Over the last few years, we’ve seen countless examples of celebrities failing to properly disclose their social media endorsements, from Kim Kardashian’s Sugar Bear Hair recommendations to Kylie Jenner’s “thank you” Instagram posts to AirBNB for free houses. But all of the previous celebrity influencer disclosure failures pale in comparison to what occurred in the months leading up to the Fyre Festival.
Dozens of celebrity “Fyre Starters” did little if anything to clarify in promotional posts that they were being paid for their endorsements. This, coupled with the festival organizers’ complete incompetence that resulted in the event’s abrupt cancellation, has led to the highest profile lawsuits related to influencer marketing that we’ve ever seen.
As these legal battles unfold in the coming months, we’ll almost certainly get more clarification around not only influencers’ disclosure responsibilities and penalties for violations, but whether the onus is on celebrities to ensure that the products, services or events that they’re promoting are in fact legitimate. Still, we don’t need to wait for court rulings to know that we’re entering a new era celebrity influencer marketing – one where everyday people are far warier of celebrity social media recommendations.
In order to succeed in an influencer marketing environment that’s been engulfed in consumer skepticism, celebrity influencers will need to take additional steps to establish and maintain trust with their followers. The celebrity influencers who are most successful in driving their fans to take action will be the ones who adopt habits that we typically see from micro-influencers, defined broadly as a company’s loyal customers who have between 500-5000 followers.
One such habit is only recommending products, services or events that celebrities have actually been exposed to. Everyday people rarely recommend products to friends or family that they don’t use themselves. Celebrities should consider adopting a similar ethical standard.
While we can’t expect celebrities to regularly use all the products or services that they put their names behind, they should at least try them. It’s not just about verifying that the goods they’re promoting work, but making sure that they are something that their audience would appreciate.
Many celebrities are already doing this. Take LeBron James and his Kia driving. People were initially skeptical of whether James did in fact drive a Kia. The criticism was quickly quieted when one of his teammates Snapped about James’ Kia.
We all know that James doesn’t drive a Kia all the time, but his willingness to do so occasionally went a long way towards increasing the authenticity of his endorsement. It also made for a highly engaging Snap.
In cases where a startup or little known brand approaches a celebrity for her endorsement, she should demand that the company go above and beyond to prove that they are worthy. For products or services, this can mean not only sending demos to celebrities, but working with them on extended trial periods and agreeing to fix any issues. Celebrities can also ask their teams to research if there are any other early reviews out on new products or services, or if there’s any publicly available information about the brand that they should be aware of.
When it comes to first year events, celebrities should always have their teams do some basic vetting of the operation. At the Fyre Festival, for example, it would have only taken a few calls to government officials and prospective vendors to realize that the event was doomed. Unless celebrities feel extremely confident about a new event being successful, they should play it safe and wait until the event’s second year before putting their name behind it.
Whether celebrities are working with established brands or startups, they must remember that payment can help to motivate action, but it shouldn’t be able to buy their influence outright.
Payment should be viewed as the last step in the influencer engagement process. After all, celebrities can’t put their names behind absolutely every product, service or event that they would enjoy. Once a brand and influencer have determined that they would be comfortable working together, payment is simply the last step in the process to motivate the influencer to sign the agreement.
This “trust first, payment last” philosophy is alive and well micro-influencer world, where brands might offer their influential customers free products or discount codes to encourage social media posts. While these types of incentives can motivate action, a customer would still hesitate to recommend the product unless it was something that they thought could be useful to their followers.
Celebrities face a choice in 2017 and beyond: They can decide to only recommend the products that they truly believe in, or simply get on board with whichever brands are willing to pay them the most. The latter might result in better short term financial gains, but will ultimately result in more Fyre Festival situations that erode consumer trust and decrease the celebrity’s influence.
Clearly, the better long-term business decision for the celebrity is also the more favorable choice for the consumer.