you can do about them. 

From influencer wow to influencer woe

We’ve all seen examples of influencer marketing crises– outrageous missteps from influencers and campaign flops from brands. Some leave audiences shocked, others just embarrassed on behalf of the people involved. The level of damage that an influencer marketing crisis causes for your company depends on the kind of crisis and the reach of the social media influencer in question.

A crisis can expand to other media channels faster if you’re working with mega-influencers because of their presence on TV or in magazines. Micro-influencers tend to come with fewer risks as their reach is not as vast.  Nevertheless, micro-influencers still work with social networks where content spreads like wildfire.

This means that a savvy plan for handling influencer marketing crises is a must-have in any marketing department. Below, we’ll talk about the steps that you need to take in case of a crisis. But before you respond to a crisis, you need to understand what you are dealing with. There are five major types of influencer marketing crises. 

Crisis Type 1: Unintentionally entertaining

When influencers post absurd or inauthentic content, an influencer marketing crisis can occur. You may remember Coral’s influencer faux pas in 2017. The detergent brand teamed up with several influencers who posted questionable content– or do you usually take your detergent out to sit next to you on the stairs?

In this kind of crisis, the brand doesn’t achieve its desired outcome, but the degree of damage is not too bad. People are generally entertained by the content, rather than being shocked or offended. At most, the audience will question the competence of the influencers and the marketing manager. The brand might even attract more awareness– this might be one case where “all press is good press” is actually true.

Crisis Type 2: Ignoring guidelines

Ignoring guidelines, rules, and regulations can be self-defeating. Institutions like the FTC try to regulate influencer marketing, so if influencers don’t disclose that a post is sponsored, this reflects negatively on your brand. As a brand, you’ll need to take responsibility for the undisclosed partnership. In addition to paying a fine, you’ll also suffer the consequences of negative media attention. In fact, some people might even blame you for trying to manipulate consumers for your personal benefit.

An example of this type of influencer marketing crisis is Rossmann’s misleading partnership disclosure last year. The German drugstore’s reputation suffered after influencers didn’t disclose the partnership properly. Whether this is the brand’s fault or the influencers’, the brand has to take responsibility in the end.

Crisis Type 3: Unfavorable association

In other cases, you might partner with an influencer who damages their own reputation in a way that has nothing to do with your brand. In this case, your brand still runs the risk of guilt by association. Some people may view your brand’s association with the influencer as an endorsement of their values– especially if your campaign is still running.

A recent example is that of Paul Logan, who uploaded a video showing a dead man in the Aokigahara Forest of Japan. He was pulled from the Google Preferred program by YouTube. Despite the negative response, the YouTuber gained another 2 million likes on a short documentary he posted three weeks later to apologize for his behavior.

Another prominent example is YouTuber PewDiePie who uploaded a video with anti-semitic comments and “jokes” that were anything but funny. Disney immediately ended their partnership with him.

Crisis Type 4: Influencers worsen your crisis

As usual, the disastrous Fyre Festival carries important lessons in influencer marketing crisis. The debacle showed us how influencers can aggravate an existing crisis– adding fuel to the Fyre, if you will. In a case like this, influencers are not the cause of the crisis but they contribute to it by promoting and promising something that the brand can’t deliver. In the end, the participation of influencers makes the crisis worse.

This example outlines how acute an influencer marketing crisis can get. Once the avalanche of influencer crisis sets off, it takes up speed quickly because you’re not in full control of the influencers’ actions. 

Crisis Type 5: The influencer turns on you

This might be the most outrageous form of influencer marketing crisis. What happens if an influencer turns on you deliberately? A recent incident involving Singaporean influencer xelainejasmine became public. She partnered with jewelry brand By Invite Only, which is owned by Trixie Khong.

Apparently, after the influencer received the jewelry and compensation for the partnership, she never promoted the brand even though there was a posting timeline. Khong called her out, and the whole thing went public on social media.

Facebook Screenshot_Posting by Trixie KhongScreenshot of WhatsApp chat between Khong & Jasmine posted by Khong on Facebook

Afterward, the influencer Elaine Heng stated in an Instagram story that she didn’t want to promote the jewelry as it was of poor quality and would mislead her followers. As it turned out, other brands who had the same experience with the influencer became aware of the incident through Khong’s Facebook post.

So other brands came to Khong’s defense in this case, protecting her reputation. But is sharing a case publicly always a good idea? Depending on the situation, it may be a risky strategy.

What are the consequences of your influencer marketing crisis?

The consequences can vary depending on what kind of influencer marketing crisis your brand faces. But a crisis is likely to mainly affect your brand’s image or reputation. Your reputation might suffer for being associated with an influencer’s misbehavior (type three) or for being directly exposed by the influencer (type five).

