Why Instagram Influencers Need to Be Careful What They Promote

By Melissa Duko, May 11, 2017

Influencer marketing can be extremely lucrative. Get paid big bucks for taking two seconds to post a sponsored Instagram post? No need to think twice.  

But the allure of a hefty paycheck, simply by lending your name to an event or cause, can get you into trouble.  

After several high profile PR disasters (ahem United Airlines), Instagram influencers need to pause before agreeing to promote. Sure, they’re not the ones organizing the event that failed or the producer behind a controversial commercial, but their name is still linked to that brand.

A brand’s PR disaster can have severe consequences for an Instagram influencer’s reputation. Here’s why Instagram influencers should be cautious before aligning their personal brand, and what steps they need to take to prevent (and recover) from a PR crisis.

Why Influencers Need to Be Careful

When a brand experiences a PR crisis, an influencer who’s aligned with that brand can feel the heat, too. After all, influencers are touting the brand’s product, event, or service. By putting their name out there with that brand, influencers are potentially at risk for:

A Tarnished Reputation. Thanks to social media, it’s easy for a PR disaster to quickly go viral and for consumers to drag the influencer in to the mix, too. Model Kendall Jenner was just one of several influencers who got caught up in the Fyre Festival disaster.

Related Post: Are Social Media Influencers Worth the Price for Marketers?

Although Jenner attempted to delete all traces of her involvement with Fyre Festival, she wasn’t fast enough. Here, this person grabbed a screenshot of Jenner’s original Instagram post, and shared it with the masses.  


Source: BuzzFeed

When an Instagram influencer gets caught up in a PR scandal, their reputation can take a hit. Jenner’s reputation was already on shaky ground thanks to a certain Pepsi commercial. Throw in Fyre Festival, and well, you get tweets like these below.  

Source: BuzzFeed

Fortunately, Jenner is like teflon and will bounce back, but not all influencers are so lucky.

Broken Trust. After a PR debacle, followers are less likely to trust the influencer’s endorsements. This is bad considering influencer trust is already fragile to begin with. Only 18% of consumers trust influencers compared to 92% who trust brand advocates. Why? Most influencers tout a product for a brief period of time, whereas brand advocates build trust over time.

How’s Jenner faring? Um, based on this tweet, consumers are coming for her, but it hasn’t appeared to slow her down (e.g. Met Gala best dressed).


Source: BuzzFeed

Lost Endorsements. Once trust and credibility has been lost, there’s heightened risk other brands may avoid the influencer like the plague. Time will tell if Jenner’s endorsements start to decline. But even if they do, there’s still the Kardashian money-making machine to fall back on.   

How They Can Recognize Red Flags

Before an Instagram influencer jumps into bed with a brand, they (or their team) should do their homework. They should familiarize themselves with the company’s:

Reputation. Looking into a company’s background could save an influencer some heartache in the long run. Turns out Fyre Festival wasn’t the first bad business venture from Ja Rule and his business partner Billy McFarland. Ja Rule also had some issues with an ‘elite credit card’ venture, too, back in the day.

Related Post: 3 Surprising Ways Advertising Can Devastate Your Brand

Promotional Materials. Does it look too good to be true? Then it probably is. The promotional pitch for Fyre Festival was so over-the-top, it’s hard to believe none of the influencers were like “Really?” Review all materials with a fine-tooth comb, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Source: YouTube

Payment Schedule. Does the company plan to pay you up front, or after the job has been completed? If it’s the latter, you might want to proceed with caution. If you aren’t guaranteed at least half up front, how do you know you’ll be paid at all?

Vendors missing payments is a major red flag that there’s a cash flow problem. And when there’s a cash flow problem, well, you see what happens: tattered tents and processed cheese slices on wheat bread. 

Fyre Festival Sandwich.jpg

Source: @trev4president

What to Do If a PR Crisis Does Happen

Kendall Jenner was involved in two influencer scandals: Pepsi and Fyre Festival. Fortunately, her mother/manager is Kris Jenner, a savvy business woman who knows how to navigate a crisis and monetize it.

Related Post: Crisis Communication 101: 4 Tips We Can Learn from Facebook

If a brand or event does fall apart, knowing how to mitigate the damage done to an influencer’s personal brand is key. Here are a couple things you can do:

Prepare for Every Scenario. Take the time to sit down and go over potential negative scenarios that could occur by aligning with a product.

For instance, perhaps you score a deal with a new lip gloss brand. A scenario could be an allergic reaction to the product. For this case, you’d create a response so you won’t be caught off-guard (e.g. always do a patch test first before full application).   

Know How to Give a Proper Apology. There’s a right way and a wrong way to address angry followers. For example, look at these two apologies regarding the Fyre Festival. Which one would you give “a pass”?

 Ja Rule Tweet.png

Source: @Ruleyork


Bella Hadid.png
Source: @bellahadid

PR 101: no one cares if the failure isn’t your fault. People just want an apology and hopefully a solution. Passing the buck and saying you’re not at fault is a bad move; you’re guilty by association.

However, in this case, Bella Hadid gets a little more wiggle room because she was hired for promotion. She didn’t play a role in the execution of the event whereas Ja Rule was co-creator. Ja Rule really can’t say he’s not to blame. Saying it’s not his fault is like a CEO saying it’s not their fault when a business goes bankrupt. You’re part of the equation, take responsibility.

As an Instagram Influencer, it isn’t possible to prevent a brand fiasco from occurring. But by following these tips, you have a better chance of avoiding one, and an even better chance of recovering.   

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Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko is the Senior Editor and Digital Specialist for eZanga and its ad fraud management platform, Anura. She brings to her role more than a decade of journalism and editing experience. A graduate of the University of Delaware, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, concentration business and technical writing, minor Art History. She also has a Master of Science in professional writing for the public and private sector from Towson University. She isn’t afraid to admit that her love for Starbucks is at gold member status. (Since 2011!) More Articles by Melissa Duko