‘It’ll never happen to me’ – or will it?

By Alexei Lee, blog post 21/02/2018

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A two-part blog by Alexei Lee, head of social and PR at Fat Media on the vulnerabilities we all face on social media; from household brands to fledgling influencers, and how to offset them.

Easy come, easy go

Social media has created a growing world of opportunity for all, and daily, the number of influencers who share their views, experiences and endorsements is significant. The opportunities for these influencers are vast and wide-ranging, from sizeable income and free items to cult celebrity-like status.

Also significant is the debate around safety, vulnerability and attacks upon influencers, simply for airing their thoughts and related content. If social media can ‘make’ you so rapidly, it can also provide your downfall and ‘break’ you equally as fast. The influencers are often young and naïve to the vulnerabilities of their new-found notoriety, making many of the issues around influencer marketing a generational issue. 

Only this month, on the centenary of women’s voting equality, a House of Commons debate threw the issue of online abuse into sharp focus. On Safe Internet Day, the issues covered included the impact of online abuse and where the responsibility for protecting people from such abuse should lie. Are tech giants doing enough?  A key component also focused on the definition of online abuse, and where the line falls between legitimate freedom of expression and behaviour that contravenes either the Ts and Cs of social media platforms or even the law?

A force for good?

Online abuse or ‘trolling’ on social media is so commonplace that schools run special sessions to educate pupils on the risks and guidelines for their conduct across these popular platforms, and there is a burgeoning industry featuring specialists who can tackle the impact of online abuse and its perpetrators.

Nicola Byrne heads up RiskEye, a business whose sole objective is managing abuse and its impact.  The company offers software to monitor social media for negative or malicious content impacting brands or influencers, as well as a range of services to offset this, including insurance, legal and public relations support.   They also address risk mitigation, takedowns and post-crisis support.

Nicola has experienced the damage done by personal attacks to influencers, particularly those working in partnership with brands, online.  Her personal view is that social media and an inherent reliance on others’ opinions will result in the bubble bursting in the long term.

“Young people in particular place such emphasis on the validation they receive online that we are in dangerous territory today”, she says.

“The focus on appearance, popularity and connections, not to mention the ongoing parade of opinion and content to be shared and critiqued, is worrying. Not since post-war Britain have we seen a phenomenon have such an impact on the collective consciousness of the young, making proper education of the dangers, behaviours, and limitations of social media so vital for them.”

And the relationship between influencers and brands?  Byrne sees the impact on a daily basis.  As she explains,

“At RiskEye we see the effects of trolling, particularly where those who work with big brands to review and promote products are singled out and targeted viciously.  These situations quickly spiral and can require all kinds of intervention, not least of all to help those affected deal with the psychological impact sustained.

“Brands tend to be one step removed from the process, failing to provide adequate protection for influencers who aren’t on the payroll or receiving any of the benefits an employee would in terms of safeguarding. Once the influencer bubble bursts, there will be a considerable lot of collateral damage to be dealt with.  Safeguarding should be paramount, and as long as there is no independent body to police abusive behaviours the damage will continue.  We always advise clients not to engage, but there is so much spiralling behaviour online we know this isn’t the course of action most take.”

Brands are at risk too – from copyright infringements (who will own the final content created?) and negative reviews to non-disclosures and tight restrictions on influencer content making for inauthentic or even deceptive perceptions of the way they are working. “Guidelines and support, as well as experienced agencies and experts’ involvement, are needed for all parties, and a thorough understanding of the potential pitfalls should a campaign sway off course.” Byrne concludes.

Open season

Jess Siggers, is a highly influential Instagram consultant and expert with a portfolio of household brands as clients, and an impressive profile and following. Her own personal experience of trolling came when working with a leading telecoms company in 2017 on an Instagram campaign for the brand. The product launch campaign featured a range of local photography – one of Jess’s specialisms – and whilst up and running was hijacked by trolls. Video content created to be promoted across multiple social platforms attracted a barrage of personal and abusive comments across the content featured on Facebook, and the trolls didn’t stop there. Abusive messages were mailed to Jess’s Facebook Business and personal accounts, and as these spiralled into threats she approached the client about her concerns and experience.

“The attitude was sympathetic but will an element of; “you chose the job, so suck it up”, Jess explains. The personal attacks were also affecting my business, with a previous exclusively five-star rating sabotaged by up to 50 one-star reviews, a malicious attack which brought my average star rating down to one. Alongside a range of untrue and libellous comments placed on my business page, I truly felt the impact of these attacks, and the vulnerability of being an independent consultant working for a much larger conglomerate.”

Eventually, the damage sustained to Jess’s reputation was resolved, but not before her relationship with the client came to an end as she was pulled from the campaign before its completion. 

Moving on from the incident, Jess has a renewed perspective on the potential vulnerabilities of influencers working with brands, and the impact of possible trolling attacks. She has only just reinstated her Facebook business page but has removed the review section and the function enabling others to upload comments to her page, and is understandably wary of the projects and clients she chooses to take on.

 

In part 2 of this blog, we’ll examine the practical cyber security considerations around influencer marketing and the use of social media for business.