Social media influencers have become a key weapon in the armoury of advertisers and can be successfully used to drive consumer engagement with a product offering. However, are we entering a ‘post-influencer age’?

Only recently, the Australian Federal Government announced that they would no longer use influencer marketing for any government department campaigns after it came to light that influencers working with the government had previously endorsed alcohol and “extreme dieting” products. Similarly, with a number of high profile influencers recently mis-stepping (see our previous post on the Fyre Festival here) and the speed of information spreading on the internet, businesses have also begun doubting their merit. This is especially so where past associations and controversy can cause long lasting reputational damage and negative flow-on effects for brands.

Irrespective of whether or not we’re now entering a ‘post-influencer age’, it’s clear that influencers still have a role to play in marketing. Set out below is an overview of the steps that businesses can take to ensure they remain vigilant in managing potential risks.

The Changing Value Proposition

The “Influencer” came to prominence for being famous – where their value was centred around the size of their audience and reach of their content. As this concept hit the mainstream, potential influencers began searching for their “viral moment” that would propel them into fame with potential for monetisation. Equally, individuals began buying followings to create an attractive prospect for businesses to promote their products – and arguably, this drive to be famous has resulted in moral distortion that has become unattractive for brand association.

In recent times, businesses have become more savvy around return on investment and found that “big name” influencers are good for exposure and brand awareness but may not be as effective to highlight the values associated with a product. Risk and reputational damage have also become a key concerns for businesses, which make them less inclined to engage with influencers in the same way they have in the past.

Risk Mitigation

With this in mind, there is still a role for influencers to play, provided businesses take the following steps to mitigate risk around their use:

  1. Due Diligence – conduct comprehensive reviews of their social media accounts, perform general media searches and request details of current and past promotional relationships as part of the vetting process;
  2. Strategy – consider why the influencers are being used i.e. for brand awareness (more likely to be a shorter term relationship) or value demonstration (more likely to be longer term). This also includes a diversified strategy that spreads the risk of using influencers – for example, using micro-influencers (see our previous post on micro-influencers here);
  3. Risk Assessment in light of the due diligence and strategy, assess whether it is worth proceeding with the influencer;
  4. Enforceable Relationships – depending on the monetary value of the relationship and risk, enter into a formal agreement with influencers or relevant influencer marketing agency with provisions that set out:
    • clear content requirements (i.e. branding or business specific hashtags), performance objectives (i.e. frequency, timing, post duration) and on-going obligations to maintain sponsored posts;
    • warranties with respect to the influencer’s reputation and conduct that may incur reputational damage to the business’s brand or breaches of legislative requirements;
    • breach and termination clauses;
    • disclosure requirements for when influencers enter into new promotional arrangements;
    • a non-disparagement clause; and
    • licensing or assignment of copyright created under the agreement to the business, including any applicable moral rights consents; and

        5. Education – liability for online conduct can also be traced back to brand owners and prevention is always the best remedy. Businesses should              be providing influencers with information about any legal obligations for posts, such as ensuring posts are not misleading and identifying that                they are sponsored i.e. by using #ad, #spon or #sponcon as hashtags.