bee flying through pollen
Like bees to pollen, marketers have been drawn to brand influencers. PHOTO: Myriam

Marketers have been attracted to brand influencers like bees to pollen.

But some of the latest influencers are demonstrating how a brand can be stung when picking the wrong influencer to represent it.

The Cult of Personality

Many consumers today look their favorite personalities for product recommendations — especially people who have large social media followings.

Brands have been tapping these ambitious people who display their creativity and a strong viewpoint to attract followers on social media, establish influence and grab attention. 

They provide value to brands that relates to the expressed viewpoint.  Brands, through various kinds of implied sponsorship, receive a way to connect to their target audiences.

We’ve seen famous music artists leverage this tactic in their songs — Lady Gaga (outsiders who want acknowledgement) and Beyoncé (strong female empowerment) are the most successful. 

But many influencers have become famous just for, well, being famous. 

Many argue the Kardashians started this trend. But those who have adopted the Kardashians strategy learn it is challenging to keep a core audience interested when there is no core product defined. 

A core product is the difference between Beyoncé, who is well regarded for her singing and songwriting — and those with only reality show exposure. 

The latter have to rely on provocation within their media to draw interest instead of a media product that entices consumers to develop their own authentic feelings about.

The lack of core product becomes acute when controversies arise. 

You May Have to Judge a Book by Its Cover

The latest controversy, Simon & Schuster’s plans for former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ controversial book Dangerous, is an example of how an influencer can hurt a brand. 

Yiannopoulos lost his book contract when a video surface revealing his comments regarding pedophilia.  

Yiannopoulos attracted an extremely politically conservative audience for his controversial views on free speech, feminism, Islam and supportive commentary of the alt-right movement. Last July Twitter banned Yiannopoulos for harassment on the platform. Yiannopoulos has also faced protests from students at various universities. 

Simon & Schuster faced a firestorm of criticism for offer Yiannopoulos a book advance, with many observers questioning whether the publisher could survive the mounting boycotts. The publisher rescinded the contract when the controversial video surfaced.

Even consumer facing enterprises with significant access to media channels can face eye-raising challenges. 

Disney, through its Maker Studios unit, canceled plans with YouTube influencer Pew Die Pie after the comedian/video star reportedly had posted several videos featuring anti-Semitic imagery. 

Google, which owns YouTube, also dropped Pew Die Pie from the Google Preferred advertising program and canceled the Scare PewDiePie YouTube Red series. 

Pew Die Pie became renown for eccentric, off-color videos, reaching five million subscribers in 2013 and garnering online awards along the way.

Media Conglomeration Can Aggravate Backlashes

With regards to analytics, both instances are notable because of the level of media platform convergence occurring. 

Brand managers must acknowledge that as media blends and overlaps channels, the error in judgment from a selected influencer can get magnified.

Trust and authenticity are the lifeblood of an influencer and, consequently, any engagement measurements related to that influencer.

A misstep by an influencer can erode a significant factor of garnering customer trust, which for brands is at a significant low. 

The influencer trend is arising as marketers are increasingly relying on the strength of influencers and their…well, influence.

Last fall AdWeek reported that programmatic advertising would be available to influencers as it is for site networks. 

This means marketers can schedule ads to appear on influencer media, strengthen their association with consumers through remarketing campaigns

Such adoption (and concerns) mimic long-standing media conglomeration, which can sometime mix audiences in poor ways.

Take the 2004 Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction in the Super Bowl 2004 halftime show for example. It’s ironic that MTV, a youth oriented channel, choose her and Justin Timberlake to perform at an event broadcasted by CBS, which typically court a conservative audience. Viacom owned both CBS and MTV at that time.

For influencers, backlashes can sometimes be unfair. Janet Jackson experienced more career damage from the event than Justin Timberlake, despite both apologizing and taking responsibility for what happened.

Analyze Your Audience for Demographics, Sentiment

As a result of these trend, marketers should rely on analytics more to confirm how an influencer is supporting a brand’s audience.

In a previous post on consumer affinity, I mentioned two aspects of affinity reporting that can help. Using Affinity reports and demographic reports can help marketers see where audiences are best.

Marketers can also ask influencers to determine how well their audience match to what a brand looks for. The numbers may not exactly match, but the benefit from an influencers’ demographic and

For advanced measurement, marketers can consider sentiment analysis on open source tools.

There have been many projects using R programming — the most well known current is from David Robinson, a data scientist who last fall exported Donald Trump’s Tweets into R for a sentiment analysis. 

The analysis, which news outlets picked up, determined that some of Trump’s harshest tweets came from Donald himself, while his staff tweeted less harsh content.

This kind of analysis can raise questions regarding how influential a personality truly is.

But ultimately, marketers must understand what they are getting with a social media influencer. The current climate is a wild card.

It can produce terrific discoveries — Issa Rae, who turned YouTube fame from The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl into a successful program for HBO, is a great example.

But that same card can become a weak hand that highlights the perils of associating with social media provocateurs.