Fearing brand safety turmoil, marketers are whitelisting influencers

Whitelists have become of interest for brands looking to make sure their ads only appear in pre-approved places. Instead of blacklists, which can end up being a game of whack-a-mole, whitelists, while less scaleable and more expensive, can actually provide a better guarantee of not having an ad next to porn content — or worse.

Now, a growing number of companies are testing influencer whitelists: Creating pre-approved lists of influencers that brands can work with, and in some cases, get unfettered, open access to their handles.

Against the backdrop of brand safety, the issue becomes more prevalent. One marketing executive, who spoke to Digiday under condition of anonymity, said that he’s been “burned” by influencers who have taken his product, then posted content in “unsavory” ways that he said were “disgusting.”

There have been flubs in the space. Perhaps the biggest one was when YouTube star PewDiePie posted videos with anti-Semitic jokes, costing him the business of brands including Disney and YouTube. Shortly after, in February, influencer and CoverGirl ambassador James Charles tweeted a joke about going to Africa and catching Ebola alongside a CoverGirl-sponsored tweet. And for influencers, it’s not just about so-called “brand safety” issues. Companies are also looking for influencers who haven’t worked with similar brands, or sometimes, haven’t worked with brands at all.

And so, just like publishers are held accountable, so should influencers. “When you think about the repercussions and the issues that have come up, brands really have to think: They’re putting their identity and credibility in the hands of the influencer,” said 360i head of influencer marketing Corey Martin.

It’s a common problem. Brands who know they want to get into influencer marketing often do a “spray and pray” approach, assigning hundreds of social stars an assignment, which means they then have full authority to post things on their own…

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