A lesson from PewDiePie: the pitfalls of influencer marketing



The world’s most popular YouTube star is in a reputational free-fall after a series of anti-Semitic videos recorded in January were uncovered by the Wall Street Journal.


Felix Kjellberg, known on YouTube as PewDiePie, has more than 53 million subscribers. He has amassed a huge following making videos featuring his own brand of irreverent running commentary while playing video games.


Widely known as the go-to influencer in mobile gaming, PewDiePie is one of the world’s most sought-after creators for influencer marketing campaigns.


The 27-year old’s viral success led to lucrative deals with Disney’s MakerStudios and a coveted spot as a content partner on YouTube Red, YouTube’s paid subscription service. Those deals made him the highest paid star on YouTube, netting him — brace yourself — $15 million in 2016 alone, according to Forbes.


But those relationships are now over, as both Disney and YouTube Red have announced they’ve cut ties with the YouTube megastar. All of this is putting the future of his brand in question, and potentially damaging the reputation of both Disney and YouTube in the process.


For seven years PewDiePie has built a virtual empire and made himself a multimillionaire cracking on video games in a funny voice. Household name brands like Google (YouTube owner) and Disney hitched their wagons to his star and had to cut him loose as soon as the offensive content was discovered.


So should brands simply cease influencer marketing? Call us biased, but that’s probably not the answer, as brands who fail to employ influencer marketing run the risk of losing the benefit of what has proven to be an incredibly effective and profitable marketing channel.

According to a poll of marketing professionals conducted by Tomoson, businesses make $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, and Nielsen says a whopping 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals over brands, even if they don’t know them personally.


Ok, so I want to continue influencer marketing, what are some things I can do to avoid these types of incidents? Here are 2 tips to start you in the right direction:


TIP #1: Choosing your influencers — There is no shortage of influencers out there, so brands can be choosy with whom they engage. But how does a brand weed out potentially high-risk influencers? Here’s our take:


 • Avoid known “edgy” influencers. This is pretty self-explanatory, but take the time to review the influencer’s posts and videos, social media profiles, etc., and if they have a record of statements or posts that can be construed as controversial in any way, stay away.


 • Avoid influencers with “edgy” audiences. For better or worse, the public conflates what influencers post with what their followers post. So in order to stay away from controversy, be sure to carefully vet the comment sections of your influencers. If your influencer’s comment section is full of racist, homophobic, insensitive, or just mean-spirited comments, you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere.


TIP #2: Managing the Influencer Engagement — We recommend that all of our clients incorporate an airtight creative brief with their influencers. We ask our clients to be very specific in what topics are off the table for our influencers. Having these very specific agreements in place prior to launch ensures that your influencers know what is acceptable and what isn’t, and also sets a collaborative tone for your engagement.


Time will tell whether PewDiePie is able to resurrect his reputation and influencer status and what the long-term damage will be (if any). It’s clear that influencer marketing does move the needle for brands, and spending in the area only continues to accelerate. SocialMediaToday says 59 percent of marketers increased their influencer marketing budget last year. the big question is whether the associated risks are worth the potential gains. Like with anything else in the marketing game, execution is everything.




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