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Should brands dissociate with influencers who promote toxic content?

Not only stakes are higher for brands because of money invested in influencer activities, but also the fact that social media backlash can be severely damaging to a brand's reputation once things go wrong

Published: May 18, 2022 06:29:38 PM IST
Updated: May 18, 2022 06:52:12 PM IST

Should brands dissociate with influencers who promote toxic content?Social media backlash can be severely damaging to a brand’s reputation once things go wrong Image: Shutterstock

Gaurav Taneja, a popular content creator and social media personality with over seven million followers on YouTube alone, recently tweeted about how performing ‘havan’ can be an antidote to pollution. He went on to support this argument using the Bhopal gas leak as an example, which ruffled a lot of feathers online where multiple users started accusing him of spreading misinformation and being irresponsible in putting out unscientific content.
Unfazed by criticism, Taneja put out a tweet justifying that he stands by what he wrote. This is not a standalone incident. Taneja, who continues to enjoy a massive fan following, also receives flak for his alleged misogynistic content.
Taneja is among hundreds of content creators and social media influencers who have been unabashedly doling out unproven and unscientific content under the guise of fitness tips, beauty advice, and mental health to their unassuming followers. Often these creators end up making their money through well-paid brand collaborations that can range from Rs 50,000 to several lakhs per post/video.
Not only are the stakes higher for brands because of money invested in influencer marketing activities, but also the fact that social media backlash can be severely damaging to a brand’s reputation once things go wrong.

Due diligence is critical

Digital experts that Storyboard18 spoke to said that brands need to take a lot of cognisance in dealing with the content of any kind and nature, curated by the influencers they associate with.
Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder & CEO of White Rivers Media, says, “That is because if the brand is sourcing an influencer to be the voice of the brand. Technically, any opinion of the influencer, even outside of the brand communication, may also be aligned to what the brand feels. And if the influencer isn't talking the right brand language, it may cause dissonance.”
Once an unregulated space, the influencer marketing space has been consistently evolving.
In May 2021, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) officially launched the influencer marketing guidelines for 'consumers to distinguish between something that is promoted with an intention to influence consumers' opinion or behaviour for an immediate or commercial gain'. However, there is no scrutiny or regulation of the kind of content posted by creators or influencers. The onus, therefore, comes on brands to do their work.
Experts believe that brands must do a lot of due diligence before associating with social media influencers, where influencer and brand content should marry seamlessly.
Prashant Puri, co-founder and chief executive of digital marketing agency AdLift, notes that brands need to do due diligence and figure out a historical analysis of what kind of content a particular influencer promotes. What’s the ethos of that influencer, whether they associate with their target audience or what they say online.
“If there is a history of problematic or toxic content or they do content that riles up their followers to get more engagement, the brand needs to take a call whether it is the right influencer for them. Brands tend to do all these checks and balances, but the freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” he warns.

Accountability matters

An increasing number of brands are becoming cautious and responsible about picking the influencers they work with wisely. For instance, The Man Company, a men’s grooming brand, said that it carefully handpicks the influencers to make sure they resonate with the brand ethos. They ensure that clear messaging is communicated to the end consumers apart from collaborating with subject matter experts.
Rumi Ambastha, director - brand marketing, The Man Company, believes that accountability is critical for both the brands and influencers regarding the content being put online.
“Why even question the brands if none of the disturbing content is sponsored by them, you ask? Because content creators continue to make a major chunk of their regular income from brand collaborations,” he explains.

Dissociation works

More often than not, brands end up getting embroiled in controversy where they are not directly involved. It could be that an influencer puts up a problematic post much after they have tied up with a brand. In those cases, brands need to dissociate with such influencers misleading the followers.
“Brands can safeguard themselves from untoward incidents by not associating with influencers who may tend to curate content that the brand will not stand by,” says Gandhi.
On occasions when brands goof up, owning up is the best strategy.
“Do not procrastinate apologising. Humans run social media, humans run brands, and humans can make mistakes. It's completely fine to apologise, but it's an absolute deal-breaker to procrastinate,” he adds.

Influencer marketing, if done right, is highly rewarding in terms of consumer connection and brand building. But it can cause severe damage to brands if it is not well planned and thought about in terms of influencer selection and promotions.

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