Social influencers can make – or break – a company’s reputation – Orange County Register

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When Nathan Apodaca posted a TikTok video that showed him longboarding while drinking Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice and singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” it was simply a spur-of-the-moment frolic.

Ordinarily, those kinds of videos blend in with the millions of others that crop up on social media. But this one caught fire, eventually pulling more than 80 million views and nearly 13 million likes.

“It struck a chord,” Chris Ferzli, Ocean Spray’s director of global corporate affairs, said in a 2020 interview with CNBC. That “chord” fueled a massive sales increase for the  Massachusetts-based company.

Apodaca is one of many social influencers who earn money or perks by influencing the buying habits of consumers. In Apadaca’s case, Ocean Spray gifted him a new truck and sent him and his fiance on a paid honeyoon.

But it didn’t end there. Money also poured in from online viewers who learned he’d been living in an RV. He used the money to buy a $320,000, five-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Idaho for his family.

That was clearly a win-win for both sides.

The flipside

But the impact of social influencers can cut both ways, according to Doug Bania, an intellectual property valuation and defamation-damages expert with Nevium.

“They need to be aware that when social influencers engage in bad behavior that makes the front pages, the company can quickly lose face with customers and lose money,” he said. “A brand that took years to build can be ruined.”

Such was the case with Jared Fogel, the once famous pitchman for the Subway sandwich chain.

After attributing significant weight loss to eating Subway sandwiches, Fogle appeared in the company’s advertising campaigns from 2000 to 2015, doing numerous TV ads and in-store appearances to promote the company’s prodcuts.

The partnership abruptly collapsed when he was convicted for traveling to pay for sex with minors and for possessing child pornography. He was ultimately sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.

Needless to say, Subway’s reputation took a hit.

Willing to take the gamble

Still, a growing number of companies are willing to take the gamble. In fact, the influencer marketing industry is predicted to grow by as much as $10 billion over the next five years.

“It’s become very common,” Bania said. “Companies are realizing that social influencers have very large followings on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and other other platforms. It’s a big audience.”

When businesses weigh the cost of shifting some of their advertising dollars away from traditional marketing channels into less costly social media advertising, the strategy often makes sense, Bania said.

“The other thing about social media is that you can be very audience-specific,” he said. “It can go right to your target market.”

Bania expects the Federal Trade Commission will impose more guidelines in the coming years regarding social media advertising, as well as punishments if those guidelines aren’t followed.

“It can be very risky when you connect your brand with somebody’s personality because we’re all humans,” Bania cautioned. “Some people do good things and some people do bad things, so it’s a risk. The hard thing to determine is if the risk is worth the potential reward.”

It’s all part of what has become known as the “Attention Economy.” Consumers are giving more time and attention to social media platforms, and brands want to be where the attention is.

Bania put it simply:

“You may be older brand,” he said, “but how do you tap into a younger, hip crowd?”

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