By following best practice influencer marketers can limit the fallout or even avoid being involved in incidents when influencers go rogue – writes Scott Guthrie

YouTube has cancelled a series with its highest-earning star PewDiePie, following a similar move by Walt Disney, after the Swedish video blogger posted a series of offensive videos containing anti-Semitic remarks.

Felix Avrid Ulf Kjellberg (A.K.A PewDiePie) joined YouTube nearly seven years ago. Since then he’s:

  • Uploaded over 3,000 videos
  • Gained 53.3 million YouTube subscribers
  • Generated 14.7 billion video views
  • Averaged 2.6 million video views per day

He’s also topped the Forbes Rich List for top-paid YouTube stars for the second year reportedly amassing an income of $15m for the 12-months to June 2016.

However, both Google and Disney have severed ties with the Swedish-born eGamer and video ranter.

The decision followed upload of vlogs including one on January 11 which featured two Indian men hired for $5 to hold a banner proclaiming: “Death to all Jews”.

Writing in Forbes Paul Armstrong explains: PewDiePie Just Showed Every Brand Why Influencers Are Dangerous.

It’s a catchy, clickable, headline. One which has generated over 83,000 views since it was published on February 14. The article overstates the issue, however.

Here are some steps influencer marketers can take to prevent or limit the fallout from working with an influencer who runs contra to client values.


Brand/influencer relationship is not ‘set and forget’

From a marketing communications point-of-view, the PewDiePie incident demonstrates that working with influencers is a dynamic process. The relationship doesn’t begin and end with using algorithms to identify online creators based on reach, relevance and resonance alone.

Instead, brands need to continually validate and measure influencers’ fit against the company’s values, both at brand and corporate levels. Companies also need to regularly check that the influencer is helping achieve business objectives.

This frequent sense-check is not unique to working with influencers. Brands should also work regularly with their media buyers to ensure their ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with their values. In November last year, Kellogg Company pulled their adverts from the right-wing news site Breitbart saying that it wasn’t “aligned with our values”.

The PewDiePie incident is an acute example but there have always been brand ambassadors and celebrity endorsers who have been dropped by brands for behaving contra to brand values.

I wrote last year about Nike dropping boxer Manny Pacquiao for his remarks about same-sex couples, for instance.

How can influencer marketers avoid a PewPiePie-type incident?

The screen phase of my 4S Filter for identifying influencers is important for vetting your long list of possible creators.

It’s at this point you should ensure the potential influencers are appropriate to you or your client’s brand.

You review their work to determine whether:

  • Their tone-of-voice matches that of your client’s
  • They always effectively disclose their commercial relationship with brands
  • They have or haven’t worked with any of your client’s competitors
  • The sponsored vs organic content ratio is not too heavily skewed towards paid work

If you work within an agency you’ll also want to check with colleagues who’ve worked with them in the past that they’re not a royal pain in the ass to work with, too.

Once you’ve whittled down the long list of potential influencers to a small list you’ll want to get your agreement down in writing in a contract. As well as how much you’ll pay and when you’ll want to cover points like:

  • Approval procedure for content prior to its publication
  • Exactly what is to be created
  • How much collateral is to be produced

This is a good time to remind the creator about disclosure regulations.

More pertinent to this example this is the time to layout your brand guidelines. Provide written rules about what is and what is not acceptable in terms of language used, content themes covered and clothing worn.

You’ll also want to develop a creative brief which outlines:

  • Objectives
  • Brand story
  • Top line background
  • Market positioning
  • Brand key messages

Getting a contract in writing and a creative brief agreed are points 4 and 5 in my 8 ways to professionalise influencer marketing guide.

8 ways to professionalize influencer marketing infographic

The value influencers bring to brands is their ability to affect change through their authentic voice. But this voice can not be at odds with a brand’s values. Influencers must be receptive to understanding a brand’s business objectives and respectful of their brand values.

Influencers’ motivations vary from growing an audience to shaping their image and earning money.

An influencer’s motivations can shift over time as they hit different points in their lives.

This week’s influencer meltdown doesn’t signal an end to the discipline. Rather it highlights the dynamic interplay between brand and influencer and the need to continually validate and measure the appropriateness of the relationship against core values and business objectives.

If you’re interested in PewDiePie’s explanation and response you can read his Tumblr post from February 12 and his vlog from a few minutes ago.

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Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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