The concept of an “influencer” is as old as marketing itself. An influencer is simply a person who promotes a product, service, or organization through their own content. Influencer marketing can be a successful tactic because people idolize and form parasocial relationships with these individuals, and therefore perceive their opinions as valuable and trustworthy. Today’s influencers exist on digital channels- primarily social media.
We spent a good amount of time during my public relations master’s program discussing social media influencers and their impact on an organization’s strategic PR plan. Social media influencers are divided up into categories based on follower count and engagement metrics. For example, mega-influencers boast more than 1 million followers, while micro-influencers typically have anywhere between 10,000 to 50,000 followers.
When deciding which type of influencer, and most importantly who, is best for an organization, marketing professionals should ask the following questions:
- Do they have a good reputation?
- Are a majority of their followers our target audience?
- Do their personal and public values align with ours?
- Are they relevant?
- Does it make sense for them to promote our product/service/company?
Once a good fit is decided, a contract is drawn up. In exchange for complimentary products and financial compensation, the influencer is asked to feature the product in a certain way in a specified number of posts. Due to transparency laws from the FTC, these posts have to be clearly marked as #paid, #ad, or #sponsored. Otherwise, the content appears to be totally organic, which can drive perceived credibility, engagement, and purchases.
The most crucial part of the influencer deal is that they must promote the product in a specific and beneficial way- what PR pros call “positioning.” Organizations are protected via the contracts they sign, but rogue influencers cannot be totally prevented. One negative post can cause a serious amount of damage to an organization’s reputation; the influencer selection process should be taken seriously and with strategy in mind.
But what happens when someone inadvertently becomes an influencer for a brand when they didn’t ask?
Before Charli D’Amelio got mega-famous on TikTok, she posted her content featuring Dunkin’ coffee. As she gained a following, Dunkin’ offered her payment, conditions, and a contract to continue to promote their coffee in a specific, positive way.
Another upcoming “unsolicited” influencer-brand duo I’ve been keeping my eye on is John Goblikon x Chili’s. Now maybe you read that sentence and thought, “What the hell?” so allow me to elaborate.
You know Chili’s. It’s the backbone of middle-class society. Complimentary chips and salsa, deals on margaritas, and a great variety of your typical American food.
John Goblikon is the “hype goblin” of death metal band Nekrogoblikon. John’s goblin persona is played by Dave Rispoli, who performs with the band, hosts a TV series called “Right Now,” and even wrote a book detailing the goblin lifestyle. John Goblikon is active on social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok where he interacts with the band’s fans. One of the reoccurring themes of Mr. Goblikon’s content is that he loves Chili’s. He even has a Chili’s suit. I mean, the guy (er, goblin) basically eats, breathes and sleeps Chili’s.
Except Chili’s didn’t ask.
The official Chili’s Twitter has engaged in lighthearted conversation with Goblikon and frequently interacts with his content:
Clearly all is well between Chili’s and your neighborhood goblin. But, there are public relations concerns associated with unsolicited influencers. John Goblikon is not bound by contract and has no obligation to feature Chili’s brand or food in any particular way, meaning at any point he could switch up and drag them to hell and back. Now, I don’t think this will happen, but put yourself in Chili’s PR team’s shoes. Imagine getting a phone call in the middle of the night that you have to go into crisis mode and do damage control because a micro-influencer goblin smeared your name on Twitter. Insanity.
From a public relations perspective, I think the best thing to do in this scenario is to offer a contract to the unsolicited influencer. That way, they’re happy and get to make some cash, and the brand has more of a sense of control over its positioning. If that isn’t on the table, the next best choice is to implement media monitoring of the individual’s accounts. That way, if something that could potentially compromise the brand’s reputation is posted, it can be handled in a timely manner to minimize any damage.
Sometimes the best mutually beneficial relationships are the ones we didn’t ask for. In conclusion: Chili’s, get this goblin a contract!