This leads to a loss of credibility among your stakeholders and could turn customers against you. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to mitigate damages from a crisis.

6 steps for managing your influencer marketing crisis

1. Identify the crisis

As with any crisis, it’s crucial to identify what you are facing in order to understand the level of potential damage. When you have a clear sense of what you’re dealing with, you can determine to what extent you need to react or take control of the story on different channels.

If you partnered with a mega-influencer, the crisis will probably also be discussed on other media outlets besides social media (e.g. magazines). Responding on social media alone might not be sufficient in this case. 

2. Be proactive and not just reactive (if necessary)

Don’t wait five days like Mark Zuckerberg to come up with a statement. While you’re waiting, someone else might tell your story in a way that negatively impacts your reputation. Consumers don’t know (and often don’t care) whether you executed a campaign yourself or not or if you were aware of the influencer’s content before they shared it.

For example, I don’t know whether this posting was approved by Oral-B or not, but I question the brand’s competence in influencer marketing — who brings their toothbrush to the pool? Obviously not a great place for daily dental care. 

All your customers know is that you partnered with this specific influencer, and this will affect your brand’s image. The sponsored post above probably didn’t lead to a crisis but it shows how absurd some content pieces are and that we can’t tell whether this was the influencer’s or the brand’s responsibility. 

So, respond quickly to potential crises or gaffes. Be transparent about your partnership, make your apologies if necessary, and make clear that you’ll part ways with the influencer.

“Take the opportunity to communicate your brand values directly to your community,” Kerry Rivera, senior marketing director of Experian told Forbes. “Tell them what your brand represents and acknowledge your disappointment if an influencer has behaved in a way that conflicts with those sentiments.”

But be aware that not every crisis needs a proactive strategy. Crises like Coral’s, for example, are likely to disappear on their own sooner or later. Seeding additional content might just stir up more discussions.

3. Listen to your community

In a social media-first world, the rapid spread of news and content can lead to reputations being destroyed quickly, but it also gives you the opportunity to monitor what is said about your brand.

With so many people sharing their anger and frustration online, it has never been easier to listen to what your community and wider audience expects from you. So listen and respond deliberately.

For example, many people shared their displeasure about the Pepsi ad that starred Kendall Jenner allowing the brand to respond in a way that addressed the audiences complaints. 

Pepsi officially apologized on several channels for missing its point in this campaign and also for dragging Kendall Jenner into this. The influential star shared her regrets as well. 

4. Partner with more than one influencer

Partnering with several influencers at once can save you from being defined by what one influencer says or does. With multiple partners, when one influencer darkens your reputation others can brighten it. So while one influencer might cause a crisis, others can actually help you dodge danger with more shareable content that works in your favor.

Positive talk from outside sources is always more trustworthy than a brand’s own attempts to restore their reputation. In the event of a crisis, you can approach one of your trusted influencers and encourage them to help.

5. Work out a strategy in advance

Okay, this should actually come first on your plan to manage an influencer crisis successfully. So, if you haven’t done this yet, now is the time. Plan the steps you need to take in case of an influencer crisis. Choose your main contact and communication partner or spokesperson, whether that’s your influencer marketing manager, online marketing manager, crisis manager or CEO. You should also make sure that you can get out of a contract with an influencer if their actions don’t align with your brand’s values. 

Finally, try to gather as much information about influencers as possible before partnering with them. Besides extracting all relevant data on the social media performance of an influencer, you should also includes social media audits and perception audits in your analysis to fully understand their views and beliefs.

Of course, reach and engagement rates are important metrics, but they won’t benefit you if you can’t trust the influencers’ actions. This step might have saved Khong from a lot of anger and frustration. 

Additionally, optimize your influencer marketing processes to avoid faux pas. You can easily prevent crisis type two by making sure that proper ad disclosure is part of any contract your brand has with influencers.

6. Use a platform to manage and avoid crises

Platforms like our InfluencerDB software can help you avoid some crises. With the software, you can monitor who engages with your content and in what context your brand or campaign hashtags are used. Of course, you’ll need to analyze the sentiment of the content manually as this can’t be measured. But with InfluencerDB you’ll have a quick overview of engaging accounts who talk about your brand. This simplifies the workload.

Example of monitoring branded hashtags with InfluencerDB

Additionally, you can monitor your influencers’ postings and spot if postings underperform. From there, you can analyze the reasons for the poor performance.

The Takeaway

Don’t give up on influencer marketing just because you experienced a backlash. Influencer marketing is professionalizing and many brands are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Rather than avoiding the strategy, the platform or the audience on it, avoid the influencer who caused your crisis. If influencers aggravated your own missteps, rethink your influencer marketing strategy and try again.

In the end, crises also open up opportunities to learn, thrive and grow. Following the steps above can help you respond to a crisis and refine your overall strategy.