In 2022, influencers wield an enormous amount of power. With millions of loyal followers, many successful influencers have achieved celebrity stature — along with heaps of money, clout, and esteem.
And because of this, they’re incredibly sought-after by companies looking to capitalize on their popularity through brand partnerships. After all, getting your product or service on the social profile of a big-time influencer can be a game-changer for many brands.
But it begs the question: in today’s society — one that is hyper-comparative and ultra-focused on perfection and success — is there a social responsibility to ensure that the content used to promote a brand meets certain ethical standards?
Is it the responsibility of the individual influencers? Or should brands also be involved? While there’s no perfect answer to this question — as a brand manager, you’re one of the gatekeepers of your brand’s safety, image, and values.
Therefore, you have a responsibility to your brand and your consumers to ensure that the content influencers post in partnership with your company falls in line with your brand’s values and ethical standards. This article will take deeper dive into this topic, as well as provide three tips for brands to make social responsibility a bit easier.
What Is Social Responsibility?
Before we get too deep into why social responsibility is important, let’s start with a definition. In its simplest form, social responsibility is, according to author Derrick Jensen:
“an ethical framework in which an individual is obligated to work and cooperate with other individuals and organizations for the benefit of the community that will inherit the world that individual leaves behind.”
In essence, it’s the responsibility each person holds to act in an ethical manner and contribute positively to the society they’re a part of.
When it applies to businesses, it’s called corporate social responsibility, and it means that “businesses, in addition to maximizing shareholder value, must act in a manner that benefits society.” This is the version of social responsibility that we will focus on in this article — and the version that comes into play when dealing with influencer partnerships.
Whose Job Is It To Regulate Influencer Content?
In an ideal world, brands wouldn’t have to regulate influencer content — instead, they’d be able to inherently trust that the influencers they’ve chosen to work with would act in an ethical, socially responsible manner in line with their values.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Though incredibly popular and influential, influencers are still regular people, often tempted by a big check to promote products and services that don’t necessarily have a positive impact on society.
Just consider all the influencers who have recommended untested drugs and medicines, promoted festivals that ended up being dangerous disasters, or peddled unverified, potentially harmful weight loss products.
In the past, social media platforms like Instagram have taken some steps to regulate content posted by influencers. Back in 2017, Instagram rolled out a “paid partnership with” feature — which influencers would be asked to disclose sponsored content and without which could be in violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines.
This feature did increase transparency for users — making it clear which promotions were paid and which were genuine, organic recommendations. But, it still wasn’t able to solve the bigger issue at hand: that some influencers are willing to peddle any product or service if the price tag is high enough.
Of course, there are plenty of influencers that wield their power and influence in positive, socially responsible ways. But, in order to protect your brand from scandal or negative brand associations, it’s important that companies are able to identify which influencers will be a good match… and which ones won’t.
Thus, before partnering with an influencer for a promotional campaign, it’s important to do your research. Take a deep dive into your potential partner’s social profiles, research their name and social handles for any past scandals, and have a conversation about their values and ethical beliefs — all before signing a binding contract.
While some may see this as a bit over the top — we promise it isn’t. Modern consumers care about brands’ values and ethics. In fact, according to Fundera, 89% of shoppers stay loyal to brands that share their values. Furthermore, 13% of consumers would pay 31-50% more for a company’s products or services if they were under the impression that the brand is “making a positive impact on the world.”
Clearly, consumers these days care about more than just price points — they want to give their business and loyalty to brands that they feel are positively contributing to society, aka brands that act in socially responsible ways.
Therefore, it’s vital that brand and social media managers work together to forge influencer partnerships that promote their brand in a responsible manner and protect it from negative backlash.
3 Tips to Improve Brands’ Social Responsibility
When working with influencers, smart brands are always aware of their social responsibility to consumers — and the ways in which it shapes such partnerships.
Let’s take a look at three tips that will make social responsibility easier and ensure that brands are linking their name to influencers who will bring positive publicity.
1. Define How Your Brand’s Ethics Apply to Social Media
Before you can find the right influencers, you need to know what your own brand values are. Most companies define their values and ethics early on — and use them to build their brand identity.
But, you also need to have a sit-down meeting with the relevant stakeholders to interpret how your brand values will apply to your social media presence.
For example, is one of your brand values diversity? Well, you need to define how this translates to your social media — what kinds of actions disqualify influencers from partnering with your brand? Or maybe another brand value is sustainability. Will you work with an influencer that has promoted fast fashion in the past?
Obviously, it’s up to each brand to decide where they draw the line and how their brand values translate to social media. But keep in mind that consumers prioritize consistent honesty — with “over 90 percent of consumers saying transparency by a brand is important to their purchase decisions.”
If your brand claims to support anti-racism but then partners with an influencer who has a history of making micro-aggressions towards POC communities, it’s likely consumers will call you out for your hypocrisy — and you’ll lose their trust.
Or, if your brand supports equal pay but then remunerates female influencers less than male influencers — thereby perpetuating the influencer pay gap — consumers won't be happy.
2. Create Partnerships With Influencers Who Share Your Brand’s Values
In 2022, it’s not enough to partner with an influencer that just says they share your brand’s values — you need to see evidence of these shared values in their past content, actions, and partnerships.
Partnering with influencers who are vocally supportive of the same values and issues that your brand believes in is the best way to ensure a successful, above-board campaign.
For example, consider the partnership between outdoor apparel brand The North Face and climate activist Maia Wikler. Back in 2019, the brand “invited a group of young influencers — including YouTuber Nathan Zed, visual artist Monica Hernandez, climate activist Maia Wikler, and Gwich'in youth leader Julia Fisher-Salmon — to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of an expedition led by The North Face.”
The goal of the trip was clear: to align The North Face brand with the values of these Gen Z influencers by having them “share social content about the journey with their legions of followers.”
One of The North Face’s top brand values is sustainability — so partnering with activist influencers like Wikler makes total sense. Her personal values mesh perfectly with The North Face’s values, making it an ideal match.
3. Retain Final Approval Over Influencer Content
When it comes to protecting your brand image in the age of the internet, you need to be vigilant. There are many ways that influencer campaigns can go wrong.
Just consider the collaboration between Scott Disick and Bootea, where the celebrity infamously copy-and-pasted the brand’s exact email message to the Instagram post’s caption.
Not only did it ruin the “smoke and mirrors illusion of marketing”, but it also showed how very little Disick cared about this partnership. Furthermore, it’s a mistake that could have easily been avoided if Bootea had retained final approval over the post.
While it’s important to grant influencer partners creative freedom and take their thoughts into consideration, you still need to retain final approval over all published influencer partnership content.
Remember, at the end of the day, you’re responsible within your company for all the feedback — both positive and negative — that influencer partnerships generate. So, if you want to ensure they’re posting content linked to your brand that’s socially responsible, you need to stay involved throughout the whole process.
Acting in a socially responsible manner isn’t always easy. It requires more thought, effort, and time from brand and social media managers — as well as other company stakeholders. But if you want your brand to earn and retain consumer trust, you need to ensure that your brand values are upheld at all times.
Therefore, it’s important for brands to take an active role in all influencer partnership campaigns in order to ensure value alignment, protect their brand image, and maintain consistent transparency.