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The danger in sponsoring influencers' social media has always been the same as sponsoring a celebrity: they may mouth off and say something stupid someday which then reflects badly on your brand. The difference is, most social media interactions are pretty much all about spouting stupid things.
With traditional ads, the media in question is sandwiched in between other commercials and TV. Sponsored posts are sandwiched in anything between cute photos of someone’s dog and political rantings and arguments.
Mat.se sponsored Alex Schulman's Instagram account and the sponsored post was the most recent one yesterday, when Alex decided to add an image of the burning Notre Dame to his stories with the word "Äntligen!", which simply means "Finally!" or "At last!"
Out of the 173 thousand people who follow Alex Schulman, podcaster, author, program host and general provocateur, few seem to find this story appropriate, and their only place to respond is on the Mat.se sponsored post. Imagine their social media marketing director seeing these responses to their cute little clip about food home delivered.
Social media is the fastest place for current events to spread. As Parisians stopped traffic to watch Notre-Dame de Paris in flames, they pulled out their phones and shared the images with the world. All over the planet people could watch live as acres of 850-year-old wood burned, and the steeple collapsed. Inside Notre-Dame de Paris, some of Europe's most famous events have taken place, including Napoleon crowning himself emperor. From a Catholic standpoint, it also contains the Crown of Thorns and The Tunic of St. Louis, and this Monday was the start of the holy week. From the standpoint of those interested in art and history as well, this is one of the best-preserved examples of Gothic architecture, a masterpiece filled to the brim with incredible arts such as the rose window and historical pieces like the south bell Emanuelle that marked the end of World War II. In short, a lot of people felt this was a tragedy.
So of course, social media immediately bubbled up with edgelord-like hot takes and whataboutism, most common was to ask if one reacted the same way when the Museu Nacional in Brazil burned or when Great Mosque of al-Nuri was destroyed (though usually not by the correct name, just "mosque in Syria"), to which my personal answer is "yes." Now, there will be countless articles written about who said what for days to come, while some of us breathe a sigh of relief and thank the heroes of the Parisian fire services for managing to salvage so much that is worth even more to so many. We hope the injured firefighter pulls through.
As a brand director, would you want to touch the above topic at all, knowing it could very easily spark something, and go up in flames as quickly as 850-year-old dry wood does? Unfortunately for the brand Mat.se , their sponsored post is suddenly a magnet for upset emotions regarding Notre Dame.
Influencers are as facile and divisive and impulsive because of the way social media rewards that behaviour. By aligning with them you risk your brand becoming facile divisive or superficial. Two of those might not be a problem beyond ridicule. Divisiveness is a whole other issue. If your brand isn’t afraid to embrace hot button issues and potential controversy (like Nike's support of Kaepernick) you open yourself up to the worst kind of PR imaginable: the inadvertent kind.
The inadvertent kind that finds you having to defend your brand in upset comment threads.
Alex Schulman has now made his Instagram account private, but this does illustrate quite well the dangers of sponsoring 'influencers' social media. All of the negative comments to his story were made on the Mat.se sponsored post, and it's doubtful that Mat.se would agree with the exclamation that Alex Schulman made. All they want to do is let you know that they deliver groceries to your house. A regular text ad would seem like a better investment, or hell, why not TV where the line between what is advertising and what is the channel's content isn't quite so blurred yet.