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Influencer Marketing: When Public Opinion of Influencers Sours

By Jenna Ott

Influencer Marketing: When Public Opinion of Influencers Sours

Its an age-old marketing tactic: Use a recognizable person to make people desire your brand.

Whether it was Michael Jackson convincing you to drink Pepsi or William Shatner making you go to Priceline whenever you book travel, influencers have an impact on an audience’s attitude and behavior towards a brand.

But, what happens when the audience starts to dislike or distrust influencers and the brands they are hocking?

This is the question on a lot of minds following the marketing-fueled viral proposal of Instagram influencer @fashionambitionist.

A never before seen proposal (and marketing concept)

Marissa Casey Fuchs’ 160,000+ Instagram followers voraciously ate up every moment of her boyfriend’s elaborate viral proposal.

As the thrilling globetrotting scavenger hunt full of exciting moments unfolded, people began to realize that it was also full of product placements.

It even came out that a pitch deck was provided to advertisers and brands, offering a unique opportunity to be a part of the “adventure”... and have their products or services prominently on display.

Marketing stunt or a proposal for the viral generations?

At first glance, this was a great marketing opportunity. Brands would be a part of something exciting, unique, and up-lifting. Who doesn’t love LOVE?! 

And brands would be seen by all of this influencer’s followers and their followers, and every other follower who jumped on the viral bandwagon.

The proposal went off without a hitch — and followed the pitch deck’s outline of destinations, posts, and events, almost to a tee.

What was a little less predictable was people’s response to the proposal. Initially, viewers were loving every minute. It was as if they were all on this adventure together.

But then news of the pitch deck had people wondering if the whole thing was just a well planned marketing stunt.

Whatever side of the issue the audience members landed on, two things were happening: 

  1. People were talking
  2. People were questioning the motives of a trusted influencer

What happens when trust wavers?

For a brand, trust is its most valuable asset.  A 2018 Global Consumer Pulse report found that “Lack of trust costs global brands $2.5 trillion per year. This compares to $756 billion lost by U.S. companies and 41 percent loss of clients.”

So, when a brand relies on known personas and influencers to help build that trust, it can be a tricky situation to navigate. And it can be costly for a brand if that trust is lost.

We’ve seen a loss of trust result in everything from declining sales to massive restructures — and even lawsuits.

For those of you who joined me and the other 20 million households in watching Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary, you know that influencers were key in the promotion of the doomed event. Those influencers had to issue apologies and own up to being misled, causing them to mislead the followers who trusted them.

This begs the question, is it worth it for a brand to look to influencers to promote its products and services?

Influencer Marketing done right

In general, there is still a solid case to be made for influencer marketing.

Even after the scandal caused by A Million Little Pieces, people continued to trust Oprah’s book club picks. And people will continue to have a desire to wear, own, or have experiences that match their favorite celebrities.

However, Oprah's status as an established and trusted celebrity was central to bringing viewers back.

Influencers often have established similar trust, but, due to the nature of the platforms used, that trust is more fragile, whether because of the duration of the relationship or because of its narrowness.  

Accordingly, brands will always be taking on some risk when relying on influencers.

One way to diminish that risk is to bring a sense of ownership to the influencer in question.

Look for an influencer who is already a fan of your product, and align your brand with someone who shares the same values, goals, and interests. 

Our friends at HubSpot recommend keeping these four things in mind when practicing influencer marketing:

  1. Expertise: Would the content of your campaign be appropriate coming from this influencer, given what he or she is famous for?

  2. Reach: Can this influencer engage your audience? Does she specifically have reach on the social media channels where your audience spends its time?

  3. Demographic: Is this person's following similar to your company's buyer persona? Does he or she affect the same people?

  4. Notoriety: Is this influencer well liked? Is his/her fame split between admiration and condemnation, or are they a person of mass appeal? (The latter is what you want, so as to not alienate potential customers.)

Another thing to consider is to strive to become your own influencer. There is a unique opportunity to utilize content, video, and social media to turn your brand into its own influencer.

Become the source that people turn to for all things related to your brand.

Building trust is your best Influencer Marketing strategy

At the end of the day, influencer marketing is most effective when the influencer helps build trust with a brand. Motives should always be clear and transparent.

An influencer who is a true fan of a brand is always better than someone who is just in it for a paycheck or free products and services.

So, whether it’s a celebrity that shares your brand’s mission or your own CEO becoming your best influencer, invest in someone that your audience can trust.

Free Assessment:

How does your inbound marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.


Marketing Strategy
Published on July 3, 2019

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