How PewDiePie Signifies the End of the Wild West and the Start of the Golden Age of Influencers

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As the Wall Street Journal broke and other key media across the industry reported, PewDiePie, YouTube’s #1 star, is being condemned around the world for posting horrific, repeated anti-semitic content on his channel. A growing sense of excitement and anxiety has been building in the world of influencer marketing for a while. Even though PewDiePie is not known for his sponsored content, he is one of the biggest and most well-known YouTube influencers and his lack of sensitivity and understanding in regard to his content could be (and should be) a tipping point moment for the influencer industry.

With this, we welcome the conclusion of the “wild west” chapter of the fast-paced industry of influencer marketing. It’s a chapter filled with many fly-by-night companies “who match your brand with storytellers,” self-serve platforms filled with unrecognizable influencers, unprofessional talent and, in the end, disappointed and confused brands.

As traditional media use plummets, ad blockers rise, and a whole generation of consumers, who neither trust nor particularly like “advertising,” emerge, meaningful storytelling from influential people has grown to be a powerful marketing channel. Recent research from Twitter has demonstrated that 49% of consumers seek purchase guidance from social media influencers and 60% of millennials have said that they would try a product suggested by a YouTuber. We are a nation of tribal fan communities, and the power of famous and talented people to persuade is greater than it has ever been. The tools, technology and data are all there to make this a renaissance in marketing creativity that is still in an early and exciting phase.

However, the PewDiePie incident demonstrates that it’s time for standards and a layer of professionalism in the space. YouTube creators, Instagram makers, beauty bloggers, TV stars, etc. are like any other category of humans. There are just a few — maybe 5% or 10% — who will prove to be reliable, professional and dependable, while consistently and safely delivering engaged fans for the brands that work with them. Just like in Hollywood, there’s the A-List, and then there’s everyone else. It’s no longer just about audience size — as PewDiePie just proved. It’s a professional grade, long-term game now, and a terrific opportunity for brands.

But what should brands look for when choosing “brand ambassadors” in their marketing campaigns? There are qualities that a brand can quantify and qualify about the talent for an influencer campaign.

Here is what you can quantify:

  1. Start with affinity, the crossover between a talent’s fans and fans of your brand, competitor brands, audience passion points and audience demographic. Affinity matching with talent and brands generally requires first-party data such as brand plus talent Facebook and Twitter interest graph data, brand emails, app data and more.
  2. Next, examine both fan reach and engagement. Look at how many fans the talent has across all networks and how responsive fans are to the talent’s posts.
  3. Lastly, your budget comes into play. This will affect whether you can cast a social media influencer, a pop culture trailblazer or an icon of film, television or sports. In addition, you may consider casting more than one influencer for your campaign. Just remember, in many cases one influencer can reach as many fans as 20 micro-influencers and 20 micro-influencers require way more quality control and campaign management.

Here is what you can qualify about talent:

  1. Is the talent you are considering manageable? An out of control influencer is what the industry is currently witnessing with PewDiePie and it has happened many more times than we know. Consider if you really feel comfortable with an unsupervised vs a professionally managed campaign.
  2. Allow for additional creativity. Brands and agencies tend to have their creative brief very well defined and occasionally too rigid. The best influencers will use their abilities to enhance your campaign ideas and expand your vision.
  3. Expect professionalism at all stages of the campaign. Does the influencer respond with positivity and timeliness? Are they genuinely happy to be a part of your campaign? In our experience, only the top 10% of every influencer segment are reliable and professional creators of content. Choose wisely.
  4. Most importantly, take the time to review as much of the prospective influencer’s current and past content as possible to look for any brand safety issues and history of odd behaviors. Have you thought of asking for references? Asking the right people will help mitigate your risks in casting for your campaign.

According to eMarketer, influencer marketing is likely a multi-billion dollar industry and projected to grow rapidly. Sometimes it takes a watershed moment to bring the unknown issues to light and define best practices for brands. Now is the time for brands to take control of their influencer marketing with quality influencer casting, managed performance and campaign objectives. We have completed hundreds of influencer campaigns for the biggest brands and agencies in the world. In our experience, professional storytellers will gladly step onto this new stage and write the next chapter of influencer marketing with you.

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